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Mr. Mike O'Brien: The Conservatives get so hypertensive about any references to Europe and a referendum on the single currency that it amazes me that their policy is to oppose having a referendum for two Parliaments. I am worried about their health, because they may not be able to sustain for so long the adrenaline rush that they get every time that Europe is mentioned.

14 Mar 2000 : Column 254

This is not the first time that we have returned to ground that was travelled over in Committee and other debates--so much so that it is almost as if we are going in circles.

Clause 118 is our discharge of the Neill recommendation that, at a certain point before a referendum is held, the Government of the day should stand back and leave campaigning to the political parties and the other campaign organisations. The committee was particularly sceptical about material that, in previous cases, has been circulated to the electorate close to the date of the poll and questioned the distinction between factual and persuasive material.

The clause implements the committee's recommendation by providing for a 28-day embargo on the issuing to the public of Government publications. The charge against the Government is that the clause fails to address the Neill committee's recommendation 89. That will not wash. The clause has been welcomed by the Neill committee. Its comments on the draft Bill were published last summer. More recently, we have had the benefit of the views of the Conservative member of the Neill committee. On Second Reading, the right hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. MacGregor) said:

Mr. Evans: The Minister is saying that the Government would not publish anything within the 28-day period. Is he giving a commitment that, during a referendum campaign, the Government would not publish any documentation and get it delivered to every household?

Mr. O'Brien: In relation to the referendum campaigns there may well be all sorts of campaigns going on about bonfire night and various other issues. The hon. Gentleman seems to be unclear about the distinction between a general election and a referendum campaign. He has misunderstood what the issue is about.

We have clear endorsements for clause 118 from the Neill committee, so we want it to remain as it stands. Amendments Nos. 154 and 155 would apply the restrictions in clause 118 not just to the 28-day period before the poll, but to the full referendum period, which could be up to six months. That proposition is fundamentally misconceived and fails to recognise that the 28-day period provided for in clause 118 and the longer referendum period perform two different roles.

The referendum period will usually begin on the date on which a Bill providing for a referendum is introduced. That is essentially an accounting period. It is the period during which campaigning organisations will be subject to the limits on expenditure and controls on donations. Subject to the expenditure limits, campaigning organisations will be free to espouse their cause throughout the referendum period.

Clause 118 imposes an absolute prohibition on the publication of material of the kind mentioned in subsection (1). Extending the moratorium to cover the whole referendum period would be equivalent to applying the usual Cabinet Office guidance for the three or four weeks of a general election campaign to the 365-day accounting period provided for in part V. That is daft. The idea that a Government could be run on that basis is absurd. Unlike during a general election campaign, when

14 Mar 2000 : Column 255

government is placed on a care and maintenance footing, the Government of the day would continue to function during a referendum campaign. There will be foreign Prime Ministers and dignitaries to see and lots of other issues to be properly undertaken. In presenting a Bill to Parliament for a referendum to be held, the Government must be able to explain and present their policies as a Government.

However, we accept that there comes a time when the Government will step back and leave it to the political parties and others to make the running on the referendum issue. A period of 28 days fits in well with the average length of general election campaigns over the past 50 years. The Neill committee made the analogy with general election campaigns, and that is a standard against which it is entirely appropriate to benchmark clause 118.

Amendments Nos. 149 and 150 are directed at press notices, press officers and special advisers. The Neill committee's concern was principally that the Government of the day might, at public expense, distribute material--even purportedly factual documents--which put forward the Government's case, or at least would have the effect of influencing the vote. Clause 118 is intended to prohibit that sort of distribution of unsolicited material addressed directly to the public at large.

The exceptions in clause 3, including press notices, are entirely consistent with the basic proposition that the Government of the day should not be able unfairly to influence the conduct of a referendum campaign. The exemption for press notices is not an attempt to circumvent the basic principle contained in the clause. The point of the restrictions is to prevent the Government from distributing unsolicited mail.

It was suggested in Committee that the Government of the day might be tempted to stick the words "press notice" on the top of a publicity leaflet and post it through the letter box of everyone in the country. Frankly, this is fanciful and completely ridiculous. A press notice is a notice to the press, and not to the general public, and I cannot see any civil servants getting involved in that sort of scam. If a Government stooped to such tactics, I am confident that the courts would quickly put a stop to it.

On the role of civil servants, I wish to refer to the press officers at the Home Office. I suspect that the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) will find few members of the Gallery--particularly Home Office correspondents--complaining, although getting the phone answered at the press office, despite the number of staff we have, is sometimes difficult. We are doing so much on fighting crime that the press are finding it difficult to get all the information that they need to report it. We want to make sure that the phones are answered. That is perfectly reasonable, and was the result of an independent recommendation. Press officers must be free to direct inquiries made to a Government Department. That they should be able to do so in the run-up to a referendum is wholly in keeping with the approach proposed by the clause.

