This link to the Hansard record of the House of Lords debate on 26th November, 2014 concerns the question of the low electoral registration rates of British citizens living overseas. Some selected extracts to quickly illustrate the flavour of the debate can be found below.
Note that as a British citizen living overseas for a period less than 15 years you can now very conveniently register on-line to vote on the official government website https://www.gov.uk/register-to-vote.
If you find you can’t register due to being excluded by the existing 15-year-limit on voting from overseas, we would still appreciate you adding your support here for our campaign to remove this arbitrary limit on our voting rights.
Lord Norton of Louth (Con):
“Even if the estimate of those eligible to register is substantially out—even if it is 2 million rather than 3 million—it is clear that an appallingly low percentage is registered to vote.”
“Although a great deal of concern is expressed about low registration rates in the UK, this concern does not appear to extend to UK nationals living abroad. They are in many respects neglected voters, or rather, non-voters.”
Lord Tyler (LD):
“In those circumstances it is important to put on record that the average constituency Member of Parliament, even if they have a substantial number of overseas residents, will never see them as a high priority in terms of representation.”
” If at any point during those 14 years I had had regular communication with overseas residents who had previously lived in the constituency, I think that I would have remembered them, but it did not happen. I am afraid that it was very often a case of out of sight, out of mind.”
Viscount Astor (Con):
“The most disappointing thing at the last general election was the inability of our Armed Forces to register and vote when serving overseas. Many, if not most, of those serving abroad were unable to get their ballot papers back in time. The extension to 25 days will obviously help at the next election.”
Lord Lexden (Con):
“The briefing that the (Electoral) Commission has provided for this debate suggests that it is seeking assistance from a wide range of organisations, including universities, pension providers and financial advisors, as well as the FCO. This is surely to be welcomed.”
“The existence of a co-ordinating Minister would surely be invaluable to the Electoral Commission in this endeavour.”
Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab):
“I note that the group did not address the issue of the 15-year limit on being able to vote. I am also aware of the case of Shindler v the United Kingdom in the European Court of Human Rights, which ruled that the limit was not a breach of Article 3 of Protocol 1.”
” I think that the 15-year limit is about right and there is not going to be any change this side of the general election. After the election it is of course a matter for the Government of the day to keep under review and to propose changes to Parliament in due course.”
Lord Wallace of Saltaire (responding for the government):
“My Lords, I was about to say that there are some fundamental differences between the way we approach citizenship and the way that other countries, including France, do so. The attitude to those who are overseas is very different there.”
“The assumption is that the French state wants them to remain French citizens closely allied to France. That means that consulates and embassies are staffed more generously where there are strong communities of citizens and French schools are subsidised.”
” Those are not things which this country has done. This country has not had such a strong sense of the state and of the need for the state to hold on to its citizens overseas.”