Voting age may be lowered to 16 in effort to tackle political apathy

Ministers will consider lowering the voting age to 16 to encourage young people to play a more active role in politics, the Lord Chancellor, said yesterday.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton, who is also Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs, said the move could be a quid pro quo for asking young people to take more interest in public affairs.Tony Blair indicated he now had an open mind on the issue. The Electoral Commission, which governs national and local elections, is examining reduction of the present voting age of 18 and cutting the minimum age to stand for Parliament from 21 to 18. The commission will report in the new year. Lord Falconer told The Observer: "One might well be able to give teenagers the vote at 16. We need to have a debate about that. I think it is a very important issue. We expect more and more of people in relation to personal participation. We expect more and more in terms of social responsibility, in my view rightly, from people, particularly young people. If we want to both engage young people and make them discharge their responsibilities then I think there's got to be a quid pro quo of letting them see greater influence in the political process."

Last week the Prime Minister told students visiting Downing Street: "I am undecided [about lowering the voting age]. If you had asked me two or three years ago I would have said 'no'. Now there's a case for saying, 'People grow up more quickly; why shouldn't they have the vote?'"

Matthew Green, the Liberal Democrat spokesman on young people, said: "Denying 16-year-olds the vote because some consider them politically immature is trite nonsense. If 16-year-olds can marry, have children of their own, pay taxes and join the Army, why should they not be able to vote for the Government they want. Tony Blair has moved from opposed to neutral on this issue. Now he needs to go the extra mile."

But David Willetts, the shadow cabinet member responsible for Conservative policy development, told Sky News: "I think 18 has been a reasonable age; I don't particularly see any need to lower it. It is important to engage younger people in the political process but I'm not sure lowering the age to 16 would be the right way."

Lord Falconer also hinted at future moves to introduce an elected element into the House of Lords, despite government plans to create an all-appointed chamber by removing the 92 remaining hereditary peers.

He said the [House of Lords] Bill "obviously raises issues about the extent to which you should have an elected element. But it also raises the issue about exactly what should be the relationship between the Commons and the Lords. We do not say the changes ... represent the end of the road."

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