Did Labour vote to stop 16 and 17 year olds voting in the EU referendum?

10 June 2015

With the passing of yesterday's House of Commons vote on the EU Referendum Bill, there's already been disagreement over Labour's position on the proposals. The SNP's group leader in the Commons, Angus Robertson, teed off the spat on Twitter:



Confusingly, yesterday's vote tells us little about Labour's position on the details of the referendum, except that they support that it should happen in principle.

The vote—at the end of the debate on the second reading of the bill—basically dealt with whether the bill in principle should continue its course through the parliamentary process. And it will: it was passed by 544 votes to 53.

That doesn't mean that those 544 MPs support every aspect of the bill as it currently stands. There is plenty of opportunity further down the line to propose amendments to details.

Labour already has, specifically proposing that 16 and 17 year-olds be allowed to vote in the referendum. But that is a debate for the later stages of the bill, rather than yesterday's broader debate.

The SNP's Alex Salmond proposed an amendment to yesterday's second reading vote that would have effectively killed the bill. If approved the bill would not have continued in its current form with the parting shot:

"this House declines to give a Second Reading to the EU Referendum Bill because it fails to meet the gold standard set by the Scottish independence referendum in terms of inclusivity and democratic participation, in particular because the Bill does not give the right to vote to 16 and 17 year olds or most EU nationals living in the UK, the Bill does not include a double majority provision to ensure that no nation or jurisdiction of the UK can be taken out of the EU against its will, and the legislation does not include provision to ensure that the referendum vote cannot be held on the same day as the Scottish, Welsh or Northern Ireland elections."

It didn't pass: 59 votes in favour, 338 against.

The way amendments work is that you vote for it, against it, or not at all. You can't pick and choose aspects of wide-ranging packages, such as this one.

Voting in favour of this amendment is essentially a vote to stop the bill going forward, and to have this text on the record as the reason 'why'. A new bill would then be needed if the government still wanted a referendum.

Voting against simply tells you an MP wants the bill to proceed, but you don't know how they may want it modified further down the line.

Now that the bill is proceeding to its next stage—Committee Stage—MPs have started proposing amendments to change the text of the bill itself.

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