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House of Commons

Friday 26 February 2016

The House met at half-past Nine o’clock


The Chairman of Ways and Means took the Chair as Deputy Speaker (Standing Order No. 3).

Overseas Voters Bill

Second Reading

9.34 am

Mr Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

It gives me great pleasure to move the Second Reading of the Overseas Voters Bill. The Bill was brought forward in the last Session of the last Parliament, in the run-up to the general election. At that stage, I had a very helpful response from the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr Gyimah) who was then Parliamentary Secretary at the Cabinet Office, who said that the Bill’s key element would be incorporated in the Conservative party manifesto and implemented after the general election. As a result, we had in our manifesto a commitment to take action on this issue.

I brought the Bill forward because too many British citizens living abroad are not entitled to vote in general elections in this country. Although the Electoral Commission made a big effort towards the end of the last Parliament, in the run-up to the general election, to register overseas electors, an answer given to me on 5 February by my hon. Friend the Minister—he is on the Front Bench today—showed that only 105,845 overseas electors were registered to vote in May 2015. He said it was not possible to say how many of those who were registered actually voted. I know that a number did not vote because they did not receive their ballot papers in time; indeed, I have had complaints about that from erstwhile constituents who now live abroad.

Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend on bringing this Bill to the House’s attention. I am listening to his very good speech with huge interest. He said that 105,000 overseas electors are registered. What is the total number who could be registered were they all identified, as his Bill suggests they should be?

Mr Chope: As with a lot of these things, there is no precise answer to my hon. Friend’s very good question, but the estimate is probably that 5 million and upwards would be eligible, and I see my hon. Friend the Minister nodding.

The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (John Penrose): Just to clarify, the figures are a little unclear, as my hon. Friend says. It looks as though about 2 million may be eligible to vote at the moment, and another 3 million or 4 million on top of that might be enfranchised were we to get rid of the 15-year rule in

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due course. However, as I suggested, all figures should be treated with a degree of caution, because this is so uncertain.

Mr Chope: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention. What he is saying is that, of the 2 million who are eligible at the moment, we registered only 100,000, and many fewer than that actually voted. There is potentially a pool of a lot more who could be registered if the Bill went through and we were able to allow all British citizens living overseas to participate in our democracy.

That, of course, is what happens in a lot of other countries. Some of those countries organise—indeed, facilitate—voting by their overseas citizens at embassies, consulates and other such places. In the recent Turkish elections, the President of Turkey, in a neutral capacity, spent a lot of time visiting other countries in Europe—mainly countries with a significant number of Turkish expatriates—to speak directly to them to encourage them to participate in the election.

So what would be the benefit of this? Apart from the benefit to democracy, it would assist in campaigns such as one that I very strongly support, which is the campaign for an end to the discrimination against British pensioners living overseas. It would mean that those who are campaigning to ensure that there is equal treatment between British pensioners living overseas and those living in the United Kingdom would have more clout. At the moment, there are a handful of these people in each constituency able to vote, and they cannot really make a difference in the general election, but if more of them were eligible to vote, and did vote, they would be able to lobby much more effectively and we might find that the Government were more responsive to their concerns than they seem to be at the moment.

Mr Hollobone: The campaigns that my hon. Friend is mounting for electoral justice and pensioner justice are legendary. I am glad that he managed to persuade the Government to include in the manifesto a commitment on electoral justice. With regard to British pensioners living overseas, presumably Her Majesty’s Government know who these people are and where they live, and they are in receipt of at least some element of their pension. Therefore, given the terms of this Bill, it should not be too difficult for the Electoral Commission to put them on the list and get them registered.

Mr Chope: My hon. Friend makes a really good point; as he says, it should not be too difficult. In the run-up to the previous election, I encouraged the Foreign Office to try to get people registered. I also tried to get information out of the Department for Work and Pensions about enabling it to communicate directly with pensioners. The 15-year rule makes it more difficult to run these registration campaigns, because the DWP does not know whether an overseas pensioner has been living overseas for more than 15 years, and removing the rule would make it much easier for it to campaign effectively. When I was at a meeting discussing these issues with a member of our embassy staff in Berlin, he told me of the efforts being made to try to get expats living there to participate in voting, and I am sure that such efforts were made. However, as is apparent from the figures, there is an enormously long way to go. When my

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hon. Friend the Minister responds, I am sure he will say that this Bill is premature, as most of my Bills are, but I hope he will also say what the Government are going to do about implementing their manifesto commitment.

It is currently a cause of a great deal of frustration for British overseas residents that they are going to find it very difficult to participate in the European referendum. Some cynics have said that it would be better if we did not allow large numbers from overseas to participate in that referendum, but I think it would be desirable for the maximum number of British citizens to be able to do so. After all, we are going to allow Commonwealth citizens and Irish citizens living in this country to participate, so why were the Government unable to bring forward the Bill to facilitate the extension of the 15-year rule sooner in this Session so that it could have had a part to play in the referendum eligibility campaign?

Mr Hollobone: Surely the whole point about electoral registration is that we register people who we believe have the right to cast their ballot. We never register people on the basis of which way we think they might vote in a particular election or referendum.

Mr Chope: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Too often, we allow cynics outside to misrepresent our policy positions. I think that all democrats would say that the maximum number of British citizens should be entitled to vote and encouraged to participate in our democracy, and that, in essence, is what this Bill is about.

Clause 3 deals with internet voting. This is a controversial subject, but I think that if we are ever to go down the road of internet voting, the starting point should be people living overseas.

Oliver Colvile (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Con): My hon. Friend and I have been very close friends for some while, but I am concerned that internet voting could be open to fraud. How would he seek to deal with that issue?

Mr Chope: Fraud is rife in most electronic transactions, but despite that, a very large number of people are prepared to trust their banking arrangements to being dealt with online. Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs is now going to make it more or less compulsory for small businesses to do their tax returns online on a quarterly basis. My hon. Friend makes a perfect reasonable point: there is always scope for fraud. That is why I would not suggest massive internet voting on a universal basis from the outset, but it would be sensible to start off with a reasonable experiment. For example, we could perhaps start with members of our armed forces who are serving overseas. We might be able to develop a secure system for dealing with them.

Mark Tami (Alyn and Deeside) (Lab): Does the hon. Gentleman not think it odd that he wants to make it a lot easier for people living abroad to vote, but this Government want to make it a lot more difficult, through individual registration, for people to register to vote in this country?

Mr Chope: I do not accept the hon. Gentleman’s premise. The Government are keen to ensure that we have individual voter registration so that there is less

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identity fraud at polling stations and through postal votes. I supported that when I was a member of the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee in the previous Parliament.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. We are not debating UK domestic issues. I know the hon. Gentleman would not want to drift away from his point.

Mr Chope: Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker.

