Elections Bill Debate

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Department: Leader of the House

Elections Bill

Baroness Neville-Rolfe Excerpts
Lords Hansard - Part 1 & Committee stage
Monday 28th March 2022

(2 years, 2 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Elections Act 2022 View all Elections Act 2022 Debates Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 96-VI Sixth marshalled list for Committee - (24 Mar 2022)
Lord Desai Portrait Lord Desai (Non-Afl)
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I shall come to that; this is the beginning of a lecture that will take some time.

When I arrived here, I was the holder of an Indian passport. India had become a republic in 1950. Just as we recently saw in the exercise of persuading the Jamaicans not to become a republic, becoming a republic takes a Commonwealth country out of the reciprocity relationship because the country can then choose whether to give reciprocal rights. That is Jamaica’s choice, not ours.

We have to be aware that our original right to vote was as subjects—we are still subjects—of the Crown, and the whole notion that we are citizens is an entirely European import. We became citizens only when we joined the EU; we ceased to be citizens when we left. The notion of citizenship is not relevant. We are not a democracy: the Crown in Parliament is sovereign; people are not sovereign. That is the constitutional position. Noble Lords can challenge me if they wish.

I am not disputing the principle of what the noble Lord is proposing, because he has explained very clearly and patiently that there ought to be reciprocity or symmetry. The Commonwealth itself is an anomaly because it is not a symmetrical association of equal states. Her Majesty the Queen heads the Commonwealth because of her position as the Crown and she has asked the Commonwealth Heads of Government to agree that His Royal Highness Prince Charles will head the Commonwealth when he succeeds her. So the Head of the Commonwealth will always be the British monarch. The Commonwealth is not a society of equal nations; there is an asymmetry there.

We are not French; we are British. We do not believe in logic; we believe in convention, tradition and evolution, and therefore there is an anomaly. If the Government want to have a logical structure, let them bring a Bill that in the first clause defines who has the right to vote in this country and why, and who does not have the right to vote, despite being a resident, taxpayer or whatever. That exercise has not been carried out, and so we have an anomalous position. That is the beauty of the constitution—it is not a logical construct.

Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait Baroness Neville-Rolfe (Con)
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My Lords, I was sorry not to be able to speak at Second Reading. It is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Desai. Logic, clarity and lack of reciprocity call for Amendment 154, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Green, to be taken seriously and for the questions he has raised to be answered. I look forward to hearing positively from my noble friend the Deputy Leader. I will not delay the House.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, I have some sympathy with the points made, but I wish this amendment could have been debated in the group of amendments we had on the entitlement to vote, because I do not really want to move away from the principle I articulated before. Not everyone wants to lose the status of their nationality. For example, my husband does not want to give up his Spanish citizenship, which he may have to do. A number of European countries have started to change but they did not allow dual nationality. A lot of people could lie about that, but he does not want to give it up. I certainly do not want to give up my nationality.

When we were in the EU, we were in the comfortable position of being, as we used to describe ourselves, EU citizens; we could locate and meet our families in our respective countries with ease. Now that has changed and we accept that, but I do not quite understand why we do not accept that there is a settled status, where someone has lived in the country for 27 years, paid tax, national insurance and everything else—they have taken the responsibility of a citizenship—but for one reason or another do not want to take formal citizenship, and why that should preclude them from having the right to vote.

It is crazy that, as I mentioned, an Australian student who comes over for their OE can immediately apply for the right to vote. I would rather the debate focused on what entitles somebody to vote. We have talked about taxation, we have talked about responsibility, and I say that clear levels of residence should establish some basic rights, so that we treat people who live here equally, and when they contribute to the success of our country we should acknowledge that.

I come back to what the noble Lord, Lord Green, said. One of the issues his amendment ought to probe and cause us to think about is: what is a British citizen? He says that British nationals (overseas) are not included. We can make commitments suddenly; for example, we made a commitment to Hong Kong citizens who are BNOs because of the breach of an international agreement. I have no doubt that in future, as we have done in the past, we will want to protect our legacy. The noble Lord, Lord Desai, spoke about the legacy of British Empire, which of course we cannot ignore, and things have changed.

I welcome the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Green, has tabled this amendment but we need to consider it in the light of all the amendments we have had on the right to vote and what the qualifications are. I do not think we should ignore residency.