The House of Commons has rejected a proposal put forward by the House of Lords to give voting rights to 16- and 17-year-olds in a referendum to be held to decide if Britain should stay in the European Union. The proposal was backed by 253 MPs while 303 voted against it on 8 December.
The decision overturns an amendment to the EU referendum bill passed by the House of Lords. The referendum is scheduled for 2017.
Labour, SNP and Liberal Democrats were in favour of the proposal. All three, along with the Greens, also seek the general voting age to be permanently lowered to 16.
According to The Independent, Labour peers in the House of Lords have not accepted the decision and are mulling tabling another amendment that could lower the voting age for the EU referendum. The paper reported that Labour, SNP and Liberal Democrats were preparing to defy the government on 14 December, "setting the scene for a trial of strength between the two Houses".
Meanwhile, Cabinet Office Minister John Penrose said: "It is something which should be considered for all elections, collectively and in the round. Equally, given the understandable sensitivities surrounding the EU referendum making such a fundamental change to the franchise for this vote alone but not for others would inevitably and perhaps justifiably lead to accusations of trying to fix the franchise in favour of either the remain or the leave campaign."
"We currently have a patchwork of restrictions which apply to young people from the age of 16 all the way up to 21 – there is no clear point at which a person becomes an adult but it is 18 that society usually draws the line," he added.
Voting on major referendums are "once in a generation choice, perhaps a once in a lifetime choice," Pat McFadden, the shadow Europe minister, told the House of Commons. "Our contention is very simple, it is that the young people of this country deserve a say in the decision which will chart our country's future," he added.
Last year, in the Scottish independence referendum, the voting age was lowered temporarily to allow 16- and 17-year-olds to vote.