Today’s debate in the House of Commons on Votes at 16 was a disappointment for young people across the UK.
The debate was preceded by a fantastic bill from Steve Reed MP on the use of restraint in mental health facilities. It was fantastic to hear such a great discussion on mental health, and particularly the use of restraint on young people and people from black, Asian and minority ethnic communities. There was great support across the house for improving mental health provision, support and prevention, so much so that one MP described it as ‘violent agreement’!
But what was disappointing that this great sense of agreement did not lead to an earlier vote, giving time for votes at 16 to be properly debated. After around an hour and half parliament ran out of time and the debate ended without a vote. Whilst the vocal support for mental health is welcomed we are disappointed that yet again the opportunity to extend the franchise to 16 and 17 year olds has been kicked into the long grass yet again.
So many young people have been campaigning on this issue for many years. And it is testament to the work of Members of Youth Parliament and British Youth Council member organisations like NUS that so many MPs committed to turn up and support the bill today.
In particular we feel the disappointment of Oldham Youth Council who worked with Jim McMahon MP on this Private Members Bill, and who travelled to Westminster today to hear MPs debate their bill.
But this does not mean that the fight for votes at 16 is over. The bill may yet get its day in Parliament, and has been rescheduled for 1 December 2017. And this Private Members Bill has really put the spotlight back onto the issue, raising awareness of the importance of young people having a voice, and the necessity of citizenship education to develop an informed and engaged electorate.
The Votes at 16 Coalition, facilitated by the British Youth Council, will continue to argue the case for votes at 16. Support is growing, with more council passing motions in support. Just this week Belfast has become the latest city to pass a motion in support of votes at 16. And we look to Wales where they have been consulting on whether to lower the voting age to 16 for elections to the Assembly.
Valuing youth voice is crucial to increasing the engagement of young people in society and democracy. Extending the right to vote to 16 and 17 year olds, combined with a curriculum for life that builds young people’s knowledge and understanding of the political process, is an essential step on the road to ensuring that decision makers to talk to young people, not about them.