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Government could face defeat over lowering voting age

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The legal age for voting in council elections could be lowered to 16 if the Lords vote in favour of an opposition amendment to the government’s devolution bill this evening.

The Liberal Democrat amendment is backed by Labour peers, giving it a strong chance of passing despite government opposition.

This would be the second occasion the government has been defeated as the Cities & Local Government Devolution Bill passes through the Lords. They lost a vote on Monday which would allow areas to win significant devolution deals without adopting a directly elected mayor.

However, both amendments could be overturned in the Commons where the government has a majority.

The Lib Dem amendment seeks to change the Representation of the People Act 1983 so that residents aged 16 or older are entitled to vote in local government elections. Voters currently have to be aged 18 or above.

The party’s constitutional spokesman Lord Tyler said the amendment was an important first step” in the Lib Dems bid to give 16-year-olds the vote in the EU Referendum and general elections.

Lord Beecham, deputy local government spokesman for Labour, told LGC he thought the vote would be “close” but added: “I think there is a reasonable chance of it going through. Hopefully it will start a trend.”

He told LGC he thought lowering the voting age would help to engage more people in politics, highlighting the “huge turnout” in the Scottish referendum where 16 and 17-year-olds were allowed to vote.

Baroness Williams of Trafford, the Department for Communities & Local Government’s representative in the House of Lords, has previously voiced scepticism about lowering the voting age. In a debate last month she said the voting age in most European countries was 18. “In the EU, only Austria allows voting for 16 year-olds,” she said.

Other amendments to the devolution bill due to be discussed today are aimed at seeking reassurances about the accountability and national standards of public services, such as the NHS, in instances where those functions are transferred to combined authorities.

However, LGC understands many peers have been appeased by an amendment Baroness Williams successfully moved on Monday which will allow limitations to be attached to the transfer of powers from a public authority to a combined authority.

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