(1 year, 1 month ago)
I inform the House that Mr Speaker has selected the amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition.
I beg to move,
That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Overseas Electors Bill, it is expedient to authorise the payment out of money provided by Parliament of any increase attributable to the Act in the sums payable under any other Act out of money so provided.
It is a pleasure to bring this motion before the House. I will explain a little about the issues in the Bill. First, let me lay out what the Bill does: it seeks to extend the basis on which British citizens resident outside the UK qualify to participate in parliamentary elections by removing the arbitrary 15-year rule, which prevents British citizens living overseas from registering to vote.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire (Glyn Davies) for his work in getting the Bill to this point and the effort he has put in to engage with Members across the House to ensure that it has support. I would like to take this opportunity to restate the Government’s commitment to the Bill and their desire to see it succeed. I am very proud to support this policy and this Bill. I would like to ensure that the financial element is set out clearly for the House, and I hope that this resolution will then allow the Bill to move forward to Committee stage.
I speak as a former Minister for the Constitution. Does my hon. Friend agree that although this is a private Member’s Bill, which has been promoted and taken forward excellently by my hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire (Glyn Davies), there was a manifesto commitment from the present Government to enfranchise overseas electors, building on their work dating back to October 2016? The whole electoral community has been fully engaged and consulted on the progress of this reform, which is absolutely crucial to enfranchising millions of overseas voters.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I pay tribute to him for his work in stewarding this very important reform to this point. He is absolutely correct that that engagement has taken place because he did much of it, and I am very grateful to him for that. He is also absolutely right to remind the House of the Government’s manifesto commitment. It is one that we take very seriously and hope to see enacted as soon as possible for the benefit of British voters.
I would like to address the amendment to the money resolution tabled by the Opposition. It would limit spending under this legislation to £10,000 in any financial year. That limit would remain until the financial year after the Minister—perhaps me—lays before the House a report on spending incurred under the legislation. To put this far more simply than the amendment, that means that there would not be enough money to implement the Bill, and yet the Bill is about enfranchising British citizens. It is about ensuring and broadening participation in our democracy. It is about giving the vote to people who do not currently have that right because they have moved abroad, but who are none the less British. It is an outrage that Her Majesty’s Opposition are acting in direct opposition to these aims.
Let us start with a matter of principle: in no electoral system do the Government set out how much they plan to spend on registering electors and then register only that many accordingly. That is not how we run our democracy. The Opposition talk of the need to give a voice to the under-represented—it is a theme that they like—but here they are blocking measures that do just that. These measures enfranchise those who were previously registered or resident in this country, and overseas voters are one of the most under-registered groups of all, at about 20% of those eligible.
Will the Minister explain to the House the consequences of agreeing the amendment?
I certainly will: the amendment would simply starve the Bill of the money that it needs to do its job. It is a blocking amendment, a wrecking amendment—it would do nothing less than stop the policy from taking effect. We think that the policy is important, because it starts from a matter of principle, and we think that the Government should support that principle with the necessary spending. Let us be in no doubt about what the amendment would do. I will offer three reasons why I think the amendment should be rejected: it is convoluted, unrealistic and incoherent.
To start with the first of those, the amendment is byzantine in its wording and unnecessarily confusing on an issue that really ought to be clear. Parliament has already agreed this policy, on Second reading at a level of principle, so nothing can be clearer than saying to our fellow British citizens that we think they ought to have the vote. This amendment sullies that principle by putting obstacles in its way.
On my calculation, £10,000 spent on the potentially 3 million British nationals abroad who would be enfranchised by the Bill works out at 0.3p per elector. Are the Opposition really saying they value the votes of British citizens living abroad at 0.3p each?
In many ways, it is even worse than that. I think the Opposition are saying to overseas electors that their votes do not matter a jot and that they do not want them in our democracy, because they are trying to block a Bill that would enable them to participate.
If the last two years have taught us anything, it is that overseas electors are keen to be involved in discussing the politics of this country. They are interested in our politics and feel loyalty towards our country. Is this not the moment to say to them absolutely clearly, “We value you, you continue to be British citizens, we want you in our democracy”?
