Updated: Votes at 16: Paul Tyler’s speech in the Lords debate – and Government defeated 293-211

The Liberal Democrat members of the House of Lords have done some fabulous work. It’s not just the tax credits vote recently, but the work they did in very difficult circumstances during the last government to challenge terrible Tory ideas. Add to that their campaigning work in the run up to the General Election and their constant visits to local parties (over 100 since the General Election) to help with the #libdemfightback.

Today is no exception. They are playing a blinder in the EU Referendum Bill debate arguing for votes at 16 and as such showing themselves to be far more in touch with reality than their counterparts on the government benches.

Update: And it worked! The Government was defeated by 293 votes to 211.

Tim Farron commented:

The Liberal Democrats have been fighting for this for decades, and we are winning the argument.

This is a victory for democracy, we will give over a million people a voice on their future.

In Scotland 16 and 17 year olds proved that they have they not only have the knowledge but also the enthusiasm to have a say on their own future. Taking that away now would do them an injustice.

The Government must now listen and act, Cameron cannot turn his back on 1.5 million young adults.

Paul Tyler led for us today and he added:

We cannot deny interested and engaged young adults such an important vote. This is a say in their future, and with Cameron ruling out future referendums, they won’t get a voice for a long time coming.

Today I am proud that we have taken a small step to improve our democracy following a campaign that the Liberal Democrats have led for decades.

Some of the arguments made by Tory peers were beyond ridiculous. Adolescents’ brains were still developing apparently. It’s vaguely reminiscent of the arguments about women’s brain size during debates on votes for women.

It’s up to the Government now to decide whether to keep this in . If it’s removed when the Bill goes back to the Commons, our peers will call a vote to reinstate it. If there is a stalemate, then the bill could be delayed by up to a year.

Here is Paul’s speech in full:

In Committee I thought that one of the most persuasive contributions – made from the Conservative benches opposite – was from the Noble Lord Lord Dobbs:

“ … the question I am struggling with is; How can it be right to allow 16 and 17 year-olds to vote in a referendum on Scotland but not in a referendum on Europe? There has to be some sort of consistency.”

And he rubbished the official explanation that the extension of the franchise in the Scottish independence referendum did not originate with Conservative Ministers: “… although the coalition Government and the Prime Minister did not specifically approve votes for 16 year-olds, they did acquiesce in votes for 16 year-olds.”

He and others – notably an increasing number of Conservative MPs – have warned that we cannot pretend that Scottish young people are somehow more mature, well-informed and capable of exercising common-sense than their English, Welsh and Northern Irish counterparts. I dare the Minister to repeat that absurdity.

I am very disappointed that the Noble Lord Lord Dobbs is not here today to repeat his plea to the Minister. If I was as cynical or conspiratorial as some of the characters in his excellent works of fiction I would suspect that the Government whips might have encouraged him to be away, reassuring him that nothing controversial was to be discussed.

I wonder if the Minister has come armed with the wholly inadequate response that was employed in Committee when I moved a similar amendment to this effect.

The Noble Lord Lord Faulks then extracted a very short quotation from the advice of the Electoral Commission, as follows:
“The Commission’s view is that any changes to the franchise for the referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union should be clear in sufficient time to enable all those who are eligible, to register and participate in the referendum.”

Having worked closely with the Commission over the last nine years I know that the words here have been chosen with care: note they want clarity of intention, they do NOT require the Royal assent before preparing the way.

In other words this is not an argument for doing NOTHING; it is an argument for getting on with the inevitable change as soon as possible.

Setting aside the fact that the previous evening to that Committee stage debate his Ministerial colleague systematically rubbished the careful advice of the Commission, in the context of the Government’s acceleration of the electoral register changes, we should be absolutely clear now that there is no practical objection to this extension of the franchise, assuming the referendum is not to be held before June 2016.

Six months is acknowledged to be an adequate period for the preparatory work, based on the Scottish experience.

Just dragging their feet while so many in both Houses are urging Ministers to recognise the strength of the case would be irresponsible: indeed, trying to postpone retreat as long as possible, in the hope it will make the change more problematic, would be a failure of good governance.

So, without either principled or practical objections on what basis can the Government continue to resist?

Any reference to the disadvantages of “piecemeal” constitutional change is frankly absurd. Under Conservative Governments ever since Disraeli our constitution has evolved on an incremental basis.

