“If after an exit from the European Union, economic conditions in Britain were less favourable for business than in other parts of Europe, or beyond, would Airbus reconsider future investment in the United Kingdom? Yes, absolutely.”

Vodafone chief executive Vittorio Colao said recently:

“As a company we think it is in the interests of our shareholders and our customers that Britain does not leave the EU.”

ManpowerGroup Solutions UK managing director James Hick said last week:

“Our position on Europe is clear: leaving the EU would threaten jobs and harm Britain’s prospects”.

Mr Bernard Jenkin (Harwich and North Essex) (Con): On a point of order, Mr Hoyle. Excuse me, but I thought we were discussing amendments, not the views of certain businessmen about the EU. Surely we should stick to the amendments.

The Chairman of Ways and Means (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): The Chair can decide what is in order and what is out of order, but I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention.

Mr McFadden: Of course, some Members do not like hearing these warnings and find them unpalatable, and people are entitled to disagree with them, but there are fundamental implications for trade and investment that the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and other Departments with an interest in investment, jobs and trade should study and make information available about.

It is not just about trade, however: what would exit mean for the employment rights that millions of people have today? I think, for example, about the right to paid leave or to be treated equally as a part-time worker, and about the TUPE rights, which apply when a company is taken over and which stem from the acquired rights directive? What would happen to those employment rights, many of which were agreed at the European level, if we left?

Then there is the important area of universities and research. We have some of the best universities in the world, and not surprisingly they do very well when bidding for EU research funds. EU funding provides an additional 15% on top of the UK Government’s own research budget. Funds for research projects requested by UK higher education institutions from the European Commission rose from £424 million in 2008 to £714 million in 2012. My local university, the University of Wolverhampton, receives £3 million a year for research work and £20 million a year for knowledge exchange and work with businesses from the EU.

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The Chairman: Order. We need to keep tight to the amendments.

Mr Jenkin: Hear, hear.

The Chairman: Thank you, Mr Jenkin. We do not need any applause. We can save that for another occasion.

I was giving the right hon. Gentleman some time, but we now need to get on to the amendments. As important as Wolverhampton is to him and me, I am sure that discussion of the amendments would be more welcome in the Chamber.

Mr McFadden: The point is that right across the piece— whether trade, university research or farming and agriculture —there is a strong case for each Department producing a report on the implications of exit, as amendment 5 calls for.

Amendment 6 deals with the Bank of England assessment. As we know, the Bank is independent, but we also know, thanks to a stray finger that sent an email to a journalist rather than a Bank staff member, that the Bank has begun work on Project Bookend, its own internal assessment of the consequences of a British exit. As my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham East (Chris Leslie), the shadow Chancellor, said a few weeks ago, we would expect the Bank to carry out an assessment, but there would be significant public interest in it, so the amendment asks that the Government publish it if they receive it from the Bank.

Alex Salmond: The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely correct that the Bank of England is independent—in my estimation, it is one of the relatively few public authorities in the UK that keeps to that independence—but that creates a difficulty. If the Bank were to make an assessment coming down heavily in favour of the UK remaining part of the EU and warning of alarming consequences if it left, but the electorate voted the other way, the Bank would be left trying to deny its own previous warnings about the credibility of the currency and a range of other things. Its independence gives it a difficulty in making predictions.

Mr McFadden: I am afraid I disagree with the right hon. Gentleman. It is not surprising that the Bank is carrying out an assessment, but now that that is known, it will be difficult for the Bank to keep it quiet, and the demands for it to be published will grow.

Amendment 54 deals with purdah. Since the Bill’s publication, there has been a great deal of debate about this issue and its application to the referendum. As has been said, the history goes back to the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000. Purdah applied during the referendum on the alternative vote in 2011 and the referendum on Scottish independence last year. The Bill proposes to suspend this provision, which means there would be no purdah period and no restriction on what Ministers can produce or say during the referendum period. When my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) questioned the Prime Minister about this last week, he said there were two justifications for taking the course proposed.

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Mrs Anne Main (St Albans) (Con): I am listening to the right hon. Gentleman’s comments with interest. Is he aware of any other election when purdah has been suspended?

Mr McFadden: I am not aware of any other occasions.

When my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham asked the Prime Minister, he gave two justifications. First, he said that,

“because the European issue is so pervasive, I do not want a situation where, in the four weeks before a referendum, Ministers cannot talk about the European budget, make statements about European Court judgments, respond to European Councils and all the rest of it.”

He then said the second issue was a bigger one:

“When the negotiation is complete and the Government have taken a clear view, I do not want us to be neutral on this issue; I want us to speak clearly and frankly.”—[Official Report, 10 June 2015; Vol. 596, c. 1179.]

On Second Reading, my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) said:

“Everybody in the House would agree that the referendum must be fair and must be seen to be fair, but at the same time the Government—any Government—are entitled to argue their case.”

He had said a few moments earlier:

“It would not be sensible for any Government to find themselves constrained from explaining to the people the Government’s view, because the people are entitled to hear from the Government of the day”.—[Official Report, 9 June 2015; Vol. 596, c. 1059.]

The Foreign Secretary sought to reassure the House, telling a fellow Member that if his concern

“is that the Government are thinking of spending public money to deliver doorstep mailshots in the last four weeks of the campaign, I can assure him that the Government have no such intention. The Government will exercise proper restraint”.—[Official Report, 9 June 2015; Vol. 596, c. 1055.]

We read overnight that the Government would have more to say on the issue, and we wait with interest to hear it. How will they reassure the House that there will not be abuse of the lifting of the purdah provisions, and that there should be the legal framework that has been called for by the Leader of the Opposition? Our amendment does not seek to reinstate the purdah provisions in full, but it does seek clarity on what exactly the Government intend to do or to publish during the referendum period. More clarity is needed than has so far been made available in ministerial statements. What form will expressing a view take, and what form will it not take? The Government need to provide more information, more clarity and more reassurance.

Mr Jenkin: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for giving way, and for the pertinent questions that he is putting to Ministers. They and I have been engaged in similar discussions. May I ask, however, why his party has decided not to support amendment 11, which would reinstate purdah, until he has received those assurances? Why is he letting the Government off the hook—or is it part of a Euro-stitch-up to rig the referendum?

Mr McFadden: As my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central said on Second Reading, we do not object to the Government’s taking a view, but we want to see a fair referendum.

Will the Government agree to publish a report, a document or a code of conduct, or to provide the clarity that we seek in some other way? If so, what form will that information take? Will it set out clearly what

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kind of reports or statements the Government think they may need to make? What assurances will the Minister be able to give us about the use of taxpayer funds, beyond the funds that are channelled to the official yes and no campaigns in the normal way, through the Electoral Commission?

Alex Salmond: Why does the right hon. Gentleman not propose to support an amendment that would reintroduce the very protections that his own party introduced back in the year 2000?

Mr McFadden: I am speaking to my own amendment, which calls for clarity on the Government’s intentions.

There is an important relationship between the issue of purdah and the amendments relating to whether the referendum can be combined with other elections. The Government have tabled amendment 55, which rules out a referendum in May next year but leaves open the possibility of combining it with other polls in the future. If that were to happen, would purdah not operate in the case of both the referendum and the other elections, or would it be suspended for the European referendum while operating for the purpose of other elections taking place on the same day? I believe that, when Members start to think about those questions, they will realise that the Government did not think them out fully, and that the issues of purdah and the date on which the referendum is held—and, specifically, the issue of whether it will be held as a stand-alone poll—are linked.

Let me now say a few words about amendment 16, which was moved by the right hon. Member for Gordon (Alex Salmond). As the right hon. Gentleman said, the amendment requires a majority vote for a British exit from the European Union not only in the United Kingdom as a whole, but in each of its constituent nations.

The United Kingdom joined the European Community, as it then was, as a single member state. Of course there will be different votes in different parts of the country, but we believe that we remain one member state, and that we should make this decision as one member state. Elections and referendums in this country are based on the principle of a majority of one. The Bill proposes not four separate referendums, but one referendum throughout the UK. For that reason, we will not support amendment 16.

1.45 pm

Sir William Cash (Stone) (Con): I shall speak from a standing position.

The Chairman of Ways and Means (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): May I suggest that perhaps the hon. Gentleman ought to take a seat? The last thing that I want him to do is get himself into difficulty, and take too much out of himself. Please, Sir William, do whatever you feel is necessary,

Sir William Cash: I will sit down then. I am sorry to have to make my speech in this way, but I have been in hospital for the last four days.

Our problem is this: the situation in which we now find ourselves is not necessary. I speak more in sorrow than in anger, because I have spoken to the Minister for Europe, and we had a good discussion, as we always do. I was also grateful to him for saying in a letter that he

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was himself grateful for the constructive way in which concerns had been raised. It must be said, however, that the Government have not allayed those concerns, and that is the real point. I shall try to explain why, but let me first congratulate the Government on having listened. They listened over the question of having a referendum at all, they listened over the question of whether we should veto the fiscal compact, and they listened over the reduction in the budget. Those are all positive steps.

Having given the matter as much thought as I could—admittedly, I had an opportunity to do so from my hospital bed—I have to say that, in this instance, I am convinced that the Government are taking a step in the wrong direction. However—I ask Ministers to listen, if they would be kind enough to do so—it is possible for them to retrieve the situation so that there need not be a vote against.

Ultimately, what is raised is a question of trust. There are extremely strong reasons for the provisions in section 125 of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000, but we have heard very little about those provisions. Let me briefly explain them, so that people will know what we are about to repeal. Most might assume that, given the momentous and historic nature of the EU referendum, what is good enough for a Scottish referendum, a referendum on the alternative vote, and a Welsh referendum—all of which have taken place under Conservative-led Governments in the last few years—ought to be applicable to a referendum that goes to the heart of how we are governed and who governs us.

However, it is not just about trust. We do not know what the outcome of the promised discussions and consultations will be, but we do know that conducting a referendum in a manner that is unfair on the voters is an extremely retrograde step in the kind of democracy that we uphold. The provisions in the 2000 Act were introduced for very sound reasons. I applaud the then Government for that, and, even at this late stage, I appeal to the present Government to think again.

Incidentally, this has absolutely nothing to do with Maastricht or anything like that. There was a rebellion then because we did not have a referendum. On this occasion, we merely wish to ensure that the voters are given a fair choice. That must be one of our prime duties, because we are sent here as representatives of those people. If the Bill is passed, we shall have made a decision to transfer back to those people, by means of an Act of Parliament, the right to make their own decision. Therefore, they will have an absolute right to know that the way the referendum is conducted will in no way be canted or manipulated, whether for yes or no. Taking this out and then asking us to consider on the basis of consultations yet to come seems to me quite bizarre, because if the Government were good enough to accept my amendment 11—I am grateful for the support of many Members on both sides of the House on that—nothing would change in terms of the referendum. It is not going to take place in any immediate future. All we will be doing is re-securing the status quo so that we will then have the restrictions set out in section 125. I will come on to that section in a moment, and demonstrate what we would actually be repealing this evening. This is not just a Eurosceptic argument. This is not about a Eurosceptic position, in essence. It may be that we

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would prefer to ensure there is a fair vote, but the real question is about our democracy. That, to me, is the main question.