That is precisely right. Again, we should look at the principles involved in this policy question. We are talking about stopping the abrupt disfranchisement of people after an arbitrary amount of time living overseas, which is a deep and terrible injustice to many people. I could mention to the House the case of Harry Shindler. He is war veteran who has fought for this country and who also happens to be one of the oldest members of the Labour party in the country, yet that party will not do him the courtesy of supporting his efforts to overcome this injustice.
Can I just check something? If I decide to go and live outside the United Kingdom, could I register to vote in Pimlico, where I currently rent a flat, and be an elector in that constituency?
Yes. I think it is basically the hon. Gentleman’s deepest wish that he should live outside the UK. As I understand it, that is the point of the Scottish National party.
May we return for a moment to my old friend Harry Shindler? He is 97 years old and has lived in Italy for much of his life, but he is stoically British. He fought at Anzio, where he watched his friends die, and has since sought to establish memorials to them, and he has been honoured for so doing. Furthermore, he is not one of the oldest members, but the oldest member of the Labour party. Can my hon. Friend suggest any reason why the Labour party would want to prevent that old man from voting?
Order. We need to stick to the money resolution, as you should know better than anyone, Sir Roger. I want to get on with this, so please can we deal with what is in hand? I do not expect the Minister to be driven off course.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I thank my hon. Friend for his question, but I will return to the finance matters in front of us.
I will explain why the amendment to the money resolution is unrealistic. The figure in the proposal, £10,000 per annum, is just 1% of the estimated cost of implementing the Bill. We have published a detailed impact assessment, which I am sure hon. Members will have read, and it outlines how much we expect the measures to cost. I am not backward in coming forward about the amount: we think it will cost £1 million per annum over 10 years. I will put that into context in a moment and explain why we think it is an appropriate figure.
If any Bill becomes law, it should be properly funded, so that is the starting point.
In my time in the House, Oppositions have normally criticised a lack of money for private Members’ Bills to carry out their objectives. It is highly unusual to try to limit the money to £10,000. When was the last time an Opposition did this?
As I understand it—you might know this better than me, Mr Deputy Speaker—it was 1912; it was over a century ago.
I think the hon. Gentleman actually knew the answer.
I suspect he did, Mr Deputy Speaker. I think it might be one of those facts that deserves to be more widely known from this Chamber: this was last attempted in 1912. It is a poor proposal to put to Parliament to suggest that a century-old device be used to block an important matter of principle.
The amendment is also fundamentally incoherent. It asks for a report on the operation of a policy that cannot be properly funded. What a waste of taxpayers’ money that would be. What a waste of valuable resources it would be to produce a report that would merely confirm that we needed the money that we had said we needed in the first place in order to implement the policy. It would serve no purpose, and I think that this is a rather dishonest amendment.
The Minister has talked about wasting money. On Wednesday, we shall have met 15 or 16 times to debate the private Member’s Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Afzal Khan), purely because the Government will not give us a money resolution so that we can progress with it. Does the Minister agree that if that money resolution were granted, it would save money in the long run?
No, because it is the simplest of consistencies to suggest that public money should not be wasted on a Bill that duplicates a measure that is already before the House. That applies to the Bill tabled by the hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton, about which we have spoken in another place, and which I do not think need trouble the House today.
Is the Minister considering changing the Government’s position on extending the franchise to people under 18—for example, to 16 and 17-year-olds, who can give their lives for Queen and country?
As I think the hon. Gentleman will know, that matter is not in the Bill, so I will restrict myself to comments on the motion. It may come up in Committee, and I look forward to dealing with it then. What I will say is that those who are under 18 can go into battle only with their parents’ consent, which is an important qualification.
