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Mike Gapes MP Speech in Overseas Electors Bills debate

Mike's speech can be seen here. The full text is as follows:

"I believe that there is an injustice in the arbitrary 15-year rule, but there are also many other injustices in the way many British citizens living overseas are treated. My hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Sandy Martin) was right to highlight some of them. What is not right, however, is whataboutery and the best being the enemy of the good. What is not right is using false hares and arguments in order to discredit this Bill and imply that all the people supporting it are against, for example, votes at 16. I voted for the private Member’s Bill that proposed that, and it will come. Within our parliamentary procedure, we cannot have an all-encompassing electoral reform Bill. Our only opportunity to deal with this injustice is to support the Second Reading of this Bill to allow it to make progress. The hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Glyn Davies) has done an excellent job in bringing it forward.

 

For some months, I have been pressing the Government, on behalf of Labour International and in response to communications I have had with Harry Shindler, who has already been mentioned, on why they were not bringing forward the commitment they made in their manifesto. When I asked questions about that last October, I was referred to answers given in September to my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Holly Lynch), who had also been raising this issue from the Labour Benches. There is a bipartisan interest—in fact, a cross-Parliament, all-party interest—in these matters. All of us, even those who have only a few constituents who have gone to live in other countries, will have had communications about them from people in Spain, France, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada or wherever.

 

There are international organisations within the political parties that represent our party members living abroad. I have the honour of being the honorary president of Labour International, and I want to convey a few words from an email from Lorraine Hardy. She was not registered to vote in Oxford or Westminster, but was a Labour party activist in Leeds before she went to live in Alicante with her husband many years ago. She says:

 

“‘Votes for Life’ will be even more important post Brexit, as we will have no opportunity to vote for a national representative in the UK nor in our country of residence as there will no longer be an option to vote for an MEP.”

 

Frankly, it is an outrage that a large number of British people whose future in Europe was affected by the referendum were not able to vote in that referendum because they had been living abroad in a European Union country for more than 15 years. That democratic outrage was not manufactured; it was a fact. This is an opportunity to make sure that we remedy that outrage and take a small step towards allowing those people to express their views at the next general election on whether their parliamentary representatives were right to damage their position in Europe. I think that many of them might have some things to say about that. I will not get into that, but the view that this is one-sided is completely and utterly wrong. None of us knows what the views are of people living in other countries who have not expressed positions and are not registered to vote. That idea is just made up and manufactured."

Sir Oliver Heald: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the opinions of people in a country such as Canada or America could inform our political discourse? Those countries have service animal protection—something I am calling for—and people there could inform our debate, so that we can see how well it works there.

Mike Gapes: "Given that we have Skype, WhatsApp, Facebook and all the other means of communication, those people already inform the debate in many ways.

 

There is a democratic principle here. We should recognise what the Labour International co-ordinating committee said in the motion that it passed, which it asked me to bring to the attention of the House:

 

“Many of the concerns about voting are related to fears and anger about the loss of rights normally associated with citizenship such as pensions, health care and the right to family life. This should be dealt with by the government allocating these issues to…a…minister and by establishing a forum for the concerns of overseas UK citizens.”

 

Reference has been made to France. There are Senators in the French system who represent overseas French territories, and there are Members of the Assemblée Nationale who represent French citizens living in other countries in Europe. We need to address that issue as part of the wider question of the reform of our second Chamber, but that is not for today. Today is to remedy problems, to right an injustice and to say to British people, wherever they are in the world: you have equal rights in our democracy."

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