Give young people a say in their communities and their future
On the day the Cities & Local Government Devolution Bill returns to the Lords, Liberal Democrat peer Lord Shipley calls on the Government to think again on giving 16 and 17 year olds a say in local elections.
Back in the summer the Lords voted 221 to 154, a majority of 67, to give 16 year olds the right to vote in local elections. When the Bill went to the Commons this decision was reversed; as a consequence the matter has returned to the Lords to be voted on again. The Tories are fighting to deny 16 year olds the vote and we are fighting back.
Ten years ago the Power commission, funded by the Joseph Rowntree Trust, concluded in its report on how to increase political participation that the voting age should be lowered to 16. It was one of its key recommendations and it has never been acted on.
I find it strange that so much emphasis is put on citizenship for young people in their education but the natural extension of this to enable them to vote is a step the Government seems reluctant to take or even talk about.
We can’t complain that younger generations are not engaging with politics when they can’t participate. The Government needs to think very carefully about this because there are over 1.5 million young people aged 16 and 17 who could be encouraged to become more directly involved in the democratic process.
We need to get young people into the way of voting and starting at 18 can be too late as turn out levels of young people under 25 show. Our democracy depends on high levels of participation. Voting at 16 would instil in more young people the habit of voting.
What is more, young people surely have a right to a say in how the communities they live in are run. They attend schools and colleges and they use public services. They are very politically conscious and we should build on that.
We now have the precedent of the Scottish Referendum eighteen months ago when 16 and 17 year olds were entitled to vote. While Scotland is not part of this Bill this precedent has served in practice as a pilot and has changed mind sets because it was clearly a success.
The issue of votes at 16 has been a subject of ongoing debate in the Lords since the election. In recent months we have had significant debates on the right to vote at 16 in the EU Referendum. The Lords told the Government to rethink its position, calling for the Government to give 16 year olds a say on a decision that will stick with them for the rest of their lives. Again, that decision was reversed in the Commons, and again the Conservatives blocked the expansion of the voting franchise.
The Government needs to look again at the issue, they are too happy to maintain the status quo, too happy to maintain a system that cuts young people out from having a say in their communities and their futures. Today I will call a vote and the Lords will decide if we should take this opportunity to give a voice to our young people.
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