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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.

UK Parliamentary elections

The voting age for UK Parliamentary elections remains at 18 for the whole of the UK and changes to the Parliamentary franchise are a reserved matter for the UK Parliament. The current Government is opposed to lower the voting age for Parliamentary elections.

Local and devolved elections

England

The voting age for local elections in England, including mayoral and police and crime commissioner elections, is 18. The UK Government has no plans to lower the voting age for local elections in England.

Scotland

Scotland has lowered the voting age to 16 for local and devolved elections. This followed the extension of the vote to 16- and 17-year-olds to allow them to take part in the 2014 referendum on Scottish independence. The law was subsequently changed in Scotland to lower the voting age to 16. This applies to elections to the Scottish Parliament and local government elections in Scotland.

Wales

The Wales Act 2017 gave the National Assembly for Wales and the Welsh Government legislative competence for the administration of Assembly and local government elections in Wales, including the franchise for those elections.

The National Assembly for Wales passed the Senedd and Elections (Wales) Act 2020 at the end of 2019 and it received Royal Assent on 15 January 2020. It amended the law to allow 16- and 17-year-olds to register to vote at Senedd Cymru/Welsh Parliament elections held on or after 5 April 2021. The next scheduled elections are May 2021. The Act also renames the National Assembly for Wales the Senedd Cymru or Welsh Parliament. The new names took effect on 6 May 2020.

A Bill to allow 16- and 17-year-olds to vote in local government elections in Wales has now also been passed. The Local Government and Elections (Wales) Bill was introduced to the Senedd on 18 November 2019 and included provisions to lower the voting age for local government elections in Wales. The Bill passed its final stage in a year later, on 18 November 2020. The next scheduled local council elections in Wales are in May 2022.

Police and Crime Commissioner elections are a reserved matter and the voting age remains at 18 for PCC elections in Wales.

Northern Ireland

Elections in Northern Ireland are an excepted matter and remain the responsibility of UK ministers in Westminster. The voting age is 18 for all election in Northern Ireland.

Party policy

The Labour Party, the SNP, the Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru, the Green Party, the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland and Sinn Féin all support voting at 16 for all elections.

Historically the Conservative Party has been opposed to reducing the voting age and the Government currently has no plans to lower the voting age for local elections in England or for Parliamentary elections.

However, a number of senior Conservatives, such as Baroness Morgan of Cotes and Sir Peter Bottomley, now support votes at 16. In Scotland the reduction of the voting age for local government and Scottish Parliamentary elections was passed with the support of the Scottish Conservatives.

During the 2010-15 Parliament, the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee produced a report on voter engagement. The committee did not take a view one way or the other but the report, published in November 2014, called on the Coalition Government to lead a national discussion on reducing the voting age and to allow the House of Commons a free vote on the issue.


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