To reply to a letter from a member of the public--or indeed from an Opposition Member--or to respond to a question posed by a journalist does not amount to publishing, displaying or distributing material to the public at large or to a sector of the public. Such action in response to individual requests for information amounts to no more than good administration, and it would be wrong to deny the public the service that they have the right to expect from a civil service of the state.

14 Mar 2000 : Column 256

The basis of all the amendments is misconceived. They rely on the charge that the Bill fails to implement the Neill committee's recommendation 89. The Neill committee's own response to the White Paper exposes that charge as completely false and bogus. The hon. Member for Ribble Valley should withdraw the amendments and acknowledge that clause 118, to paraphrase the right hon. Member for South Norfolk, fully meets the point.

Mr. Evans: I rather wish that the Parliamentary Secretary--the Minister who normally doles out the cigarettes, as he was described in previous debates--had answered the debate, as we might have got somewhere. That was a characteristically unpleasant response from the Minister.

All our fears have been fulfilled. I understand now that Alastair Campbell will be able to carry on with his spinning, and ensuring that his army of 77 other spin doctors will be able to carry on spinning during a referendum campaign. I understand also that, prior to the 28-day period, the Government are absolutely free to do whatever they like. The restrictions come in on everybody else, apart from the Government. With the restrictions on expenditure, the dice are loaded completely in favour of the Government.

We have had no concessions from the Government, and we are extremely concerned that all the loopholes are still there. Call me a cynic, but it is as if the Bill has been written to ensure that the Government are able to have their way. We still remember the way in which the referendum campaign in Wales was run, and that is why I believe the amendments will be visited again in another place. Although we are not pressing these amendments to a vote tonight, it does not mean that we have stopped the fight.

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 122

Orders regulating conduct of referendums

Amendment proposed: No. 146, in page 75, line 17, leave out Clause 122.--[Sir P. Cormack.]

Question put, That the amendment be made:--

The House divided: Ayes 164, Noes 290.

Division No. 107
[9.15 pm


Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey)
Amess, David
Arbuthnot, Rt Hon James
Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E)
Baldry, Tony
Ballard, Jackie
Beggs, Roy
Beith, Rt Hon A J
Bercow, John
Beresford, Sir Paul
Blunt, Crispin
Body, Sir Richard
Boswell, Tim
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W)
Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs Virginia
Brady, Graham
Brake, Tom
Brand, Dr Peter
Brazier, Julian
Breed, Colin
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)
Burnett, John
Burns, Simon
Burstow, Paul
Butterfill, John
Campbell, Rt Hon Menzies
(NE Fife)
Cash, William
Chapman, Sir Sydney
(Chipping Barnet)
Chope, Christopher
Clappison, James
Clark, Dr Michael (Rayleigh)
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey
Collins, Tim
Cormack, Sir Patrick
Cotter, Brian
Cran, James
Curry, Rt Hon David
Davey, Edward (Kingston)
Donaldson, Jeffrey
Duncan, Alan
Duncan Smith, Iain
Evans, Nigel
Faber, David
Fabricant, Michael
Fallon, Michael
Fearn, Ronnie
Forsythe, Clifford
Forth, Rt Hon Eric
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman
Fox, Dr Liam
Fraser, Christopher
Gale, Roger
Garnier, Edward
George, Andrew (St Ives)
Gibb, Nick
Gill, Christopher
Gillan, Mrs Cheryl
Gray, James
Green, Damian
Greenway, John
Grieve, Dominic
Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie
Hammond, Philip
Harris, Dr Evan
Hawkins, Nick
Hayes, John
Heald, Oliver
Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas
Horam, John
Howard, Rt Hon Michael
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)
Hunter, Andrew
Jack, Rt Hon Michael
Jackson, Robert (Wantage)
Jenkin, Bernard
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
Lilley, Rt Hon Peter
Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)
Llwyd, Elfyn
Loughton, Tim
Luff, Peter
MacGregor, Rt Hon John
McIntosh, Miss Anne
MacKay, Rt Hon Andrew
Maclean, Rt Hon David
Maclennan, Rt Hon Robert
McLoughlin, Patrick
Madel, Sir David
Malins, Humfrey
Maples, John
Maude, Rt Hon Francis
Mawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian
May, Mrs Theresa
Moore, Michael
Morgan, Alasdair (Galloway)
Nicholls, Patrick
Norman, Archie
Oaten, Mark
O'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbury)
Ottaway, Richard
Page, Richard
Paice, James
Paterson, Owen
Pickles, Eric
Portillo, Rt Hon Michael
Prior, David
Randall, John
Redwood, Rt Hon John
Rendel, David
Robathan, Andrew
Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Ruffley, David
Russell, Bob (Colchester)
St Aubyn, Nick
Sanders, Adrian
Sayeed, Jonathan
Shephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian
Shepherd, Richard
Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)
Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns)
Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)
Soames, Nicholas
Spelman, Mrs Caroline
Spring, Richard
Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Steen, Anthony
Streeter, Gary
Stunell, Andrew
Swayne, Desmond
Syms, Robert
Tapsell, Sir Peter
Taylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)
Taylor, Rt Hon John D (Strangford)
Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Taylor, Sir Teddy
Thomas, Simon (Ceredigion)
Townend, John
Trend, Michael
Tyler, Paul
Tyrie, Andrew
Viggers, Peter
Walter, Robert
Wardle, Charles
Waterson, Nigel
Webb, Steve
Wells, Bowen
Whitney, Sir Raymond
Whittingdale, John
Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Wilkinson, John
Willetts, David
Willis, Phil
Wilshire, David
Young, Rt Hon Sir George

