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Voting Age

Volume 636: debated on Wednesday 21 February 2018

The Government stated in their manifesto a commitment to maintaining the voting age at 18. We therefore have no plans to lower the voting age in elections. We continue to believe that the voting age should remain aligned with the age of majority at 18. This is the point at which many other key rights and obligations are acquired and is in line with international comparators.

With growing support for votes at 16 on the Government’s own Benches, including from two former Education Secretaries, the right hon. Members for Putney (Justine Greening) and for Loughborough (Nicky Morgan), is not the right honourable George Osborne right when he says that the Government do not have a majority to stop this anymore and might as well get on and embrace it and get the credit?

The responsible thing for the Government to do is to stand by not just the policy we stood on in the recent general election but what we believe to be right, and it is right that the age of majority at 18 is the age at which every man and woman in this country acquires the full rights and responsibilities of adult citizenship.

If 16 and 17-year-olds are too childish and irresponsible to vote in local or Westminster elections, should that not also apply to their ability to vote in Conservative leadership elections?

We are talking here about electing the Parliament and the Government of the country, and although some 16 and 17-year-olds exercise and demonstrate enormous responsibilities, it is also the case that we make a general protection in our law for 16 and 17-year-olds—for example, through the criminal justice system. That is another way we recognise that 18 is, on average, the right point to make that judgment.

Last week, my local authority, Rochdale Borough Council, approved a motion supporting votes at 16 that received cross-party support. When will the Minister drag himself into the 21st century and get in line with the progressive and forward-thinking councillors representing the borough of Rochdale?

I am always genuinely interested to hear what is happening in Rochdale Council, but I draw the hon. Lady’s attention to the fact that 26 of our 27 EU partners, as well as Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United States, all have a voting age that begins at 18. I do not think that those countries can fairly be said to be not in the 21st century.

May I encourage my right hon. Friend to follow the wise example of the last Labour Government, who, though they were in office for 13 years and made many radical constitutional changes, none the less did not bring forward proposals to reduce the voting age to 16—for very good reasons?

My hon. Friend is spot on, and not only that, but the last Labour Government took a deliberate decision to increase from 16 to 18 the age at which somebody could buy cigarettes and knives and use a sunbed.

I agree very much with everything my right hon. Friend is saying. Is not the answer to look at all the laws pertaining to the age of majority and actually have laws that make sense? As he identifies, someone is not deemed old enough to use a sunbed at 17; can get married at 16 with their parents’ permission but cannot go out and buy a drink to celebrate; and cannot drive a car until they are 17. The law is all over the place and needs a proper review. Is that not the way forward?

My right hon. Friend makes an interesting and valid point. I would add, of course, that we make specific protections in our law in respect of criminal justice and the asylum system, recognising that people under 18 need special protection.

During a debate in 2015, the hon. Member for Norwich North (Chloe Smith), said:

“I am one of those who believes that we should allow voting at 16”.—[Official Report, 17 November 2015; Vol. 602, c. 572.]

Since then, a range of senior Conservatives have outlined their support, including the former Chancellor, who said that the Conservative party risked

“being on the wrong side of history”

if it refused to back the measure. Does the Minister agree with his colleague and will does he support votes at 16?

I stand by the manifesto on which I stood in 2017, and, as has been made clear this morning, by the position that the Labour party took for the 13 years during which it was last in government.