A debate took place in Parliament on 18th June to decide if young people aged 16 and 17 should be entitled to vote in the forthcoming referendum on our membership of the EU. I am personally in favour of the franchise or right to vote being extended to 16, on the grounds of my experience of many young people who are at least as capable of forming a view on elections as most adults I know, along with the other responsibilities that many young people have. I also believe we need to see a greater level of engagement by MPs with young people. The following are 3 excerpts from the debate, which ultimately led to the vote being lost. In my view a mistake. If you have time it is well worth reading the whole debate.
Barry Sherman, Labour Huddersfield – I believe that the measure that he proposes will shrink childhood. We will eventually have young people going into the Army at 16, and many of the protections that children currently have through to 18 will be destroyed. This policy will bring adulthood down to 16 and will take away protections just as childhood becomes less and less that part of life. Up and down this country, young people are vulnerable to sexual predators and ghastly things happen to them right up to the age of 18. This move towards making people adults at 16 will make a lot of young men and women more vulnerable to sexual predation than they are at the moment.
Chris Skidmore, Conservative Kingswood – Taking a philosophical approach, if we look at, say, young offenders institutions and prisons, is my hon. Friend therefore arguing that 16-year-olds should go straight to incarceration in adult prisons?
Sarah Wollaston, Conservative Totnes – We all visit schools in our constituencies, and I am sure I am not alone in thinking that some of the most thoughtful and challenging discussions in those visits have been with 16 and 17-year-olds. Do I feel that they have the capacity to understand the information, to weigh it and to communicate their views? Absolutely I do. The question is whether Members of Parliament have the capacity to change our view and give those young people a voice and a vote. I could not return to my constituency, look those young people in the eye and tell them that I had denied them the opportunity to take part in the forthcoming referendum. I have lobbied hard for everyone in my constituency to have their say on our future in Europe, but when I reflect on who will feel the impact of the result most, I conclude that it will be 16 to 25-year-olds, who will live with the decision for longer than the rest of us. I am delighted that we have extended the franchise to Members of the Upper House, and that their lordships will have the opportunity to vote in the referendum, but I feel strongly that we should extend the same courtesy to young people in our constituencies.