Let me now deal with the issue of costs. As the impact assessment says, we expect that over the next 10 years the Bill will result in the processing of more than 600,000 additional applications to register, which will result in an increase in the overall additional costs. Let us also not forget that registration costs for overseas electors are a little higher than those for domestic electors. The approximate cost to an administrator to register a British national who lives in the UK is £1.76 per application, while under the current system it costs £3.82 to process an overseas application. That is because the process is subject to higher international postage costs, and more staff time spent on verifying and processing applications. For those who left the UK more than 15 years ago, and who will be enfranchised under this policy, there will be a small additional expense owing to the need to manually check evidence of a previous residency or registration, and review any attestations.
Those are the reasons why costs will be higher. The Government are, of course, committed to funding the additional costs that derive from the Bill under what is called the new burdens doctrine: in other words, we do not envisage leaving that burden to local government. Central Government want to assist, and will therefore also face upfront implementation costs, for IT changes and the administering of polls, which will total about £0.9 million.
If someone leaves my constituency and lives abroad for 50 years, will that person still technically be in the constituency of Beckenham when they vote?
That is absolutely correct. I am happy to confirm that the intention is to maintain the way in which we currently represent voters who live overseas: they will accrue to the constituency in which they most recently lived.
I have a related question. Can the Minister confirm that there would be absolutely no way in which such a person could then migrate to another UK constituency?
That is correct. The application to register to vote would be tied to the constituency in which the person was last registered or resident. It should not be possible for any individual to say, “Right, I pick that one”.
I have told the House how much it costs to process overseas voters’ applications to register. There are also additional costs, comparatively speaking, associated with overseas electors taking part in polls, and that again is due to things like international postage, where the average cost is again a little higher than it is for domestic voters.
On the question of additional cost, do we expect the numbers to rise if there is no deal on Brexit?
I suspect that question has almost nothing to do with the Bill and very little to do with this money resolution to it, but what I would say is this: now is the time, as we change our relationships in this world, to speak loudly and proudly about Britain around the world. Now is the time that we should reach out to our citizens—our people around the world—and say, “You are British, and we are proud that you are British and we welcome you into our democracy.” That is what this Bill is doing; that is the principle that we on the Conservative Benches stand for. I look forward to hearing what those on the other side of the House stand for.
Let me give the House another important figure for context. The cost of putting this measure in place is £1 million, and the amendment suggests that that should be reduced to £10,000. For context, allow me to mention the cost of running a whole parliamentary election in the UK. We do not yet have the cost of the 2017 election, because not all claims have yet been settled, but the 2015 election cost almost £115 million, the 2010 general election cost £104.5 million and the one before that cost £71 million. The cost of parliamentary elections is increasing for other reasons, including more people choosing to vote by post.
Let us return to principle. What we are talking about here is a Bill that puts right an injustice, and that injustice is this: we think British citizens should not be abruptly disfranchised after they have lived for an arbitrary amount of time overseas. The amendment to the money resolution is no more than a shameful wrecking amendment that aims to stop people voting and stop people being enfranchised in this country, and would cause chaos to the new scheme that the Bill aims to put in place.
We have set out in our impact assessment the costs that accrue to this policy in an entirely reasonable and justifiable manner. This amendment is neither of those things. I commend the money resolution to the House.
I beg to move an amendment, to leave out “any increase” and insert
“an increase not exceeding £10,000 in any financial year prior to the financial year after the financial year in which a Minister of the Crown lays before the House of Commons a report on the expected increases arising from the Act and any increase thereafter”.
Our electoral law and the franchise is one of the most important issues we can discuss in our democracy, and this money resolution will permit a serious alteration to our franchise. Under current provisions, British citizens who have moved abroad can apply to be registered as a special category of elector: an overseas voter. They must be registered in the last constituency in which they were entered on an electoral register before they moved abroad, and they may only vote in UK parliamentary elections. But the Bill will end the pragmatic and reasoned approach we have taken in this country. Our current 15-year limit to the duration for which an elector can leave the country serves to maintain the vital link between expats and their home country, a link especially pertinent in light of our departure from the European Union, but also one that, crucially, ensures that those elected to this House are representatives of the constituents we are elected by.