David Morris (Morecambe and Lunesdale) (Con): I thank my hon. Friend for securing this debate. I am intrigued by his proposition on internet voting. As a fellow member of the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee in the previous Parliament, I can bear testament to his prowess and knowledge. He rightly mentioned utilising the armed forces in an experiment on overseas voting. Perhaps Skyping could be used as a method, because face recognition on computers is now very sophisticated; indeed, we use it in airports across this country and in Europe. Does he agree that this could be a way ahead for internet voting by armed forces in overseas territories?

Mr Chope: I have to admit to not being an expert in this area at all. If my children were here, they would say to me, “When did you last Skype?”, and the answer would be, “Never.” I know that there is such a thing as Skyping, that other members of my family participate in it, and that it is a very inexpensive way of communicating with friends and family overseas. I imagine that it would fall within the term, “internet voting”. However, I do not have the expertise to be able to answer my hon. Friend’s question about whether it would be possible to secure a system of Skyping that would be proof against fraud or misrepresentations. I leave that to the Minister and his officials.

In clause 3 I do not try to set out a prescriptive arrangement for internet voting. That is because this is a really good example of where regulations should be brought forward by the Government using their expertise rather than relying on albeit gifted amateurs to do the job for them. The clause says that the Government “shall bring forward regulations”, and, in subsection (2), that they

“shall include provisions to prevent identity fraud and to ensure that only those eligible to vote can vote.”

Mr Hollobone: I anticipate that clause 3 might cause most difficulty when the Bill goes into Committee. Is it not the case that it has never been easier to register an individual to vote and that increasingly that is being done over the internet? That will be of great encouragement to overseas voters, because they should be easily able to register themselves in this country.

Mr Chope: My hon. Friend makes a very good point. Clause 3 addresses internet voting rather than internet registration, which is an important distinction. It is already possible to register on the internet, which, as my hon. Friend says, is a popular form of registration. A lot of young people used the internet to get themselves on the electoral register in the run-up to the last general election.

This is a short and relatively simple and straightforward Bill, and I commend it to the House.

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9.50 am

Ian Lavery (Wansbeck) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope) on promoting this Bill. I for one appreciate his determination, having promoted a similar Bill last year. Like that Bill, this one has three main provisions. First, it would require the Electoral Commission to register overseas voters; secondly, it would remove the limit on how long British people can live overseas before they lose the right to vote; thirdly, it would allow internet voting for overseas voters.

It is good that the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues are so eager to make progress on internet voting, but the Trade Union Bill, which is currently passing through the Lords, shows that the Government are wholly opposed to any suggestion of internet voting for the trade union movement. I say that merely as a point of clarification.

I recognise the hon. Gentleman’s interest in extending the franchise and in modernising the electoral system. However, given the Conservative party’s record on excluding voters through the rushed implementation of individual electoral registration and, indeed, its opposition to votes for 16 and 17-year-olds, I am somewhat perplexed that he has not done more to challenge his party on those particular issues.

Labour consistently warned the Government of the dangers of removing the last Labour Government’s safeguards for the introduction of IER. We also warned of the dangers of bringing forward the date of the point of transition—

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. As I said earlier, unfortunately this is about overseas voters. I can understand that we want to go over different ways of voting, but we have to remain on the issue of overseas voting. That is what the Bill is about.

Ian Lavery: That is absolutely first-class advice, Mr Deputy Speaker. On the parliamentary process and attempts to get individuals to vote, the latest Office for National Statistics figures and Electoral Commission data, which were published only this week and are really important, show that more than 1.4 million people have fallen off the electoral register since the introduction of IER.

Mr Deputy Speaker: Order. I am trying to be as helpful as I can. If the hon. Gentleman could combine that point with the number of overseas voters who have not been registered—that is the issue—and compare the two, that would be a way forward.

Ian Lavery: As ever, I accept your advice, Mr Deputy Speaker. I wish I did have the figures for those living abroad, but, as has been said, it is very difficult to ascertain them. The only figures we have are those for individual voters in the UK, but I fully accept and understand what you have said.

Elections in May will include those to the devolved institutions in Belfast, Cardiff and Edinburgh, the London mayoral election, and the police and crime commissioner elections in England and Wales. Then—just in case somebody has missed this—at the end of June we will have a rather serious referendum to decide whether this country will continue to be a member of the European Union. The Electoral Commission will play an important

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role overseeing all those elections. Personally, I do not think it would be wise for this House to say that, in addition, the commission should make the registration of overseas voters a priority. I hope and expect that the commission will continue its grand efforts of previous years in encouraging British people living overseas to register to vote, which is so important, but if there is to be a priority, surely it must be to ensure that all prospective voters who live in the UK are on the list.

The figures I have cited are alarming, but I will not mention them again, for fear of being pulled up by you, Mr Deputy Speaker. It is important, however, to recognise the changes taking place in our democracy. We have to understand that the voting process is a central plank of our democratic process, both at home and abroad.

Clause 2 proposes abolishing the current 15-year limit on an overseas voter’s ability to participate in UK elections. We have no objection to reviewing the time limits on eligibility. There is nothing sacred about the 15-year limit. It has not always been 15 years: it has been 20 years and five years in the past, but now it has settled at 15 years. As the hon. Gentleman has said, there are different rules in different countries. However, if we are to consider changing the limit, or even removing it completely, as has been argued, I do not believe that that should be done in isolation. It should happen as part of a wider review of how we can increase participation in elections in general.

The Conservative party made a manifesto commitment to abolishing the 15-year rule, and we are still waiting for the votes for life Bill to be introduced. Although we have no objection to that in principle, if we want to extend the franchise the Government should look again at giving the right to vote to 16 and 17-year-olds in this country. We should learn the lesson of what happened in Scotland, which enthused people and brought them into the parliamentary process. They felt that they were valued. We should take a leaf out of the Scottish book.

Clause 3 would give overseas voters a chance to vote online. We need to do more to make sure that our electoral process better reflects the busy lives that people lead. That could and should include trialling electronic and online voting. However, I am not wholly convinced by the hon. Gentleman’s arguments about why overseas voters should be the first to try out such a system.

We are unable to support the Bill, for the reasons I have given. I am sceptical of some of the clauses and the priority given to overseas voters, because of all our other concerns about electoral matters.

Mr Chope: I understand that this is the hon. Gentleman’s maiden Front-Bench speech on a Friday; he is making a very good fist of it, if I may say so. He says that he does not believe the Bill to be a priority, but does he not think there is something really wrong with our democracy if some 6 million British citizens are not able to participate in it? Surely that should be a top priority.

Ian Lavery: I fully understand that, but I would not categorise it as a priority. Some 7.5 million people in the UK are not registered, and since the introduction of IER a further 1.4 million people have dropped off the register. The Opposition fully agree that we need to look at encouraging participation in voting, but we do not see overseas voting as a major priority. It should be part of a concerted effort to get as many people as we

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can to vote. I am not sure that the hon. Gentleman and I are too far apart on that, other than on the question of what should be a priority.

David Morris: I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his first occasion at the Dispatch Box for the Opposition. Is the Opposition’s standpoint that they would like to see internet voting come online in the mainstream, not only in the UK but abroad?

