Sixteen and seventeen year olds are ‘almost certain’ to get to vote in the EU referendum under plans being hatched in the Lords
- The Conservatives are bitterly oppose letting younger teenagers vote
- Attempt to extend the vote to 16-year-olds failed in the Commons today
- Labour and Lib Dems planning to force through new law in coming months
David Cameron has ruled out giving sixteen and seventeen year olds a vote in the EU referendum
Sixteen and seventeen year olds are ‘almost certain’ to get to vote in the EU referendum, under plans being hatched by peers to defeat David Cameron.
The Conservatives oppose letting younger teenagers vote, as they did in the referendum on Scottish independence last year, saying the franchise should only be over-18s as in general elections.
An attempt to extend the vote to 16-year-olds failed in the House of Commons this afternoon with MPs voting by 310 to 265 against it.
But Labour and Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords are planning to force through a lowering of the voting age in the coming months – and say they have a strong chance of making it law.
Ministers fear that once it has been allowed in the European referendum, which will be held before the end of 2017, it would be difficult to oppose a lower voting age in all elections.
Baroness Smith of Basildon, the Labour leader in the Lords, said: ‘The outcome of this referendum will have a lasting impact on the lives of all EU citizens.
‘Those who are 40 years younger than me are going to have to live with the consequences of this referendum for much longer than I will. Why should they be denied a say?”
‘If the Prime Minister insists on resisting this sensible change, it is almost certain that he would lose the vote in the Lords’.
The Tories do not have a majority in the Lords, for the first time in more than 15 years. This means that with a good turnout by all parties, they could expect to be defeated by up to 90 votes.
Peers expect the crunch vote on 16 and 17-year-olds to be held in October. Labour will be helped by Lib Dem peers of which there are 101 in the Lords despite the party’s recent wipe-out.
Tom Brake, one of the party’s remaining MPs, said since the party had been decimated they could most forcefully stand up to the government in the House of Lords and planned to do so.
Mr Brake said peers would ‘go to town’ on the issue of 16 and 17 year-olds voting. ‘They will pursue issues where a head of steam has built up in the Commons. This could be a crunch issue.’
Lord Newby, the Lib Dems party’s chief whip in the Lords said he expected Mr Cameron to give in. ‘The genie is out of the bottle, since we gave 16 and 17 year olds the vote in Scotland…I think it’ll get through in the House of Lords with the Lib Dems and Labour party in favour of it’, he said.
‘They Tories have lost the argument and I don’t think they’ll want to keep digging when they are in a hole. It doesn’t benefit their party and Cameron is very often pragmatic about finding solutions when he realises the game is up.’
Labour and Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords are planning to force through a lowering of the voting age in the coming months – and say they have a strong chance of making it law
He said it was not a question of which way they would vote, but to address the ‘depressing’ number of children who ‘come out of school with no idea about what voting in Parliament means’.
‘The principle argument at the end of the day is chronic low turnout amongst young people and the Scottish referendum demonstrated that young people can be energised if they are made part of something and understand what it means. If they had a vote when they were still at school, it would force schools to tell them about it’, he said.
The Conservatives have traditionally enjoyed a substantial majority in the House of Lords which scrutinises and can amend laws approved by MPs. But they are now outnumbered due to years of appointments of Labour peers and now a substantial number of Lib Dems. One Tory peer told the Mail the Lib Dems were ‘grotesquely over-represented’.
Lord Newby added: ‘The Tories have never been in this position facing a House of Lords in which they are in a minority. That’s about to hit them. There are a number of issues we will be calling votes on – and they will be defeated unless they are prepared to make concessions.’
Opposition peers must not defeat policies which are in the government’s election manifesto – under a longstanding tradition called the Salisbury Convention. But peers are allowed to amend laws significantly. It is expected Labour and Lib Dem peers will also seek to water down local government cuts and plans to scrap the Human Rights Act.
David Cameron said last year: ‘I think 18 is the right age for majority and the right age to vote. Voting is an enormous privilege and a right, but it’s a right you should earn at 18.’
A survey, commissioned by Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft, found 71pc of 16 to 17-year-olds voted for Scotland to be independent and 29pc voted against in last September’s referendum.