Some of the most rewarding – and effective – policy initiatives I have been involved with have been deliberately cross-party. As so many decisions need to be “future-proofed”, and as Parliament becomes more multi-party and less tribal, more work of this kind is both inevitable and welcome.
After producing draft bills on Lords Reform (with Robin Cook and Ken Clarke), on other constitutional renewal issues (encouraged by George Young and Lord Morgan) and the funding of democracy (aided by Andrew Tyrie, Alan Whitehead and others) my latest attempt took a significant step forward last Friday.
The Voting Age (Comprehensive Reduction) Bill received its Second Reading after a notably positive debate. This would allow 16 and 17 year old citizens in all parts of the UK to vote … and not just in the Scottish Independence Referendum.
The only opponent, Lord Cormack, himself noted the almost universal support. I was already sure of that of Lord Lucas from the Conservative benches, of Labour Peer Lord Adonis (who spoke in the previous debate in February), and Lady Young of Hornsey from the Crossbenches, who spoke so effectively again in this debate. She was joined by colleagues Lady Coussins and Lady Kidron from that part of the House, while Lady Smith of Basildon and Lady Royall of Blaisdon were equally encouraging from the Opposition. My own Liberal Democrat colleague, Lord Goodhart, whose granddaughter was listening with special interest as a potential new voter in the public gallery, was equally clear about the logic of our case.
Of course, the Minister replying (my colleague Lord Wallace of Saltaire) had to explain that there was no consensus within the Coalition Government: Liberal Democrats were in favour but Conservative Ministers were not. It surely cannot be long before they come around to this case too. If not, as I reminded Lord Wallace “the search for consensus is a shortcut to a dead end”. Gaining support from across the parties is not the same as giving a veto to the last opponent standing.
As the distinguished Conservative historian Lord Lexden encouragingly concluded: “My noble friend may find at some future point that his Bill’s time has come.” The arithmetic of the next Parliament may militate toward serious progress.