Alex Salmond: But does not the experience of the Scottish referendum tell the House that not only should the protections that are in statute not be removed from this Bill and that the hon. Gentleman’s amendment 11 should be carried, but that there needs to be an enforcement mechanism to make sure the purdah period is applied and adhered to by Government Ministers and civil servants?

Sir William Cash: I very much agree, and it may be of interest to Members, if they have not already noticed, that the Electoral Commission has examined not only the Bill but my amendments, and has stated:

“The Commission is therefore generally supportive of proposals to reinstate restrictions on the publication of promotional material by central and local government in the run-up to the poll.”

Even after Second Reading, the Electoral Commission—which is, after all, charged with these duties—has concluded it would be important to retain these restrictions. Some adjustments may need to be made in due course, but we should secure the status quo, then have the discussions, and then have the vote on Report. That would be the right way round.

Mr Kenneth Clarke: How far does my hon. Friend want to take this? In a general election, the whole government machinery closes down for four weeks and studies the potential future of alternative political masters and waits to see what the political policy of the new Government will be. In this case, however, the Government at the time of the referendum will be the Government for the next several years, and the Government, as a Government, will have been involved in producing the terms that are part of the referendum. Does my hon. Friend intend that no Minister can act as a Minister, as could be the case if we strictly applied purdah, or take advice for all those weeks on anything that might pertain to an issue in the referendum? Is the Prime Minister going to be prevented from expressing a view? Surely some compromise that is a modification of purdah is required—

The Chairman of Ways and Means (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has been here longer than most Members, and he should know that interventions must be short, especially if he wants to make a speech later.

Sir William Cash: I seem to have spurred my right hon. and learned Friend to a passionate pursuit of his arguments, because he does not want what I am proposing at all. The fact is that the Electoral Commission says the proposal to remove section 125

“could mean that governments and others will be free to spend unlimited amounts of public funds promoting an outcome at the referendum right up until polling day.”

It goes on to say:

“In the Commission’s view, there is a risk that the use of significant amounts of public money for promotional activity could give an unfair advantage to one side of the argument. Unlimited government spending would also undermine the principle of having spending limits for registered campaigns.”

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We have already heard about the interference in the Scottish referendum, and what the right hon. Member for Gordon (Alex Salmond) said is completely right.

Mr Chope: Does my hon. Friend agree that it is ironic that the section 125 provisions were adopted by the Venice Commission in the following year and are now universal best practice, and that the Venice Commission has endorsed the fact that there should be a prohibition on Government expenditure in the four weeks of the referendum campaign?

Sir William Cash: That is absolutely right. I was going to refer to that, but I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making the point.

I want to refer to what section 125 actually does say, because the proposal is to remove that tonight, in the face of our opposition. The explanatory notes accompanying the Bill state what they do:

“These Explanatory Notes have been prepared by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office…to help inform debate”


“in order to assist the reader of the Bill”.

However, paragraph 52 of the notes gives no explanation and simply says:

“Paragraph 25 provides that section 125 of the 2000 Act does not apply for the purposes of this referendum”,

and then mentions a consequential amendment. There is no explanation at all. That itself is a reason for our being concerned about the way this is being done.

I want to return to the question of what we are repealing. What is in the 2000 Act is very sound. It refers to

“any material which—

(a) provides general information about a referendum to which this Part applies;

(b) deals with any of the issues raised by any question on which such a referendum is being held;

(c) puts any arguments for or against any particular answer to any such question; or

(d) is designed to encourage voting at such a referendum.”

It is very comprehensive.

Mike Wood (Dudley South) (Con): Does my hon. Friend share my concerns that the provisions of section 125 would allow the European Commission to make statements and publish material affecting a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU, but would prevent British Ministers or Departments from publishing material to correct or counter such a publication?

Sir William Cash: Very simply, any suggestion that the European Commission or the EU should be involved in this process is the subject of another amendment I have tabled, and nor should they be allowed to make any provision by way of financing. We can debate that later.

On whether contradiction might be created in respect of the position of Government Ministers in this country, my flow has been slightly diverted by my hon. Friend’s perfectly understandable intervention, but the fact is that Ministers and the civil service are in a position under the purdah rules such that they would not be able

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to use the machinery of government. In relation to the EU, which I know a little bit about, the machinery of government is extensive, but there are methods that could be applied, with a sensible degree of amendment, to ensure that the restrictions on the matters to which I have referred are complied with, because this is what we are talking about; it is not some generalised assumption that Ministers are going to wander on to completely different paths.

Section 125 lists the material I have already referred to—

“general information about a referendum…any of the issues raised by any question…any arguments for or against any particular answer to any such question”

and questions

“designed to designed to encourage voting”,—

and it states that none of that material

“shall be published during the relevant period by or on behalf of—

(a) any Minister of the Crown, government department or local authority”.

It could not be clearer; it could not be more sensible, more sound or more comprehensive.

John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): Would my hon. Friend like to confirm that it is a principle of fairness in all British elections and referendums that individuals—Ministers as well—participate on whichever side they wish under a single campaign, for yes or for no, which has proper controls over expenditure and publications? Does he also acknowledge that there cannot be a third category of intervention by the Government, because that would break the normal rules of campaign funding and control?

2 pm

Sir William Cash: I completely agree with my right hon. Friend.

Mr Jenkin: The Government argue—I think we have to accept their argument—that these detailed and broad restrictions are too prescriptive and that they would not be able to carry on with the normal course of government, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) has explained. Does my hon. Friend not agree that there would be too much interference in the normal conduct of government?

Sir William Cash: I just do not think that makes sense. The bottom line is that we are now so invading the ability of the voters in the referendum to make a free and fair choice, by canting the process and taking all the things to which I have just referred out of the equation, that we could seriously undermine the whole democratic process with respect to referendums. This is simply not a tenable position. If it was good enough for the Scottish and the Welsh, why is it not good enough for the referendum on the EU, which will go even further towards infringing—as we would put it—the role of this Parliament and our democratic freedoms?

I also want to discuss what publishing means. Section 125 of the 2000 Act is very general on this point, and this is what hon. Members are being asked to repeal this afternoon. It states:

“‘publish’ means make available to the public at large, or any section of the public, in whatever form and by whatever means”,

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and the relevant period

“means the period of 28 days ending with the date of the poll.”

There are profound reasons for maintaining the status quo at this stage and for retaining the restriction, because once it has been repealed, we would then have to reinvent the wheel, as it were, on Report. That could open a huge can of worms for the Government. The question is: what would the Government not be restrained from doing, compared with some of the things that it is currently stated they would be restrained from doing?

The Minister for Europe has sent us a letter today, 16 June, in which he says:

“It is our clear intention, through the Bill, to provide a straightforward, fair and effective framework for the referendum.”

I have to say to him that I must cast some doubt on that in relation to the questions that are being raised. He goes on to say that it would be “inappropriate” to

“prevent Ministers from effectively conducting the significant amounts of ordinary day-to-day business between the Government and the EU that will necessarily continue during the pre-poll period.”

I have been Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee for five years, and I just do not recognise this at all. There are things that go on in the monumental amount of material that comes in from the European Union, but in my judgment there is no suggestion that anything of this nature would be affected by retaining section 125. The section was applied during the Scottish referendum, which had a European dimension. The same applied to the Welsh Assembly. If it was all right for Ministers to continue to make statements in those circumstances, we should keep section 125 and do as the Foreign Secretary suggested during the Second Reading debate. The Minister for Europe’s letter states:

“The Foreign Secretary said during the debate that the Government will exercise proper restraint to ensure a balanced debate during the campaign.”

This is the moment to ensure that we get this right by keeping the restriction for the time being, having discussions and coming back with specific proposals on Report, on which we can then vote.

I acknowledge that the Minister for Europe has conceded that we have more than a reasonable case. His letter goes on:

“Working out a system that will reassure colleagues and voters that the referendum is a fair fight, yet will preserve the Government’s ability to act in the national interest is not straightforward.”

Well, it would be very straightforward if we kept section 125. He adds:

“It is important that it is legally clear and robust.”

It would make things very unclear and very unrobust if we were to remove the provisions in section 125, which are based on common sense and fairness and on giving voters a proper opportunity to make a fair choice.

Mike Gapes (Ilford South) (Lab/Co-op): I rise to speak in support of amendments 49 and 50, which have been tabled in my name, and to give my support to amendment 54, which was introduced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden).

The Bill proposes that the referendum be held by 31 December 2017. That is in line with what the Prime Minister proposed in his Bloomberg speech in January 2013. I often wondered why 31 December 2017 had been chosen. I assumed that it was an arbitrary date midway

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through a Parliament elected in May 2015. In the last Parliament, when the former Foreign Secretary, William Hague, was questioned by the Foreign Affairs Committee, it seemed to come as a surprise to him when we pointed out that under the rotating presidency of the Council of Ministers the United Kingdom’s presidency would begin in July 2017. I do not know whether that had been taken into consideration when the Government produced their original proposal, but it will clearly be a major complicating factor.

We are debating the period of purdah. Just imagine what would happen if there were a meeting of the Council of Ministers in September 2017 and the referendum were to be held within 28 days of that meeting, in the October. What would Ministers be able to do or say during that period? Those Council of Ministers meetings have to be convened and chaired by the appropriate representative of the rotating six-month presidency, and there would have to be a British Minister present to represent the interests of the UK Government. What could those Ministers and their officials say and do during that period? There would be enormous complications if the Bill were to lead to a referendum being held in the last few months of 2017.

Under the constitution of the Federal Republic of Germany, there is a defined period within which the next German election will be held. It has to be held on 27 August 2017 at the earliest, and at the latest on 22 October 2017. One can imagine Chancellor Merkel, Mr Sigmar Gabriel, Mr Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Mr Wolfgang Schäuble and all the other senior figures on both sides of the German coalition being somewhat exercised and diverted from considering matters to do with the possible negotiated terms, or the nature of the negotiation, if we had not yet set the date for our referendum.

It seems, therefore, that any referendum held in the second half of 2017 would have major problems. Amendment 49 recognises that, and provides that the referendum in this country should be held before 1 July 2017—before the United Kingdom takes over the rotating presidency of the Council of Ministers and before the German election campaign. We might bring it forward to the first half of 2017, but I suspect that when the Prime Minister came up with his proposal in his Bloomberg speech he had not considered the election cycle in France. The first round of the presidential election has to be held in April 2017 and the second round in May. We could face trouble with the renegotiations in France if we were to have the referendum later in 2017.

Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): I am listening closely to the hon. Gentleman, but is not the logic of his argument that, with 27 other countries in the European Union, there would never be a good time to have a referendum on our membership of the European Union?

Mike Gapes: My position on this matter is well known. I am not in favour of referendums, and neither was Margaret Thatcher. She quoted Clement Attlee, who said they were the devices of demagogues and dictators. However, that is a diversion from these amendments, so I will not go down that route.