Tellers for the Ayes:

Mr. Stephen Day and
Mr. Peter Atkinson.


Abbott, Ms Diane
Ainger, Nick
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)
Alexander, Douglas
Allen, Graham
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)
Armstrong, Rt Hon Ms Hilary
Ashton, Joe
Atkins, Charlotte
Austin, John
Barnes, Harry
Barron, Kevin
Beard, Nigel
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret
Begg, Miss Anne
Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough)
Benn, Hilary (Leeds C)
Bennett, Andrew F
Bermingham, Gerald
Berry, Roger
Best, Harold
Blackman, Liz
Blears, Ms Hazel
Blizzard, Bob
Borrow, David
Bradley, Keith (Withington)
Bradshaw, Ben
Brinton, Mrs Helen
Brown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E)
Browne, Desmond
Burgon, Colin
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Campbell-Savours, Dale
Cann, Jamie
Caplin, Ivor
Caton, Martin
Cawsey, Ian
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)
Chaytor, David
Clapham, Michael
Clark, Dr Lynda
(Edinburgh Pentlands)
Clarke, Charles (Norwich S)
Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)
Clelland, David
Clwyd, Ann
Coffey, Ms Ann
Cohen, Harry
Coleman, Iain
Colman, Tony
Connarty, Michael
Cook, Frank (Stockton N)
Cooper, Yvette
Corbett, Robin
Corbyn, Jeremy
Cousins, Jim
Cranston, Ross
Crausby, David
Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley)
Cryer, John (Hornchurch)
Cummings, John
Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr Jack
Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)
Curtis-Thomas, Mrs Claire
Darvill, Keith
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)
Davis, Rt Hon Terry
(B'ham Hodge H)
Dawson, Hilton
Dean, Mrs Janet
Denham, John
Doran, Frank
Drew, David
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)
Edwards, Huw
Ellman, Mrs Louise
Etherington, Bill
Field, Rt Hon Frank
Fisher, Mark
Flint, Caroline
Foster, Rt Hon Derek
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)
Foster, Michael J (Worcester)
Foulkes, George
Gapes, Mike
Gardiner, Barry
George, Bruce (Walsall S)
Gerrard, Neil
Gibson, Dr Ian
Gilroy, Mrs Linda
Godman, Dr Norman A
Godsiff, Roger
Goggins, Paul
Golding, Mrs Llin
Gordon, Mrs Eileen
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Grocott, Bruce
Grogan, John
Gunnell, John
Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Hall, Patrick (Bedford)
Hanson, David
Heal, Mrs Sylvia
Healey, John
Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N)
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)
Hepburn, Stephen
Heppell, John
Hesford, Stephen
Hinchliffe, David
Hoey, Kate
Hood, Jimmy
Hope, Phil
Hopkins, Kelvin
Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Howells, Dr Kim
Hoyle, Lindsay
Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford)
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Hurst, Alan
Hutton, John
Iddon, Dr Brian
Illsley, Eric
Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead)
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Jenkins, Brian
Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle)
Johnson, Miss Melanie
(Welwyn Hatfield)
Jones, Rt Hon Barry (Alyn)
Jones, Mrs Fiona (Newark)
Jones, Helen (Warrington N)
Jones, Ms Jenny
(Wolverh'ton SW)
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Keeble, Ms Sally
Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)
Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)
Khabra, Piara S
Kidney, David
King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green)
Kumar, Dr Ashok
Ladyman, Dr Stephen
Laxton, Bob
Lepper, David
Leslie, Christopher
Levitt, Tom
Lewis, Ivan (Bury S)
Linton, Martin
Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)
Lock, David
Love, Andrew
McAvoy, Thomas
McCabe, Steve
McDonagh, Siobhain
Macdonald, Calum
McDonnell, John
McFall, John
McGuire, Mrs Anne
McIsaac, Shona
Mackinlay, Andrew
McNulty, Tony
MacShane, Denis
Mactaggart, Fiona
McWalter, Tony
McWilliam, John
Mallaber, Judy
Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury)
Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Marshall-Andrews, Robert
Martlew, Eric
Meacher, Rt Hon Michael
Meale, Alan
Merron, Gillian
Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)
Miller, Andrew
Mitchell, Austin
Moffatt, Laura
Moonie, Dr Lewis
Moran, Ms Margaret
Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N)
Morley, Elliot
Mountford, Kali
Mullin, Chris
Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)
Murphy, Rt Hon Paul (Torfaen)
O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)
O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)
O'Hara, Eddie
Olner, Bill
O'Neill, Martin
Organ, Mrs Diana
Palmer, Dr Nick
Pearson, Ian
Pendry, Tom
Perham, Ms Linda
Pickthall, Colin
Pike, Peter L
Plaskitt, James
Pond, Chris
Pope, Greg
Pound, Stephen
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Prosser, Gwyn
Quin, Rt Hon Ms Joyce
Quinn, Lawrie
Radice, Rt Hon Giles
Rapson, Syd
Raynsford, Nick
Roche, Mrs Barbara
Rooker, Rt Hon Jeff
Rooney, Terry
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Rowlands, Ted
Roy, Frank
Ruane, Chris
Russell, Ms Christine (Chester)
Ryan, Ms Joan
Sarwar, Mohammad
Savidge, Malcolm
Sawford, Phil
Sedgemore, Brian
Shaw, Jonathan
Sheerman, Barry
Shipley, Ms Debra
Short, Rt Hon Clare
Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
Singh, Marsha
Skinner, Dennis
Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)
Smith, Angela (Basildon)
Smith, Miss Geraldine
(Morecambe & Lunesdale)
Smith, John (Glamorgan)
Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Soley, Clive
Southworth, Ms Helen
Starkey, Dr Phyllis
Steinberg, Gerry
Stevenson, George
Stewart, David (Inverness E)
Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
Stinchcombe, Paul
Stoate, Dr Howard
Strang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin
Stringer, Graham
Stuart, Ms Gisela
Sutcliffe, Gerry
Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann
Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)
Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Temple-Morris, Peter
Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Timms, Stephen
Tipping, Paddy
Todd, Mark
Touhig, Don
Truswell, Paul
Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)
Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)
Turner, Neil (Wigan)
Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Tynan, Bill
Ward, Ms Claire
Watts, David
White, Brian
Williams, Rt Hon Alan
(Swansea W)
Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Williams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)
Wilson, Brian
Winnick, David
Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Wise, Audrey
Wood, Mike
Woodward, Shaun
Woolas, Phil
Worthington, Tony
Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Wright, Dr Tony (Cannock)
Wyatt, Derek

