On 13 December, Peers discussed amending the law to permit 16 and 17 year olds to participate in the forthcoming referendum on what voting system we use in UK General Elections, as part of a debate on the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill.
The debate follows a lengthy debate in October in the House of Commons, where almost 200 opposition MPs voted in favour of extending the right to vote in the referendum to this age group.
Many Peers spoke in favour of allowing 16 and 17 year olds to vote, both in the referendum (likely to be on 5 May 2011) but also in general and local elections. Baroness Hayter, opening the debate, said that 16 and 17 year olds currently have taxation without representation and highlighted the high levels of activism and political interest amongst young people, citing recent protests on student fees and the Education Maintenance Allowance as examples. Baroness McDonagh called the issue part and parcel of the long march to democracy and said that lowering the voting age for the referendum would be a positive good. Lord Falconer also spoke in favour of lowering the voting age for all elections, rejecting the argument that 16 year olds are not mature enough to vote and calling on his colleagues to grasp the nettle as soon as possible in order to allow 16 and 17 year olds to have the vote.
Although the amendment was not pushed to a vote, the debate was hugely positive and showed a high level of support amongst Peers in favour of lowering the voting age. Baroness Hayter concluded saying, “Basically, those of us who put our names to the amendment won the argument. There is general support for voting at 16. The objections that were thrown up were practical ones rather than issues of principle. The real issue is that nearly everyone supports the idea of voting at 16″.