Wales set to start legislating for Votes at 16 & 17

Posted on the 10th October 2018

  • Press release from the Electoral Reform Society, for immediate release, 10th October 2018
  • Spokespeople from the ERS are available for interview. For further details/comment or to arrange an interview contact [email protected] or 07717211630  

The Welsh Assembly is set to give the green light to extending the franchise to 16 and 17 year olds on Wednesday. 

The Welsh Assembly Commission [1] will hold a debate and vote from around 4:30pm on Wednesday (10th) to agree to begin the legislative process for extending the right to vote for Assembly elections. It appears almost certain this will pass after the Expert Panel on Assembly Electoral Reform led to cross-party backing for the move [2].

The Welsh Parliament and Elections Bill follows campaigning by ERS Cymru (Wales), and would see Wales follow Scotland, where 16 and 17 year olds can vote in all Scottish Parliamentary and local elections.

That change was passed unanimously in Holyrood in 2015 after winning the support of Scottish Conservatives, including Ruth Davidson. The package of measures also includes changing the name ‘Welsh Assembly’ to ‘Welsh Parliament’. There is a separate process underway for extending the voting age for council elections in Wales [3].

In light of the legislation in Wales, the Electoral Reform Society is challenging the government at Westminster to create a ‘united franchise’ across the United Kingdom. 

Last week (Monday) former Education Secretary Nicky Morgan MP called for her party to extend the voting age at a panel event in Birmingham. Peter Kyle MP’s Private Members’ Bill seeking to extend the franchise to 16 year olds will have its 2nd reading in the House of Commons later this month [4].

Jess Blair, Director of ERS Cymru, said:

“The support from the Assembly on legislating for votes at 16 and 17 in Wales is a vital step towards a fairer franchise for Wales and the UK as a whole. Young people in Wales can soon have a real say on their future. Alongside wider reforms on how elections will work, Wales is leading the way in empowering a whole new generation of active citizens.

“There is a widening gulf between people and politics which we can help reverse by nurturing active and engaged young citizens. When young people help build a deep and diverse political debate, we all benefit.”

“These plans to extend the franchise to 16 and 17 year olds in Wales put Westminster’s dismal democratic record in sharp relief. Scotland and now Wales are modernising politics and promoting real civic engagement – inspiring young people to become active citizens. It’s time for the UK government to follow suit.”

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

“This progress shows votes at 16 and 17 for the UK is now a matter of ‘when’ not ‘if’. However, without reform soon, the United Kingdom will be desperately divided when it comes to the voting age and how we empower a new generation.

“We have seen from Scotland that young people are ready and willing to take charge of their democratic responsibility – and many of the voices who opposed a fairer franchise in 2014 now unequivocally support it, having seen young people’s huge enthusiasm.

“The Prime Minister has the opportunity to build a legacy of positive reform: to extend civic duty and create a truly united franchise in the centenary year of women’s suffrage.”

The Electoral Reform Society recently published ‘Civic Duty: The Conservative Case for Votes at 16 & 17’, featuring contributions from Sir Peter Bottomley MP, Miles Briggs MSP, Rt Hon Nicky Morgan MP, Tory Reform Group chair Owen Meredith and others [5].

ENDS

Notes to Editors

[1] This proposal and others stem from the calls of the Expert Panel on Assembly Electoral Reform, and were subject to consultation earlier this year. A full Consultation Report has been published, as well as a summary report. More information: https://seneddresearch.blog/2018/10/08/will-the-assembly-approve-the-introduction-of-a-welsh-parliament-and-elections-bill/

[2] Public consultation: http://www.assembly.wales/en/abthome/role-of-assembly-how-it-works/Documents/Creating%20a%20Parliament%20for%20Wales%20Consultation%20report%20-%20EN.pdf

Of the 3,200 responses:

  • 59% backed Votes at 16
  • 56% of respondents favoured an increase in the size of the Assembly
  • 54% of respondents favoured STV out of the three systems considered by the expert panel
  • 61% agreed with linking gender quotas to the voting system
  • 52% were opposed to the idea of job sharing

[3] A Local Government Bill is due in early 2019, which will legislate on Votes at 16 for local elections in Wales as well as additional reforms around electoral registration and pilots on voting in different places and on different days.

[4] https://services.parliament.uk/bills/2017-19/representationofthepeopleyoungpeoplesenfranchisement.html

[5] See https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/Civic-Duty-The-Conservative-Case-for-Votes-at-16-and-17.pdf and press release https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/latest-news-and-research/media-centre/press-releases/conservatives-ramp-up-calls-for-pm-to-back-votes-at-16/

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