Page added on January 24, 2013
Today in a Backbench Business Debate in the Commons, Jon Ashworth MP joined the Labour Frontbench in calling for a lowering of the voting age to 16. The current age at which people are allowed to start voting in elections in the UK is 18, but there has long been a debate about lowering the voting age to 16.
During the debate, Mr Ashworth also asked the Minister, Chloe Smith MP, if she would consider allowing 16 and 17 year olds the vote at next year’s European election should today’s motion be passed although this question was ignored by the Minister.
As part of its 2010 General Election manifesto, the Labour Party pledged to hold a free vote in Parliament on reducing the voting age to 16 and Labour leader Ed Miliband continued to support the idea of lowering the voting age in a speech ahead of last year’s Labour Party Conference.
In the lead up to the debate Mr Ashworth conducted an online poll which showed that 76% of participants believed the voting age should be lowered. Of those that voted, 100% of participants aged between 30 and 50 were in favour of lowering the voting age, and 83% of participants aged 20 and under were also in favour.
Mr Ashworth said:
“Clearly there is a strong desire across most age brackets to lower the voting age and engage young people in politics at an earlier stage in their lives. Regardless of what some people have said, the young people I have met at schools and Sixth Forms in Leicester South are engaged and are interested in the issues that affect them.”
“At the age of 16, young people are already able to leave school and enter work or training. They pay income tax and National Insurance and can obtain tax credits and welfare benefits in their own right. They are able to consent to sexual relationships, and to enter into marriage or civil partnerships. They are able to give full consent to medical treatment. They can join the armed forces, become the director of a company and a member of a trade union or a co-operative society. Yet they cannot vote.”
“Given the long list of various things you can do at 16, it seems to me entirely right and entirely fair that 16 and 17 year olds should get the vote. Perhaps that will result in a less cavalier attitude towards young peoples’ issue in Parliament, which would only be a good thing.”
Lowering the voting age to 16, coupled with strong citizenship lessons in schools could very well lead to increased engagement of young people in the political process.
As part of this, Mr Ashworth will tomorrow visit Madani High School to talk to pupils about the voting age. Pupils at the school have been campaigning to lower the voting age as part of their Citizenship course, and Mr Ashworth will meet with them on Friday to hear more about their campaign.
The motion was passed with a vote of 119 to 46 – a majority of 73.