Make no mistake: as a modern, progressive socialist party, Labour remains committed to building a truly global Britain, championing our core values of equality, social justice and opportunity for all.
In passing, the hon. Lady might want to explain why she wants to prevent the oldest living member of the Labour party from voting.
Because I am a bear of small brain, will the hon. Lady help me and the House by explaining what is meant in the Leader of the Opposition’s amendment by
“in any financial year prior to the financial year after the financial year”?
That is gobbledegook; what does it mean?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, and for mentioning Harry Shindler and highlighting his campaigning work on overseas voters. However, I believe that we as a party are striking the right balance. We are welcoming the extension of democracy while, crucially, upholding the integrity of our elections in this country. Globalisation has led to a broad section of British citizens living around the world and we should rightly celebrate their involvement in our democracy, but it is right that we should place reasoned rules on their involvement in our democratic process.
I will not give way, as I want to make some progress.
Until 2015, the number of overseas voters registered to vote had never risen above 35,000. However, at the UK general election in 2017, there were a record 285,000 such voters—a jump of more than 800%—following the various overseas voter registration campaigns directed by the Government, who have clearly begun to politicise the overseas electoral mechanism. The Opposition will therefore continue to do what is right for the country by upholding the integrity of our elections. We welcome the rising levels of participation among overseas electors in recent years, but they have created heavy administrative challenges for local authorities. We have seen the failures of past Government implementations, and we do not need another Tory policy failure at the public’s expense.
The existing provisions for registering overseas electors under the 15-year rule already involve an extremely challenging and resource-intensive process for electoral registration officers. According to the Association of Electoral Administrators, significant staff resources are required to process and check whether overseas electors have been registered within a local authority area in the past 15 years. The AEA has estimated that it takes roughly two hours to register one overseas voter, and because overseas electors fall off the register after 12 months, the vast majority of registration applications occur immediately ahead of a general election, when the pressure on electoral administrators is at its most intense. We must also recognise the wider pressures facing returning officers and electoral registration officers.
I just want to come back to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for North Thanet (Sir Roger Gale), because it is important, given that we are discussing the proposed amendment. Will the hon. Lady tell the House what is meant by
“in any financial year prior to the financial year after the financial year in which a Minister of the Crown lays before the Commons a report”?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question, which obviously refers to that earlier question, but I need to press on with what I have to say.
Following the 2017 general election, the AEA called in a new report for
“urgent and positive Government action”,
outlining 33 recommendations to improve the electoral framework in the UK.
I do hope that this is a point of order and not a means of preventing the debate from taking place.
There is an amendment before the House whose text its proposers cannot explain. How can we possibly vote on it if they cannot explain what it means?
That is not a point of order. This is an important debate and we need to get on with it. I do not want it to be disrupted by spurious points of order.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.
Following the 2017 general election, the AEA called in a new report for
“urgent and positive Government action”,
outlining 33 recommendations to improve the electoral framework in the UK. In a recent letter to the Cabinet Office, the AEA’s chief executive, Peter Stanyon, expressed his serious misgivings about a number of issues, including funding and added bureaucracy. He even warned that unless urgent action was taken there would be unnecessary and untenable risks at the next national polls. But what was the Government’s response to such a stark warning, made in that 2017 report? Peter Stanyon received no reply at all. It is extremely concerning that the Minister has shown no urgency in addressing these issues, particularly when we know that due to the shambolic state of her fragile Government, a general election could occur at any time. Perhaps the Minister will therefore be open with the House by publishing her response to the letter and outlining what steps she is taking to address those serious concerns.
The amendment in my name, and in the name of the Leader of the Opposition and others, would also guarantee that we received a report on the total cost incurred under the Bill. That reasoned approach is designed to protect those the Bill will affect the most. I therefore encourage Members on both sides of the House to support the amendment.