It did with the extension of female suffrage (as I and my wife were reminded by the film “Suffragette” at the weekend – incidentally some of the objections we now hear are all too reminiscent of the opponents at the beginning of the 20th Century).

The evolution of the constitution continued with the Scottish referendum. It is doing so with English Votes for English Laws (EVEL). It may do so when the Noble Lord Lord Strathcyde reports before Christmas on the relationship between the two Houses of Parliament.

As I have said before, I have great sympathy with those who now promote the case for a Constitutional Convention or Convocation, to get away from this ad hocery.

But meanwhile, we have a Bill before us, and a big decision for the citizens of this country to take in the near future.

Those young people who will be so affected by the outcome – just like their colleagues in Scotland a year ago – should be given the opportunity to participate in the choice of their future.

Last week David Cameron described this vote as “a huge decision for our country – perhaps the biggest we will make in our lifetime. And it will be a final decision.”

I believe that the Prime Minister is absolutely right: BUT it must surely follow that this group of our fellow citizens cannot be denied a say in that decision.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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26 Comments

  • Mick Taylor 18th Nov '15 - 5:55pm

    Spot on Paul!

  • The commons voted on this a few months back and it was decided to keep the age at 18 by a sizeable majority. Unless Cameron has had a big change of mind this was a pointless vote, it won’t be accepted by the commons.

  • An excellent day’s work.

  • Tony Greaves 18th Nov '15 - 8:21pm

    Thank goodness (I say because I could not get there this morning…)

    Perhaps a few people in this party may now understand just how important and valuable our Lords party is!

    Tony Greaves

  • Wonderful to see the Lords back on here for the right reason!

  • Richard Underhill 19th Nov '15 - 12:00am

    The government has said tonight that they will try to overturn this vote in the Commons.
    We should not be saying “What were they like when they were that age?”
    It is certainly likely that they will be told that they are out of touch.
    Did they have 3G mobile ‘phones when they were in the sixth form?

  • “on what basis can the Government continue to resist?” on the basis of there are more of them and a three line whip.

  • Re: “Some of the arguments made by Tory peers were beyond ridiculous.”

    I’ve yet to see any argument presented for this change in voting rights that stands up to scrutiny; in fact Tim once again demonstrates woolly thinking and the argument put forward is inconsistent. Because he totally fails to say how or why it is democratic for those under sixteen to be denied a vote – remember Tim agrees with David Cameron that this referendum will be a final decision, but that it would be “anti-democratic” not to allow those aged 16~18 a vote.

    Whilst there may be grounds for changing the voting ages, Tim and his fellows have yet to make the case. As for the HoL vote, this is probably more down to Labour peers making mischief than actually being swayed by the LibDems.

  • Roland – Caron’s piece on LDV yesterday (link below) cites an Edinburgh University study on the Scottish Referendum which shows that they were more engaged, more independently-minded (i.e. less influenced by parental preferences) and more likely to vote. It’s worth a read.
    Link: https://www.libdemvoice.org/crucial-day-for-votes-at-16-as-lords-debate-eu-referendum-bill-48296.html

  • Allow all British citizens to vote on this referendum where ever they are.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 19th Nov '15 - 7:51am

    @Tony Greaves: The Party does realise the good work that the Lords group has done and is doing. That doesn’t mean that we find it desirable that it’s unaccountable.

  • Matt (Bristol) 19th Nov '15 - 9:21am

    I find the speech quoted by Paul Tyler very inspiring, in that there are Lib Dems able to work constructively to point out to the government’s backers the illogic of their leaders’ plans. There is nothing wrong in the HoL using its powers as a revising chamber to revise inconsistent legislation. I’m sure most people in the party including the Lords look forward to a future day when the revising chamber is not wholly appointed, and no-one is appointed for life.

    I hope very much that there will be Tory MPs in the Commons who listen to these arguments, most partiuclarly regarding the inconsistency re: the Scottish referendum. However, given the tendency on Tax Credits to speak against and then vote in favour, I am highly doubtful.

  • Yes the Lib Dem lords are using their increased numbers to vote against the Tory Government when necessary, but then….well so they should!

    They were hardly put in there to rubber stamp everything the Givernment wants to push through. I don’t see why that means they can get away with bad behaviour. And the notion that the rest of the Party has to someone keep their Lordships sweet is ridiculous.

  • Roland

    By the time young people are 16 they are beginning to think about their future, leaving school, going into work, doing further study or trainibg, etc. So that is a good time to involve them in decisions which affect their future – and the want to be involved.. I don’t think at 15 the situation is quite the same for most youngsters and certainly any younger and they don’t have much interest.

