Votes at 16 'trendy' cause, MPs claim

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MPs on both sides of the House have accused those who support lowering the voting age to 16 of trying to look "trendy", during a backbench business debate on the topic.

Lib Dem Stephen Williams opened the debate on 24 January 2013 with his argument that "the will of the old is trumping the needs of the young" since "more 63-year-olds are able to vote at the moment than 18-year-olds".

He said that changing the voting age would merely lower the average age of voters rather than meaning elections were decided by "swathes of 16-year-olds".

He concluded: "We trust young people, we trust them to fight for this country, surely it's time for us to trust them to elect us to this place."

From the Conservative back benches, Philip Davies argued against the motion.

"Simply because many 16 and 17-year-olds can engage a sensible argument, it doesn't follow they should be given the vote," he said. "If that was the basis for giving the vote, we'd have to give it to seven, eight and nine-year-olds, because they ask some of the most searching questions."

He decried "nauseating" attempts by MPs "trying to court the youth vote, trying to appear trendy".

Barry Sheerman was the only Labour MP to speak against the motion.

"I used to be in favour but my experience as chair of the education committee changed my mind," he explained. "Childhood is being truncated. Childhood is being squeezed all the time. I want children to celebrate childhood, to have fun, to be irresponsible."

Mr Sheerman also described the campaign as a "fashionable, trendy" cause taken up by MPs "floundering around" for a solution to disillusionment among voters.

Chair of the Backbench Business Committee, Labour's Natascha Engel, disagreed. "It's a matter of respect - saying we respect you enough to make your own decisions," she said.

The SNP's Pete Wishart focused on the example of 16 and 17-year-olds' participation in the 2014 referendum on Scottish independence. He said he was "immensely proud Scotland is leading the way on this".

Responding for Labour, shadow Cabinet Office minister Wayne David told MPs: "I believe that the time is right to give serious consideration to taking it a change in the law forward in this country."

But Political and Constitutional Reform Minister Chloe Smith declared she was "not persuaded" by case for change.

"I see the merits of engaging younger people in politics. However, there is not a consensus for this change in government," she said. "Rights and responsibilities build over time. That's how it should be."

The motion in favour of lowering the voting age passed by 119 votes to 46.

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