North Thanet’s MP, Roger Gale, has described as "modest progress" measures passed by the House of Commons last night to extend the rights and voting facilities for those serving, particularly overseas, in the armed forces.
Gale, who found the issue raised with him by Naval and Royal Marine commando personnel when he recently visited HMS Bulwark in the Middle East, said following the debate:
"We know that during the last general election and during the recent local government elections very many of the men and women of the armed forces currently serving in Iraq, Afghanistan, in other overseas locations and on prolonged deployments (HMS Bulwark will have been deployed at sea for seven months by the time that she returns home) on warships were effectively denied their voting rights.
That they are required to pay council tax while away is a sore point: that they were unable to vote for their local councils makes matters worse!
The government has now accepted a house of Lords amendment that gives ministers the right to extend the electoral registration from twelve months to up to five years and that should help to maintain the voting rights for people who may be abroad during annual re-registration times."
Speaking during the debate Roger Gale supported amendments (defeated by the government) to make the Ministry of Defence take responsibility for registering and facilitating the voting rights of service personnel.
"The Minister says that one of the reasons for rejecting these amendments is `resource implications` " said Gale. "I suggest that there are very considerable `resource implications` for the men and women who are prepared to put their lives on the line for this country. Frankly, if we cannot provide those boys and girls - for that is what many of them are - with the resources to enable them to take part in the democratic process then we bring shame upon ourselves and do no justice to them.
We have not sought to undermine the government’s position but to strengthen that of our armed forces and to send out a very clear message to those men and women who serve in extremely difficult and dangerous places overseas: "We respect you, We admire you, we understand your needs. We recognise your democratic rights" and in this House of Commons we are prepared to vote for them".