Yes/No, Prime Minister

ElunedMorgan.pngEluned Morgan on why David Cameron must give 16 and 17 year olds a say on our future in Europe

The European Union Referendum Bill will next Tuesday will have its Second Reading in the Lords, and one of the key issues during its time at our end of Parliament will be about who should be allowed to take part in the referendum vote.

Nobody will ever forget the enthusiasm and intelligence with which the youth of Scotland engaged in the independence referendum issue. They recognised that this vote would impact on them and their place in the world. Likewise the UK government has also conceded that if Wales were to have a referendum on tax raising powers that 16 and 17-year-olds should have their say.

There seems to be no logic therefore, in the Conservative position that only those 18 years and older should have a say on whether or not we remain a part of the EU or not.

My mother remembers a time when there was no electricity in the home. I remember a time when it was only the super-rich who travelled abroad, and I didn't taste pasta until I was in my teens. Today however, 16 year olds live in a technical and digital world, and most of them well understand the impact that it has - and will have - on their lives. They understand both the challenges and benefits that globalisation brings.

These youngsters know that they will be competing for jobs with people across the planet. They understand that the companies they could be working for are as likely as not to be headquartered the other side of the world. But they will also be exposed directly to different cultures from around the world. They know they can buy goods from far off nations on their smart phone, tablet or their parents creaking PC. They know that they have opportunities to study and work in any country within the EU - and beyond. And they are acutely aware of the ongoing impacts of climate change, and the need for global rules for markets.

So, whether on balance these 16 and 17-year-olds think that the relationship with the EU is a good or bad thing is a highly valid question in relation to how they view and want to interact with the rest of the world. They, more than any parliamentarian at Westminster or indeed any 'adult' in the UK, will have to deal longest with the consequences of this historic vote.

As a supporter of the EU, I am optimistic that most youngsters believe our country's future should be outward looking and help us secure Britain's voice on the world stage. But either way, they have a right to be heard and the Prime Minister still has an opportunity to change his mind on this issue ahead of the Bill's Committee stage in the Lords. He missed a chance yesterday in his speech to Conservative Party Conference but should still see sense and I for one would credit him with performing a u-turn for all the right reasons.

If he fails to do so however, Labour has been working with others to ensure that we have an amendment debated at Committee stage of the Bill. An amendment that we are confident can win support right across the Lords. And which, if passed, will turn the matter into a bigger headache for Mr Cameron at about the time when he's desperately trying to hold his Party - and government - together over the wider issue of EU membership.

Baroness Eluned Morgan is a Shadow FCO Minister and also Shadow Wales Minister in the Lords. She tweets @eluned_morgan

Published 8th October 2015

An earlier version of this article first appeared at The HuffingtonPost

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