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Votes at 16 for Scotland should have been subject to full Parliamentary scrutiny - Lords Constitution Committee

The House of Lords Constitution Committee has today stated that the use of secondary legislation to allow the Scottish Parliament to grant voting rights to 16 and 17-year olds in Scottish Parliament and Scottish local elections makes it impossible for Parliament to scrutinise the proposal effectively.

The Government are seeking to amend the 1998 Scotland Act by statutory instrument to give the new powers to the Scottish Parliament. Statutory instruments cannot be amended by either House of Parliament, and the Committee says that that is “not an appropriate way to proceed with significant constitutional change”. 

The Committee sets out further concerns about the legislation including:

  • Asking whether enough consideration has been given to the effect of votes at 16 in Scotland on the UK constitution as a whole. It is likely that the change will lead to pressure to allow 16 and 17-year olds to vote in other elections across the UK.
  • Stating that the proposal goes beyond the recommendation of the Smith Commission which recommended giving the Scottish Parliament the power to lower the voting age only in elections to that Parliament. The Committee say that if the government wanted to extend the scope to local elections wider consultation should have been undertaken.
  • Noting that the draft clauses published alongside the Smith Commission report say future changes to electoral law made by the Scottish Parliament would require a super-majority with two-thirds of MSPs supporting a change. The Committee point out the inconsistency of the Government's approach in granting this power to the Scottish Parliament via secondary legislation in a way that would dispense with this procedural requirement.
  • Raising concerns about the data protection issues involved in including 16 and 17-year olds on an electoral register.

The statutory instrument will be considered by the House of Lords on Thursday 26 February.

Commenting Lord Lang of Monkton, Chairman of the House of Lords Constitution Committee, said:

“Changes to the law which impact on the UK Constitution, as the proposal to give the Scottish Parliament the power to amend the voting age clearly does, should be subject to full and proper Parliamentary scrutiny—not implemented by an unamendable statutory instrument.

“The proposed change will have knock-on effects across the rest of the UK and we are concerned that not enough thought has been given to this impact.”

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