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Voting for 16 and 17-year-olds

Volume 603: debated on Thursday 17 December 2015

1. What assessment the Electoral Commission has made of the potential merits of widening the franchise to 16 and 17-year-olds. (902793)

The commission has made clear in its briefings on recent legislation that a change to the franchise is a matter for Parliament, and does not take a view on the merits of widening the franchise to 16 or 17-year-olds. During the passage of the European Union Referendum Bill, the commission advised Parliament on the practical implications of any such change, including the activity that would be required to be carried out by electoral registration officers, central Government and the commission itself.

Following the incredible engagement of young people in the Scottish referendum, Scottish National party Members suggested that they should be given the vote in the EU referendum. Although many Conservative Members did not agree with that specific proposal, they expressed support for extending the franchise in the long term. With turnout falling, would not registration and education while young people are still at school increase political engagement in the future?

The hon. Lady brings relevant experience to this issue. This is ultimately a matter for the House to decide—the debate continues to rage—and not one for the Electoral Commission. I have no doubt that we will hear much more about this issue over the next two or three years.

Does my hon. Friend not agree that we should concentrate on increasing turnout among 18 to 24-year-olds before we start on 16 and 17-year-olds?

My hon. Friend makes an interesting point. As I understand it, less than 40% of 18 to 24-year-olds vote in general elections. It would be very healthy indeed for that number to increase. It is for all of us to inspire the young people in our constituencies to turn out and vote.

Does the hon. Gentleman know of any political party—SNP, Labour or anyone else—that has looked at the damage we do to the protection of children by making them adults at the age of 16? Has there been any thorough research on how damaging that is for our society and for the protection of our children?

I am not aware that the Electoral Commission has carried out any such research. The debate on this important issue will rumble on because there are very strongly opposing views.