Stephen Gethins (North East Fife) (SNP): Does the hon. Gentleman think that it was a mistake of his Front Bench team to go against Labour’s manifesto commitment and to back a referendum?

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Mike Gapes: No. Unlike the hon. Gentleman, if I lose an election or a referendum, I recognise the result. The fact is we lost the election. There will be a referendum and the best thing that we who believe in the European Union can do is to get into the fight and build a strong yes campaign. It is a pity that Scottish nationalists do not accept the result of the referendum they lost last year.

The problem we face is fundamental: the two major countries within the European Union—Germany and France—may be preoccupied with internal political campaigns and processes at precisely the time when we might be concluding the most difficult part of the renegotiation strategy. The solution might be to bring forward the referendum, as amendment 50 suggests, to before the end of 2016. That would still give time for the renegotiation to proceed, and for the Government to have a piece of paper to wave, saying it is a protocol that can be implemented later in future treaty reform, but not at that time. It could still provide the fig leaf that the Prime Minister will need if he is to claim that he has fundamentally renegotiated the terms of our membership. It will also give enough time for a considered campaign to ensure that there is a clear majority for our country staying within the European Union.

The other advantage of bringing forward the referendum is that it cuts the period of uncertainty for the Koreans, the Americans, the Chinese and the other countries wishing to invest in the United Kingdom. They would have less uncertainty than they would have if we left the referendum to the end of 2017. One of the strongest arguments against a referendum is the economic and political uncertainty it engenders. If foreign investors, or people planning long-term investment projects, think there is no guarantee that the United Kingdom will remain in the European Union, they will not give priority to investing in our country. They will hold back, or choose to go to a country such as Ireland, the Netherlands or France, where there is certainty over their continuing membership of the European Union.

2.15 pm

Reference was made earlier to the position of Norway and Switzerland. One of the great failings of those who believe that we should be outside the European Union is that they have failed to define what we are going out to.

Mr Douglas Carswell (Clacton) (UKIP): Free trade.

Mike Gapes: The free trade that Switzerland and Norway have with the European Union is dependent on their complying with rules and regulations that are determined within and by the European Union member states, over which Switzerland and Norway have absolutely no say.

Richard Drax (South Dorset) (Con): Does that not show the hon. Gentleman what a complete protection racket the whole thing is?

Mike Gapes: There we have it. We have the authentic voice of those who want us to leave the European Union. They do not want to comply with the rules and regulations. Presumably, they do not want us to have unfettered access to the single market of 500 million people. The Norwegians think better than that—

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The Temporary Chair (Sir Roger Gale): Order. The hon. Gentleman is straying rather far from the dates that are the subject of the amendment. It is fascinating material, but we do not really need another Second Reading debate.

Mike Gapes: I was tempted by the interventions, so I apologise to you, Sir Roger, for following the temptation. I will get back to the point.

There is an issue here to do with purdah and how the purdah requirements would apply. There will be great difficulty in holding a referendum at the end of 2017, when we are chairing the Council of Ministers meetings, because of that issue alone. For that reason, I hope that, if we are to have a referendum in 2016, we plan for it now—and that may already be, privately, the Prime Minister’s intention—rather than getting into great difficulties with the way in which it can be conducted, and damaging the United Kingdom’s role and relationship with the other 27 member states of the European Union. Once the referendum is over, assuming that it is won, we must work constructively with our partners to restore the trust and relationships for the future. It is better that we confront the issues early, rather than slipping into some kind of disastrous outcome.

Alex Salmond: On a point of order, Sir Roger. At various times during this debate, there has been reference to a letter. I was somewhat puzzled because I did not seem to have been sent such a letter. But now, through access to Twitter, it seems I may have found it. What I now have is a letter from the Minister for Europe to various Members on the Conservative Benches—it can be described only as a letter begging for support. I am somewhat disappointed not to have received it, and to have been ruled out of providing such support. If we are debating amendments—this letter specifically gives Government assurances relating to those amendments—should this communications not have been available to all Members, and should it not now been placed immediately in the Library of the House?

The Temporary Chair (Sir Roger Gale): As the right hon. Gentleman knows, Ministers are responsible for making available their own documentation. It may be a courtesy, but it is not a matter for the Chair.

Mr Kenneth Clarke: I think I am fairly confident in saying that the starting point of this debate is that every Member of the House—from the Prime Minister and Ministers to the acting Leader of the Opposition and shadow Ministers to the most newly elected Back Bencher—agrees that if we are to have a referendum it must be perceived to be fair. The most balanced position possible must be taken vis à vis those who wish to advocate yes or no, for a variety of reasons, so that the public hear the broadest possible range of views and can make a reasonably objective judgment.

I have never known a referendum settle any question. It certainly has not settled questions of Scottish independence, elected mayors, proportional representation or AV, and does not seem to have settled the European question either. However, I think that those who believe that a referendum is a valuable way forward agree with me that we should bend over backwards to make sure that all those who feel strongly either way on this subject are treated as fairly as possible.

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Mr Steve Baker (Wycombe) (Con): Most of what my right hon. and learned Friend has just said could be applied to democracy itself, yet still we trouble ourselves with it.

Mr Clarke: Which is why I believe that the parliamentary system of democracy is so very good. A representative body of people elected from time to time have continuous responsibility for step-by-step decisions, and eventually they have to face the consequences of their decisions and can be removed. But we are already going wide of the amendments.

Sir William Cash: Will my right hon. and learned Friend give way?

Mr Clarke: I am delighted to see that my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) is able to stand when he feels passionately on the subject. I am sympathetic to the problems he has had, and I am glad that he was able to speak from a sedentary position, which I had never seen before. I will finish making my point before I give way.

I hold my hon. Friend and those who agree with him in the highest possible regard. We in the Conservative party have to be careful that we do not repeat the folly of Harold Wilson and tear our party apart in the course of a referendum campaign. After quite a few decades of this battle, I continue to be on excellent personal terms with those of my hon. Friends with whom I disagree. It is best that we proceed by putting forward our respective views of the public interest. We must certainly not divide the strong purpose of the Government, who have been so recently elected with the support of the whole Conservative party.

Sir William Cash: Will my right hon. and learned Friend allow me?

Mr Clarke: Let me make a little more progress. I hope that my hon. Friend’s constraint will stop him leaping up too frequently; I will give way in due course.

I do not believe that there is any bad faith anywhere. Everyone wants those who campaign and the public to feel that the referendum has been conducted with absolute fairness. I am surprised, therefore, that, in these opening days of the European referendum process, so much passion is being excited by procedural issues. I will not describe them as footnotes, but, although they are important, none of them will make the faintest difference to the result on the day of the referendum. If we asked most of our masters—the public—whether purdah was followed properly during the campaign, they would not have the first idea what we were talking about. So my first plea is for a sense of proportion.

My plea to my right hon. Friend the Minister—I do not think I need to make it because I have seen the letter, which did not get to me either; I have just been shown it—is to live up to his undertakings. It is right to bend over backwards to reassure my right hon. and hon. Friends that there is no conspiracy, that they must not leap into paranoia, and that the intention is to hold a referendum in which the British public will be able to reach a view on balanced presentations. It seems to me that Ministers have started doing this straight away. I got the impression from the Second Reading debate

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that my right hon. Friends on the Front Bench were as surprised as I was at the sudden excitement about the rules in what should have been a fairly routine Bill paving the way for the referendum.

Mr Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset) (Con): Will my right hon. and learned Friend give way?

Mr Clarke: I will give way in a moment.

The Prime Minister has announced that he will suspend the rules of collective responsibility and that members of the Government will be able to campaign on whichever side they choose. We now have the letter giving an undertaking that the Government will depart from section 129. People seem to think that there is something magic about 5 May 2016, so we will not hold the referendum on that date. I have sympathy with Ministers; they are being derided. The moment they make concessions to all these impassioned pleas, they suffer the fate of all Ministers and are immediately accused of a humiliating U-turn and held up for ridicule.

Some of my right hon. and hon. Friends and perhaps others in the Scottish National party are difficult to calm down and reassure. I ask them to accept, as I accept, that every effort is being and should be made to satisfy fears about the propriety of the campaigning period.

Sir William Cash: My right hon. and learned Friend’s rather Hush Puppy approach—saying that there is really nothing much that we need worry about, and that Parliament is far better at doing this than the people—seems somewhat dangerous and disrespectful of the voters. We have had a lot of referendums over the years. He says that purdah would not make a difference anyway. Does he think that the Electoral Commission is wrong when it says that disapplying section 125 of the 2000 Act would enable the Government to spend unlimited sums of money?

Mr Clarke: I once gave evidence to an inquiry chaired by Sir Nigel Wicks into the workings of the Electoral Commission, and my recommendation was that it should be abolished as a useless quango, but that is a wider issue.

Of course we have had referendums, but my hon. Friend has never accepted the result of any referendum if he disagreed with it—for the sound reason, for which I respect him, that he has strong personal principles and convictions. I took part in the referendum 40 years ago. No serious Member of Parliament on either side of the argument changed their beliefs one jot the day after the result of the poll was announced. Tony Benn, who was personally responsible for floating this innovation in British politics, was one of the first to start demanding that we left the European Community within a few weeks of the announcement of the result. The Labour party was committed to leaving the EU by the time we got to the 1983 election, having shed a high proportion of its members to the Social Democratic party. My hon. Friend the Member for Stone and I agree that we must not repeat the mistakes of the past.

Sir William Cash: Will my right hon. and learned Friend give way?

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Mr Clarke: Let me move on a little and perhaps reassure my hon. Friend. I am prepared to be persuaded that, despite my bewilderment that so much importance is being given to the procedure, we should bend over backwards to reassure my right hon. and hon. Friends that the Government are acting in good faith and will hold the campaign in a serious way. So I accept that 5 May 2016 is verboten—absolutely ruled out. It is a sacred day in the next two years on which it is not possible to put an additional question on the Scottish referendum—[Hon. Members: “European.”]—on membership of the European Union. So it has been decided not to hold it on 5 May.

I could not care less on which precise date the referendum is held, as long as it is held properly. I do not think that 5 May is a remotely important subject. I might have argued that it would have been a good idea to raise the turnout in our electoral process. There is an argument that if elections for various things are held on the same day, the turnout for some elections might go up from its current pathetic level. Apparently, however, it is thought that the poor electorate would be puzzled and confused—that they would vote in their local council election thinking that the Germans were playing a key role in the whole thing and that the questions would be too complicated and they would muddle up the documents.

2.30 pm

I will not, however, deride an argument to which I am prepared to concede. I listened to the right hon. Member for Gordon (Alex Salmond) move the amendment on behalf of the Scottish National party, and I am prepared to say that I am wrong and he is quite right. I hope he is reassured that 5 May 2016 is now firmly ruled out: on that day the public shall not be asked whether this nation’s future lies in or out of the European Union. As Members may gather, I do not take that particular point as seriously as I obviously should. Everybody else felt passionately about it on Second Reading, but I do not think it is important.