Ian Lavery: The Labour party’s position is that we would like to investigate the potential for that. As I have just said, it is important to remember that people have busy lives and they work. As well as online voting, there are other options that we would like to look at, which could play a major role. We have to try to open it up. Perhaps we need to look at polling day. Why is it on a Thursday from 7 am until 10 pm? How long has that been the case? It is generally accepted across the Chamber that we need to look at more innovative ways to encourage people—whether overseas or in this country—to vote and to take part in the democratic process. I do not think the hon. Gentleman and I are too far apart on those issues. It is perhaps, as I mentioned to the hon. Member for Christchurch, just a case of why one should be a priority and others not.

We need to look at the question collectively and try to come up with a way to encourage people to get out there and vote. As politicians, that is really what we want. There are 5.5 million British citizens living abroad, and I think the hon. Gentleman said that only 100,000 of them were registered to vote. To be honest, the figure that I have is 20,000, so it was news to me that that number had somehow multiplied by five. I am encouraged by that, but we need to encourage people into the process, and we can do that together across parties.

John Penrose: On a point of clarification, the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that the figure was closer to 20,000 about a year or a year and a half ago, before the last general election. In the run-up to the last general election, a huge effort was made to drive up the level of overseas registration, and it was pretty successful. The trouble was that we went from an absurdly low number to a pathetically low number. We are still only on about 5% of those who are eligible to vote. The figure is massively better and we should celebrate it, but we still have a heck of a long way to go.

Ian Lavery: I thank the Minister for that point of clarification. I thought I had got my figures wrong. We have, as the Minister correctly points out, some way to go. That is the case not just overseas, but here in the UK. Millions of people who are eligible to vote are not even registered. It is an electoral crisis, and we need cross-party agreement on how we can deliver something much more democratic than what we have at the moment.

Sir Greg Knight (East Yorkshire) (Con): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that extending the franchise is no good for democracy if, in so doing, we encourage or allow fraud to take place? Does he agree, therefore, that in any widening of the franchise or in any proposal to bring forward internet use, we must make sure that it is copper-bottomed certain that fraud cannot take place?

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Ian Lavery: The right hon. Gentleman makes an extremely important point, which was also raised by the hon. Member for Christchurch. If we are to look at an alternative means of voting in whatever type of election, it has got to be copper bottomed. It has got to be so secure that it contains no mechanism for failure. It is an innovative idea and a new vision, but we have got to get it right. People feel more secure now about internet banking and lots of other things that they do on the internet, and they have to feel secure if they are to participate in that way. It is really important that we get security right from day one.

As I mentioned, the hon. Member for Christchurch is to be congratulated on raising these issues, many of which will undoubtedly come back to the House in time. In reality, the Government do not have a good record when it comes to making changes to our democracy, and with the changes to the parliamentary boundaries, I fear that that record will only deteriorate. However, as I have explained, we in the Opposition should look to work together with the Minister and his colleagues in a cross-party way to ensure that when people go to vote, they feel that they are participating in a genuinely open and fair process.

10.5 am

Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): I rise to support the Bill promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope). I am grateful to him for allowing my name to appear as one of his supporters on the back page. I commend him for his excellent speech, but I want to condemn his remark that he feels as though his Bill is premature, because I do not think it is premature at all. He has introduced the Bill to advance a manifesto commitment in a week in which the Government seem to have backtracked on several manifesto commitments, especially with regard to our pledges on the renegotiation of our settlement with the European Union. I congratulate him on the fact that his Bill is commendably short and therefore highly understandable and digestible for everyone.

Sir Greg Knight: Is my hon. Friend aware that support for the Bill goes beyond the list of names that are printed on the back of it?

Mr Hollobone: My right hon. Friend demonstrates that by his presence here today. I know that the subject of the Bill is being talked about in the pubs and clubs of Yorkshire, and he has brought the concerns of the people of Yorkshire to the House. On the south coast, where my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch comes from, the subject is the talk of the town. It is an extremely serious issue. The figures that my hon. Friend has revealed to the House will shock the nation.

Oliver Colvile: I have been down to the south of France quite a bit to talk to members of Conservatives Abroad. Believe me, this is quite a big issue for them.

Mr Hollobone: My hon. Friend’s speaking tour of the continent is famous, and I am sure will become legendary as time goes on. I have to disappoint him, however, because hedgehogs are not included in the Bill.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): I hope that the hon. Gentleman is talking about continental hedgehogs or world hedgehogs, not UK hedgehogs; otherwise he is going off the subject.

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Mr Hollobone: Hedgehogs overseas will not be eligible for registration, but I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Oliver Colvile) is committed to the issue of overseas voter registration, as I am. He will share my shock, on behalf of our constituents, at the figures that have been revealed to the House today. Will the Minister be kind enough to intervene on me in a moment to give us the total number of electors in this country, so that we can establish the proportion represented by the 6 million potential overseas voters as a percentage of the total UK electorate?

John Penrose: I think the figure is roughly 44 million. If I get more precise divine inspiration, I may help my hon. Friend out a little more, but it is that sort of ballpark figure.

Mr Hollobone: I am most grateful for that intervention, and that is the sort of figure that I had in mind. We are now aware that there are potentially 6 million British voters, in addition to the 44 million who are currently registered, who could take part in UK general elections but who are unable to do so because they are not registered. That is a shockingly large figure, and I am surprised that the Government are not giving the issue more priority. Surely, with our traditions of empire and of spreading good government and democracy around the world, we would at the very least want to encourage those 6 million British citizens who are living abroad to retain their franchise in this country and their ability to participate democratically in the future of what is still their nation. I think the nation would be very surprised by the fact that there are 6 million people living abroad whom most of us would like to take part in UK elections.

Clause 1 of this excellent Bill would enable those 6 million British citizens to take part only in

“United Kingdom Parliamentary elections if they were registered to vote”.

Although the provision is fantastic, I would want to take it further. It seems to me that it is important that British citizens living abroad should be able to take part in local government and mayoral elections if they want to do so. At the moment, an EU citizen living in this country quite rightly cannot take part in UK parliamentary elections, or at least they cannot do so yet—that may change if we decide to remain in the European Union—but they can take part in local government elections. It seems to me that British citizens, whether they live in this country or abroad, should be able to participate in all elections at every level of the democratic franchise. If I had the good fortune to end up on the Public Bill Committee, I would seek to amend clause 1(a) to extend the franchise to local government elections.

Oliver Colvile: Does my hon. Friend not recognise that local government is about delivering local services? If people do not physically live in the place where those public services are delivered, it seems to me rather strange for them to vote in local elections.

Mr Hollobone: My hon. Friend makes a fair point. However, overseas voters do not physically live in this country, but that does not mean that they are not interested in its future direction. It is true that they do

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not receive specific local government services where they last lived, they would still be interested in the future direction of their former local area. Many overseas voters also have close family relatives living in the same local government area.