Tellers for the Noes:

Mr. Jim Dowd and
Mr. David Jamieson.

Question accordingly negatived.

14 Mar 2000 : Column 259

14 Mar 2000 : Column 260

Schedule 15

Control of Donations to Candidates: New Schedule 2A to the Representation of the People Act 1983

Amendments made: No. 114, in page 155, line 47, leave out from "agent" to end of line 50 and insert--
'("the donee") from a trustee of any property (in his capacity as such) which does not constitute a donation transmitted by the trustee to the donee--
(a) on behalf of a person who, at the time of its receipt by the donee, is a permissible donor falling within section 48(2) of the 2000 Act, or
(b) in pursuance of a bequest made by such a person as is mentioned in section 48(3) of that Act,
shall be regarded as a relevant donation received by the donee from a person who is not such a permissible donor.'.
No. 115, in page 156, line 35, leave out--
'a relevant donation received by'.
No. 116, in page 156, line 36, after "agent" insert--
'and any relevant donation received by him'.
No. 117, in page 156, line 36, after first "a" insert "registered party and any".--[Mr. Touhig.]

Clause 125

Meaning of "Election Expenses"

Amendment made: No. 71, in page 78, line 24, leave out "£20" and insert "£50".--[Mr. Touhig.]

Schedule 16

Amendments Relating to Election Petitions

Mr. Tipping: I beg to move amendment No. 118, in page 158, leave out lines 7 to 13.

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