Under current legislation, a person must be 18 or over to vote in elections to the UK Parliament. This Note gives details of calls for a change in the law to reduce the voting age to 16 in recent years.Jump to full report >>
There are two distinct franchises, the Parliamentary franchise and the local government franchise. There are also separate electoral registers for each franchise but in practice they are maintained, as far as is practicable, as a single register.
The Parliamentary franchise, the entitlement to vote in UK Parliamentary elections, is reserved to the UK Government. At the moment you must be 18 years of age on polling day and appear on the electoral register to vote in a UK Parliamentary election.
The local government franchise, the entitlement to vote in local elections, in England, Wales and Northern Ireland currently states you must be 18 years of age on polling day in order to vote and appear on the electoral register for local government elections. This includes elections for mayors and police and crime commissioner elections in England and Wales.
The local government franchise has been devolved to Scotland since 2015. In Scotland, voters in elections using the local government franchise must be 16 years of age on polling day and appear on the electoral register for local government elections. This includes elections to the Scottish Parliament, which use the local government franchise.
Wales is expected to reduce the voting age for local and devolved elections. The Wales Act 2017 received Royal Assent on 31 January 2017 and gave the NAW and the Welsh Government legislative competence for the administration of Assembly and local government elections in Wales, including the franchise for those elections. These powers were transferred in April 2018. The Welsh Government and the National Assembly for Wales support the lowering of the voting age and the Assembly is expected to legislate for the changes in time for the next scheduled local government elections and elections to the Assembly. A Bill was introduced in the Assembly on 12 February 2019 to reduce the voting age for Assembly elections. A local government Bill, which will lower the voting age for local elections, is expected later in 2019.
Northern Ireland does not have legislative competence for lowering the voting age. The franchise for local elections in Northern Ireland is an excepted measure, which means it would only be devolved by primary legislation at Westminster. In 2012, a motion in support of lowering the voting age debated in the Northern Ireland Assembly received cross party support. Only the DUP voted against the motion.
Historically the Conservative Party has generally opposed reducing the voting age and the Government has no plans to change the voting age. However, some senior Conservatives, such as Ruth Davidson, now support votes at 16.
The Labour Party, the SNP, the Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru and the Green Party all support voting at 16.
Commons Briefing papers SN01747
Authors: Neil Johnston; Noel Dempsey