Wales pushes ahead with plans for votes at 16

By agency reporter
October 3, 2018

The Conservatives are under growing pressure to back votes at 16 and 17, after new plans were announced to extend the franchise for Welsh Assembly elections.

The Welsh Assembly Commission announced it will push ahead with plans to extend the franchise under the Welsh Parliament and Elections Bill, and is due to table a motion for debate on 10 October 2018. The move has cross-party backing and follows campaigning by Electoral Reform Society Cymru (Wales).

The change would see Wales follow Scotland, where 16 and 17 year olds can vote in all Scottish Parliamentary and local elections. The change was passed unanimously in Holyrood in 2015 after winning the support of Scottish Conservatives, including Ruth Davidson.

In light of the proposed legislation in Wales, the Electoral Reform Society (ERS) is challenging the government at Westminster to create a ‘united franchise’ across the United Kingdom. The ERS say Parliament’s ‘dismal’ record on democratic reform has been brought into focus by the changes.

Former Education Secretary Nicky Morgan called for her party to extend the voting age at an event in Birmingham.

Peter Kyle MP’s Private Members’ Bill seeking to extend the franchise to 16 year olds will have its second reading in the House of Commons later this month.

The Electoral Reform Society recently published Civic Duty: The Conservative Case for Votes at 16 and 17, featuring contributions from Sir Peter Bottomley MP, Miles Briggs MSP, Nicky Morgan, Tory Reform Group chair Owen Meredith and others.

Darren Hughes, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said: “These plans to extend the franchise to 16 and 17 year olds in Wales put Westminster’s dismal democratic record in sharp relief. Scotland and now Wales are modernising politics – boosting political engagement and inspiring young people to become active citizens. It’s time for the UK government to follow suit.

“Disconcertingly for a party of union, the United Kingdom will soon be desperately divided when it comes to the voting age and how we empower a new generation.

“But while 16 and 17 year olds are likely to get the vote for Welsh Assembly elections, they will be denied a voice at Westminster.

“We have seen from Scotland that young people are ready and willing to be given this democratic responsibility – and many of the voices who opposed it in 2014 now unequivocally support it, having seen young people’s huge enthusiasm.

“The United Kingdom isn’t just about pooling resources, but pooling ideas too. Scotland shows that votes at 16 is tried, tested and proven to boost civic engagement and a sense of citizenship among young people.

“The Prime Minister has the opportunity to build a legacy of positive reform: to extend civic duty and create a truly united franchise in the centenary year of women’s suffrage.”

Jess Blair, Director of ERS Cymru, said: “These changes are a vital step towards a fairer franchise for Wales and the UK as a whole. Young people in Wales can soon have a real say on their future and the issues that affect them. Alongside a revolution in citizenship education, Wales is leading the way in empowering a whole new generation of active citizens.

“The National Assembly for Wales is setting a positive example for Westminster – it’s time the UK government followed suit in backing a franchise fit for the 21st century.

“There is a widening gulf between people and politics which we can help reverse by nurturing active and engaged young citizens. When young people help build a deep and diverse political debate, we all benefit.”

* Read Civic Duty: The Conservative Case for Votes at 16 and 17  here

* Electoral Reform Society https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/

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