Votes at 16 – the time has come!

I BELIEVE that the time has come to give 16 and 17 year olds the vote – and we are the cusp of historically extending the franchise! It’s already happening in Scotland and in Wales. So the Tory Government are quickly finding themselves on the wrong side of the debate, while Labour are yet again showing that they are the Party of the many. 

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My Bill to lower the voting age will be debate on Friday November 3rd. The Bill will also include a requirement on Returning Officers to ensure reasonable steps are taken to register new voters and a requirement on schools to provide education on democracy and citizenship.

This Conservative Government are denying 1.5 million young people their full rights as citizens. At 16, you are eligible to pay tax, get married or even join the army. Our rights must reflect our responsibilities.

Last year, the UK voted to leave the European Union. Labour respects the referendum result and will fight for a Brexit deal that protects jobs, the economy and rights. However, the fact that 16 and 17 years olds could not vote on one of the most important decisions of their lives is a disgrace.

It is vital that young people are politically engaged. Extending the franchise will help increase turnout by inspiring young people to participate in political life from an early age.

The experience in Scotland has shown us how successful extending the franchise can be. 75% of those voting for the first time at the age of 16 and 17 turned out to vote. Even the leader of the Scottish Conservatives Party, Ruth Davidson says she is now a “fully paid-up member of the votes at 16 club”.

The Welsh Labour Government is currently exploring ways to extend the franchise to young people.  This presents a momentous opportunity to increase the pressure on the UK Government and strengthen the case for votes at 16 in England.

Next year we celebrate 100 years since the start of women’s suffrage. It was only in 1970 that the voting age was lowered from 21 to 18, allowing teenagers to vote for the first time in the UK. Prevalent then were exactly the same arguments that stop 16- and 17-year-olds voting today.

Austria is the only country in the EU where 16 years olds can vote in full general elections. There are some exceptions to this including Isle of Man, Jersey or Guernsey. However, we shouldn’t find ourselves cowed by this. Our past is littered with bold actions, proud speeches and even lives lost to win and defend the right to vote.

Votes at 16 is also a priority for young people. UK Youth Parliament voted it as the issue they wanted to campaign on in 2017.

The fact that there is cross-party support to lower the voting age shows that the political appetite for change is there. It’s been discussed in the past, and action has often been shelved. But now the time has come to make this a reality.

If we want to have discussions about civic engagement and educating a new generation in the importance of being politically aware, then empowering young people to vote is the springboard we need. Above all, it’s the right thing to do if we care about strengthening our democracy.

I will be working tirelessly with other MPs and young people to make sure we take this historic step forward.

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