That leads me to another point, which is about where overseas voters should be registered. My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch will have received, as I and I am sure most Members have received, correspondence from British pensioners living overseas about the fact that they are not entitled to the full uprating of the state pension in some countries, which is an extremely important issue. I always go back to those who contact me to ask, “Can you tell me if you were previously a resident in Kettering, because I am not sure why you’re contacting me?” For those who say that they used to live in Kettering and give me their former address, I have been very happy to take up their cause with the appropriate Minister. When overseas voters are registered, it is very important that they are registered in the last place they lived in this country. It should not be too difficult to ensure that the system works in that way.

Hon. Members have spoken about clause 3. I have concerns about internet voting. However, it is quite clear that it has never been easier to enter oneself on the electoral register on the internet, and that should encouraged for British citizens living overseas.

I was interested in the remarks of the Labour spokesman, the hon. Member for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery). I congratulate him on his debut performance on the Front Bench. How refreshing it is to see that a man of his calibre—he is closer than most of his colleagues to the beating heart of the Labour party outside the Chamber—has made his way on to the Front Bench. It seems to me that there is hope for the Labour party when Members of his quality can represent it in that way, and I think that trend should be encouraged.

On all these electoral issues, we must make sure that as many people as possible who should be able to vote actually end up doing so. We should not try to predict which way people are going to vote on any particular issue. The important point is that British overseas voters should be able to fulfil their civic duty in retaining their right to participate in the British franchise. The Bill seeks to encourage that. My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch is not premature in bringing forward the Bill. I hope that the Government will respond positively to his crusade for electoral justice, and I am sure we all look forward to hearing the Minister’s response.

10.15 am

The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (John Penrose): I join in the chorus of congratulations for my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope) on introducing the Bill. I completely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) that it is not necessarily premature. I prefer the adjectives “forward-thinking” and “far-sighted”, if I may put it that way, because my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch is absolutely right to observe that it was a manifesto commitment at the recent general election.

My hon. Friend is therefore heading in a direction that we would wholeheartedly endorse. I will take issue with the details of how he proposes to do it—I have

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concerns about the practicalities—but we are absolutely on the same page about the principle and about not dilly-dallying and shilly-shallying, or generally not according it a high priority. I want to reassure him that a great deal of work is going on at the moment. I can tell him that parliamentary draftsmen are even now beavering away at high speed on a Bill with all sorts of different possible working titles, including the overseas electors Bill and the overseas voters Bill. We are definitely not hanging around; we are moving forward with it. As he will appreciate—he will be more aware of this than most, having introduced this private Member’s Bill—many important details need to be got right if we are to enfranchise this important group. My hon. Friend the Member for Kettering is quite right to observe that this is a tremendously important extension of our franchise that will in many cases extend democratic rights to those whom people would think or expect to have the vote.

I should say up front that I was delighted to hear that the Labour party is very happy at least to consider, and has no objection to reviewing, the question of whether the rule should be set at 15 years. The hon. Member for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery) is absolutely right to observe that other countries set that time limit at different points. In fact, our country has set it at different dates in the past, so there is not necessarily a right or a wrong moment. The figure of 15 years is quite arbitrary, so I am encouraged by the fact that he is willing to participate constructively in a review.

Oliver Colvile: I thank my hon. Friend for saying that the Government wish to introduce such a Bill, but what is his timetable for producing legislation that might support much of what our hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope) is proposing?

John Penrose: I am afraid that I must fall back on the response “in due course”, to use that timeworn parliamentary phrase, rather than give my hon. Friend a firm date. However, I assure him that work is going on right now and that we are not hanging around. I will have to leave it at that, but I hope to be able to provide further clarity—in due course.

Mr Hollobone: I am enjoying the Minister’s speech hugely and I am encouraged by what he has said so far. Will he do the House a service by placing the 15-year limit in context? We have not yet heard where it comes from, who imposed it and why. There is growing consensus that it needs to be abolished.

John Penrose: As the hon. Member for Wansbeck acknowledged, the 15-year rule is a bit of a hybrid. The limit has been as low as five years and as high as 20 years. Successive Governments have extended it or narrowed it over time. I do not want to be too specific about its history. The point behind the observation of my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering is that, because the line has been moved about several times under successive Governments, it is inherently arbitrary to choose a particular length of time that people have been away. The Government made a manifesto commitment to enfranchise all British citizens, no matter how long they have been abroad, because we think that choosing

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15 years, as opposed to 14 or 16 years, is inherently like sticking a dart in a dartboard. We need to say that if British citizens maintain British citizenship that brings with it rights, obligations and a connection with this country, and that that should endure.

I am encouraged by the Labour party’s view. I welcome the fact that it is willing to embark on a review of the 15-year rule. I also welcome the hon. Member for Wansbeck’s comments about the need for a cross-party approach to driving up registration among all under-represented groups, regardless of where they live—whether they are resident in the UK or abroad. He is absolutely right to point out that there are a succession of groups who are less represented and less registered than others. His colleague, the hon. Member for Ashfield (Gloria De Piero), wrote to me recently about students. They are one of the less well-represented groups. Some black and minority ethnic communities are also less well represented. Ex-patriots are the worst of all in terms of the percentage of rates of registration—down at about 5%, as we have heard from earlier speeches. They are probably the least well represented of all the under-represented groups.

My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch and others made the point that we cannot—we would all, as politicians or democrats, be diminished if we did—proceed purely on the basis of narrow party political advantage. It is far better, as the hon. Member for Wansbeck observed, to proceed on the basis of what is right for democracy. We must proceed on a cross-party basis without working out which particular groups might be more likely to favour his party or mine. If we all drive up registration in all groups on that basis, we will improve our democratic credentials and reduce voter cynicism very dramatically. That cynicism is perhaps one of the more corrosive influences not just in reducing levels of voter registration but levels of voter turnout—people who are registered but choose not to exercise their vote. We are all familiar with that problem, and cynicism about politics, the political process and politicians is a key driver of it.

One thing we are trying to do, in improving both the registration process and the reasons for encouraging people to register, is to make registration more convenient, simpler, easier, cheaper and more efficient—what we call the plumbing of registration. We want to make it less of a hassle to get registered.

Sir Greg Knight: Will the Minister confirm to the House that he is not looking at the possibility of introducing an Australian-type requirement that people have to vote?

John Penrose: I am happy to confirm that to my right hon. Friend. He is absolutely right. That has not been part of our democratic tradition in this country. It could, of course, be decided and introduced after debate, but it was not in our party’s manifesto and it is not part of our current plans.

Mr Hollobone: On registration, a point I have made many times—it fell on deaf ears in the coalition Government; I hope that will not be the case today—is that those in almost all under-represented groups will have had some contact or multiple contacts with Government agencies of one sort or another, whether in relation to benefits, passports, applications for this or

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applications for that. Why can we not have a simple cross-governmental rule that every time somebody comes into contact with a Government agency they are asked the question, “Are you on the electoral register?” If the answer is no, they could then be told how to register.

