David Cameron has said he would be open to leaving it to MPs in the Commons to decide whether the vote should be extended to 16- and 17-year-olds. Speaking at prime minister’s questions, he said: “I’m very happy for us to have a vote. Personally, I think the right age is 18.”
His words suggested there could be a free vote on the issue, which would allow MPs to go against their party’s official line.
Cameron was responding to a question from John Robertson, Labour MP for Glasgow North West, who said: “The one thing that was clear about the referendum in Scotland was the amount of young people that were getting involved … Is it not time that we got the rest of the country on board and got votes for 16- and 17-year-olds?”
A spokesman for the prime minister would not speculate on when a vote might be held, but said Cameron saw no compelling argument to lower the voting age.
Following recommendations of Lord Smith’s all-party commission on increasing devolution after the Scottish independence referendum, Cameron agreed to devolve electoral powers to the Scottish parliament, meaning 124,000 Scottish 16- and 17-year-olds are able to vote in elections to Holyrood and for Scotland’s 32 local authorities.
Although the Conservative party’s official line is that the voting age should remain at 18, a number of backbenchers, including former minister Damian Green, have expressed support for reducing the voting age to 16 across all elections.
The shadow justice secretary, Sadiq Khan, announced Labour’s intentions to lower the voting age a last year, saying the plan was at the heart of the party’s plans for constitutional reform, which they would implement if elected in May.
Khan, who is considered a frontrunner to be Labour’s candidate for mayor of London, said: “Getting the public into the habit of voting is clearly a key part of any solution if we are to raise the numbers of those who participate in elections. We need to get people hooked on voting at an early age because the evidence shows if you vote when you first become eligible you’re more likely to keep on voting for the rest of your life. Don’t vote when you’re young and you’re more likely to never vote.”
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010
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