MPs face up to impact of giving vote to 16-year-olds

Electoral reformers press for MPs to debate issue after Prime Minister agrees lower limit for Scottish referendum

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.

The Independent disclosed yesterday 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, the Scottish 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.

Natscha 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, and I think the time has come for it. I think attitudes have shifted." 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."

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. The choice is simple – make a lasting investment in the political education of our young people or back a one-off deal out of naked self-interest."

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. Professor Bogdanor added: "Practically, 16-year-olds are still at school so they are having civics lessons and citizenship lessons, so it is likely they will pick up the habit of voting, whereas by the age of 18 some have left school and have forgotten about their civics lessons."

The Conservatives are strongly opposed to a cut in the age. The MP for Epping Forest, Eleanor Laing, yesterday said a reduction would be "silly" as "you have to draw a line somewhere". The Liberal Democrats support the move – in 1999 their deputy leader, Simon Hughes, was the first MP to make a parliamentary attempt to reduce the age. Some Labour MPs oppose the idea, but a pledge to lower the age is likely to be included in the next Labour manifesto after it was backed by the party's leader, Ed Miliband.

Mr Cameron will meet Mr Salmond on Monday in an attempt to finalise a deal on how the referendum will be staged. It is likely to be held in the autumn of 2014.

Case studies...

Amy Riddell, 17, from Northumberland

"We've always been overlooked in politics. Maybe if younger people had more of a voice and a bit more authority, we may not be facing the now inevitable higher tuition fees. I want at least a fraction of a say on my future, not for it to be decided by people who won't even be affected by the policies. I'm not entirely sure who I'd vote for now; in an ideal world I'd vote Lib Dem, but I don't see them gaining full office for a very long time, regardless of who can and can't vote."

Alexandra White, 16, from Dumfries and Galloway

"I've been a Liberal Democrat member since I was 13, but even now when I can leave school, marry or join the army, I'm still not trusted with the vote. Not only do teenagers want to contribute to the discussion on relevant issues in this country, but most of all we are perfectly capable of adding valuable opinions to any national debate. I'm not denying that some people of my age don't care about voting, nor know much about politics. However, that can be argued for any age group. Who's to say that young people's voices are any less valuable than those of our elders?"

Morgan Jenkin, 16, from Cornwall

"Part of me thinks the voting age should be lowered and the other part is unsure, but a lot of the policies in government do affect under 18s. All the education changes, like to GCSEs, have had a massive effect on how we are taught at school. It's really disheartening to hear Michael Gove say we're getting worse and worse each year and hear him devaluing our hard work. It would definitely change the way politicians stereotype our generation as being useless and getting an easy time. They would be forced to modernise things and appeal to a wider audience."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Barn owls are among species that could be affected
charity appeal
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
cricketEoin Morgan reportedly to take over ODI captaincy as ECB finally wield the axe
Arts and Entertainment
a clockwork orange, stanley kubrick
news... you won't believe how bad their skills were
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas