Britons abroad vote bill debated today

A bill to end the 15-year limit on voting for Britons overseas is to be discussed by a committee of MPs today.

17 October 2018
By Oliver Rowland

Today's 'committee stage' session follows a 'money bill' debate yesterday, a formality that enables the government to allocate a budget to pay for the actions contained in a bill. This comes after months in which nothing has happened - the bill had its second reading debate in February. 

You can watch this afternoon's discussions at 15.00 French time at this link.

Further stages will remain, including a 'report stage' and third reading. The bill also has to go to the House of Lords. It is not expected to be completed until next year, probably too late to allow long-term expatriates to vote in any snap election or new referendum that might possibly result from the current difficult circumstances surrounding Brexit. However anyone who is eligible to vote under current rules would be well-advised to make sure their voter registration is up-to-date and they have notified their choice of voting method.

A House of Commons spokesman said: "I cannot speculate about how long the Bill will spend in Committee, as that is dependent on decisions made by the Committee itself – they may choose to scrutinise the Bill over several sessions, which may be scheduled over weeks or months, or they may finish the process in a single sitting.  I cannot prejudge how long the Committee may choose to spend on the matter.

"As this is a Private Member’s Bill, (that is a bill brought in by an individual MP, in this case Glyn Davies) after the Committee stage it can only be debated on 'sitting Fridays'.  At present there are only two more sitting Fridays scheduled (26 October and 23 November) which limits the time available for any Private Members Bill to complete the required stages.

"It is possible that additional days may be scheduled, either in December or in early 2019, but no decision on that has been made."

Although ending the 15-year rule was a Conservative Party manifesto pledge at the last two general elections, the government decided to further this by supporting Mr Davies' bill rather than putting the measure forward as a government bill.

The chairman of the British Community Committee of France, Christopher Chantrey, said it was unfortunate the government had not given the measure greater priority, adding: "The 'upskirting' bill [penalising people who take indecent photographs of women] was originally a Private Member's bill but Theresa May very soon caused it to get real government support. In my opinion that is what she should be doing to the Votes for Life Bill."

Conservative MP Sir Roger Gale, who has long supported ending the 15-year rule, said however that a Private Member's Bill was a 'perfectly good vehicle' but that the government is hampered in its plans because the Opposition oppose the bill and the government does not have a majority in the Lords. After yesterday's money bill debate he said: "The Labour Party are trying to kill the measure - so far they have not succeeded but there’s a long way to go."

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