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Mr. Cash: Will the hon. Gentleman please answer this question: is he suggesting that, under the Bill, there could be two questions in a referendum--one asking people whether they wanted a single currency, and the other asking people whether they wanted to be part of the European Union? If that is what the Government have in mind, they are following a very dangerous path.

Mr. Howarth: The hon. Gentleman knows full well that that was not what I meant. I was merely referring to the fact that, in different campaigns and referendums, there could be more complicated sets of questions.

In practice, in the Scottish devolution referendum, campaigners fought for either a yes or a no vote to both propositions. None the less, given four possible outcomes, the referendums commission would be obliged under the Bill to designate four referendum campaign organisations, and pay each of them a grant in order that a campaign may be conducted. That example, and others that we have heard, demonstrate the difficulty of setting up a framework that covers all possible future circumstances. Despite the difficulties, we should not be put off trying to find a workable solution. All credit is due to the hon. Member for Blaby for introducing the Bill so that we can begin to discuss the issues.

Once we get over the problem of identifying the lead campaign body on each side of the referendum, there is the question of core funding, which several hon. Members raised. Clause 3(1) provides for grants to be made to the designated referendum campaigns and stipulates, in paragraph (b), that the same amount must be given to each side. It is worth spending a little time examining that proposition.

Recommendation 84 of the Neill report did indeed propose that


From the preceding paragraphs in the report, it is clear that the concern was that each side should have sufficient

19 Mar 1999 : Column 1450

funds to enable it to mount a minimum campaign. By "sufficient funds", the Neill Committee meant sufficient


    "to cover minimal office accommodation, the purchase or rental of a quantity of office equipment and supplies, and the salaries of three or four members of staff for the duration of the campaign".

In making that recommendation, as the right hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. MacGregor) accepted, the Neill Committee pointed to the precedent of the 1975 referendum. Section 3 of the Referendum Act 1975 provided for a grant not exceeding £125,000 to be made to the two main campaign organisations.

The official accounts of Britain in Europe and the National Referendum Campaign were published in October 1975 (Cmnd. 6215). As an historical insight into the politics of the 1970s, that document makes interesting reading. As well as the audited receipts and payments accounts, the document lists all the individual donations of £100 or more received by the two campaigns.

The list for Britain in Europe--the yes campaign--includes the names of 369 individuals and organisations who together donated nearly £1 million. The list reads like a "Who's Who" of British industry and commerce, including as it does such companies as ICI, Marks and Spencer, Shell UK and the Rank Organisation. The list of donors to the National Referendum Campaign--the no campaign--makes rather more poignant reading. There were just seven individuals or organisations identified as having given more than £100.

The key fact that the accounts reveal is that the Government grant to the Britain in Europe campaign represented only 8 per cent. of its total income, whereas the grant to the National Referendum Campaign represented a massive 94 per cent. of its total income. In a typically thoughtful speech, my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike) alluded to that problem, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Thomas).

If the purpose of core funding is to ensure that each side has sufficient funds to run at least a minimal campaign, it is arguable whether it was strictly necessary in 1975 to award funding to the Britain in Europe campaign at all. I am not making the case one way or the other, but simply posing the question whether the requirement to be fair to each side overrides all other considerations.

Dr. Fox: The Minister has been speaking for 29 minutes. He has three times said that he would answer a straight question. Will or will not the Government give a commitment that they will not introduce proposals for a referendum in this country until fair rules are established, under this Bill or subsequent legislation?

Mr. Howarth: If the hon. Gentleman will bear with me, I intend to cover that in my speech. If he will exercise a little patience, I shall deal with the matter--there is plenty of time.

The question is whether, in the circumstances that I described, it was necessary to give a commitment to funding for both sides. Where core funding is available, it seems sensible not to spread it too thinly across a number of campaigning groups. The Neill committee's approach, which the Bill adopts, was to allocate the funding to only one organisation on each side of the referendum. However, we should not lose sight of the fact

19 Mar 1999 : Column 1451

that there may be many other organisations, in addition to the lead umbrella groups, that are campaigning in the referendum.

Mr. Robathan rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.

Question put, That the Question be now put:--

The House divided: Ayes 129, Noes 5.

Division No. 121
[2 pm


AYES


Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey)
Amess, David
Arbuthnot, Rt Hon James
Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E)
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)
Baker, Norman
Baldry, Tony
Benn, Rt Hon Tony
Bercow, John
Beresford, Sir Paul
Body, Sir Richard
Boswell, Tim
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W)
Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs Virginia
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter
Browning, Mrs Angela
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)
Burns, Simon
Butterfill, John
Cash, William
Chapman, Sir Sydney
(Chipping Barnet)
Chope, Christopher
Clappison, James
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey
Collins, Tim
Colvin, Michael
Cormack, Sir Patrick
Cran, James
Curry, Rt Hon David
Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice & Howden)
Day, Stephen
Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen
Duncan, Alan
Evans, Nigel
Faber, David
Fallon, Michael
Flight, Howard
Forth, Rt Hon Eric
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman
Fox, Dr Liam
Fraser, Christopher
Garnier, Edward
Gibb, Nick
Gill, Christopher
Goodlad, Rt Hon Sir Alastair
Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Gray, James
Green, Damian
Greenway, John
Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie
Hammond, Philip
Hawkins, Nick
Hayes, John
Heald, Oliver
Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David
Horam, John
Howard, Rt Hon Michael
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)
Hunter, Andrew
Jenkin, Bernard
Johnson Smith,
Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Key, Robert
King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)
Kirkbride, Miss Julie
Laing, Mrs Eleanor
Lait, Mrs Jacqui
Lansley, Andrew
Letwin, Oliver
Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)
Lidington, David
Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)
Loughton, Tim
Luff, Peter
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
MacGregor, Rt Hon John
MacKay, Rt Hon Andrew
Maclean, Rt Hon David
Maclennan, Rt Hon Robert
McLoughlin, Patrick
Madel, Sir David
Malins, Humfrey
Mates, Michael
May, Mrs Theresa
Moss, Malcolm
Nicholls, Patrick
Norman, Archie
Ottaway, Richard
Page, Richard
Paice, James
Paterson, Owen
Pickles, Eric
Prior, David
Randall, John
Redwood, Rt Hon John
Robathan, Andrew
Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)
Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Rowe, Andrew (Faversham)
St Aubyn, Nick
Soames, Nicholas
Spelman, Mrs Caroline
Spicer, Sir Michael
Spring, Richard
Steen, Anthony
Streeter, Gary
Swayne, Desmond
Syms, Robert
Tapsell, Sir Peter
Taylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)
Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Taylor, Sir Teddy
Townend, John
Tredinnick, David
Trend, Michael
Tyrie, Andrew
Walter, Robert
Wardle, Charles
Waterson, Nigel
Wells, Bowen
Whitney, Sir Raymond
Whittingdale, John
Wilkinson, John
Willetts, David
Wilshire, David
Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Woodward, Shaun
Yeo, Tim
Young, Rt Hon Sir George

Tellers for the Ayes:


Mr. Edward Leigh and
Mr. Dominic Grieve.


NOES


Dismore, Andrew
Ellman, Mrs Louise
Hill, Keith
Sedgemore, Brian
Whitehead, Dr Alan

Tellers for the Noes:


Ms Bridget Prentice and
Mr. Gareth R. Thomas.

Question accordingly agreed to.

19 Mar 1999 : Column 1452

Question put accordingly, That the Bill be now read a Second time:--

The House divided: Ayes 128, Noes 0.


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