Votes at 16: Welsh government backs change, debate told

Although the Welsh assembly has no power to change the law, the Welsh government has called on the Electoral Commission to consider making a change

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The Welsh government is in favour of lowering the voting age to 16, a debate in the Welsh assembly has been told.

Although the assembly has no powers to change the law, AMs in favour of votes at 16 say the institution should send a positive message about young people's involvement in the democratic process.

The debate was tabled with cross-party support from the main parties and was welcomed by youth leaders.

Any decision to alter the voting age would rest at Westminster.

Business Minister Jane Hutt told the Senedd that 16-year-olds were old enough to get married and pay taxes and should be allowed to vote.

She said it was time for the Electoral Commission to look again at the issue after it recommended that the voting age stay at 18 in 2004.

Start Quote

As a country we are willing to see our young people join the armed forces at the age of 16... yet we seem to think that youngsters are not mature enough to vote at that age”

End Quote Aled Roberts AM Liberal Democrat

But Conservative AM Darren Millar accused supporters of lowering the voting age of being "inconsistent".

Mr Millar said advocates of change "overlook the fact that they are not making an argument for consistency in terms of reducing the age for gambling or lowering the age for alcohol".

AMs were discussing a motion calling on the assembly to support lowering the voting age to 16 for all elections and referendums in Wales.

Liberal Democrat AM Aled Roberts - one of the four members who tabled it - said that while the issue had been part of Lib Dem party policy at UK level for some time, it had also been raised in Wales several times by young people he had met at sessions in schools.

"As a country we are willing to see our young people join the armed forces at the age of 16, have children and get married and yet we seem to think that youngsters are not mature enough to vote at that age," he said.

'Indicator of opinion'

"Although I accept that this is currently a matter for the UK Parliament, I believe that the fact that the motion attracts cross-party support is an important indicator of opinion within the National Assembly."

Guto Davies, 16, from Anglesey, was among people who met politicians in the assembly before the debate.

Mr Davies, chair of Funky Dragon, the children and young people's assembly for Wales, said the law should be changed.

Start Quote

At 16 we're able to start earning the minimum wage, yet we can't vote for who's deciding what the minimum wage is”

End Quote Jessica Peters, 16 Barry, Vale of Glamorgan

He said people aged 16 could do so many things, such as start a family, yet could not vote.

Jessica Peters, 16, from Barry, Vale of Glamorgan, who attended the debate, said she would love the opportunity to vote.

She added: "I know a lot of other young people feel the same way as me because at 16 years old, by law we can get married and start having families.

"Well, why can't we vote for who's running the country that our family's going to live in?

"At 16 we're able to start earning the minimum wage, yet we can't vote for who's deciding what the minimum wage is, and things like that. It just doesn't seem fair."

In March Presiding Officer Rosemary Butler called for a debate on lowering the voting age in Welsh elections, telling the BBC Sunday Politics Wales show that the Isle of Man and Jersey had introduced the change.

The Scottish government wants 16-17-year-olds to take part in the nation's referendum on independence.

Labour AM Julie Morgan, another co-sponsor of the motion, said: "I firmly believe that lowering the voting age would help engage our young people in the decisions that affect their lives.

"It should also set a pattern for greater participation in elections later in life."

The electoral commission should consider lowering the age of voting, according to the Welsh Government.

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