Unions may scupper PM's railway plans

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The Labour Party's annual conference next week will decide whether the age at which people are allowed to vote should be reduced from 18 to 16.

The Labour Party's annual conference next week will decide whether the age at which people are allowed to vote should be reduced from 18 to 16.

Labour delegates in Brighton will take four decisions that will shape the party's manifesto for the general election expected next May. The agenda for the conference, seen by The Independent, lists the key votes as: whether the House of Lords should be elected; renationalising the railways; giving local authorities even more money for housing; and cutting the voting age.

Downing Street originally backed plans to allow 16 and 17-year-olds to vote, even after it was opposed by the independent Electoral Commission. But it has now got cold feet about contradicting the commission's advice and wants to revisit the issue after the election.

Next week's conference will choose between two options - the one preferred by No 10 saying there is a "strong case for considering reducing the voting age to 16 years old" and a clear manifesto pledge saying "Labour will reduce the voting age to 16".

Downing Street favours a cautious motion calling for reform of the Lords, including "the crucial and previously neglected issue" of its powers. But Labour delegates will also vote on an "alternative position" for the second chamber to be "as democratic as possible - which could include direct election, indirect election or appointment by a democratic body, or a mix of all three."

However, Tony Blair faces defeat over union calls for the railways to be renationalised. TSSA, a group which represents white-collar railway staff, has tabled a motion that has attracted widespread support from the unions, who have half the votes at the conference.

Labour leaders want delegates to vote for a motion backing the Government's decision to "take charge of the strategic decisions affecting the railway". But the conference is likely to back the unions' demands for "an integrated, accountable and publicly-owned railway".

Ministers oppose renationalisation, which could require millions of pounds of compensation and, they fear, send a signal that Labour had reverted to "old Labour" policies. If the conference votes for it, it could become official party policy. But Mr Blair might ignore the conference vote.

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