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Two debates took place in the House of Lords on 14 and 23 January 2013,

during both of which Lord Lexden of Lexden proposed amendments which

sought to abolish the 15-year-rule. The Minister, Lord Wallace of Saltaire,

said Lord Lexden had "made his mark on the government" and that an

"all-party inquiry (see opposite) into this rather neglected area" should be held.

You can download the transcripts of these two debates

here (for 14 January) and here (for 23 January).


Earlier moves in Parliament

House of Lords debate, 2 March 2011

- then search for: Viscount Astor or : 7.22 pm 


Viscount Astor (Conservative) introduced the question To ask Her Majesty's

Government whether they will consider changing the voting arrangements for

British citizens residing abroad and members of the Armed Forces serving


He said “We seem to be the only EU country that does not encourage its
citizens living abroad to play an active part in their own country. It is difficult
to register and it is difficult to vote. You have to register in the constituency
where you last lived in the UK, and you have to prove it, so many do not
bother—it is a cumbersome procedure. Through the internet, those living
abroad are as close as they have ever been to their home country. It is the
same as if they were living here. You can download any national newspaper
any morning. You can watch the BBC on a television anywhere in the world.
You remain part of your home country and belong to it. […]
The main groups affected are those who are working abroad, including
members of the Armed Forces, and particularly those who have moved or
retired abroad. We live in a world where many travel for both short-term and
long-term reasons, and their numbers are increasing; but that should not
mean that their political rights should not be exercised. The rules are seen to
be unfair and totally different from the rules for other EU countries, which
not only make it easy but actually encourage their citizens abroad to take
part in the democratic process.

Lord McNally (Minister of State for Justice; Liberal Democrat),  said in conclusion :

Early in this Parliament we should have a really radical look at voting for our
overseas residents […]. On a wide range of the issues raised, such as the
15-year rule which was raised by my noble friends Lord Lexden and Lord
Lester, I do not think there is a rationale […] for the figure of 15 years, five years
or 20 years. However, I think that it is certain that, in a world where many
more people work abroad, the issue should be properly looked at.


All-Party Inquiry
The all-party inquiry held several sessions at the House of Lords in June
and July 2013, under the Chairmanship of Lord Norton of Louth, Professor
of Government at Hull University. The British Community Committee of
France, sponsor of this website, was among those who gave evidence to
the inquiry.

How did we get here?
On 13 October 2011 the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee
of the House of Commons discussed individual voter registration, as
part of the pre-legislative scrutiny of the Governments' proposals regarding
Individual Elector Registration. A representation was made by the British
Community Committee of France, and was published in the Committee's
report .
A debate on individual voter registration took place in the House of Lords on
12 January 2012, in which Lord Lexden of Lexden (Conservative) called for
abolition of the 15-year rule.
In the House of Commons on 18 June 2012, Geoffrey Clifton-Brown MP
(Conservative, The Cotswolds) proposed an amendment to the Coalition
Government's Electoral Registration Bill, which would have had the effect of
removing the arbitrary ban on registering to vote after 15 years of residence
However, in  a Commons debate on 27 June, David Heath, Liberal Democrat
MP for Somerton and Frome and Deputy Leader of the House, persuaded  Mr
Clifton Brown to withdraw his clause, arguing that placing on electoral registration
officers an obligation to seek out everyone who could possibly be qualified to vote,
if applied to overseas electors, would provide an insuperable problem for them.
Mr Heath did not explain how electoral registration officers would have no problem
at all in fulfilling that obligation in respect of overseas voters who had lived abroad
for less than 15 years, and who are therefore entitled to vote under the current
legislation, but would experience "an insuperable problem" concerning those who
had lived abroad for more than 15 years.
Lord Lexden put a written question in the Lords, asking whether the Government
have any plans to extend the existing 15-year period during which British citizens
living abroad can vote in UK elections. The stock response, which has been trotted
out parrot-fashion so many times over the years, was signed this time by Lord
Wallace of Saltaire of the Cabinet Office, on 25th June 2012: it states that the
Government " is considering whether the 15-year time limit on voting rights for British
citizens overseas remains appropriate, but has no immediate plans to alter the
legislation." The Bill does however provide, as the standard response invariably points
out, for the electoral timetable to be extended from 17 days to 25 days (versus 45
days in the USA).
The Bill, now known as the Electoral Registration and Administration Bill, was debated
in Committee in the House of Lords on 14 and 23 January 2013. You can download
transcripts of these debates here (for the 14 January) and here (for the 23 January).