Mr Nuttall: I agree with my right hon. and learned Friend to the extent that I have every respect for the British people and am sure they are capable of considering two separate issues at the same time. I do not have a crystal ball, but I suspect that my right hon. and learned Friend is on the other side of the argument from me. The real problem with holding local or Assembly elections on the same day as a referendum is that Members of a political party—

The Temporary Chair (Sir Roger Gale): Order. The hon. Gentleman’s intervention is becoming almost as long as the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s speech.

Mr Nuttall: The point is that Members of the same political party may well campaign on different sides of the referendum question while at the same time being on the same side for the local elections. That is the key reason we need to have them on separate days.

Mr Clarke: If, on the day of the referendum poll, a member of the electorate does not realise that different Members of both the Conservative and the Labour parties—at the very least—are campaigning on different sides of the campaign, I regret to say that we will all

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have failed, because that member of the public will have been singularly uninformed about the progress of about 20 years of debate, during which that has always been the case. But there we are: the issue of the date has been determined. The Government have given way and have been derided for doing so, and I will spend no more time on the subject.

The more serious point—although I do not think this is a serious problem—is the suggestion that the absolute statutory rigour of purdah should be applied to the Government as a whole acting as a Government throughout the final four weeks of the referendum campaign. I have already made this point during an intervention, but it is important.

People are suggesting that the whole Government machine should be switched off for those four weeks on a whole list of issues. They say it would be improper that any public body, the Government machinery or any Minister purporting to speak as a Minister should be allowed to engage in anything that might be designed to encourage voting in the referendum or to express a Government view on any issue that might be germane and regarded by people on either side of the argument as relevant to the outcome. I ask my hon. and right hon. Friends at least to pause—as I am personally prepared to do—until Report, which, as I have discovered from this mysterious message on Twitter, is when the Government will make proposals that might reassure people but that might fall short of the full rigour of the rather odd referendum legislation that we passed a few years ago. Obviously, that legislation did not exist when we last had a referendum on Europe, when the Government were deeply divided and very odd messages came out.

Given that everybody is going to concede to my hon. and right hon. Friends anything that can reasonably be seen to put any legitimate fears to rest and to reassure them that this is a sensible approach, we cannot ignore the risk that one might, rather oddly, be closing down the whole machinery of Government for some time. I have already cautioned against conspiracy theories and paranoia. We all know that individual members of the Government will go out and give their own personal views on one side or the other—they are allowed to do that.

Sir Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton) (Con): Will my right hon. and learned Friend give way?

Mr Clarke: In a moment. Why on earth should a Minister not be allowed, as a Minister, to advocate that people might be encouraged to vote? As the hon. Member for Ilford South (Mike Gapes) rightly asked, would a Minister who goes to Brussels for a difficult meeting on an aspect of agricultural policy or of the research and development budget be told by his officials that they would melt away the moment he expressed a view on an issue that might have been raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Stone or me in the referendum campaign?

I think we have received genuine undertakings. Everybody wants a fair referendum, so let us not resort to the legalism of section 129—[Hon. Members: “Section 125!”] That shows my regard for legalisms, despite my being a lawyer: section 125 is very important! When we get to Report, let us take a considered look at what would happen if we threw the whole weight of the law at this issue and had one of Her Majesty’s judges adjudicating

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on whether the pronouncements of some Parliamentary Secretary in Brussels had broken the statutory injunctions and he should have been reduced to silence.

Mr Richard Bacon (South Norfolk) (Con): May I say how much we are enjoying my right hon. and learned Friend’s speech? His casual wafting around of various sections, whether they are the right ones or not, reminds me of one of those lovely days when he said that he had not bothered to read the Maastricht treaty. Will he clarify something that seems to be a bit of a caricature? He says that the whole of Government would have to be closed down and that Ministers would not be able to engage in any business at all, but surely that could only possibly be true if the European Union was so involved in every nook and cranny of this country’s affairs that it could not possibly function without those relationships. Is not that the whole point?

The Temporary Chair (Sir Roger Gale): Order. Before we proceed, in case there was any implied criticism, I have to say that, although the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) might be rambling around the European Union, this is a broad-ranging set of amendments. I have listened to him very carefully and he is, in fact, in order.

Mr Clarke: I hope I am not being too light-hearted, but this has been a long debate. I have already confessed that the issues have not engaged me as passionate issues of great principle to the same extent as they have engaged others. I was genuinely surprised to hear Eurosceptics take off and pronounce that there was a monstrous conspiracy in all the details. I am trying to reassure them that if there was any risk of a conspiracy, it could be laid to one side. I will treat the arguments with every due solemnity.

I am not saying that every Minister in the Department of Energy and Climate Change—although this might apply to them—or the Scotland Office would necessarily find that they could not do anything. It is not like during an election, when they would not be allowed to go into the office or take any decision of any kind, but the proposal could be very wide-embracing indeed. It is all very well for people to dismiss light-heartedly—though perhaps they are not speaking in the same tone as I am—the Prime Minister’s warnings that there would be a serious impact on the conduct of business, but I think that that is what would happen.

To repeat the point I made earlier: strict purdah stems from long before the statute was passed. It stems from the rules for a general election, and they are right. Once we get into the campaigning stage of a general election, the Minister is the Minister only if he or she is required to sign something that has to be signed. When an election comes, the party political Minister is prevented from taking any decisions. Nothing can be changed. The civil service goes into its totally non-political mode because the whole point of that election is to decide which political masters are going to return to the Department, so that eventually we again have a Government who are able to act.

What we are discussing is a referendum being held by a Government. It is part of the Government’s policy to hold the referendum. The Government have been negotiating a deal as part of their policy on reform to

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supplement the arguments in the referendum. The Government will continue to be the Government for the next three or four years and will have to live with the consequences of the referendum, so what is being argued is that these men and women and the civil servants who support them should all switch off for four weeks, stop having an opinion on these issues and, unlike my hon. Friend the Member for Stone and myself, the day after the election pretend that they now agree with the enlightened view of the electorate and that they are going ahead and taking all the decisions on whatever is now the position.

I am sure there is a balance to be struck. I would deplore it if the Government were to spend taxpayers’ money on sending out ridiculous pamphlets and so on. That would misfire. I expect the Government to be in favour of a yes vote. I will be campaigning for a yes vote. I do not want the Government to squander taxpayers’ money and plainly abusing their position by putting out material that I might not wholly agree with anyway. The electorate would react if it was obvious that the Government were resorting to using the machinery of government for campaigning. But the statute is too severe. I hope we will not all get carried away and that we will allow my right hon. and hon. Friends the chance to come back with a sensible compromise.

Let me move on. I am sure the Whips will be very happy, but I am taking rather longer than I intended. I am attracted by the Opposition amendments, although I am not going to support them, as I shall explain in a moment. The shadow Minister, with unusual naiveté, seems to believe in evidence-based politics. He obviously believes that the more rational information is produced objectively and placed before the public, the more certain one can be that the correct result will be arrived at.

But this is politics. This is the European issue. Nothing of that sort has intruded into the debate on the European Union for the past 30 or 40 years, and it will not do so now. The Government have tried to move in that direction. The Foreign Office carried out the most objective study of the division of powers—the division of competences, in the jargon—[Interruption.] Precisely. I hear colleagues behind me shouting out, “Whitewash!”, by which they mean that the study came to the wrong conclusion, in their opinion. Evidence-based politics was rejected the moment it emerged. It could not find that the balance of competences, as negotiated by successive Ministers of all political persuasions over the previous 40 years, contained anything that was to the disadvantage of the British public.

The reaction was not to try to challenge any of these arguments with any new facts, but to try to bury the document, which most members of the public were never allowed to hear about. I suspect that it has not been picked up—it is pretty voluminous stuff—by very many Members of this House, let alone people outside, but it is a noble aspiration.

I have one serious reservation about what the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden) proposes. He suggests that those pre-eminently independent bodies, the Bank of England and the Office for Budget Responsibility, should be, as it were, enjoined by this Bill to produce those reports, which is quite attractive. I have the highest regard for the Bank of England and the Office for Budget Responsibility. We should all vigorously continue to ensure that their independence is maintained in every

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possible way, but there is a danger of politicising them. The Bank gives its opinions all the time, as most central Banks do, about the outlook for the economy, the latest statistics and the way things are unfolding. Central bank governors become notorious for talking a kind of obscure, slightly ambiguous mandarin language. That is precisely to try to avoid getting themselves immersed, which the Bank and the OBR would do if they seemed to be leaping into something that is a partisan opinion or appears to be a position of strong partisan support for one question or another.

2.45 pm

I am sure, as is the right hon. Gentleman, that if these reports are produced, the people I know in the Bank of England and in the Office for Budget Responsibility would agree with the right hon. Gentleman and me about the implications of leaving the European Union, but my right hon. and hon. Friends would shout, “Counterfeit! Fraud! Political fiddle!” and the damage to the reputation of those two institutions would be fatal. So, tempted though I am to support this rare excursion into trying to have some enlightening information on some of these difficult subjects, I do not think the Bill and the right hon. Gentleman’s amendments will suffice.

Mr McFadden: Briefly, on the issue of the Bank of England, we know that it is preparing such a report anyway. The issue is whether people will see it or not.

Mr Clarke: Precisely. If I were the Governor of the Bank of England—some might say thank the Lord I am not, though it is quite an interesting job—I would not feel I wanted to publish such a document because I would suddenly find myself in the middle of the most emotional political debate going on in the country, and that is not where the Bank of England should be. On that serious ground, I think the amendments are interesting and I hope I discover what the views of the Bank of England are. They will probably be leaked, although central banks should not leak. I do not think we should enjoin the Bank to produce what would inevitably be ferociously controversial documents.

I conclude as I began. I find all these debates a little bewildering. I have not the slightest doubt that the British public will not allow this referendum to be run on any basis other than that of reasonably fair objectivity on both sides, and we should beware of making the mistake of slipping into the Bill rigidities which, if we are not careful, will start causing totally undesirable results when the reality of the referendum takes place.

Hywel Williams (Arfon) (PC): I support amendment 16 and new clauses 3 and 4 in the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for Gordon (Alex Salmond) and other hon. Members.

I hope I can welcome some clarification from the Government later on the question of holding the referendum on the same day as the elections in Scotland and the elections for the Assemblies in Northern Ireland and Wales. An aspect that has not received much attention is that of the effects of the franchise. EU citizens have the right to vote in our general elections in Wales and in Scotland. The Government here in London propose to exclude them from the referendum. If the referendum

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and the election were held at the same time, one can picture the spectacle in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales when EU citizens turn up to vote, cast a vote and then are cast out. They are being prevented from voting on our future in the EU. That spectacle would cheer the hearts of despots throughout the world, from Moscow to Damascus to Pyongyang.

On the declaration of the results and the so-called quad lock, there are particular EU issues pertaining to Wales. I would say that these are national issues. On Second Reading I referred to the value that we as a multilingual society derive from membership of a multilingual and multicultural European Union. This may not figure as largely elsewhere in the UK as it does in Wales—it is a particular Welsh issue.