  • A very good days work BUT there is a far greater injustice that should have been addressed than votes for 16/17 yr olds and thats the Governments intention of not allowing EU nationals living and working in the UK a vote. The electorate should have been that as for European Elections.

  • The electorate should have been that as for European Elections

    But that makes no sense: the referendum is about whether British citizens want to be part of Europe (and therefore to take part in European elections). It is only logical that the decision is therefore made by British citizens alone.

  • jedibeeftrix 19th Nov '15 - 10:53am

    Agreed dav, the very definition of gerrymandering.

  • Tony Greaves 19th Nov '15 - 2:25pm

    I am not sure what you mean by demanding that the Lords group is “more accountable” to the party. What do you mean? Or do you really mean that we all have to kow-tow to the small unaccountable group that runs LDV? (:

    Tony Greaves

  • well done the LD lords!

  • David, I don’t agree at all, my Polish friend has lived and worked here for 9 years his stake in the decision is just as great as mine. It’s a shame this injustice has not been picked up by the Party.

  • @John Grout & Phyllis – Both of your comments reference useful information, but neither provide any supporting evidence to Tim’s stance that not providing votes, in this specific referendum, to 16~18’s is “anti-democratic”. The Edinburgh study could be regarded as market research looking at attitudes and engagement – helping to provide answers to the question: if given a vote what do16-18’s do. And yes with the end of compulsory secondary education in sight, young people do raise their sights and think more seriously about entering the wider world and what that entails.

    As a society we have put a “one size fits all” line in the sand where we consider a typical young person possesses all the necessary faculties and qualities to be considered an adult. For this line to be moved, we need to have good reason, which we haven’t seen, and there is no evidence that todays 16~18’s are any different to their predecessors, ie. us.

    I think Phyllis you missed read my point about Tim’s disregard of the democratic rights of the under 16’s. I wasn’t implying that they should have a vote in this referendum, but that if he really believed in democracy then he would not rule out a future Remain/Leave referendum when those too young to vote this time would have a chance; by agreeing with David that there will be no future Remain/Leave referendum he is effectively saying the democratic rights of the under 16’s don’t matter.

    Tim’s position is further undermined because if it weren’t for other’s forcing a referendum, he wouldn’t be going around saying how anti-democratic it is that no one under 58 has had a say on whether we are or are not part of the EU…

  • Omitted a point: “and there is no evidence that todays 16~18’s are any different to their predecessors, ie. us.” In fact the evidence is to the contrary! because compulsory schooling has been extended to 16 with a much larger proportion remaining in secondary education until they are 18.

  • my Polish friend has lived and worked here for 9 years his stake in the decision is just as great as mine

    I’m not sure what you is meant by ‘stake in the decision’, but it can easily be seen that whatever it is, it is not the same as a say in the decision.

    Imagine there was a family which had been running their home as a guest house for a couple of decades. It’s worked out well, money has come in, but now some of the family want to stop, close the business, and just enjoy the home to themselves. so they convene a family meeting at which a vote will be taken as to whether to close the guest house business or not. Each family member will have one vote.

    Surely you don’t suggest that the guests should get a vote?!

  • I find it quite amusing that people are making references to the democratic injustice of not allowing young people a vote in the upcoming referendum.

    Where was Lord Tyler when the Lisbon Treaty was being rammed down our throats – surely he was in a position of influence then, why then did it not follow that ALL “our fellow citizens cannot be denied a say in that decision” when the LT was going through our Parliament.

    Democracy seems to be a thing to pick up and put down whenever it suits.

  • Richard Underhill 21st Nov '15 - 5:49pm

    Columnist Matthew Parris has written a good piece on page 25 of Saturday’s Times. 21/11/2015. It is behind a paywall, but the ‘latest’ on http://www.thetimes.co.uk/redbox/ goes up to Friday 20/11/2015, so maybe it will show on Sunday or Monday. Maybe he will tweet about it.
    “Why it is time to give 16-year-olds the vote”
    ‘Tennagers are a welcome antidote to the older generation’s cynicism. Tories are on the wrong side of history again.”
    ” … how about we don’t end up this time in the way we always seem to: grumpily resisting a generous and imaginative change, then, dragging our feet, having it forced on us anyway by changing times and attitudes, grudgingly accepting it – and finally forgetting we ever opposed it in the first place?”
    Matthew Parris was an MP for the Tories.

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