Wales politics

Welsh Assembly grants vote to 16 and 17-year-olds

Ballot box with Wales flag Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The bill will give 16-year-olds the vote at the next Senedd election

Sixteen and 17-year-olds will be able to take part in the 2021 Welsh Assembly election under a new law passed on Wednesday.

The legislation gives 70,000 teenagers the vote and also gives voting rights to 33,000 foreign nationals.

A total of 41 assembly members voted for the bill, just exceeding the two-thirds majority of 40 votes needed.

The assembly will be renamed Senedd Cymru/Welsh Parliament as part of the changes.

Labour, Welsh Government ministers and Plaid Cymru backed the bill, but the Conservatives and the Brexit Party opposed it.

The decision was backed with the help of Presiding Officer Elin Jones and deputy presiding officer Ann Jones, who do not normally take part in Senedd votes.

Ms Jones said the law would "empower young people to participate in the democratic process".

"This bill, in my view, will create a more inclusive, diverse and effective Senedd," she added.

But the inclusion of votes for foreign nationals following Welsh Government amendments earlier in the process upset the Conservatives, despite some having backed votes for 16-year-olds.

Former Tory group leader Andrew RT Davies called it a "stitch-up" by the "left-wing political establishment".

That was rejected by the presiding officer, who said it had all been done by "democratic process".

Voting changes come into effect at the next assembly election, while the name will change in May 2020.

Image caption L-R: Geraint Williams, Lara Evans, Tabitha Anthony

Will 16-year-olds vote?

Tabitha Anthony, 18, from Tondu, said she did not think 16-year-olds "would be mature enough to do their own research".

The A-level student who is planning to vote Tory said: "I've heard in our common room lots of people discussing politics, but they're trying to describe and explain the different policies to each other when really you're just hearing the propaganda that's being spread."

Lara Evans, 19, from Tredegar, Blaenau Gwent, said she "100%" would have voted at 16: "I think 16 is a completely responsible age to give people the vote."

"Young people are definitely more engaged in politics," Geraint Williams, 19, from Cardiff, said.

The musical theatre student, who is undecided but leaning towards Labour, added: "We're realising that it's our future and we are the future generation and that we have the opportunity to make the final decision."

As well as 16 and 17-year-olds, the Senedd and Elections Bill will allow foreign nationals resident in Wales to vote in assembly elections - beyond those EU and Commonwealth citizens who can already take part.

David Melding, Conservative AM, said the new name was an "appropriate recognition" of the assembly's powers, but the foreign national measures had been added without consultation in a way that was "quite insulting frankly to those with genuine concerns with lack of scrutiny".

"This novel idea is not common practice anywhere else, as far I'm aware," he said.

He claimed the bill, which was introduced by the Assembly Commission but has been significantly amended, had been "hijacked by the Welsh Government".

Image caption Assembly members will become known as Members of the Senedd

Scotland gave 16-year-olds the vote in 2013 for the 2014 independence referendum.

Ms Jones said the move was "long over due" in Wales.

But Brexit Party AM Mark Reckless said by voting for the bill, "the partiality and bias" of the presiding officer "has been demonstrated".

"This time it will have a serious impact on the constitutional arrangements of Wales," he warned.

Ms Jones said assembly rules allowed "for the presiding officers - for the Llywydd - me, to vote where a super majority is required and that was required today in the passing of today's constitutional bill".

Why is the assembly getting a new name?

The bill's passage follows a row about what the assembly should be called.

There have been calls stretching back to 2012 for the assembly to be renamed the Welsh Parliament, in recognition of its growing role in making law.

Plaid Cymru and others, including in Labour, wanted the Welsh-only Senedd. A majority of AMs in the end agreed to call the institution Senedd Cymru/Welsh Parliament, with the support of the Welsh Government, but AMs will be called Members of the Senedd in future.

Welsh Government minister Jeremy Miles told the chamber ministers will use the term Senedd to refer to the assembly.

"We have won by default," Plaid's Rhun ap Iorwerth said.

While disappointed with the name, he said the legislation was an "important milestone".

He said the law "formally notes the assembly's flowering into a national parliament for our country".

The name Senedd, he said, would have shown "we are confident in our heritage, united in our future, and that we celebrate what makes us unique as a country".

The bill includes measures to stop councillors from also being AMs and disqualify registered sex offenders from joining the Senedd.

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