Wales is one of the poorest parts of Europe—it is at the same level as some former Soviet bloc countries—and we have derived much benefit from EU regional policy. Again, that is of national significance to Wales. We are also very dependent on EU agricultural support. There are other issues relating to manufacturing and demography, but I will not go into those now. All those factors might or might not decide the result in Wales—I cannot say whether they will—but they are legitimate national interests and should be respected as such.

We have a particular national interest. It might be different from the national interest of our neighbours. As the Government intend, their national interest will trump ours. I think that there are only two ways to go on the respect issue: either to respect or not to respect. The current proposals potentially will not respect, which is why we will support amendment 16.

Mr Jenkin: I will endeavour to be as brief as possible in order to allow other Members to speak. I will speak primarily to amendments (a) and (b) to amendment 11, which stand in my name, but also in support of amendment 11, which stands in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash). I thank my right hon. Friends the Minister and the Foreign Secretary for the positive way in which they have engaged with the entire party on these questions. We are grateful for that dialogue. I think that absolutely proves that we are not in some re-run of previous grief. This debate is not even about Europe; it is, in fact, about how to conduct a fair referendum.

I have some experience of referendums, because I set up the “North East Says No” referendum campaign in 2004, which turned around a two-thirds majority in favour of a north-east Assembly into a 4:1 defeat. We operated under the provisions laid down by the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000, which worked pretty well. The purdah provisions restricted what the Government did, although they are probably not tough enough. They did not prevent the then Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, changing the Government’s policy on what powers that putative Assembly would have only a few days before the postal votes went out. When we rang up the Cabinet Secretary to complain that the Deputy Prime Minister had breached the purdah rules, we were told, “That’s a matter for the Minister, not for me.”

That underlines the argument that the purdah rules are not tough enough, rather than that we should not have them at all, because they prevented civil servants from becoming embroiled in referendum questions, or being

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used by Ministers to promulgate the case that the Government wanted them to promulgate, and that is the vital protection. It is principally towards the impartiality of civil servants that I want to address my remarks, particularly given that, I am proud to say, I have been elected unopposed to the Chair of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee. I very much hope to persuade my fellow members of the Committee to address some of these issues during this Parliament.

I am disappointed that the Labour party has abandoned the principled position it adopted on purdah when it implemented the 2000 Act, which is quite extraordinary. I ran into Jack Straw, the former Foreign Secretary, this morning, and he was thoroughly disappointed to hear that the Labour party was backing off from supporting the constitutional legislation that it had implemented. Those ideas did not just come out of nowhere; they were ideas for a fair referendum that arose from the unfairness of the conduct of the first Welsh referendum, which were addressed by the Neil committee, which became the Committee on Standards in Public Life—the key is in the name. It was regarded as essential to have a period when the machinery of government cannot be involved in supporting one side or the other in a referendum campaign. The Electoral Commission would like 10 weeks, rather than just four weeks.

There are certain myths about purdah. The Government do not grind to a halt during a general election. Ministers even attend meetings of the Council of Ministers during general elections. However, during a general election a Minister cannot use their Department to promulgate information or to brief the press in a manner that is intended to affect the outcome. We want the same to apply in the referendum.

The letter from my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe, which the right hon. Member for Gordon (Alex Salmond) has now seen, does not actually provide the reassurance that is required. In fact, by explaining what is contemplated, it confirms precisely the opposite. For example, it states that the Government,

“having taken a position on the outcome of our negotiations with the rest of the EU, will naturally be obliged to account to Parliament and the British people.”

There is absolutely no problem about accounting to Parliament in any purdah period about any matter at all, because it is privileged. There are no purdah rules that apply to anything that any Minister would say on the Floor of the House of Commons.

But are we seriously to believe, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) indicated, that civil servants should be used to put out press releases on matters that are being addressed by the referendum question, because that is what he is saying? That is precisely what should not be allowed. The idea that this will prevent Ministers from saying anything, and that somehow Ministers will not be able to take part in the referendum campaign, is clearly tosh. I seem to recall the Prime Minister being very vociferous in the run-up to the Scottish independence referendum, right to the last day of the campaign. However, he was unable to use his ministerial car, fly at ministerial expense or use the machinery of government to promulgate the messages he wanted to get across. There might have been a rather frustrating moment when he said, “I want to put out a statement”, and the Cabinet Secretary would have had to tell him, “I’m sorry, Prime Minister,

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but you can’t do that now that we are in purdah. You will have to do that through the no campaign or through your party.” That is exactly right. What is the point of the expenditure limits for the yes and no campaigns if the Government have 80 special advisers and thousands of press officers able to issue press releases, brief the media and organise media tours for Ministers? That is precisely what should not be available to Ministers during the closing stages of a referendum campaign.

Kate Hoey (Vauxhall) (Lab): I support that amendment, of course. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it would be even worse if we happened to get to a situation in which the leadership of the two main political parties were campaigning on one side? That is an even more important reason to have a proper purdah, if the referendum is to be seen as a free and fair.

Mr Jenkin: It is a simple matter of principle, which is why I think we would be right to press this to a vote if necessary, unless the Government accept our amendment. I really hope that they will, because it would simply put purdah back into the Bill, where it should be. I commend my right hon. Friend the Minister for saying that he wants dialogue on what the problem actually is and on how it can be addressed by amending the purdah regime, rather than scrapping it altogether and relying on assurances based on advice from civil servants who have clearly got it wrong.

I want to focus in my final remarks on the impartiality of civil servants, because this is really about what they can and cannot do. They must be in a position to protect their impartiality. They must be able to say to a Minister, “No, Minister, we are in purdah, so I cannot do that now. You must do that yourself or through some other organisation.” If they are not subject to purdah, it is the job of civil servants to support the Government of the day by carrying out the instructions of their Ministers, so they will be obliged to put out press releases, to help Ministers make the case and to use the machinery of government unfairly to support one side or the other.

I draw the Committee’s attention to the report that the Public Administration Committee produced just before the general election, “Lessons for Civil Service impartiality from the Scottish independence referendum”. The report shows that the Scottish Executive abused their position by sending out a rather political White Paper, some parts of which read more like an SNP manifesto than an objective Government document—that is always the danger with Government publications—but at least they did not send it out in the purdah period, at the most sensitive moment.

Not only that, but the advice of the permanent secretary at the Treasury, Sir Nicholas Macpherson, on currency unions was published in a completely unprecedented move on the basis that he had to “reassure the markets”. That was his excuse, and I am afraid that we regarded it as only an excuse. Are we to say that Ministers will agree to civil servants publishing their advice during the purdah period? Perhaps they might even be instructed to publish their advice during that period.

3 pm

Alex Salmond: The hon. Gentleman makes the point that what Governments do outwith the purdah period is quite different from what they can do within that

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period. Is he aware that there was referendum unit in the Treasury, which during the 28-day purdah period was briefing in favour of the no campaign in the referendum? Can that possibly be right? Should not that sort of practice be stopped before an upcoming European campaign?

Mr Jenkin: There is a serious question about whether civil servants should be closely involved in referendum campaigns over a period much longer than 28 days. There is a serious problem for the civil service if it allows such things to happen. That is why one of the main recommendations of our report is the addition of a paragraph to the civil service code to the effect that what applies to civil servants in general elections should apply to them equally in referendums. That would prevent civil servants who are put in difficult positions, and perhaps asked to do things that they know are not in the spirit of the code, from acting in such a way.

The underpinning of the principle of civil service impartiality during a referendum now rests on section 125 of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000. If we do not press the amendment, we consent to the removal of that protection from the Bill. My right hon. Friend the Minister cannot ask us to do that. It is an issue of principle, and he is asking us to accede to completely the wrong principle. As I have said, I believe that he has been given very wrong advice. Far be it from me to speculate about how many Eurosceptics there are among the permanent secretary community, who might want a bit of extra freedom about what they get Ministers to do during a referendum campaign.

I am deeply disappointed that the Labour party has abandoned all its principles, but we know that it is split on the matter. On Second Reading, it was in favour of scrapping purdah. At Prime Minister’s questions, it was against scrapping purdah. Last night, Labour Members were going to vote for amendment 11, but today they are no longer going to do so. I think that they are in a bit of a muddle, and I suspect that quite a few pro-EU Labour Members would like to help to rig the referendum in favour of the yes campaign. [Interruption.] I see I have provoked the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant). In the interests of brevity, I shall not invite him to intervene.

Unless we insist that the provisions for purdah remain in the Bill, we are acquiescing in the dilution of an important principle.

Mr Geoffrey Cox (Torridge and West Devon) (Con): My hon. Friend has insisted, and I understand this, that any safeguards relating to a purdah period should be in the Bill and should be made clear by statute. As I understand it, the Government’s undertaking, by means of the Minister’s letter, is to table amendments on Report, which would go into the final Act of Parliament and have legal force. It is not a matter of relying on the assurances of civil servants; it is a matter of law. If that is correct, it may go some way to alleviating the concerns of Government Members.

Mr Jenkin: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for drawing the Committee’s attention to that point. We should all be grateful for the fact that the Government have listened, but they are still requesting that we withdraw

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the amendment. To do so would be to concede the principle that purdah might not exist in statutory form. The Labour party’s amendment on purdah would not actually create purdah; it would require the Government to produce a list of things. What we want in the Bill is purdah. If the Government are not prepared to accept that principle now, on the Floor of the House, I fear that we will have to force the amendment to a vote, because it is a matter of principle.

John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab): He is not in his usual place, but may I commend the hon. Member for Stone (Sir William Cash), whose health is fragile today but who has still turned up to fulfil his parliamentary duties? I apologise for the fact that I had to leave the debate for 20 minutes to chair a meeting.

I want to speak about amendments 46 and 47, but before I do so, I will say a few words about purdah. I remember the original legislation going through the House. It came about as a result of concerns expressed about what had happened prior to other elections and referendums. At the time, I thought that a number of lessons had been learned about the need to ensure that purdah existed, so that confidence could be expressed in the outcome of a referendum. For the life of me, I cannot understand why the Government are varying the procedure this time. They have not advanced any consistent argument in which I can have any confidence. When we are dealing with such a controversial matter, why stir up such controversy over such a relatively minor point? I do not understand the Government’s motives.

I am minded to support amendment 11. Although the Government have assured us that we will return to the matter on Report, I would like some certainty at this stage, which we might vary on Report. I am quite attracted to the idea of a fairness commission, as proposed in new clause 4. I was a bit anxious when I learned who might be a member of such a commission, but I agree that there needs to be a mechanism for dealing with any unfairness.

I will be brief, because we are running out of time. I have tabled two amendments concerning the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. Several hon. Members have campaigned doggedly for openness and transparency regarding the negotiations on that proposed partnership between the EU and the US. I accept that it would be out of order for me to go into any detail about that, but the principle is this. For two days in the Chamber, we have debated sovereignty and democratic rights in relation to Scotland and the EU. TTIP may result in Parliament handing over sovereignty and democratic decision making not only to the EU but to transnational corporations and an investor dispute panel of corporate lawyers, meeting in secret. Their decisions could affect regulations governing health and safety, food safety, labour rights and even our recent attempts to achieve some sort of regulation of our finance sector, but we have not had any debate that resulted in a democratic decision of the House. We have had Adjournment debate after Adjournment debate, but there has been no report from Government on the progress of the negotiations. Why? Because the negotiations are held in secret. There was a debate in the European Parliament only last week. When a report was eventually produced, 200 amendments were tabled, and the EU Commission has backed off and delayed the matter.

