Thursday, August 2, 2012
Lord Lexden and the Expatriate Briton
Lord Lexden: Finally, I urge strongly that the scope of the Bill be extended, as my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth argued, by adding to it provision to enable all our fellow subjects of Her Majesty who live abroad to vote in our parliamentary elections. This would end the existing 15-year limit, for which no clear rationale has ever been offered. There are some, such as Mr Clegg, who are inclined to say that our fellow country men and women abroad should take the nationality of the country in which they reside, even though I understand that Mrs Clegg, who retains Spanish nationality, has a lifetime’s right to vote in Spain’s elections. There are others who say that because they pay no taxes here they should not vote here, but many do pay taxes. In any case, other countries do not admit taxation as a principle for access to their franchises. Others say that our fellow citizens abroad cannot feel a strong attachment to the United Kingdom after some years away from it. However, in the age of the internet, they can follow closely what is happening in their native land and, as online participants, contribute powerfully to developments taking place here whether they live in Perugia, Portugal or Pennsylvania.
I set out the case for change more fully in a debate initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Wills, in January and I propose to return to it in Committee. The Government have this great issue under active consideration, as the Minister confirmed in a Written Answer to me on 25 June. There could be no better time for action than in this Diamond Jubilee year. Some 5.6 million subjects of Her Majesty live abroad. Many of them today stand hopefully at the bar of British democracy. Let all those who wish to join us be allowed to enter.