John Penrose: My hon. Friend gave a good example with regard to pensions, saying that the Department for Work and Pensions will inevitably have a list of people to whom it is paying pensions. That one cogent example should therefore allow an opportunity to provide the kind of nudge he talks about. I can confirm that we have trialled a series of links on various Government website pages to do what he describes. We are currently investigating whether that can be extended more broadly across more Government services, so that any time anybody living abroad or in a domestic under-represented group comes into contact with the British state we can provide a nudge for them to get registered. We are looking at that extremely carefully, as it seems like it could be a very sensible way of proceeding. It may not be the whole answer—in some cases it may not be a very effective answer and in others it may be highly effective—but it is certainly something we want to pursue.

Oliver Colvile: As my hon. Friend may know, I represent a naval garrison city with a large military presence. How can we ensure that more military personnel are registered? I have to say that I have found registration levels to be very disappointing.

John Penrose: Special registration arrangements for service personnel and Crown servants are already in place. Special registration systems allow them to register in a slightly different, and I hope more convenient, way than other ex-patriots living in other parts of the world.

What we have encountered, not only in relation to service personnel and Crown servants but other ex-patriots, is that for those people living abroad who are registered to vote and have also enrolled for a postal vote, which they need to do as well, the two processes are not necessarily as linked up as they might be. They may be registered to vote but not automatically registered for a postal vote, even if they thought they were. Sometimes postal vote forms have arrived too late, depending on where they are in the world and the efficiency of the postal service. What we have tried to do more recently, therefore, is change the guidelines, in conjunction with the Electoral Commission, to ensure that postal vote forms are sent out earlier, with sufficient postage on them and so on, and that the overseas postal vote forms can in future be sent out among the earliest batches in each local constituency to make sure that the chances of them arriving in time in every part of the world are maximised. All those measures will help to drive up both registration rates and voting rates.

This issue is not just about the plumbing of registration and voting. Those things are important and I am sure we can make significant improvements to them and get more people in under-represented groups to register and, with any luck, help them to vote. This is not just about plumbing, however; it is also about poetry. There are some groups who are not registered, not because it is inconvenient or because they have not got around to it, but because they view the political process with cynicism or suspicion. Again, this is where a cross-party approach to try to enthuse, convince and persuade

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people that the answer to their cynicism about the way politics and the democratic process works is to get involved, not to avoid the whole process. If one party tried to do that on its own, it would be far less effective than if we joined hands. Indeed, it is not just up to politicians. We need to joins hands not just across the political spectrum but with civic society groups right the way across the spectrum. We are already doing some of those things. Incidentally, the Electoral Commission is also trying to work in this fashion, too. I welcome the Labour party’s offer of a cross-party approach. I absolutely and would dearly like to pursue that with it if I can. I have already mentioned this to the hon. Member for Wansbeck’s Opposition Front-Bench colleague. The hon. Member for Ashfield is not here today, but she and I have had conversations in the past. It is absolutely the right way to go.

The Electoral Commission understands the importance of not just the plumbing but the poetry, if I may use that analogy. For example, it announced in the course of the past week a collaboration with the writers of “Hollyoaks”. I understand—I hope I am not acting as a terrible plot-spoiler here, Mr Deputy Speaker—that they intend to blend through the storyline of that soap an encouragement to register and information about why it is important to register, how to register and so on. That is something I would hope we all support.

Oliver Colvile: Does my hon. Friend also recognise that “The Archers”, and not just “Hollyoaks”, has a significant part to play? It is a very good soap opera, and would it not be wonderful were it to start talking about people abroad?

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): I think it is time I joined in. Whatever we do, we are not going around the soaps. We are talking about overseas registration, not plots about registration in the UK.

John Penrose: You are absolutely right, Mr Deputy Speaker, although I would observe that many of these soaps are also watched by overseas and expatriate voters living abroad, but I shall move on before I try your patience any further.

The Bill also deals with internet voting, which is potentially a very important area. It is interesting that we all increasingly take for granted the use of the internet for more and more things. If someone said 10 years ago that a large proportion of us—if not yet a majority—would be using internet banking or shopping, people would have been very surprised, yet here we are, and it is increasingly a part of normal life in this country. If online voting is not already happening—some, like him, are already asking the question—it will certainly start to happen in due course. People will start to ask, “Why can we not vote online?” The trade union movement has already asked the question, while other organisations are starting to use internet voting for some issues.

That said, my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Oliver Colvile) rightly asked about the fraud issue, and my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch has built this into clause 3. There is an important point here about fraud prevention. While we are increasingly used to online banking and shopping, and those sorts of things, if, in those cases, something goes wrong, broadly speaking, the bank or credit or

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debit card company—or whoever it might be—will usually stand behind the transaction and take the risk from the consumer. That is perfectly acceptable for commercial transactions. The difficulty is that it is extremely hard to work out whether a vote has been intercepted and potentially subverted—switched from a vote for Labour to a vote for the Conservative party, or from an aye to a no in a referendum—especially given that we have secret ballots, which are an essential part of our democracy. At the same time, the stakes could not be higher. Clearly, stealing the government of a country is an incredibly serious issue, and one that it would be extremely hard to unpick afterwards, in the way we can unpick a faulty commercial transaction, make good the money and undertake a forensic analysis.

I am not saying we do not expect online voting to happen in due course, but I believe that the fraud issues are not yet resolved. I am sure that the technology will continue to advance and be ready at some point, and that we will have a robust and transparently solid political and democratic process that will allow this to happen, but we are not yet there. However, given the way the world is moving—it is happening in more and more areas of our lives—it would be a brave man who said it will never happen, even if, like my hon. Friend, they are not that familiar with Skype. I suspect it is a question of when, not if, but I am afraid that, at the moment at least, the answer is, “Not yet”.

I compliment my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch on introducing the Bill, and I reassure him that we are working extremely hard and hope to bring forward a Bill that will do many of the things that his proposes, including getting rid of the 15-year rule and enfranchising British citizens living abroad. In parallel to but separately from the Bill, we are trying to drive up registration among under-represented groups, including expatriates.

Sir Greg Knight: Will the Minister clarify the remarks he just made? Is he saying that internet voting is not part of the proposals the Government are currently preparing?

John Penrose: I will clarify that: it is not currently part of our proposals, because we do not yet think the technology is safe enough. We will keep the technology under continual review, and at some point there might be a democratic consensus that it has become safe enough, but that moment is not now.

To conclude, we welcome the intention behind the Bill and remain committed to the manifesto pledge.