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Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North) (Lab): My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech and bringing TTIP into the argument. Does he agree that if the EU is seen as a vehicle for imposing TTIP on us, that would have a significant bearing on the outcome of the vote? Millions of trade unionists will be fearful of voting in favour of the EU because they may get TTIP with it.

John McDonnell: I thank my hon. Friend for bringing me back into order. That is exactly my point. If we are to have any chance to shape the Prime Minister’s negotiations with other European leaders, this is our opportunity. I want to place on the agenda what is happening with TTIP. I want the Prime Minister to address that in his discussions, and when he reports back to the House and the country about the way forward, I want him to detail the achievements he has made, to open up the transparency and openness of those negotiations.

Mr Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) (Lab): My hon. Friend makes an interesting point. In the discussions in Europe in relation to some of the subjects that he has just mentioned, there is also the issue that the Government will negotiate about matters such as wages and terms and conditions, which affect people in this country. We have not had a lot of debate about that, either.

John McDonnell: This debate has allowed us to place some of those issues on the agenda. The major issue with TTIP is that the Prime Minister, until now, has not seen it as particularly relevant or important to give us a direct report on those negotiations, so those negotiations have remained secret. Therefore, the purpose of my amendment, which I will not press to a vote, is to identify it as an issue on which we need a report. That will help to ensure, to echo the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Luton North (Kelvin Hopkins), that in the referendum, people can make a decision based on the consequences of further European membership for the concrete aspects of the treaty that will affect their lives. My hon. Friend the Member for Coventry South (Mr Cunningham) made exactly that point. This will affect labour rights, including working conditions, health and safety, and wage levels.

In addition, TTIP could affect the ability of a sovereign Government of this country to make a decision on policy. I give just one example that we have debated in the past. I want to ensure that there is no further privatisation and that some services that have been privatised are brought back into public ownership—for example, the railways. If TTIP goes through, a sovereign Government could be prevented from implementing those policies. I want the Prime Minister to go to Europe and say, with regard to TTIP, “On the issue of the referendum I want to ensure that we maintain the sovereign right of this Chamber to take a decision that its Government can then implement without undue interference from transnational corporations who can then head off to arbitration panels meeting in secret.”

James Cartlidge (South Suffolk) (Con): I accept the hon. Gentleman’s point about sovereignty—many hon. Members are concerned about that—but surely one of the biggest challenges facing Europe at the moment is youth unemployment, which in Spain has only just gone below 50%, and which would be reduced if transatlantic trade volumes increased.

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John McDonnell: I do not want to take up any further time, but that is an excellent point. That is why, in most of the assessments undertaken to date, we have looked at job losses rather than job increases.

Amendments 46 and 47 simply say that before we come to the decision on the European referendum the Government must publish a report on TTIP and its processes. The OBR should look at the economic aspects, but Government overall should consider all other aspects of policy. We need to receive information about the implications of this treaty and the European role in it, and whether, therefore, we would want to remain within the European Union as a result.

I do not wish to press the amendments, but I do think we need a serious debate about the agenda that the Prime Minister is to construct for the negotiations prior to the referendum.

Mr Grieve: It is a pleasure to participate briefly in this debate. I want to direct my remarks towards amendment 11, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash).

My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) and I probably agree on two main points: first, that neither of us has yet seen a convincing case made for pulling out of the EU; and secondly, our shared and gentle cynicism about the amount of froth and hyperbole that is generated in this Chamber. That said, I must politely disagree with his approach to what this Bill does with regard to section 125 of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000. I served on the Committee that considered the Bill that became that Act, and there was a lot of anxiety about the capacity for referendums to be manipulated. Doubtless there was quite a lot of hyperbole in the Committee as well. We argued for a 10-week period of purdah, as opposed to 28 days, because that was what the Electoral Commission was suggesting and what the Neill committee had proposed. Nevertheless, we ended up with 28 days, and I have seen nothing in the period since to make me think that the system does not work, broadly speaking, perfectly well. I am sure there will sometimes be complaints that the rules are being infringed and we ought to try to improve on that, but when all is said and done, the system seems to have worked remarkably well.

I confess that I was therefore rather surprised, when I looked at the Bill we have before us, to find that section 125 had been arbitrarily deleted without any real explanation being provided whatsoever. A justification for that deletion has not been made. I anticipate that my right hon. Friend the Minister will shortly tell us that the Government will go away and review the matter, and I will be very pleased to hear that. I have to say, however—I hope he will forgive me for doing so—that that is a reflection of the rather strange and cack-handed way in which, from time to time, the Government seem to behave when approaching legislation. Either they think that all my right hon. and hon. Friends who feel very exercised about this are going to miss this deletion, or it is an open invitation for discord that takes up quite a lot of the time of this House.

In my view, section 125 could properly have been left in, and the better course of action would have been for my right hon. Friends on the Front Bench to come up with an amendment of some kind if they really thought

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there was going to be a major problem during the purdah period in the run-up to the referendum. It is very important that when this referendum is over, the people who participated in it are able to say that it was fairly conducted, provided that reassurance does not come at great cost.

3.15 pm

It seems to me that the Government have got themselves in a bit of a hole. They have come up with a deletion and now there appears to be something of a stand-off. I have enough confidence in my right hon. Friend the Minister to accept the words in a letter of a cast-iron assurance—which I hope I shall hear repeated shortly at the Dispatch Box—that the Government will go away and reconsider the matter, and come up with a proper amendment on Report.

Mr Baker: As a Buckinghamshire colleague of my right hon. Friend the Minister, I have great admiration and fellow-feeling for him. We were at Superhero Beaveree in Chalfont St Peter only on Saturday doing mirror mazes together, and he is a lovely man. However, I do not want to base my life in society on the assurances of a particular individual; I want to base it on the law. I would like the Government to accept amendment 11, change the law and come back with specific points that address the problems that have been have raised.

Mr Grieve: I appreciate my hon. Friend’s point. Governments, like the world, move in mysterious ways. If I may gently coax the Government back to the path of righteousness, as I think we are probably succeeding in doing, I, for one, will be broadly content.

On hearing assurances from my right hon. Friend the Minister that the Government will reconsider this and return on Report with a proper amendment, I will be quite prepared to continue to give them my confidence in this matter. However, if the Government were to be using this as a device to come back whenever Report takes place and try to wriggle out of this obligation again, I would regard that as a rather infamous thing to do, and I am afraid I would not be in a position to support them at all on this matter.

Mr Jenkin: Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that we require that statutory protection and a code of conduct would not be good enough?

Mr Grieve: My hon. Friend makes a very important point. Certainly, I would be much happier to see the return of section 125 and the introduction of some one-off qualifications for the purpose of this particular referendum. That would be the ideal, because it would preserve the principle of section 125. That would be better than coming back with a set of regulations. I have read the letter. It has a whole series of assurances, but that is not a proper way in which referendums should be conducted. The problem historically—not necessarily in this country—is that referendums have been systematically abused, with many assurances being given. That why this House should, on this matter, fix the Government with a clear responsibility to come up with a legal framework. I see my right hon. Friend the Minister nodding.

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Mrs Main: Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that, on principle, it is best to leave it in and come up with amendments in September rather than remove it and then reinstate it in some amended form?

Mr Grieve: Yes, but my experience in this House is that it is quite frequent in Committee for a Bill to be criticised, for the Government to give assurances that they will remedy it, and for hon. Members to accept those assurances. That is why I have no difficulty in proceeding along the usual established route.

I look forward to hearing from my right hon. Friend the Minister a proper response from the Government. On that basis, I would like to allow others the chance to speak.

Ms Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh (Ochil and South Perthshire) (SNP): I rise to support amendment 16. I also take this opportunity to pay tribute to the excellent maiden speeches we heard from the hon. Members for Morley and Outwood (Andrea Jenkyns) and for Hampstead and Kilburn (Tulip Siddiq). It is great to see members of the black and minority ethnic community participating in the politics of this country.

The Scottish National party values Scotland’s positive relationship with the European Union and the social and economic benefits that it brings to Scotland, so we will continue to make the case for Scotland’s membership, in this Chamber and beyond. I welcome the sign that this Government are possibly listening to the views of SNP Members and to the position of the devolved Governments and Assemblies across these nations. I hope that the Government’s exercise in reflection will continue throughout discussions and decisions taken on this Bill and, indeed, beyond.

Given that the Government have decided to accept that they should treat all parts of the UK with some respect, at least in relation to the Bill, I encourage them now to step fully into the light. Timing is not the only issue that unites opinion across the constituent parts of the UK. We believe that if the UK is to leave the EU, a majority not just across the whole UK but in each of the four nations—a double majority—should be required, to safeguard the future prosperity of Scotland and prevent it from being taken out of the EU against the will of its people.

It would make no sense to take such a fundamental and damaging decision without a democratic safeguard that respected the decision of voters in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. If Scotland were dragged out of the EU after it voted to stay in, that would clearly not only cause catastrophic damage to our economy but have major constitutional implications. That view is also supported by the Welsh First Minister. Earlier this month, he joined the First Minister of Scotland in signing a statement declaring:

“Any decision to leave the EU, taken against the wishes of the people of Wales or Scotland, would be unacceptable and steps must be taken to ensure this does not happen.”

We agree, and look forward to the support of Welsh colleagues in the Lobby today.

This week has also seen debate on the Scotland Bill. Although my colleagues and I will continue relentlessly to argue for maximum powers to be transferred to the Scottish Parliament so that we can build a better, stronger and fairer society, I take the Government’s view at face value when they say they want to make the Scottish

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Parliament one of the most powerful devolved Parliaments in the world. If they are serious, they should accept the amendments that mirror the approach taken in some federal states such as Canada and Australia, which require a similar sort of territorial requirement on such issues. My right hon. Friend the Member for Gordon (Alex Salmond) also alluded to the USA in that context.

Mike Wood rose—

Ms Ahmed-Sheikh: I will not give way, as I do not have much time. I apologise.

In the days before Scotland’s independence referendum last year, the Prime Minister called the UK a “family of nations”. If he means what he says, and if the Government back him, surely all members of the family should have a voice of their own. During the referendum, we were invited to lead the UK, not leave it.

Let me be clear. I welcome the constructive and positive moves—alternatively referred to as a “cave- in”—from the Government to rule out holding the referendum on the same date as the Holyrood elections next year. I am heartened that they are listening and acting, in this instance, to support Scotland’s best interests in relation to the timing of the vote. But that must be the start of the listening exercise, not the end. The House should pay careful heed.

