MPs urged to give voting rights to 16-year-olds


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The Independent Online

MPs should be given an early chance to debate cutting the voting age to 16 across the UK following the decision to allow younger teenagers to participate in the Scottish independence referendum, electoral reformers said last night.

Senior politicians on both sides of the argument over lowering the franchise, as well as a leading constitutional expert, agreed that the Scottish move could have a knock-on effect for Westminster elections.

Yesterday, i disclosed that David Cameron was coming under pressure to re-examine the case for reducing the voting age after agreeing in principle to allow Scottish 16 and 17-year-olds to take part in the referendum. He has offered the concession to Alex Salmond, Scotland's First Minister, in return for the poll only containing a single yes/no question over independence.

Campaign groups are preparing to contact sympathetic MPs next week to see if they are willing to champion parliamentary moves to give the vote to 1.5 million 16 and 17-year-olds. The issue has not been discussed at Westminster since seven years ago, when a Private Members' Bill in support of the move was narrowly defeated.

Natascha Engel, the Labour MP who chairs the Commons backbench business committee, said: "I'd very much welcome having a debate on the floor of the House of Commons on lowering the voting age to 16." She added: "The genie is out of the bottle now. I think we will have to have a debate on this subject soon in one former or another."

Lord Forsyth, the former Scottish Secretary who strongly opposes a cut, agreed that reducing the voting age for the referendum would then make it "impossible to argue that 16-year-olds should not have the vote in all elections". He said: "You can't pick and choose between referendums and one election and another."

He said the issue had "huge implications" and should not be decided in "closed-corner negotiations", adding: "If we're going to change [the age], then a Bill should be brought before the House of Commons and people will then have an opportunity to consider the arguments."

Vernon Bogdanor, of the Institute for Contemporary History at King's College London, described the Scottish move as "very significant potentially" for the constitution and said the issue should be considered by Westminster.

He said a cut to 16 was "obviously logical" as young people were subject to tax, employment and marriage laws at that age.

Willie Sullivan, Scottish director of the Electoral Reform Society, said: "Westminster politicians must decide if votes at 16 is a point of principle or just another grubby political deal."