Overseas Electors Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:15 pm on 22nd March 2019.

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Photo of Philip Davies Philip Davies Conservative, Shipley 2:15 pm, 22nd March 2019

I am going to crack on. I do not think anyone could say that I have not been generous in giving way.

Amendments 68 to 70 are linked to other new clauses that we have already discussed. I want to mention amendments 75 and 76. Amendment 76 would delay the coming into force of the extent, commencement and short title provisions by 12 months. I want to raise that because, whatever the merits or otherwise of a general election outside the fixed-term rules, it seems to me that if a general election were to be held sooner rather than later, this Bill coming into force immediately could cause some problems. Amendments 75 and 76 would delay the implementation of the Act for two years, which would give more time to prepare for the next general election, or even the one after, if we have one before the five-year term is up.

We could end up with people who are eligible to vote not being able to because the systems are not in place to cope with the rush. It would be blatantly unfair on qualifying overseas voters if some of their votes counted and some did not, and if some were able to register and some were not. I think that that can happen already, to be honest, but the problem would be made much worse if we extended the franchise and brought the provisions in very quickly. We would almost certainly create a problem.

All in all, I am sorry that we have had such a truncated operation and that my speech has gone on far longer than I anticipated. Obviously I was agitating some Members, and I wanted to accommodate their requests, because in all seriousness, that is how legislation should be debated in this place. We end up with better legislation when we listen to everybody’s point of view. We have heard in interventions today people making some very good points that we should bear in mind and that expose some of the flaws in the amendments I have tabled. That is why it is important that we go through this scrutiny of important pieces of legislation.

I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire for bringing his Bill this far. I hope that the provisions of the Bill will be introduced at some point, but with the necessary improvements. I urge the Government to listen again to the arguments made in Committee by the hon. Member for City of Chester and the hon. Member for Nottingham North in particular, because if their suggestions had been taken on board, this would have been a much better piece of legislation.