If Scotland were to be taken out of Europe, despite voting as a nation to remain in it, that would inevitably provoke a strong reaction among ordinary voters in Scotland against the settlement that we agreed last September. The safeguards that we propose could avoid that outcome. We urge the Committee to support our amendments and I commend them to the Committee.

The Minister for Europe (Mr David Lidington): I start by congratulating the hon. Member for Hampstead and Kilburn (Tulip Siddiq) and my hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Outwood (Andrea Jenkyns), who made maiden speeches in this afternoon’s debate. Both spoke with warmth and conviction. The House looks forward to hearing from both hon. Ladies many times during their parliamentary careers.

The amendments that we are debating cover a wide range of issues. The House will expect me to spend most of my time addressing the arguments about the proposal to disapply section 125 of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000. However, I will start by addressing amendment 16, moved by the right hon. Member for Gordon (Alex Salmond). I was not surprised that he and his party should have moved such an amendment or that they had the support of Plaid Cymru in so doing, but I doubt whether the right hon. Gentleman will be shocked when I say that the Government do not intend to accept it.

Amendment 16 does not make sense in the context of the Bill. The legislation is about holding a vote; it makes no provision for what follows. The referendum is advisory, as was the case for both the 1975 referendum on Europe and the Scottish independence vote last year. In neither of those cases was there a threshold for the interpretation of the result. The Government take the view that, in respect of EU membership, we are one United Kingdom. The referendum will be on the subject of the United Kingdom’s membership of the European Union and it is therefore right that there should be one referendum and one result. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will choose not to press his amendment.

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I say briefly to the hon. Member for Ilford South (Mike Gapes), who spoke to amendments 49 and 50, that the timing of the referendum should, subject to the deadline at the end of 2017, depend on the progress of negotiations at European level. I do not think that the inflexibility introduced by his amendments would be helpful in that process.

The right hon. Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden), who spoke to amendments 4, 5 and 6, was right to say that the British public will expect information to be provided about the consequences of the UK’s leaving the European Union. For the most part, that will clearly be the job of the designated campaign organisations for the two camps during the campaign. However, at the end of a period of renegotiation, the Government will obviously want to set out their conclusions and reasons for the recommendation that the Prime Minister and the Government will make at that point. In the past I have mentioned that that could be done through a White Paper or some other such communication. It would not be right for specific requirements to be set out, especially at this early stage even in the negotiation process, about what the Government would be obliged to publish at a given time ahead of the referendum. Neither is it necessary to define in statute responsibilities on the Bank of England or the Office for Budget Responsibility. As has been said by others during this debate, they are independent entities, and ultimately it is for them to decide whether and how to express their views to a wider public.

I move on to section 125 of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000. In response to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve), I highlight to the House the fact that schedule 1 provides for a disapplication of section 125 in relation to this referendum and no other. The underlying statutory framework would continue unless Parliament decided that it wanted to have a similar provision for disapplication for any future referendum.

Dr Andrew Murrison (South West Wiltshire) (Con): Will the Minister give way?

Mr Lidington: Yes, but I do want to respond on the detail.

Dr Murrison: Many Conservative Members will trust these Front Benchers and I accept his remarks about section 125, but does my right hon. Friend not accept that a precedent would be set and that many of us would be worried in case, under different Governments, referendums were not conducted on the fair basis that he and I both want?

Mr Lidington: I want to explain to the House why section 125 causes some real difficulties. We should not be under any illusions about the starting point. It is not at all the same as the purdah guidance that is published by central Government at election time. The purdah traditions for both national and local elections rest on convention. With section 125, we are talking about a very wide-ranging statutory prohibition on Government activity. In the words of the section, public bodies are banned from publishing material that

“deals with any of the issues raised by any question on which such a referendum is being held”,

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as well as general information, putting arguments or even setting out the competing arguments, and encouraging people to take part in the referendum. The definition of publication in the section is very broadly phrased: the word “publish” is defined as making material

“available to the public at large, or any section of the public, in whatever form and by whatever means”.

Under section 125, there is a very wide-ranging ban on what the Government can do.

3.30 pm

John Cryer (Leyton and Wanstead) (Lab): Will the Minister give way?

Mr Lidington: I will not give way, if the hon. Gentleman will forgive me. I have about eight or nine minutes, and I want to respond to the debate.

That ban would clearly cover printed material and some electronic communications, although it is fair to say that when PPERA was drafted we were not in an age of social media and interactive digital technology—Twitter, Facebook and other such accounts—and there is a serious question about what would be captured by the phrasing of section 125 as it stands.

Section 125 would be unworkable because the world and normal EU business will not stop for the referendum. Let me take the example of the very active public debate about migration, particularly at the moment from north Africa, but also about what is happening at Calais. It should be common ground that when we get to the referendum campaign, questions to do with migration, freedom of movement and the accessibility of welfare will form part of the debate. During the four weeks, section 125 would prevent the Government or any public body from making any comment not necessarily on the referendum question but on an issue that might be discussed in the Council of Ministers meeting or in response to a European Court of Justice judgment. The Government need to be free to respond in the national interest and to conduct ordinary day-to-day EU business, and that freedom would not be permitted if we left section 125 as it stands.

John Cryer: Will the Minister give way?

Mr Jenkin: Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr Lidington: I will give way to my hon. Friend.

Mr Jenkin: I just want to place on the record the fact that I really do challenge that interpretation of the section. My right hon. Friend says that he has counsel’s opinion: let him lay it before the House, or we will obtain counsel’s opinion of our own.

Mr Lidington: My hon. Friend is obviously free to take legal opinion of his own, but if he looks again at the wording of section 125 and applies it to the conduct of EU business, he will find that there would be very serious problems in carrying out day-to-day business in the national interest at EU level if the section is left untouched.

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We believe that applying the section would be inappropriate because the referendum is taking place as the result of a clear manifesto commitment to negotiate the terms of the UK’s relationship with the European Union and to put them to people in a referendum. Section 125 could make it impossible to explain to the public what the outcome of the renegotiation was and what the Government’s view of that result was.

The Government must be able, and legitimately should be able, to offer their views, including up to the day of the referendum. However, as I have said, the Government are not a campaign: it is not the Government’s job to supplant the role of the lead campaign organisations during the referendum campaign, and it is certainly not our intention to act in that way. We recognise and understand the strength of feeling that exists on this issue, and I am grateful for the constructive and courteous tone in which the debate has been conducted both this afternoon and in private conversations outside the Chamber.

Mr Rees-Mogg: My right hon. Friend said that the Government may not be able to give their view on the outcomes of the renegotiation. Surely that cannot be true. It cannot be the case that the renegotiation will only be finished within the purdah period.

Mr Lidington: What I am saying is that the Government will need to be able to say why they have come to the conclusion and recommendation that they have reached.

As the Foreign Secretary said and as I repeated on Second Reading last week, the Government will exercise restraint during that period. We have listened to what colleagues in all parts of the House have said and are therefore committing ourselves to table amendments on Report to write into the Bill measures that will provide reassurance on that point. I accept completely the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg) and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) that it is vital that the British public and both sides in the referendum debate accept that the referendum is being conducted fairly and therefore feel able to accept the result.

James Cleverly (Braintree) (Con): I have had concerns about the implications of the complete removal of section 125. Does my right hon. Friend recognise that the sustainability of the result of the referendum, whatever it may be, will depend on whether the public has confidence in it, and that the assurances that we have all received from the Foreign Secretary and from him today must be delivered in full?

Mr Lidington: I completely understand that concern. I repeat that we will not ask the House to rely only on the words of Ministers from the Dispatch Box. We have made a commitment to introduce into the Bill changes that give expression to the assurances that we have given.

Alex Salmond: On a point of order, Sir Roger. Some of my hon. Friends were asked, in courtesy to the Committee, to shorten their speeches so that the Minister would get to speak. Is the Minister not going to extend the same courtesy to those who should be summing up on the amendment? If that does not happen, there will be other occasions when the Minister can be talked out.

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The Temporary Chair (Sir Roger Gale): That is not strictly a point of order for the Chair. The Minister knows whether to sit down or not.

Mr Lidington: We will ensure that there is a clear mechanism so that in the four weeks before polling day, the Government will not undertake a range of activities that most would regard as the province of the campaign, such as issuing mailshots, running commercial advertising campaigns and emailing voters in one way or another.

There are various ways in which that might be done. Some colleagues have talked about a code of conduct. The Opposition have tabled a constructive amendment, which we welcome, but there are some technical problems with it, not least how the Government could anticipate what might be published by all public bodies, which is required by the text of amendment 54. As an alternative to a code of conduct, we could include provisions in the Bill that would restrict Government activity to particular named forms of publication or prohibit the Government from taking part in specific forms of communication.

We will not programme the Report stage until the autumn, which provides ample time for Ministers to consult parliamentary colleagues in all parts of the House to understand their concerns and views more closely, and to frame a set of amendments that will command the widest possible consensus in the House on Report. That is probably the best way to ensure that the referendum is conducted on a basis that everybody believes to be fair.

We have always been clear that it is not our intention that the Government should be a lead campaigner in the referendum. It is right that the Committee should seek reassurance from us on that point. We are happy to bring forward the amendments that I have described and, in the meantime, to discuss proposals with hon. Members in all parts of the House. However, I believe that section 125 of the 2000 Act is deficient for these purposes and urge right hon. and hon. Members not to press the amendments that would impose the provisions of that section on the referendum.

3.39 pm

Three hours having elapsed since the commencement of proceedings, the debate was interrupted (Programme Order, 9 June).

The Chair put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair (Standing Order No. 83D), That the amendment be made.

Question accordingly negatived.

The Chair then put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time (Standing Order No. 83D).

Amendment made: 55,  page 1, line 8, at end insert—

“and must not be 5 May 2016” .(Mr Lidington.)

This amendment prevents the Secretary of State from appointing 5 May 2016 as the day on which the referendum is to be held.

Clause 1, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 3

Further provision about the referendum

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

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The Temporary Chair (Sir Roger Gale): With this it will be convenient to take the following:

Amendment 9, in schedule 1, page 6, line 6, after second “period”, insert—

“of not less than 16 weeks”.

The purpose of the amendment is to ensure that the referendum period lasts for at least 16 weeks.

Amendment 20, page 6, leave out lines 23 and 24.

Amendment 28, page 6, leave out lines 23 to 31.

Amendment 24, page 6, leave out lines 25 to 31.

Amendment 53, page 6, line 33, at end add—

“(ix) the total number of permitted participants shall be limited to a number specified by the Electoral Commission to ensure broad equality of resources between those campaigning for each of the outcomes of the referendum and those taken into account for the purposes of this provision will be the first persons to give notice under section 106(1) of the 2000 Act.”.

The amendment would require the Electoral Commission to ensure that during the referendum campaign, the total spend of the campaign on either side of the referendum would be broadly equal by limiting the number of participants, taking into account moneys spent by business, government, the European Commission and the campaigns themselves.

Amendment 32, page 6, line 33, at end add—

“( ) Nothing in this Schedule alters the law governing charitable organisations in any part of the United Kingdom to confer an entitlement to participate in a referendum which would not have been possible prior to the coming into force of this Schedule.”.

