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Shindler’s bill on votes for life moves to next stage

A bill to give votes for life to British citizens abroad was debated by British MPs today and was passed to move through to the next ‘committee stage’ where detailed examination of its clauses will take place.

23 February 2018
Sir Roger Gale said the bill should be named after war veteran and campaigner for expatriates' rights Harry Shindler
By Oliver Rowland

Among those speaking in favour of the bill to an audience of only around 20 MPs, Conservative MP for North Thanet Sir Roger Gale said it should be known as ‘Shindler’s bill’ after 96-year-old Second World War veteran Harry Shindler, from Italy, who has campaigned tirelessly in favour of ending the 15-year limit on the expat vote.

Speaking after Labour MP Sandy Martin opposed the bill on behalf of the Opposition, Sir Roger said he was proud to call Mr Shindler a friend and he would challenge Mr Martin to meet Mr Shindler and to look him in the eye and tell him why he wishes to deny him his vote before he dies.

He described Mr Shindler’s war record including fighting at the Battle of Anzio and work in later life to identify graves of those who fell in the war to ensure they are recorded, and he said Mr Shindler never took Italian nationality because of his strong attachment to the UK. “I don’t think you could find anyone more British,” he said.

Sir Roger said that this is a measure “whose time has come, to redress an injustice”.

The ‘Overseas Electors Bill 2017-19’ was presented as a private member’s bill by a Welsh Conservative MP, Glyn Davies, for a first reading on July 19 last year and won backing from the government, and Cabinet Office minister MP Chloe Smith reiterated that support today. Labour MP Mike Gapes, who is president of Labour International, also spoke in favour of the bill, as did Layla Moran for the Liberal Democrats and Conservative Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown who is a long-standing supporter of votes for life.

Those speaking in support highlighted that many Britons abroad today retain close links to the country and their friends and family there through modern technologies and low-cost flights, that many have incomes that are still taxed in the UK and some may wish to return in later life.

They pointed out also that many countries around the world, such as the USA, France and Japan, have votes for life for their citizens, and that after Brexit Britons in the EU may lose their local voting and EU elections votes, so could be left with no voting rights if votes for life is not brought in.

They also spoke of the ‘soft power’ that Britain gains around the world due to its citizens abroad and said some other counties do more than the UK to ensure theirs feel valued, such as France with its dedicated MPs and senators for its expatriates.

Objections from Mr Martin and from Labour MP Cat Smith included that there ‘has to be a cut-off point’ because they said Britons abroad eventually lose interest in the UK and that it would be too complicated and costly for councils to register a lot of new voters. Mr Martin also cast doubt on whether Britons abroad retain close family links saying that anyone abroad for 15 years or more would have brought their family to be with them if they were “really interested” in them.

Ms Smith also objected to the fact the important matter was being dealt with in a private member’s bill, which are debated on a Friday (when many MPs have returned to constituencies).

The bill is expected to move to committee stage in the next few weeks.

Sir Roger told Connexion that he and Mr Clifton-Brown had to act strategically to interrupt the debate and obtain a vote before time ran out.  In the end, however, he said their opponents then withdrew and it went through ‘on the nod’.

He said: “Labour are quite clearly opposed to it; they mounted an operation to talk it out – Mr Martin spoke for 45 minutes which is outrageous. However they seemed to decide that discretion is the better part of valour and they are probably going to try to kill it in committee, or at the report stage, or the third reading, or the House of Lords.

“The trouble with private members’ bills is that even if with government support they are very vulnerable, but it’s possible. It’s one step forward, but it is only one step. I am very pleased but this doesn’t mean expats are getting the vote.”

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