It is also important to remember that these administrative challenges have arisen at a time of unprecedented cuts to local government funding. A survey response from 250 local and electoral authorities that administered the EU referendum found that only a quarter of electoral officials said they had enough funding to support their work on electoral registration. In the context of austerity, local authorities have been forced to review their electoral services and oversee significant reductions in core service funding and staffing levels. Our amendment would protect local authorities from being held in limbo by the Government.
According to the AEA there is a growing retention crisis, as those with vital skills and experience understandably leave the profession. To see the consequences of the Government’s policies, we need only look to the borough of Newcastle-under-Lyme, where two council officials were suspended after almost 1,500 people were unable to vote in last year’s general election. Investigations found that it was a result of
“inadequate performance by under-resourced elections office staff”.
My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Paul Farrelly) described the issues on polling day as a “shambles.” Significant issues also occurred in Plymouth, where 6,500 electors were unable to cast their vote in the 2017 general election.
That does not only affect voters. We have seen that such pressures are also having a significant impact on the health and wellbeing of electoral administrators. Following last year’s general election, the AEA wrote that
“we have collectively been concerned for the health and well-being of all of our members”.
As a result, the AEA contracted the Hospital and Medical Care Association to provide members with free access to a confidential counselling service. Let us think about that for a minute. We have reached a point where free counselling is being offered to election teams in the aftermath of a national poll. How has it come to that?
The Government’s decision to abolish the 15-year rule without addressing those serious concerns is therefore irresponsible in the extreme, as outlined by the Electoral Commission:
“Increasing the number of British citizens overseas who are eligible to be registered to vote will add strain to already stretched resources of electoral administrators, in terms of volume and complexity of registration applications, requiring verification of identities and eligibility of applicants who have not lived in the UK for some time.”
Do the Government have an indication of how many of the estimated 5 million Britons living abroad would apply to be overseas electors in the run-up to a UK parliamentary election if the 15-year rule were removed? Do they have any idea of the strain that would put on already stretched public services?
According to the Cabinet Office:
“Most of the costs of the new policy would be incurred by the local authorities in the first instance”.
Local authorities are already left at breaking point by this Government’s austerity regime and have not received any further detail of their commitment on overseas voters, leaving local electoral registration officers in the dark about how they will cope with this extensive administrative task. It is extremely reckless to leave local authorities in this funding limbo.
In addition to all that, the Government are planning to roll out mandatory voter identification in polling stations across Britain, an extremely expensive policy that could cost up to £20.4 million per general election. Given their record, do they seriously believe they have the resourcing or the ability to deliver on both pledges?
The electoral community has also warned that the proposals leave the registration system wide open to abuse, an issue that appears to be of little concern to the Government. Under the new system, for example, overseas electors will need to prove their eligibility. Documentary evidence may be required to establish their connection with their registration address. However, supplying a single piece of evidence at a single point in time does not prove residency, particularly with regard to the definitions provided in section 5 of the Representation of the People Act 1983. For example, an overseas elector may invest in a property before leaving the UK but may not have lived there, yet they will have a solicitor’s letter confirming the house purchase and are likely also to have a local authority council tax bill—those are two pieces of evidence outlined in the Government’s proposals. In response to the Cabinet Office policy statement regarding overseas voters, the AEA also warned of the possibility of increased applications via this route in marginal constituencies. Not only is the likelihood of error extremely high, but we are now leaving our democracy wide open to potential fraudulent activity.
I wish to end my speech with a moment of unity. I am sure the Minister and Members throughout the House will agree that our country is famous for many things. For example, this House is rightly known as the “mother of all Parliaments”. Indeed, our whole Westminster model of parliamentary democracy is regarded by many as a beacon of democracy and has been adopted by countless nations around the world. At its heart are the rules-based procedures and courtesies that we abide by. One key example is that the Government of the day table a money resolution for any private Member’s Bill that has received a Second Reading. Until recently that was nothing other than a formality, yet this Government have completely dismantled that tradition and procedure.
I am about to finish, and I need to finish this point.
Having decided that they did not like the premise of the Bill promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Afzal Khan), the Government took the unprecedented decision to refuse to grant a money resolution and, in doing so, prevent the passage of his Bill through Parliament.