Amendment 29, page 7, line 5, leave out “any of sub-paragraphs (v) to (viii)” and insert “sub-paragraph (v)”.

Amendment 22, page 7, leave out lines 16 to 19.

Amendment 30, page 7, leave out lines 16 to 23.

Amendment 26, page 7, leave out lines 20 to 23.

Government amendment 14.

Amendment 33, page 12, leave out lines 18 and 19.

Amendment 41, page 12, leave out lines 18 to 25.

Amendment 37, page 12, leave out lines 20 to 25.

Amendment 10, page 12, line 38, at end insert—

“(6) For the purposes of paragraph 6 of Schedule 15 of the 2000 Act a permitted participant must not accept a relevant donation, irrespective of whether or not it meets the requirements of the 2000 Act and this Act, if the donation is funded directly or indirectly in whole or part from moneys, resources or support disbursed or allocated by or at the direction of the European Commission, its agencies or any related European institution to the donor or via other parties to the donor.”.

The purpose of the amendment is to ensure that no funds or support provided directly or indirectly by European Union bodies have a bearing on the outcome of the referendum.

Amendment 45, page 12, line 38, at end add—

“( ) Nothing in this Schedule alters the law governing charitable organisations in any part of the United Kingdom to confer an entitlement to make a donation during a referendum which would not have been permissible prior to the coming into force of this Schedule.”.

Amendment 42, page 13, line 6, leave out “any of the paragraphs (c) to (f)” and insert “paragraph (c)”.

Amendment 43, page 13, line 10, leave out “any of the paragraphs (c) to (f)” and insert “paragraph (c)”.

Amendment 36, page 13, leave out lines 12 to 16.

Amendment 44, page 13, leave out lines 12 to 22.

Amendment 40, page 13, leave out lines 17 to 20.

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Government amendment 15.

That schedule 1 be the First schedule to the Bill.

That schedule 2 be the Second schedule to the Bill.

That schedule 3 be the Third schedule to the Bill.

Mr McFadden: On a point of order, Sir Roger. I seek your guidance. The Committee has just agreed to Government amendment 55, which states that the referendum will not take place on the same day as elections in May of next year, but other amendments that we did not get the chance to discuss fully this afternoon also deal with the date of the referendum, including amendment 3, which is in my name and those of my right hon. and hon. Friends. Can you give the Committee any guidance on whether there will be time to debate those further amendments on Thursday?

The Temporary Chair (Sir Roger Gale): If the right hon. Gentleman is referring to amendments 3 and 7—I think he is—it will be a matter for the Chairman of Ways and Means to consider them for debate on Thursday. I think the answer to the right hon. Gentleman’s question is yes, there is the opportunity, or there is likely to be the opportunity, for debate.

Alex Salmond: Further to that point of order, Sir Roger. Does the same apply to amendment 17, which is also in that category? We would not want to lose any opportunity to debate further the extent of the Government’s humiliating climbdown and acceptance that they should show courtesy to the people of Scotland.

The Temporary Chair: The answer to the right hon. Gentleman’s question is no, because that was not debated under the group.

Mr Baker: On a point of order, Sir Roger. Many colleagues were expecting a Division on amendment 11. May I ask your guidance on when we can expect that vote?

The Temporary Chair: Amendment 11 comes later in the proceedings. Whether or not that is the subject of a Division will be a matter for whoever is in the Chair later in the day. My expectation is that there will be a Division, but that is a matter for the Chairman at the time.

Sir William Cash: My view about the clause is that we have managed to have a wide-ranging debate. In the interests of brevity, I do not think much needs to be said on the subject. We really ought to get on to other matters, including the question of European Union financing. I have no further comments to make on clause stand part.

Sir Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con) rose—

The Temporary Chair: Order. I am at the disposal of the Committee and looking for hon. Members to speak, but there appears to be no one but Sir Edward Leigh.

Sir Edward Leigh: Is it appropriate that I speak to my amendment 53, Sir Roger?

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The Temporary Chair indicated assent.

Sir Edward Leigh: Amendment 53 would state that

“the total number of permitted participants shall be limited to a number specified by the Electoral Commission to ensure broad equality of resources between those campaigning for each of the outcomes of the referendum”.

I refer the Committee to the Member’s explanatory statement, which states:

“The amendment would require the Electoral Commission to ensure that during the referendum campaign, the total spend of the campaign”—[Interruption.]

The Temporary Chair: Order. Will Members leaving the Chamber please do so quietly? There are people who wish to hear the debate.

Sir Edward Leigh: I was just referring to the explanatory statement. It is very helpful that the Public Bill Office now publishes explanatory statements, as it makes it much easier for us to understand amendments.

3.45 pm

Amendment 53 would require the Electoral Commission to ensure that the total spend by either side during the referendum campaign was broadly equal by limiting the number of participants, taking into account money spent by business, government, the European Commission and the campaigns themselves. My amendment—I am prepared to take advice from the Government if it is defective in any way—would ensure broad equality of spending, which is surely what we all want.

The current regulatory regime on referendums is provided by the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000. The grant of public money to a designated organisation cannot exceed £600,000 and the grant of public money to both sides must be of equal amount. The yes and no campaigns can therefore spend about £500,000 each. That is perfectly fair and we all understand that. However, on top of that limit, extra funding is permitted to political parties based on their share of the vote at the last parliamentary election. That means the Conservative party will be allowed to spend £5 million, the Labour party £4 million, the UK Independence party £3 million and the Liberal Democrats £2 million. The Scottish National party will also have pro rata expenditure.

The current presumption—we must assume this will happen—is that the leaderships of the Conservative party, the Labour party, the SNP and the Liberal Democrats will be in the yes camp. Labour is keeping its options open, but we know it is pretty well committed to being in the yes camp with the SNP and the Liberals. It is also a pretty fair presumption that the Conservative party will be there as well. My problem—this is a really serious issue that needs to be addressed by the House—is that the official yes campaign could have a funding pot of up to £17 million, as opposed to a limit of £8 million for the no camp. That is a huge difference in resources and could well affect the outcome. Even if that does not affect the outcome, it will lead people to feel that this will not be a fair campaign. On top of those amounts, any registered participant will be allowed to spend £500,000. The total spending cap comes to £25 million overall.

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Mr Chope: Do the figures my hon. Friend is referring to include Government expenditure? The Minister, responding to the debate on the previous group of amendments, said the Government should not be a lead campaigner in a referendum, thereby implying that it will be a campaigner and spend Government resources. Are Government resources restricted in any way?

Sir Edward Leigh: That is why this debate is important. When the Minister replies, we want further and better particulars. We really want to know whether Government expenditure will be a part of this. The Government have enormous resources through all the Government Departments and it would be unfair if there was a mismatch in total spend for both sides of the argument. The yes campaign in 1975 spent the equivalent in today’s money of £11 million, compared with £1 million by the no side. The no side in 1975 were outspent 10:1, and that simply cannot be fair. Such things may have been more accepted in those more forgiving days, but I do not think they would be accepted now when there is widespread disillusionment about politics and a widespread feeling, which may be unfair and I know the Government want to act in an entirely honourable way, that the result could be fixed by the political establishment. The political establishment, encompassed by all the leading political parties except UKIP, big business and the European Commission, could have a massive and decisive preponderance of spending.

The 2000 Act provides for an entirely different regulation to what existed in 1975. It still looks far more likely that one side will have much higher spending limits than the other, which is inimical to our sense of democratic fair play. It is possible that the voters will be—or could feel, which is just as important—overwhelmed by spending on one side. Spending caps in constituency elections are basically equal. I know this is a UK-wide referendum, but that actually makes it more important, because there is huge interest both within and outside the country. The coverage in the European press is massive and will only get greater, and the European Commission and foreign Governments are very exercised about it. It is incumbent on the Minister to tell us what he plans to do about it and how he will address the problem I have articulated. If I am wrong, I am happy to listen to the Government and to be reassured, but they have to reassure the Committee.

Aside from the inherent inequality, there are deeper concerns about the potential effects. Let us consider the results of the Scottish referendum and the following general election: one side can win a referendum, but afterwards, if people feel the arguments were not entirely fair, there can be a massive shift of opinion. If a yes result is secured through massive overspend, there is a danger—dare I say it?—of a UKIP backlash, just as we have seen an SNP backlash, and this tidal wave can overwhelm people. It is essential, therefore, that there is a feeling of fairness. We need an open debate in which both sides are funded broadly the same and can put their arguments. If the yes campaign wins by the force of its arguments, I, as a democrat, would be the first to accept that it won fair and square, but there has to be a feeling of fairness.

Stephen Gethins: The hon. Gentleman talks about an SNP backlash, but by the time of the independence referendum the SNP had been in power in Scotland for seven years.

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Sir Edward Leigh: I do not want us to repeat yesterday’s debate, but we all know that there was a shift in public opinion following the Scottish referendum, so we have to be careful.

The UK is lucky not to suffer from the money-infused politics of the United States, where power goes to the highest bidder or spender. As we all know, it is virtually impossible to have a serious intention of becoming President without access to millions of pounds of spending or unless your name is Bush or Clinton. We do not want to replicate that situation here. British voters are very resistant to such a culture. We have been brought up in our constituencies knowing there is fairness and that all sides roughly spend the same.

Sir William Cash: Has my hon. Friend noticed my own amendment about restricting the money that will surely come from the EU and European Commission? They are described by the Electoral Commission as foreign sources, but they are not. Are they not actually part and parcel of what applies to us under the European Communities Act 1972?

Sir Edward Leigh: It would be ironic if the European Commission were a major player—but actually why should it not be? It is entitled to its point of view and to put its case. It has massive resources, however, to which we have contributed greatly, as my hon. Friend says. Nobody minds the Commission having a point of view, but we know what it will be, and we do not want its spending to come on top of all the rest, as it would create a sense of unfairness.

The official yes side in the AV referendum spent £3,436,000, and the official no side spent £2,595,000, so although the no side was outspent, spending was broadly not too dissimilar and fairly low, and voters still rejected the proposal. That is fair enough. Although the yes side spent a bit more, the arguments were well put. We all understood the arguments and there was broad acceptance of the result. There was no backlash and people felt the whole thing was fair, and in any event the result was clear: two thirds voted no.

Now, let us consider other referendums that I do not think have been conducted as fairly as our AV referendum. In 2008, voters in Ireland rejected the Lisbon treaty, only effectively to be told they must vote again, until the “correct result” could be obtained. The behaviour of the pro-EU side in the subsequent 2009 referendum campaign has resulted in several legal challenges in Ireland. One campaigning group even offered Irish citizens resident on the continent free Ryanair flights home, provided they canvassed for a yes vote. Before Lisbon, Irish voters also rejected the treaty of Nice in a 2001 referendum, but the Government pushed through a law on the last day before the Irish Parliament broke up for Christmas to remove the responsibility of the Referendum Commission to ensure that voters were informed of arguments on both sides in a balanced way. There is a great deal of unhappiness about that in Ireland. I should have thought that the yes campaigners could have won anyway.