Second Reading in the Commons of the Representation of the People (Young People’s Enfranchisement and Education) Bill 2017-19; A Bill to reduce the voting age to 16 in parliamentary and other elections; to make provision about young people’s education in citizenship and the constitution; and for connected purposes.

The bill is second on the list of private Members’ bills to be considered on Friday 3 November 2017.

The Commons Library briefing on Voting Age gives details of calls for a change in the law to reduce the voting age to 16 in recent years.

Part I of the Bill deals with the proposed changes to elections and extends to the UK.

Clause 1 makes provisions to reduce the voting age for Parliamentary elections to the House of Commons from 18 to 16 years, including overseas voters.

It also makes provision to reduce the voting age for the local government franchise to 16 across the UK.

Clause 2 would make the voting age for referendums held in any part of the UK 16 years of age.

Clause 3 makes provision for electoral registration officers to register 16 and 17 year olds to vote. In Scotland, where the voting age for the local government franchise has already been lowered to 16, electoral registration officers must make special provision when registering attainers – those approaching voting age. No information on those aged under 16 must be included on any version of the register published or otherwise made available, except in very limited circumstances.

Current position

The Parliamentary franchise is a reserved matter and can only be changed by primary legislation in the UK Parliament. A registered voter must be 18 years of age on polling day to vote in a UK Parliamentary election.

The voting age for local government elections is already 16 in Scotland. Powers to alter the voting age for local government elections are due to be devolved to Wales in 2018.

Currently the franchise for a referendum in the UK, or in a constituent part of the UK, is chosen on a case by case basis. Legislation allowing for a referendum would include a provision on the franchise.

Part 2 of the Bill makes provision for the Citizenship and the constitution education a part of the National Curriculum at Key Stages 1-4. The Bill extends to England and Wales, but schools policy is a devolved area, so in practice these measures would apply in England only.

Clause 4 of the Bill would make Citizenship and the constitution education a part of the National Curriculum at Key Stages 1-4 (the entirety of compulsory schooling), meaning it would be a requirement for teaching in local authority maintained schools in England. 

Clause 5 would require Citizenship and the Constitution Education to be taught in other state-funded schools in England, such as academies and free schools, at Key Stage 4 (ages 14-16).

Current position

Citizenship is a compulsory National Curriculum subject at key stages 3 and 4 (pupils aged 11-16) and so is taught in all local authority maintained secondary schools in England.  It is also part of the curriculum at some academy and free schools, and independent schools, although those schools are not required to follow the National Curriculum.

New statutory programmes of study for citizenship were introduced from September 2014.  The new programmes of study and attainment targets for citizenship at key stages 3 and 4 were published in September 2013, and the DfE has also published a non-statutory programme of study for Key Stages 1 and 2.

The KS 3 and 4 programme sets out the aims of citizenship education:

The national curriculum for citizenship aims to ensure that all pupils: 

  • acquire a sound knowledge and understanding of how the United Kingdom is governed, its political system and how citizens participate actively in its democratic systems of government
  • develop a sound knowledge and understanding of the role of law and the justice system in our society and how laws are shaped and enforced
  • develop an interest in, and commitment to, participation in volunteering as well as other forms of responsible activity, that they will take with them into adulthood
  • are equipped with the skills to think critically and debate political questions, to enable them to manage their money on a day-to-day basis, and plan for future financial needs. 

More details are included in the programme about what should be taught at each stage.

Citizenship studies may also be studied as a GCSE, and subject content has been published by the Department for Education.

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