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We will introduce our version of it, which I hope will be different in technicalities but congruent in direction with getting rid of the 15-year rule and therefore enfranchising all missing voters. In parallel, we will introduce new measures, on a cross-party basis if possible, to find those under-represented groups, whether they are overseas or domestic voters, and to drive up registration wherever we can. With that, I hope that my hon. Friend will be reassured and feel able to withdraw the Bill, while he waits for our Bill to arrive, which I hope will not be too much longer. 10.35 am

Mr Chope: I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Minister for his response, and I am delighted to hear that, even as we speak, parliamentary counsel are struggling with the detail of what I hope will be not just a Government Bill, but Government regulations to go with it, so that there is not a long gap between the Bill and the regulations. It is often much better if the draft regulations can be produced at the same time as the Bill. If that is the reason for the delay, I will be prepared to accept that, because it is much easier for the House to consider a Bill when it has the regulations—the detailed implementation scheme—before it. I can understand that it has not been possible to do that. I was disappointed with the expression “in due course”, but I can assure him that, if we have not made progress by the time of the next Queen’s Speech—whenever that might be—I shall seek to resurrect the Bill in the next Session and to keep the pressure on the Government.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) for his generous remarks, but I am not sure I agree with his views about extending clause 1 to local government elections. That would involve a complex interaction, because, at the moment, EU citizens resident here can participate in local elections—the trigger is their residence here. If we said that non-British people not resident could participate in local government elections, that would be a significant extension and might have serious implications. Before we knew it—although this will, I hope, be sorted out on 23 June—we might find the EU suggesting that its citizens should be able to participate in our general elections, which would be completely wrong.

With those remarks, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and Bill, by leave, withdrawn.

Off-shore Wind Farm Subsidies (Restriction) Bill

Order read.

Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 4 March.

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EU Membership (Audit of Costs and Benefits) Bill

Second Reading

Madam Deputy Speaker (Natascha Engel): I call Mr Chope to move the Second Reading debate on behalf of Mr Bone.

10.38 am

Mr Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Madam Deputy Speaker, I apologise on behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) for his being unable to participate in this debate. He has been waiting for the opportunity for a long time, and it is only because of a series of supervening events that he cannot be here to move the Bill’s Second Reading himself. In those circumstances, he asked me, as a co-sponsor, to move it on his behalf, which it gives me great pleasure to do.

You may be aware, Madam Deputy Speaker, that this Bill, or a Bill very similar to it, has had a long gestation. It was back in the 2007-08 Session that I brought forward a Bill, supported by my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough and other colleagues. It was entitled the European Union (Audit of Benefits and Costs of UK Membership) Bill to

“establish a Commission to carry out regular audits of the economic costs and benefits of the UK’s membership of the European Union; and for connected purposes.”

That Bill had almost a full day’s debate here on 20 June 2008.

As we start today’s debate it is worth recalling some of the comments I made when opening the previous debate. The Bill was narrower than this one, in that it dealt only with the economic costs and benefits of the UK’s membership of the European Union. I started by referring to the preface to an excellent work by Ian Milne, “A Cost Too Far?: An Analysis of the Net Economic Costs and Benefits for the UK of EU Membership”. In the foreword to that pamphlet, which was published in July 2004, the former distinguished and late Speaker Lord Weatherill stated that when he was the Conservative Government’s Deputy Chief Whip in 1972, he supported entry into the European Common Market

“on the assurance of the Prime Minister, Mr Edward Heath that ‘joining the community does not entail a loss of national identity or an erosion of essential national sovereignty.’”

Lord Weatherill went on to say that things had moved on a bit since then, and that what was important was that

“Parliamentarians now have a sacred duty honestly to explain the pros and cons of our developing relationship with the European Union. Only then can the people make an informed choice.”

Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend on putting forward this magnificent Bill and I thank him for giving me the privilege of being one of his co-sponsors. In the debate of 2008 and in the research by Ian Milne, was any prediction made that in 2016 we would be faced with a £62 billion annual deficit of trade with the European Union?

Mr Chope: The short answer is no. I do not think it was ever envisaged that the European Union would be such a manifest failure as an economic entity and would

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be unable to maintain its share of world trade. We know that since 1972, the EU share of world trade has declined significantly. We know, too, that the EU has not been growing in economic terms in the way people thought would be possible—even to the extent that we now face a situation in which half the new jobs being created in Europe are being created in the United Kingdom, while the other half are being created in the 27 other countries of the EU. When we first joined, the share of trade that the EU had with the rest of the world was significantly higher than it is now, despite the fact that at that time it had many fewer member countries. As the EU has got larger in numbers, its influence over trade in the rest of the world has declined. I do not think that any of that was anticipated by Mr Milne in his pamphlet.

Sir Greg Knight (East Yorkshire) (Con): Does not the Bill have a serious drawback if it is seeking to educate the public? Clause 6 seeks to set up a commission that will report within 12 months. If we are supporting this Bill, is not the inescapable conclusion that we are, in effect, arguing for the referendum to be put back two years?

Mr Chope: My right hon. Friend is a lawyer, so he knows that he is absolutely correct. The Bill was brought forward back in June and we did not know then what would happen. We did not know when we would get a referendum. Now we know that we are going to get a referendum so I will not ask the House to give the Bill a Second Reading today. It has been overtaken by the welcome fact that we are getting our referendum on 23 June. I hope that when that happens, we will be able to have an objective assessment of the costs and benefits of our membership, although I must say that on the basis of recent events, I am rather concerned about whether there will be such an open and objective assessment by the Government. Still, I live in hope.

Oliver Colvile (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Con): Is my hon. Friend proposing to withdraw the Bill or is he going to carry on with it?

Mr Chope: The answer to my hon. Friend is, as always, that I am going to wait and see what the Minister says in response to my Bill. I am not going to anticipate that. Discussing the Bill provides us with a chance to look at the various issues surrounding information, or lack of it, on the costs and benefits of our membership of the European Union.

Today, I am delighted that Lord Howard—Michael Howard, as he was when he was a Member of this House—has decided to join the leave campaign. I had the privilege of serving with him as a junior Minister for several years in the late 1980s so I know what a great supporter he is of the idea of Europe. What he has shown today by his decision, however, is that he is very much against us continuing to be members of a European Union that is increasingly out of touch with the needs of the people of Europe. That is a really important move, following so soon after the decision by Lord Owen to join the leave campaign.

As a further response to the point raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Sir Greg Knight), let me say that I tabled a parliamentary question to the Chancellor of the Exchequer on 1 June 2015. It said:

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“To ask Mr Chancellor of the Exchequer, if he will commission an independent audit of the economic costs and benefits of UK membership of the EU.”

Do you know what answer I got, Madam Deputy Speaker? I shall read it to the House. It said:

“The Government has a clear mandate to improve Britain’s relationship with the rest of the EU, and to reform the EU”—

I emphasise that point—

“so that it creates jobs and increases living standards for all its citizens. The Government will hold an in/out referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU by the end of 2017.”

What was the answer to the question—I hear you saying, Madam Deputy Speaker—about the economic costs and benefits of UK membership? There was no answer. Why was there no answer from the Treasury Minister? Why did the Treasury not want to answer the question? It knew that if it said “no”, it would be ridiculed; and it knew that it did not want such an audit, so it was not prepared to say yes.

