Last hurdle for votes at 16 in Welsh assembly elections

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The bill will give 16-year-olds the vote at the next Senedd election

A law giving 16-year-olds the vote in Welsh assembly elections will face its final hurdle on Wednesday.

Assembly Members will vote on the Senedd and Elections Bill – 40 out of 60 need to back the law for it to pass.

It will add about 70,000 people to the electoral roll – the biggest extension to who can vote in Wales for 50 years.

The bill will also give the assembly two names – Senedd Cymru and Welsh Parliament – after a row about what the institution should be called.

AMs will be renamed as Members of the Senedd, while foreign nationals resident in Wales will also be given the vote in Senedd elections.

While Labour and Plaid Cymru are expected to support the law, the Conservatives and Brexit Party are planning to vote it down.

Votes from Plaid, Labour backbench AMs and government ministers should be enough to get the bill through the 40-member threshold needed.

The assembly was given the power over the institution’s own affairs, including elections in 2017, as long as two-thirds of the members agree to any changes.

Once passed the bill will become law in January, with 16 and 17-year-olds able to vote for the first time in Wales at the Senedd elections in 2021.

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Media captionThe assembly is set to get a new name – but what do people think it should it be?

The Welsh Government has separate plans to extend the electorate who can vote in the next council elections. The assembly’s name would be due to change in May 2020.

Lowering the voting age to 16 has been a long-term ambition for many assembly members.

Back in 2013 they voted 41 for, five against, for the principle of giving 16-year-olds the vote at council elections.

It became part of the Senedd and Elections Bill – the assembly’s first attempt to legislate for itself, something previously handled by Westminster.

Assembly Presiding Officer Elin Jones said last year that lowering the voting age to 16 would give young people “a stronger voice in the future of our nation”.

But the proposals do not have unanimous support across the chamber.

Conservative AM Darren Millar has been among those opposing extending the franchise – in a previous debate he said “many 16 and 17-year-olds simply do not feel confident enough to make decisions about who runs their country”.

Will 16-year-olds vote?

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L-R: Geraint Williams, 19; Lara Evans, 19; Tabitha Anthony, 18

Tabitha Anthony, 18, is studying for A-Levels in Tondu near Bridgend and plans to vote Conservative. She said she did not think 16-year-olds “would be mature enough to do their own research”.

“There are a handful of people in my school who are 18 and are able to vote but they’re not politically aware enough,” she said.

“I’ve heard in our common room lots of people discussing politics, but they’re trying to describe and explain the different policies to each other when really you’re just hearing the propaganda that’s being spread.”

Lara Evans, 19, from Tredegar, said she “100%” would have voted at 16. “I think 16 is a completely responsible age to give people the vote,” the politics student said.

The Plaid Cymru supporter added: “If people feel that they don’t want to vote at 16 then they don’t have to vote because the likelihood is if you’re not interested in politics – maybe you don’t feel you align with any party or strongly enough.”

“That’s the same whether you’re 16 or a lot older… it depends how involved you are in politics rather than what your age is.”

Geraint Williams, 19, from Cardiff, said: “Young people are definitely more engaged in politics.”

The musical theatre student, who is undecided but leaning towards Labour, added: “We’re realising that it’s our future and we are the future generation and that we have the opportunity to make the final decision.”

The debate follows a row over what the assembly should change its name to.

For some time assembly members have wanted to rename the institution, in part to recognise its larger role in Welsh life in making laws.

The original bill, tabled by the assembly itself, had proposed changing the name to Senedd, but also said the institution could be known as the Welsh Parliament.

It failed to please Labour ministers, who thought the wording was confusing, and amendments by former first minister Carwyn Jones backing a bilingual name passed with Welsh Government support in October.

Meanwhile there was a push for a clearer Welsh-only name, Senedd, from Plaid Cymru. The party argued the word already transcended language barriers, but despite some Labour support the bid was unsuccessful.

Senedd, which is already the name of the building that houses the assembly debating chamber, is the Welsh word for parliament.

Carwyn Jones himself said he would call the institution Senedd, but claimed it was not clear everyone understood the word. He argued his amendments made it clear in law that Senedd Cymru meant the Welsh Parliament.

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Assembly members will become known as Members of the Senedd

Plaid Cymru AM Rhun ap Iorwerth said his party had been successful in ensuring AMs in the future “will be known as Aelod o’r Senedd/Member of the Senedd”.

“So, in effect, we’ve won the debate on what the institution will be called from today,” he said.

The Presiding Officer Elin Jones and the Deputy Presiding Officer Ann Jones do not usually vote but will be able to for this bill.

Brexit Party group leader Mark Reckless said: “While we would like the assembly to adopt a bilingual name with Welsh Parliament being the English version, we cannot support the franchise changes proposed.”


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