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EU Referendum

Volume 602: debated on Tuesday 24 November 2015

Our immediate priority is to ensure that the European Union Referendum Bill passes into law, so that those who are eligible to vote can do so. The Government are, however, also committed to supporting efforts to maximise registration, and the Electoral Commission plans to launch a national public awareness campaign in the run-up to the referendum.

Given that even the unelected House of Lords is now calling for the voting franchise to be extended to 16 and 17-year-olds, and given the change in public attitudes, will the Government reconsider, and legislate for the extension of that franchise?

On three occasions, this House—the elected House—has voted against lowering the voting age to 16 for the referendum, and the Government will propose to overturn the latest amendment from the Lords. I must say to the hon. Gentleman that it is a bit rich for him and his party to carp about the franchise, given that they voted against having a referendum at all.

Will the Minister assure the House that following the completion of the Prime Minister’s renegotiations there will be more than sufficient time before the referendum itself to air arguments both for and against remaining in the EU?

I can assure my hon. Friend that there is going to be ample time for those arguments to be aired both in this House and outside.

May I press the Minister a little further on the issue of 16 and 17-year-olds? The other place passed its amendment on this by a big majority on 18 November. There are rumours of disagreements within the Government and within the Cabinet on how to respond. The Prime Minister has so far left the door open to change in the questions he has been asked previously about this. We know that 16 and 17-year-olds are capable of understanding the issues and we know they are interested and want to take part, so why will the Minister not agree to the amendment and give 16 and 17-year-olds a proper say in the future of our country?

There are hon. Members in various parts of the House who champion the cause of reducing the voting age to 16, but I say to the right hon. Gentleman that the right time to debate that issue is during discussions on proposed legislation where such a change would apply to the franchise for all elections and referendums and not as a one-off tacked on to a Bill for a particular referendum.