Mr Hollobone: Is it not the case that Her Majesty’s Government have always been frightened of an independent objective analysis of the costs and benefits of our membership, which explains why they were so worried about the answer to my hon. Friend’s question? Only today, we have heard the latest spin from Her Majesty’s Government that, were we to leave the European Union, the pound would fall and holidays would be more expensive for those going to Europe. I always thought it was the convention of Her Majesty’s Government, and in particular the Chancellor of the Exchequer, not to comment on the future direction of exchange rates, so does this not demonstrate that we are now in an era of spin because they are frightened of independent objective assessment?

Mr Chope: As ever, my hon. Friend has made an important and, indeed, fundamental point. I would just add that it is even odder that the Government should comment on sensitive issues relating to exchange rates at the same time—on the very same day—as saying that they were not prepared to answer questions about the disparity between the number of people from the European Union who registered for national insurance numbers last year and the number of people who are alleged to have come here from the European Union to work. I believe that more than 600,000 asked for national insurance numbers, but the Government say that only about 250,000 came here in that year. When the Government were asked to explain the difference between the two figures, their answer—it is in the papers today, so it must be correct—was that it would be wrong to answer the question, because it might influence the forthcoming referendum. I am sure that the Chancellor, the Prime Minister or whoever it was who said that we would all have to pay more for our holidays did not do so in order to try to influence the outcome of the referendum.

Mr Hollobone: I disagree with my hon. Friend. They said that deliberately to try to mislead people into thinking that their holidays would become more expensive. The truth is that exchange rates go up and down, and are very difficult to predict. However, if the Government are going to start commenting on the future direction of exchange rates, should not they at least do so in a balanced way, and point out that were the pound to

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decrease in value, that would be extremely good news for hard-pressed British exporters who are seeking to sell more of our products abroad?

Mr Chope: Absolutely. That is another side of this very important argument.

I referred extempore to what the Government were reported to have said yesterday about the disparity between the figures, but let me now give the exact figures. A total of 630,000 EU citizens registered for national insurance numbers entitling them to work or claim benefits in Britain last year, yet it is said that there were only 257,000 new EU migrants. Incidentally, 209,000 of those national insurance number registrations came from residents, or citizens, of Romania and Bulgaria.

Jonathan Portes, of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, sought an explanation for this extraordinary disparity, but was told that the Government were not prepared to give more details because

“it might prejudice the outcome of the EU referendum.”

Sir Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): I am sure that it would.

Mr Chope: Well, it depends what the answer was, does it not?

This illustrates the problem that we have with the unequal use of resources and statistics. Having refused to answer the simplest of questions from me last June, the Treasury is now refusing to inquire further into what is, on the face of it, an extraordinary disparity, while at the same time making the scaremongering assertions to which my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) has referred.

The purpose of my Bill is to introduce some objectivity and independence into the whole process of evaluating the costs and benefits of our membership of the European Union. My right hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr Tyrie), the Chairman of the Treasury Committee, has launched an inquiry into the economic costs and benefits. He is doing a lot of good work, and I look forward to the publication of the report, but, having read much of the oral evidence, I note that the answer given by a great many experts, whether pro or anti-EU, is that it is extremely hard to be sure one way or the other.

During the forthcoming referendum campaign, we might be well advised to note the information that is set out so ably in House of Commons Library briefing paper 06091, which was published in January this year. According to chapter 6,

“There is no definitive study of the economic impact of the UK’s EU membership or the costs and benefits of withdrawal. Framing the aggregate impact in terms of a single number, or even irrefutably demonstrating that the net effects are positive or negative, is a formidably difficult exercise.”

Why is that?

“This is because many of the costs and benefits are subjective or intangible. It is also because a host of assumptions must be made to reach an estimate. If the UK were to leave the EU, assumptions must be made about the terms on which this would be done and how Government would fill the policy vacuum left in areas where the EU currently as competence. If the UK were to remain in the EU, assumptions would need to be made about how policy in the EU would develop.”

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That is a very important point. We often hear—and we heard from the Prime Minister this week—words to the effect that there will be no leap in the dark if we decide to stay in the European Union; it will all be as plain as a pikestaff. However, the House of Commons Library briefing clearly states that we do not know how policy in the EU would develop if we chose to remain:

“Estimates of the costs and benefits of EU membership are likely to be highly sensitive to such assumptions.”

If the Government, whose current robust line is that we must at all costs stay in the European Union, start presenting figures and data, how shall we be able to assure ourselves that those figures and data are objective? I think the answer is that we shall not be able to do that, because the figures and data will come from a biased source.

Mr Hollobone: It seems to me that, rather than trying to present independent and objective statistics and data to the British public, Her Majesty’s Government are putting increasing emphasis on spin. For example, the claim that 3 million British jobs depend on our membership of the European Union is trotted out by all those who are campaigning for us to remain in the European Union, although any objective, independent assessment demonstrates that it is a complete myth.

Mr Chope: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is only one of the figures that have been strongly criticised in evidence to the Treasury Committee. It has now been ridiculed, but can we be sure that it will not be replicated in the Government propaganda leading up to the referendum?

The House of Commons Library briefing states:

“Open Europe (2015) The Consequences, challenges & opportunities facing Britain outside the EU estimated the effect on UK GDP in 2030”—

some 15 years from now—

“of leaving the EU could potentially be in the range from -2.2% to +1.55% of GDP. However, the study argued that a more realistic range was between -0.8% and +0.6% of GDP.”

In other words, there is no significant difference either way. Yet between now and 23 June, I predict the Government will be suggesting that it is all one way and it will be an economic disaster if we have the courage and conviction to take responsibility for our own lives and our own destiny and leave the EU.

The other part of the Library paper I want to mention is a reference to a May 2014 report by Civitas on trade advantages of the EU. It found that the trade benefits of EU membership were exaggerated. Based on a study of UK exports since 1960, Civitas found that UK trade with European nations outside the EU had increased dramatically, while the UK’s trade with other EU members accounted for no more of its trade with leading economies than in 1973. That goes back to a point we were making earlier.

Mr Hollobone: Yes, we were making that point earlier, and when we joined the EU—the Common Market as it then was in 1972—we did not have a £62 billion annual trade deficit with our EU partners. Over the 44 years of our membership, the trade deficit has grown. To put this in simple terms, the EU nations are selling to us £62 billion-worth every year more than we are selling to them. So our trade with our EU partners has deteriorated over the past 44 years, not improved.

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Mr Chope: My hon. Friend is absolutely right and the figures he quotes are almost identical to those in this House of Commons Library briefing paper, which quotes figures from the Office for National Statistics balance of payments statistical bulletin. They show exactly the effect my hon. Friend describes. I wonder how much of that information we will see in the Government’s leaflets in the forthcoming campaign.

