Labour peers will on Monday dispute claims by the government that extending votes to 16- and 17-year-olds in the European Union referendum would cost £6m, as the EU referendum bill returns to the House of Lords.
Parliament’s two chambers are at a standoff, as a majority of MPs in the Commons are opposed to giving 16- and 17-year-olds the vote in the EU referendum, while a majority of peers in the Lords are in favour.
Before a vote on the matter in the Commons on Tuesday, the government claimed that lowering the voting age would incur costs of about £6m, meaning that the Speaker could rule it to be a financial measure and therefore exempt it from further interference from peers.
But it is understood that the shadow Foreign Office minister, Lady Morgan of Ely, who is tabling an amendment to the bill, will cite a letter from the chief executive of the association of electoral administrators, John Turner, in which he questions the government’s claim, saying that £4.2m of that figure relates to the cost of polling – money which is already accounted for in a consolidated fund.
The new Lords amendment, which will be tabled on Monday, proposes to get eligible teenagers registered with low-cost measures.
It is the first time in history that a Conservative majority government has not also had a majority in the House of Lords. The Labour party and Liberal Democrats have joined forces to defeat the government on numerous occasions since May, including the blocking of the Treasury’s plans to cut tax credits.
A Labour source in the Lords said the party expected the amendment to be passed in the second chamber and that it would be back for a vote in the Commons as soon as Monday evening.
The issue of extending the franchise for the EU referendum is the last point in the bill that needs to be resolved and the government is thought to be keen to have settled the issue before parliament goes on recess for the Christmas break on Thursday.
On Thursday evening, David Cameron will use a working dinner with European leaders in Brussels to say that concerns about migration are a major issue for the British people and that they need addressing before the referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU – due to be held by the end of 2017.
It has been reported that Cameron will abandon his battle for the UK to prevent EU migrants who are in work from receiving benefits until they have been in employment in the UK for four years and turn his attention to other measures to deter EU migrants from the UK.
But a No 10 spokesperson denied that the prime minister had given up of achieving the reform: “A number of Sunday papers have claimed the prime minister is backing away from the four-year migrant benefit proposal. One even goes as far as to claim he will be using this week’s European council to drop it – this is simply not true.
“As the prime minister said in his Chatham House speech several weeks ago: ‘I am open to different ways of dealing with this issue. But we do need to secure arrangements that deliver on the objective set out in the Conservative party manifesto to control migration from the European Union’.”
This article was written by Frances Perraudin, for theguardian.com on Sunday 13th December 2015 19.49 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010