Thursday, 16 July 2015

Cornwall could be first in line for Votes at 16

A Lib Dem amendment in the House of Lords could lead to Cornwall being one of the first parts of the UK where 16 and 17 year olds will be able to vote for local councillors. It's been a long journey since I was one of the co-founders of the Votes at 16 campaign in 2001.

The Lib Dem peers proposed the amendment to the government's Cities and Devolution Bill. It was passed by 221 votes to 154 and would have the effect of allowing 16 and 17 year olds to vote in local elections. Given the time taken to bring a new law into effect and to register the new voters, it is unlikely that any change would come into effect before May 2017 when Cornwall Council will be up for election.

The House of Lords has voted in favour of lowering the voting age before. I assisted Conservative peer Lord Lucas with his bill in 2003 but such efforts have always been on a private members bills like that of Ralph Lucas rather than an amendment to legislation. Yesterday's government defeat will become law unless it is overturned in the House of Commons - in which case the matter will bounce between the two houses of Parliament until one gives way.

The voting age was lowered for the Scottish Independence referendum last year. It showed (as other instances around the world have also done) that 16 and 17 year olds took the issue of voting very seriously and entered into the debate fully. Their reasons for voting a particular way mirrored those of older electors.

Young people can get married at 16. They can also leave school and enter work. They have to pay tax and they can join the army. What they cannot do is to vote for the people who make the laws on all these matters.

It also makes sense to have a voting age set at a point in a person's life when they are most stable - before the upheaval of leaving home for university or whatever. The research shows that if a person votes when they are first entitled to then they are more likely to carry on voting throughout their life. If they don't vote first time then they are more likely to become permanent non-voters.

Whilst nationally the Conservatives oppose lowering the voting age, in Scotland the party has come out in favour having seen the positive experience of the independence referendum. Lib Dems, Labour, Greens, SNP and Plaid Cymru all support a lower voting age and will put up a strong case when the issue is debated in the House of Commons in the autumn. I very much hope that the government recognises that this is a matter both of common sense and fairness and accepts the Lib Dem amendment.

No comments: