Just before Parliament was dissolved last week, the British Youth Council (BYC) received the formal response of the Government to its Youth Select Committee report – “Lowering the Voting Age to 16”. The full response was in a letter from Sam Gyimah MP, Minister for the Constitution.
The original youth-led enquiry took place last year and the report recommended fresh legislation to lower the voting age in all elections; a programme of preparation and youth engagement; and investment in teacher training and a citizenship curriculum. This was before the independence referendum, when measures were successfully implemented in Scotland to enable 16 and 17 year olds to vote.
The Minister welcomed the report as a “significant contribution” to the debate. He went on to state it was “comprehensive and well-argued” recognising its mandate from the priority ballot of 478,000 young people in the 2013 Make Your Mark referendum run by the UK Youth Parliament.
Whilst noting that the Coalition did not share a view on the issue, and therefore would not have acted in the last Parliament, he noted that the general election was an opportunity for debate and for the public to reconsider their attitudes towards it. Regarding the specific recommendations – the Government noted their value and listed their own track record in supporting youth participation initiatives like the work of the UK Youth Parliament, the British Youth Council and the Youth Select Committees that had led to this report.
Michael Hope, 18, Chair of the Youth Select Committee who voted in the independence referendum at 17, said: “We were disappointed at the five months delay in the Governments response and we believe that it was a missed opportunity for the government to engage in the decision making process with young people. We are also disappointed that the government did not respond sooner and more positively with a commitment to consider votes at 16 for the European elections as a first step on which all parties could agree. However, the report is a credible foundation, once Parliament decides the time is right. We know it works and although – as cited in the response – public opinion was against the measure in the UK, we know this is no longer the case in Scotland with the vast majority of young people and adults now in favour of votes at 16 for all.”
Ife Grillo, BYC Vice Chair for Campaigns and Communications said: “The British Youth Council welcomes a response to the Youth Select Commitees report. Votes at 16 now has more public support than ever and it a shame that young people aren’t allowed to vote in this next election. Votes at 16 is a belief statement as well as a campign and we hope that whoever ends up in charge shares our vision for a more democratic society”
There is still a possibility that enough pro votes at 16 parties will win enough seats to collaborate on new legislation in a new Parliament. It’s certainly a promise to young people no party would dare break.