Let me begin by saying how pleased I was that the Bill received its Second Reading on
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 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.