#VotesAt16: Giving young people a greater say on their future
Today the House of Commons will be placed in the ironic position of being asked by the Government to reject a democratic reform proposed by the unelected House of Lords. And the TUC is backing the Lords.
The EU referendum, which will probably be held next year, will determine the future of everyone in the UK for at least a generation. The TUC believes that, for that reason alone, 16 and 17 year olds should have a say, and we are backing the Lords’ amendment to the EU Referendum Bill to extend the franchise to include votes at 16. (For other reasons to support the Lords amendment, see my blog at Left Foot Forward.)
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady has said of the issue:
“The EU referendum will seal the fate of the next generation of workers. It will affect their workplace rights, their opportunity to work in other EU countries and the future industrial policy and supply of jobs in the UK. It would be wrong to tell today’s 16 and 17 year olds that this decision about their future will be made without them.”
One argument that the Government has made against the change is that the decision about whether to grant votes at 16 is one which should be taken as a separate decision, not vote by vote (16 year olds did of course get the vote in the Scottish referendum, so arguably, this boat has sailed.) However, the TUC wouldn’t be averse to a general change in the voting age: we have been backing the lowering of the voting age since our 1999 Congress, which in another irony means that we’ve been advocating votes at 16 ever since today’s 16 year olds were born!
Now it’s being reported, in yet another irony, that the Government is attempting to prevent the House of Lords from carrying on the fight by an undemocratic manoeuvre, invoking the rule that the Lords does not interfere in financial measures by saying that the cost of extending the franchise would be £6m! The rule, intended to stop the unelected House of Lords from rejecting an elected Government’s budget, has never been used for such a small (by government spending standards) amount. For reference, £6m is less than 0.001% of government spending, and it would mostly go on postage….
If the Commons rejects votes at 16 today, we’ll be campaigning to get the Lords to confirm its position in the New Year, and then piling the pressure on MPs to get enough Conservatives to give young people a say on an issue that will affect them far longer than any people who currently have the vote.