We need more of our young people on the electoral registers, ready to cast their votes at general elections. If they are not fully involved, the outcome of elections will be unduly influenced by older age groups, who are registered in larger numbers.
Alistair Lexden was one of a number of peers from all parts of the Lords who pressed the Government for action in debates last October and November. Some argued for automatic registration when young people receive their National Insurance numbers at the age of 16, giving them plenty of time to prepare for their first votes when they become 18.
16- and 17- year-olds (known as “attainers”) now account for 25 per cent of people on the registers --- down from 45 per cent in 2015 , according to figures from the independent Electoral Commission. That strengthens the case for automatic registration.
The Government is opposed to such a course. But it undertook last year to consider sending young people information about how to register online when National Insurance Numbers are issued.
On 22 July, in response to an oral question from the Lib Dem benches, the Government announced that HM Revenue and Customs would start adding the necessary information when it sent out NI Numbers “at the very latest in October”.
Alistair Lexden welcomed this significant development. He said: “Will it not help to reverse the rather worrying trend in recent years that has seen the proportion of 16- and 17-year-olds on the registers fall by some 20 per cent?”
He also asked: “if any recent assessment had been made of the effectiveness of the work done by electoral registration officers in schools, where Northern Ireland has had particularly marked success”. The Minister replying for the Government said: “We will certainly look at the Northern Ireland example.”