Overseas Electors Bill: Money

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:14 pm on 16th October 2018.

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Photo of Chloe Smith Chloe Smith The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, Assistant Whip 4:14 pm, 16th October 2018

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.