Eluned Morgan once again asserts the case for 16 and 17 year olds to have their say in the EU Referendum
Today, the House of Lords will again debate whether to allow 16-17 year olds a vote in the EU referendum. The last time we voted on this issue, Peers backed it with an overwhelming majority of 82. Despite the Commons rejecting our proposal last week, we continue to fight for these young people to have a say on this historic political decision.
Many Peers are convinced that it does not make sense to continue with inconsistencies regarding when young people should be allowed to participate in the democratic process. Others were persuaded that the enthusiasm and intelligence demonstrated by Scottish 16 and 17 year olds in the independence referendum would be replicated across the UK.
Many Peers were satisfied with factual based evidence from Austria and Norway that demonstrates it makes sense to encourage young people to vote while still living in the communities where they have been brought up. This means they can be encouraged to undertake their duties as citizens before leaving the family home. The same Peers were further convinced by evidence from those countries that when young people start voting at 16 they are more likely to continue to do so.
Many Peers were reassured that today’s 16-17 year olds are the most informed young people in history. They have undertaken citizenship classes at school and have information at their thumb tips through the constant tapping of mobile phones and tablets.
Most Peers were well aware that this is a once in a generation opportunity for these young people to express their view on a long term relationship between our country and the European Union. An outcome that would affect them longer than any current parliamentarian. Since then however, an arcane mechanism has been used to challenge what we have sought to do, after Commons clerks and the government declared our original amendment subject to ‘financial privilege’.
Today therefore, I am putting a new amendment to the Lords. In doing so, we refute the alleged cost of £6m – something on which we have the support of the Chief Executive of the Association of Electoral Administrators. In fact, we think it relatively easy to reach 16 year olds and those soon to be 16 through using low cost options of communication, such as school emails services. Half of these youngsters have probably never received a letter in their life.
Neither would it be a tremendous additional increase in work for Electoral Registration Officers (EROs). If, as has been suggested, we are talking about 1.5 million new voters, then that’s under 4000 for each of the UK’s 380 ERO’s.
My favourite riposte by Ministers is where they tell us “as the other place has clearly and repeatedly expressed a view – opposition peers seeking to push their own agenda, for which they have no democratic mandate should take note of these facts.” That’s the view of FCO Minister Baroness Anelay – the very same Baroness Anelay who as Opposition Chief Whip in the Lords from July 2007 to May 2010 led 81 defeats of the then Labour government.
16 and 17 year olds can be responsible participants in our democracy. The government should give up their ‘do as we say, not as we did’ approach and let young people have their say on this profoundly important matter.
Baroness Eluned Morgan of Ely is Shadow FCO Minister in the House of Lords. She tweets @eluned_morgan
Published 14th December 2015