Campaigners and Conservatives call for votes at 16 & 17 ahead of Bill debate

Posted on the 14th May 2018

Electoral Reform Society highlight growing Conservative support for reform.

  • Statement from the Electoral Reform Society for immediate release.
  • For more information, contact [email protected] or 07717 211630.
  • Call comes ahead of Conservative pamphlet for extended franchise due to be published next month.

Campaigners and Conservative MPs are calling for the government to back a ‘fairer franchise’, ahead of a key Bill to extend the vote to 16 and 17 year olds today.

MPs will debate the second reading of Dr Peter Kyle’s Representation of the People (Young People’s Enfranchisement) Bill [1].

The cross-party Bill would ensure voting rights for 16 and 17 year olds, and introduce ‘auto-enrollment’ onto the electoral register for young people.

It builds on growing momentum for extending the franchise ‘south of the border’, after Scotland passed votes at 16 in 2015 [2].

And the Welsh Government recently backed plans for extending the vote in local elections [3].

Backers of the Bill include Conservative MPs Nicky Morgan and Sir Peter Bottomley, the Green MP Caroline Lucas, and a number of Labour MPs. 

The SNP and Plaid Cymru are also longstanding Votes at 16 supporters, and Liberal Democrat MP Norman Lamb is also on the list of names.

16 and 17 year olds took part ‘wholeheartedly’ in the Scottish independence referendum, with 75% voting and 97% saying they would vote in future elections [4].

Many of those opposed to extending the franchise for the referendum at the time soon backed the moves – including Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson [5].

Former Chancellor George Osborne recently came out in favour of the policy [6], adding to a groundswell in favour of reform among Conservatives.

Darren Hughes, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said:

“There is growing cross-party support for a fairer franchise and this Bill is the latest example of that. Young people are increasingly engaged in politics – yet they are being denied real representation.

“There is increasing momentum among people of all ages and parties in favour of extending the vote. Let’s embrace it and step our democracy up a gear.

“With Wales and Scotland backing a fairer franchise, England risks being left isolated on this issue. It would be a glaring constitutional injustice if around a million 16 and 17 year olds in England and Northern Ireland continued to be denied a vote in elections.

“This is about sending a message to Britain’s young people – that they can embrace this right and duty, to become full and active citizens.

“With significant support among Conservatives for reform, there is an opportunity for Theresa May to be on the right side of history. We hope the government backs this vital move to step our democracy up a gear.”

In an upcoming report on votes at 16 for the Electoral Reform Society, Conservative MP Nicky Morgan will say:  

“In the same way that allowing all men and women to vote seemed a brave step forward, but is now something we wonder why it took so long to achieve, I think the time has now come to allow votes for 16 and 17 year olds.  That is why I am backing a Private Members’ Bill tabled by Labour MP, Peter Kyle.

“The suffragettes and the suffragists needed visionary men to support their cause, and our 16 and 17 year olds now need older voters to support theirs.

“Politicians should stop wringing their hands and wondering why young people aren’t politically engaged and take the most obvious step to address this by extending the franchise to our 16 and 17 year olds. The Suffragette slogan of ‘Deeds not Words’ has resonance again.”

Sir Peter Bottomley MP said:

“My appeal to Conservative, Labour and supporters of other parties who oppose this is not to approach this issue with calculations of party advantage. The United Kingdom’s democratic story is more important than that.

“Let us unite in trusting and engaging with our country’s future.”

ENDS
Fact sheet:

  • 16- and 17-year-olds accessed more information from a wider variety of sources than any other age-group during the referendum campaign; discussing political issues in schools greatly increased their confidence in their political understanding
  • Of 10,000 young people who took part in a Welsh Assembly consultation on the issue, 53% backed votes at 16, compared to under 30% who disagreed. 79% think it’s important for young people to learn about politics. The policy is in the process of being implemented.
  • The Hansard Society’s Audit of Political Engagement has found young people want to be engaged and involved in politics: “There are no age differences when it comes to perceived empowerment [in politics]. However, the oldest citizens aged 75+ are much less likely than their younger counterparts to want to be involved in decision-making at both the local and national levels. Beyond this, the differences between other age groups are relatively small in terms of their desire for involvement at all levels.”
  • 16 and 17 year olds in the Isle of Man, Jersey and Guernsey are already able to vote. They can also vote in some elections in Germany and Norway and in all elections in Brazil and Austria.
  • Over 40% of 16- and 17-year-olds in Scotland had a different voting intention to their parent(s) in the independence referendum and discussing political issues in schools greatly increased their confidence in their political understanding.

Notes to Editors

[1] The Bill is expected to be heard just after 2:30pm https://services.parliament.uk/bills/2017-19/representationofthepeopleyoungpeoplesenfranchisement.htmlSee order paper: https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmagenda/OP180511.pdf

[2] https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/scotland-leads-the-way-on-votes-at-16/

[3] https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/latest-news-and-research/media-centre/press-releases/votes-at-16-uk-government-must-follow-wales-and-scotland-in-backing-fairer-franchise/

[4] “109,593 16 and 17 year olds were included on the registers by the registration deadline and 75% of those we spoke to claimed to have voted. Importantly, 97% of those 16-17 year olds who reported having voted said that they would vote again in future elections and referendums.” http://www.electoralcommission.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0010/179812/Scottish-independence-referendum-report.pdf

[5] https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/why-ruth-davidson-supports-votes-at-16/

[6] https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/osborne-calls-for-votes-at-16-8zg2kp66j

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