If the Conservatives were serious about improving democratic engagement, they would give electoral administrators and our local authorities the resources they need to run elections effectively; they would concentrate efforts on registering the millions of adults in this country not currently on the electoral roll; and they would extend the franchise to 16 and 17- year-olds. Instead we have a Government rewriting the rules when it suits them, yet again placing party before country. This debate is a timely reminder that only a Labour Government will build a democracy that works for the many, not the few.
Let me begin by saying how pleased I was that the Bill received its Second Reading on 23 February, without a Division, and I very much hope it will now move forward to Committee. An Overseas Electors Act would introduce votes for life, removing an arbitrary rule that bars British citizens who have lived abroad for more than 15 years from voting in a general election.
The Bill has been well supported throughout the House of Commons by the Government, and I have received a great deal of support from many Opposition Members as well. I was particularly pleased at the large turnout on Second Reading, given that it took place on a Friday. As I have said before, I have received particularly good advice from my hon. Friend the Member for The Cotswolds (Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown), who is in his place, and importantly from Members on the Opposition Benches.
I wanted to intervene on the Opposition spokesman when she made one comment, but I was not allowed to do so; an accusation of politicising the debate was made, but I do not think anyone promoting a private Member’s Bill can have taken as much trouble as I have done to try to engage the Opposition and to depoliticise debate as far as possible. I resented the inference that was made. I did not intervene then, but I have had the chance to say that now.
The Bill addresses a crucial gap in our electorate, whereby currently only an estimated 1.4 million of the 4.9 million British citizens of voting age who live overseas are eligible to vote in UK elections. Those electors should be recognised as an integral part of our democracy, on a simple point of fairness. Many citizens who have moved overseas have a legitimate ongoing interest in the UK’s public affairs and politics. Many spent all their working lives in the UK and continue to have a direct interest in their pension rights. Many moved overseas to work, not having much choice, but will eventually return home to the UK on their retirement. Many have family connections that they wish to retain. Many want to retain the ability to communicate through the often unseen processes of maintained British influence all over the world, usually referred to as soft power, which is incredibly important.
My hon. Friend raises a point that is close to my heart. A good friend of mine has been working in the charitable sector in Africa for 17 years and is now unentitled to vote. Does my hon. Friend find it outrageous that a British citizen who has gone abroad to work so hard has been excluded from voting here?
I certainly do. That is an example of why the Bill is important.
I know that others wish to speak, so I shall finish by saying that a detailed impact assessment has been submitted alongside the Bill. I refer right hon. and hon. Members to that impact assessment for a full overview of the costings.
When I was elected to this place, I did not think that I would take such a keen interest in money resolutions and the private Members’ Bills process, but it is with a degree of trepidation that I have found myself down the rabbit warren of parliamentary procedure. I speak specifically about my experience serving on the Public Bill Committee for the Parliamentary Constituencies (Amendment) Bill.
It was with a degree of surprise that I saw on today’s Order Paper that the House was to be asked to agree to a money resolution given that two other Members—namely, the hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Afzal Khan) and my hon. Friend the Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Angus Brendan MacNeil)—have introduced private Members’ Bills that the House has voted democratically to give a Second Reading, but the Government have chosen, in an abuse of their Executive power, not to grant money resolutions on those Bills. As a result, the Parliamentary Constituencies (Amendment) Bill Committee, on which I serve, is currently in parliamentary purgatory. We have met in excess of 12 or 13 times on a Wednesday morning to consider a motion to adjourn. Because we do not have a money resolution, we cannot consider the Bill clause by clause and line by line, nor can we consider any amendments.
There is certainly a case of double standards here. It is inherently unfair that the Government are abusing their Executive power to stonewall private Members’ Bills, but the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Glyn Davies) has brought forward his Bill—which is further down the queue than the Bills of the hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton and of my hon. Friend the Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar—and it will progress on the back of the money resolution provided by the Government today.
