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York Central MP Backs Lower Voting Age


4:20pm 25th January 2013

In the House of Commons yesterday Hugh Bayley, MP for York Central, called on the Government to lower the voting age to 16 for all elections and referendums in the UK.  Hugh Bayley was one of a cross-party group of MPs who tabled a motion “That this House believes that the age of eligibility for voting in all elections and referendums in the United Kingdom should be reduced to 16.”

Hugh Bayley was one of the first people to benefit from the decision, more than 40 years ago by Harold Wilson’s Labour Government, to reduce the voting age to 18.  Mr Bayley voted in the 1970 general election (the first in which 18-year-olds could vote).  He argued in the debate “It is about time we moved on and allowed younger people, who are better educated now than I was then, to vote.”  Mr Bayley also made the case that voting at 16 would encourage more young people to learn the habit of voting and encourage them to participate in politics throughout their lives.  Simon Hughes, MP for Bermondsey and Old Southwark, agreed that Mr Bayley made a strong case, which he said was the same as his own central argument.  Mr Bayley’s interventions during the debate are attached in full.

Earlier in the day, during Oral Questions, Mr Bayley had pressed Gary Streeter MP, who represents the Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, to ensure that people who are currently registered to vote in the UK should remain on the electoral register until the next general election.  Concerns have been widely expressed that the Government’s plans for introducing individual voter registration, which would change registering to vote from being compulsory to voluntary, will see a drop in the number of people registered, and if brought in before 2015, could deny millions of people the right to vote at the next general election.

According to a report published in November by the Electoral Commission, Northern Ireland (where individual registration was tested out) has seen a collapse in the accuracy and completeness of the electoral register.  From a register estimated in 2008 to be 83% complete and 90% accurate, the latest appraisal found the register is now only 71% complete and 78% accurate.  In response to Mr Bayley, Mr Streeter confirmed that the UK Government has agreed the current electoral register in the UK will be used for the next general election, so that those currently on the register will definitely be able to vote at the next election.  Their exchange can be read below:

Hugh Bayley (York Central) (Lab): What recent guidance the Electoral Commission has issued on ways of increasing participation in elections.

Mr Gary Streeter (South West Devon): The commission undertakes public awareness work to raise awareness of elections and how to participate in them, including by encouraging people to register. Electoral registration officers and returning officers have a statutory duty to promote participation locally, and the commission provides guidance to help them to do so. The guidance focuses on ensuring that people know how to participate.

Hugh Bayley: Given the consequence of the experiment in individual voter registration in Northern Ireland, does the hon. Gentleman agree with the commission that those people who already have their names on the electoral register throughout the United Kingdom should have their names kept on the register until the time of the next general election so that they should be able to vote at that election?

Mr Streeter: Yes I do, and, more important, so do the Government, which is precisely why it is going to happen.”

Hugh Bayley was one of 119 MPs from across the House who voted yesterday for the voting age to be reduced to 16.  Only 46 voted against.  The House of Commons therefore demonstrated its support for enabling 16 and 17-year-olds to vote in all UK elections and referendums.  Responding to the debate, Chloë Smith, the Minister for Political and Constitutional Reform, stated that “the Deputy Prime Minister (Nick Clegg) has made clear on numerous occasions his personal view that there is merit in lowering the voting age”.  However, she admitted that the Conservative Party “tends not to agree” and that “we do not have a consensus on this policy within the Government”.  The outcome of yesterday’s debate does not bind the government to changing the law, despite the fact that MPs clearly backed the right to vote at 16.

Hugh Bayley MP says:

“16 and 17 year olds have a voice and I believe they should to be given the right to have their voices heard.  MPs make decisions that directly affect 16 and 17 year olds – for example, on the minimum wage paid in part-time or full-time work, and how much tax they pay; on funding available for their schools, colleges and universities; on the cost of going to university; and on what age they are able legally to smoke, drink alcohol or have sex.  16 and 17 year olds should be able to vote so that their voices are heard on the decisions that directly affect them.

“The Minister claimed the Government wants to increase political engagement amongst young people.  The best way to get young people interested in politics is to involve them in the process.  If teenagers are able to vote at 16, many will pick up the habit of a lifetime.  They are more likely to be on the electoral register when they still live with their parents.  When they leave home, many lose the right to vote, but if you have already voted once you are more likely to make sure you keep your name on the register.”

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