Lord Lexden set out in full the reasons why all British citizens living overseas should have the right to vote in British elections when the House of Lords debated his amendments to the Electoral Registration and Administration Bill on January 14, 2013.
This succeeded in drawing out a number of objections in response (eg on the basis of taxation, frozen pensions, expatriate stereotypes, lack of interest, detachment, no substantial stake in UK, political donations, etc.), including a number of misleading—in some cases erroneous—statements and claims from other parts of the House.
Lord Norton (a well-known constitutional expert) made the important point in support of Lord Lexden’s case that “they are and remain British citizens. So long as they remain British citizens, I see no reason why they should be disenfranchised”.
Making a tactical withdrawal before entrenched opposition interests, and with the support of Lord Norton, Lord Lexden proposes to return to the main issues when the Lords moves to the next stage of its consideration of the Bill on January 23.
More details of the debate can be found in the copy of the Hansard report here:
Hansard 140113 on ERA Bill in H of L
The positive points to take from this debate include:
- The intellectual quality and careful reasoning of the case argued by Lord Lexden.
- The principle of British citizens overseas retaining their democratic right to vote was particularly well argued by several peers and poorly challenged by those opposed.
- Lord Wills stated that “taxation has never been a criterion for voting in this country and it is not now”.
- The government expressed its intention to encourage the postal option by increasing the overseas voting period from 17 to 25 working days and to remove the requirement for initial registration to be attested by another British citizen living abroad.
- Some of those peers opposing Lord Lexden adopted such inflexible & partisan positions that Lord Deben was able to chide them over their very undemocratic stance:
“I hope that this House will take seriously the fact that we have now heard three speeches designed to say that people should not vote if by their voting they might do something which was inconvenient for noble Lords on either side and should therefore be refused the vote. That is precisely the debate that noble Lords are about to have [on constituency boundary changes], which is to say that because a particular reform proposed in this House today would give people a fairer vote but thereby might give a different result, we should not change the voting system to accommodate them. That is an attitude to democracy about which we should be ashamed. Our decision should be on what is fair, what is equal and what is reasonable.”
Lord Lexden referred to the “extraordinarily low number” of 23,388 British citizens living overseas who were registered to vote in the UK, out of an estimated 4.4 million of voting age, but anticipated this would be higher if the processes of registration and voting were simplified and streamlined.
[Note: The need to improve the overseas voting process is also demonstrated by the British Armed Forces in Afghanistan, where only 560 out of 10,000 troops voted at the last election.
In comparison, for general and mid-term elections in the United States, blank ballot papers for postal votes can be delivered electronically (by e-mail or fax) with a postal voting period granted of 45 days (compared with the current 17 days in the British case) from initial dispatch.]
Why not make your voice heard and boost that number of 23,388 by making sure that you are registered to vote via the Electoral Commission’s website www.aboutmyvote.co.uk?
It would be much appreciated if you could also find time to add your vote here in support of our campaign to remove the arbitrary 15-year-limit on our voting rights.
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