The nature of this Parliament means that numbers are tight. The Government would do well to reflect on the tight parliamentary arithmetic. Their colleagues in the Democratic Unionist party currently seem to be holding a gun to their head and refusing to join them in the Lobbies. When the House divides in a few moments, we will see whether colleagues from Northern Ireland will join the Government in the Lobby.
Let me turn to the Bill. The right to vote is the bedrock of our democracy and no politician should get in the way of the public exercising that right, but I find myself somewhat in disagreement with the proposal from the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire. To be consistent, I take the view that the voting franchise should generally be as we had it in the 2014 independence referendum in Scotland: anyone living in the country should be able to vote. There should obviously be exemptions for those who work overseas, but the fundamental point remains that those who have the greatest stake in the nation’s future should be able to vote. In my view, that means that everyone over the age of 16 who lives in the country should be allowed to vote. In Scotland, we have extended the right to vote to 16 and 17-year-olds and I shall vocally press the UK Government to do likewise.
If the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire and the Conservative party as a whole wish to extend democracy, I politely suggest that they should start elsewhere. They should start by abolishing the House of Lords and introducing votes at 16.
In a hypothetical future referendum on Scottish independence, does the hon. Gentleman think that a Scotsman living in, say, Pimlico should be able to vote on the question of Scottish independence?
In the 2014 referendum, the franchise was that those who lived in the country should be able to vote and our position now is no different. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman and I can discuss it and I can explain it to him so that he understands it better, but—
Order. I remind the House that the debate should be about the financial implications of the Bill.
I am grateful, Madam Deputy Speaker.
I have outlined a couple of options that the Government could pursue if they seriously wanted to extend democracy, but if they want to be the great champions of democracy, they should bring forward money resolutions for the two private Members’ Bills that were given a Second Reading by this House, because a failure to do so would only reaffirm the Scottish National party’s belief that this is a place of limited democracy and double standards.
Madam Deputy Speaker, I understand entirely that this debate is about the money resolution and the amendment, but you will forgive me if I say that much of the Opposition Front-Bench spokeswoman’s speech was devoted to the political implications of the extension of the vote to expat UK citizens. Such a device has not been used since 1912, and it is being used quite cynically by the Leader of the Opposition as a backdoor way of trying to kill a piece of legislation that some of us have been working on for a very long time, and I make no apology for referring back to the case of Harry Shindler.
Harry and I have been working on this project for more years than I care to remember. Harry is 97. He is about as British as anybody possibly could be. He happens to live in Italy, where some of his family live. He fought at Anzio. He came back to the United Kingdom. He worked and he paid his taxes. He then went back to Italy, where he continues to spend his retirement working in the interests of his fallen comrades to ensure that their graves are properly looked after and that memorials are erected. Harry also happens to be literally the longest-serving member of the Labour party, but that does not stop us being good friends. It does not prevent us from making common cause, because Harry believes, as I believe, that people who are UK citizens, who have paid their taxes throughout their working lives, and who are receiving pensions, albeit while living in other countries, should have the right to vote.
The hon. Member for Leigh (Jo Platt) said that we are proud to be one of the oldest democracies in the world. We are, but we also happen to be one of the oldest democracies in the developed world that does not give lifelong voting rights to its expat citizens, which cannot be right. I oppose the Opposition amendment simply on the grounds that this has nothing to do with democracy or with resources. If it had anything to do with resources—this comes back to the money—and if we were so concerned about the financing of the proposals, why are the Opposition proposing to give votes to 16 to 18-year-olds, who have mostly never paid a dime in taxation in their lives, while seeking to continue to deny the voting rights of expat UK citizens who have paid their way throughout their working lives?
I left school at 16 years old and did not get to vote until I was 18, but I paid taxes during the two years that I was unable to vote in elections to this Parliament. That is a nonsense argument.
I know some such young people, but at most they could have paid two years’ worth of taxes. Harry Shindler paid taxes for years and gave blood and fought for his country. I am afraid that Opposition Members are seeking to deny people such as that the right to be British and to vote as British, which I regard as an absolute disgrace—