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Assembly passes new law to give 16 and 17-year-olds the right to vote in Welsh elections

Credit: PA Images

Sixteen and 17-year-olds in Wales will be able to vote for the first time in the next assembly elections, as part of one of the biggest changes to the democratic process in half a century.

Assembly Members voted in favour of the legislation, in the final phase of the Bill.

The Bill contains a variety of new reforms which includes who can vote and who can stand as candidates in Assembly elections.

It means that 16 and 17-year-olds will - for the first time - have influence in choosing who will represent them in the next Assembly.

The main changes also include giving the vote to eligible foreign nationals. Prisoners will also get the right to vote serving sentences of less than four years in local elections.

The Bill was passed by 41 votes to 19.

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The last time the voting age was lowered, from 21 to 18, was in the Representation of the People Act in 1969.

Lowering the age is "long awaited" Elin Jones AM, Llywydd of the Assembly said.

“This was a vote to empower our young people to participate in the democratic process by extending the vote to 16 and 17 year olds – a move which, for some, is long overdue.

"This Bill, in my view, will create a more inclusive, diverse and effective Senedd, and will strengthen our democracy for the twenty first century."

The Bill also includes confirming a new bilingual name for the Assembly, which is Senedd Cymru / Welsh Parliament.

The panel was chaired by Professor Laura McAllister, who described it as a "monumental step forward... for Wales".

“The Assembly is a very different institution to the one established in 1999, and this is why we as an independent expert panel were tasked with reviewing and presenting ideas for change."

The new legislation will be implemented following Royal Assent in January 2020.

Following the vote, Plaid Cymru AM Rhun ap Iorwerth said, extending the right to vote to 16 and 17-year-olds shows that "we trust them, we’re ready to listen to them and we take their opinions seriously."

“It’s wonderful to see that the Youth Parliament has made such an impact in its first year and it is proof enough that the young people of Wales have a massive contribution to make and are ready and able to shape their world, their Wales."

The Liberal Democrats said it is an "important step" that will "ensure the voices of young people are heard within Welsh politics and help us create a better Welsh democracy."