I am not currently in favour of reducing the voting age in principle whether it is for referenda or regular national and local elections.
In my previous role as Minister for Children, I was very involved with this issue and worked with a great many youth organisations, including the British Youth Council which is responsible for the UK Youth Parliament of which I am a big supporter. In this role, I helped to expand significantly the importance of youth mayors, youth councils and youth cabinets, as we have had very successfully in Worthing for some years now. As the Minister, I also produced the ‘Positive for Youth' policy which is all about making the voices of young people more relevant and listened to in local town halls and Parliament itself. My commitment to the cause of youth engagement and giving young people a voice is therefore not in question.
However, whilst we can have a debate about the appropriate age to grant entitlements and responsibilities to young people in certain areas, one of the biggest problems we face is the fact that too many young people already entitled to vote choose not to. At the 2015 election just 43% of 18-24 year olds actually voted compared with 66% of the voting population as a whole. Notwithstanding the encouraging debate in Scotland over independence, which did engage young people, I believe the priority must be to get more young people entitled to vote actually turning out to vote. If we can achieve that then we can have a legitimate debate about reducing the voting age but I am not convinced at the moment. The turnout of young people in the EU referendum is also uncertain, as there are estimates ranging between 36% and 64% which compares to a 72% turnout generally. Until this has been clarified I do not think this can be drawn on as evidence for lowering the voting age.
I know from my discussions with local students that this is an issue that divides young people themselves but I very much welcome the fact that we are talking about it even if I do not believe that change is justified at the current time.