Peer will fight 15-year vote rule

Lord Lexden plans to try to amend a British elections bill so expats can vote for life in UK elections

20 September 2012

[NOTE TO READERS: Lord Lexden writes that he has received many emails of support since this interview was published and says he is very grateful, but regrets that it is not practical for him to acknowledge them all individually].

A BID to end the ban on British expats voting in UK national elections after 15 years abroad is to be made in the Lords next month.

Tory Lord Lexden is tabling an amendment to the electoral registration bill which is currently making its way through the UK parliament.

He said: “Most other EU countries, including Spain, France, Germany, Italy and Portugal, and other countries like the US and Switzerland, allow expats to participate in their elections for life. We are out of line with the world’s leading democratic countries.

“My position is based on fairness. Some suggest expats are disproportionately likely to vote Conservative, however I don’t know if that’s the case and it’s not in my mind.”

He added: “Many people make the point to me that expats retain strong links with, and interest in, the UK and I heartily agree. People go back and forth and in the internet age it’s easy to keep in touch.”

He rejected a proposal by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg that expats instead should seek French nationality so as to vote in France. “I have pointed out, that if that is the case, you might have expected Mrs Clegg to take British nationality, but she has not and retains a lifetime right to vote in Spain.

“I am opposed to undermining people’s right of choice – compelling them to take out other nationalities if they think of themselves as British.”

One of the main aims of the bill is to change electoral registration procedures to have people register to vote individually rather than a “head of household” doing it for all those at one address and Lord Lexden said it was an ideal opportunity to change rules.

He plans to put down the amendment during the crucial “committee stage” when peers scrutinise the bill in detail. He said there was no reason to believe the government was ready to accept any changes but he said: “My main purpose is to secure from the government a clear explanation of its position.

“Whether it intends to accept, or argue for the status quo, or for a compromise such as a longer period, the arguments will need to be placed before the Lords. It will be forced to reveal its hand to a greater extent than ever before.”

Depending on what the government says, he then plans to ask for a vote on the issue at the third and final reading in the Lords, expected by the end of the year. If the Lords adopt it, “ping-pong” between the two houses may ensue, with a final version of the bill likely to be passed in early 2013.

Lord Lexden said those with comments could look at Votes for Expat Brits. Expat campaigner Brian Cave has called the Lords debate a “pivotal moment” and suggests courses of action at Pensioners Debout.

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