Votes at 16 voted down: Lords must stand firm on EU referendum bill
Last night MPs rejected an attempt by the House of Lords to give 16 and 17-year-olds a vote in the planned referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU.
The amendment put forward in the Lords was overturned in the Commons by 303 votes to 253. At the same time a TUC twitter poll of over 900 people found 86% were in favour of reducing the voting age.
The government said it would be wrong to alter the “tried and tested” general election franchise for a single poll, although that is precisely what they have already done in other areas of the EU Referendum Bill, for example for citizens of Gibraltar! They also said that extending the franchise would cost £6m, and that because Parliamentary procedure prevents the Lords blocking Commons decision over spending proposals, the debate should end there and then.
The TUC has been in support of votes at 16 since it passed a motion at Congress in 1999 because it’s the right thing to do, so these procedural arguments are unimpressive. 16 years on it’s hard to believe the issue is still up for debate, especially when one part of the UK has already enforced the change. Has Scotland taught us nothing? Shouldn’t we jump at the chance to engage more young people in politics, by empowering them to have a real say in a real decision about their future?
The EU offers young people in the UK the opportunity to travel, study and work abroad. The outcome of the EU referendum could change that – along with changes to basic working rights. We can’t shut out the very people who this decision will affect the most – after all, they’ll be the ones who have to live longest with the outcome of the decision.
Frances O’Grady, TUC General Secretary, has said that:
“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.”
What are MPs worried about anyway? That young people aren’t making informed decisions, that they’re too apathetic and don’t care about politics, so it’s a wasted opportunity? 75% of 16 to 17 year olds voted in the Scottish referendum; it’s not true that young people are apathetic. Whether it’s environmental activism, the anti-cuts movement or the new wave of feminism, we know that huge numbers of young people are politically engaged.
It’s incumbent on all of us to make politics relate to the issues young people care about, to demonstrate how decisions in Westminster affect them and their day to day lives.
If large numbers of young people don’t participate in our democracy, then political parties will simply pay lip service to their concerns and aspirations. That’s why we urgently need to encourage the younger generation to become active and vote. Lowering the voting age sends a message that young people have power and can’t just be ignored.
Trade unions have always given a voice to those who have none, we stand for a fair and inclusive democratic process. That’s why the TUC is calling for the Lords to hold firm on their decision and not back down when they have to vote again on Monday (14 December). And this time we want the Commons to think long and hard about refusing to give young people a say.