Plan to give 16-year-olds the vote fails to win support

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Proposals to give the vote to 16-year-olds were rejected yesterday. The Electoral Commission said that the case for a dramatic widening of the right to take part in the democratic process had not been made.

Proposals to give the vote to 16-year-olds were rejected yesterday. The Electoral Commission said that the case for a dramatic widening of the right to take part in the democratic process had not been made.

But a report from the commission opened the door to teenage MPs by recommending that the minimum age at which people can stand for Parliament be lowered from 21 to 18.

The commission's conclusions are a blow to Labour, with senior ministers intent on including a pledge to lower the voting age to 16 in the next election manifesto.

Charles Clarke, the Secretary of State for Education, and Lord Falconer, the Lord Chancellor, are thought to support the idea. Tony Blair is said to have dropped his opposition, and David Miliband, the Schools minister and former Downing Street policy adviser, wants a cut in the voting age.

But the commission warned that a survey by the pollsters ICM showed most people were opposed to the idea, and even among those aged 16 and 17 there was "no even thread towards a majority" in favour of reform. But it left open the prospect of longer-term reform, recommending a wide-ranging review of the age of consent within seven years.

Sam Younger, chairman of commission, said: "The evidence suggests that while many young people under 18 would feel ready to vote, there are just as many who feel that 16 is too young. The majority of the representative cross-section of young people responding to the ICM research made it clear that they don't feel ready for the responsibility of voting at 16."

Mr Younger insisted that the report was merely a recommendation to ministers and any change would require legislation. But any proposal to press ahead with reform would put the Government at odds with the commission, which regulates elections across the country.

The commission said that even though 16-year-olds can marry or join the armed forces with their parents' permission and pay taxes on their earnings, other important rights and obligations, such as the ability to serve on a jury, come into force when people turn 18.

The report said that concern about falling turnout at elections was not enough to justify reform in the voting age.

But the commission said the development of citizenship education in schools could swing the argument in the future, as part of a wider review of the age of majority.

Commissioners found that there was "no reasonable argument" not to lower the age of candidacy to 18, saying that the filter of party selection and elections themselves were enough to ensure potential MPs or councillors were sufficiently mature to do the job.

Christopher Leslie, the Constitutional Affairs minister, said the Government would give the report due consideration: "There has been considerable interest in the voting age and the age of candidacy, and this report sets out a very thorough discussion of these issues."

Charles Hendry, the shadow minister for youth, said: "The findings are exactly in line with the submission the Conservative Party made."

Leading article, page 30

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