Debate on Lords Amendments to EU Ref Bill
In the 20 seconds that remain to me—[Interruption.] It is now 19 and counting, so I will not take any interventions. I wish to argue that this measure makes sense. We need to trust our young people and empower them. Let us give them this vote and this chance.
The full speech I prepared for this debate can be seen below
Debate on Lords Amendments to EU Ref Bill
Mr Speaker I wish to speak on the Lords Amendment 1 to extend the referendum franchise to 16 and 17 year old.
One of the many lessons we can learn from the Scottish referendum is that extending the franchise to include 16 and 17 years was empowering and mobilised a generation to get involved in politics. Figures suggest that 75% of those 16-17 year olds registered to vote in the referendum actually voted. It was uplifting to see youngster turning up on polling day to cast their votes. They shook-up the Scottish Referendum, it became a highly engaging and energetic debate, not bogged down in the dreary politics of tradition, but instead a campaign that inspired people.
The Scottish referendum was a hugely significant moment in the future of the Union and the European referendum is equally so. Whole generations have grown up having never voted on UK membership of the EU, that includes 16 and 17 year olds in 1975, yet the majority of their lives they have lived as EU members. We should not condemn the 1.5million 16 and 17 year olds of today to the same fate.
We must give them more credit to make the right decisions, whatever they may be. Their involvement in both sides of the campaign in Scotland showed that they can actively engage in political arguments and make a telling contribution to the debate. Sometimes their input can be more effective than the input of those much older than them. When I have spoken with 16 and 17 year old students in local schools in my Aberavon constituency they have been politically astute, have a better understanding of political and global situations than some adults and posed probing questions about Government decisions and policies.
We have to cast off the stereotypical image of 16 and 17 year old being only interested in TOWIE or the Kardashians. They are equally as interested in their local community, the world around them, global issues and having grown up in an era of the internet they have easy access to a wealth of information through iphones and ipads.
But we must also give them the opportunity to explore this political interest and not shut them out of the decision making process. They are able to engage with politics through social media campaigns and have protested against student fees but there is a serious disconnect when it comes to engaging them in the formal political processes. Preventing them from voting in this referendum would only widen the chasm.
The precedent has been set in Scotland and there is no reasonable reason why the same should not apply in this referendum or indeed in future elections. If you can join the armed forces or get married at 16 with your parents’ permission then surely 16 year olds have the maturity to vote. Age is no guarantee of maturity and youth does not equate to immaturity.
You can be the director of a company at the age of 16 and if you are in work you pay tax and NI contributions. There is real responsibility involved in these roles. We afford them the responsibility to carry out these roles, but resist attempts to allow them into the voting booths?
16 is the legal age of consent, you can change your name by deed poll, choose a GP or leave home. There are some pretty big decision you can make at 16 so why can’t they make a decision on EU membership?
Extending the franchise to include 16 and 17 year old will bring a different dynamic to the EU referendum, forcing us to engage with youngster in ways that are sometimes a bit alien but the outcome can be a spirited, robust and encompassing campaign that could capture the imagination of the country and not be about men in suits discussing some far off concept that doesn’t really relate to ordinary people.
When an opportunity to genuinely influence a decision is presented to youngsters then they will embrace it with enthusiasm and responsibility. At a time when voter turnout is hitting record lows and people are feeling increasingly disenfranchised this is a golden opportunity to engage with a whole generation. Allowing them to shape a decision that will affect their futures as much as anyone else’s.
The decision taken when the country goes to the polls in this referendum will have huge consequences on the lives of 16 and 17 year olds, they will live longer than most in this House with the impact of this decision, it is only right that we give them a say in their own futures.