Mr Hollobone: Can my hon. Friend also confirm that, as a result of our EU membership, we have lost Britain’s seat at the World Trade Organisation? That means that we have lost our sovereign ability to negotiate friendly free trade arrangements with other countries around the world. So for example a country as small as Iceland has negotiated a friendly free trade treaty with an economic superpower like China, yet we are forbidden to do exactly the same thing because of our membership of the EU.

Mr Chope: My hon. Friend again makes a telling point. I was going to come to it later, but as he has raised it now, let us put on the record, for example, the concern many of our constituents have about TTIP, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership being negotiated between the EU and the United States. A legal opinion has been circulated to a number of us over the last 24 hours saying if TTIP goes ahead as proposed, it would potentially be disastrous for our national health service. I do not know whether that is correct or not, but there is an opinion saying that that could be the impact. Why are we relying on the EU to negotiate a trade deal with the US? Why do not we, as the fifth largest economy in the world—English-speaking, committed to free trade—make our own trade deal with the US? The short answer is we are not allowed to do so until we leave the EU.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): I wholeheartedly agree with what my hon. Friend is saying. On TTIP, does he agree that the following is an interesting factor in any cost-benefit analysis? We are always told that if we want a free trade agreement with the EU, we will have to accept free movement of people. Does he think America will accept the free movement of people—of all EU citizens—into the United States when it signs its free trade agreement with the EU?

Mr Chope: My hon. Friend makes a good point—

Sir Edward Leigh: Or Canada, which has an agreement.

Mr Chope: As my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) suggests, in north America has its own North American Free Trade Agreement, which brings Canada, Mexico and the United States together. However, as Donald Trump and many others would bear witness, under that there is no free movement of people between Mexico and the US or between Canada and US, but there is still a free trade agreement.

Sir Edward Leigh: More than that, Canada has an agreement with the EU on trade and there is no free movement of EU nationals into Canada.

Mr Chope: Absolutely, and I look forward to hearing what my hon. Friend has to say if he is able to catch your eye later on, Madam Deputy Speaker.

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Mr Hollobone: My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point about TTIP. He will have received letters and emails from constituents, as have I, expressing very real concern that the 28 additional words we need in the agreement to protect our NHS are not in the draft TTIP terms. Just to make it crystal clear, were we to leave the EU, we could negotiate such an agreement with the US and include in the agreement, under our new sovereign capabilities, those crucial 28 words that all the TTIP campaigners would like to see.

Mr Chope: Exactly, and if we did not include them we could be held to account by our constituents in this House for having let them down. At the moment we can just say, “Well, it’s beyond our control; we haven’t got any influence over this.”

Oliver Colvile (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Con): Will my hon. Friend just explain then how long he thinks that might take given the time it has taken to get to the position we are in at the moment?

Mr Chope: That is interesting. I was at a meeting the week before last with a group of people from the US Senate and Congress who were interested in the subject of TTIP. I was invited to take the chair of this gathering, and one of the first questions I asked was how many of these people thought TTIP was going to be resolved by the end of this year. The answer was zero.

What we were told when the Prime Minister launched this initiative in 2013 was that we would get this sorted out before the end of the Obama presidency; it is absolutely clear we are not going to get it sorted out before then. So I then asked the same gathering of people how many of them thought it would be sorted out by the end of next year. Again, nobody thought that. Basically, the message coming from these people who are very well connected on Capitol Hill was that TTIP is very much in the long grass as far as the US is concerned because of the difficulties being put in the negotiations by the European Union, which is trying to maintain the protectionism that is still espoused by so many members of the EU and that is not compatible with what the US wants. So in answer to my hon. Friend’s question about how long a resolution would take, my view is that we would get a bilateral trade agreement between the UK and the US one heck of a sight quicker than we are ever going to get a trade deal between the EU and the US.

Mr Hollobone: To extend that principle into a future where Britain is outside the EU, given that we are already 100% compliant with all the EU obligations, should it not be possible to negotiate a free trade agreement between Britain and the EU in double-quick time after our EU exit?

Mr Chope: Absolutely. The fall-back position if we did not negotiate such a deal would be that we would have a continuing relationship on WTO rules, which are signed up to by the EU. So any suggestion that there would be a complete curtailment of trade between us and the EU when we leave is absurd. Why would the EU not want to sign up very quickly with the UK? They are selling us more than we are selling them, so it must be in their interests to try to maintain those connections. Tellingly, and disappointingly, in addressing this point in Monday’s statement the Prime Minister did not talk in absolute terms. Instead of facing up to the fact that

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we sell less to the European Union than it sells to us, he started talking in percentage terms. That is completely misleading because we are but one of 28 countries in the EU, so if we start talking about the percentage of EU exports that come to us compared with the percentage of our exports that go to the EU, we will present a distorted picture. It was very sad that the Prime Minister chose not to use the absolute figures and instead resorted to such misleading percentages.

Philip Davies: We are also told that if we had a free trade agreement with the EU, we would still have to have all our laws decided by the European Union. When my hon. Friend had his discussions with his American friends, did he become aware of whether the Americans were going to accept their law being changed for them by the European Union, by qualified majority voting, when they entered into their free trade agreement with it?

Mr Chope: We did not get down to that sort of detail, because the feeling was that we are a long way apart on this. There is also a feeling that there is a lot more commonality between the British people and the people of the United States; we share a common language, the common law and a common heritage, and that is very different from the approach of so many other EU countries. On the basis that we have this special relationship with the US, we would be able to prosper and develop our trade together through bilateral open trading arrangements far more effectively than is being done at the moment with the EU. That is an important factor to take into account when assessing the costs and benefits of membership.

I am conscious of the fact that a number of other people wish to participate in this debate, so I will not say much more now. I merely wish to point out that my Bill proposes terms of reference, whereby the independent commission that would be set up to examine the current costs and benefits would be

“taking into account the impact of membership on the UK’s—

(a) economy (including consideration of public expenditure and receipts resulting directly from membership”).

Of course, we know that in round figures we are paying in about £10 billion more than we get back every year. Interestingly, in yesterday’s statement on the EU solidarity fund and flooding the Minister made much of the fact that we would be applying to get some money back from the fund but he did not think this would amount to anything more, at best, than about the equivalent of one day’s net contributions to the EU. He admitted that even getting back one day’s net contribution would involve an enormous amount of bureaucracy on both sides, which typifies the costs at the moment and how unfair it is that our people should be paying £10 billion net a year to the EU.

Sir Greg Knight: My hon. Friend made a prediction earlier. Will he comment on my prediction that if this country is misguided enough to vote to remain in the EU, within a few months our contribution to the EU will go up, because it is totally incapable of keeping within existing programmes and budgets?

Mr Chope: I agree absolutely with my right hon. Friend, who brings an enormous amount of experience, not only as a former trade Minister, but as a former

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Deputy Chief Whip. I am delighted that he is playing a key part in the leave campaign. What is happening in Europe to deal with the migration crisis is breath-taking in its incompetence. We are talking about a major cost; this crisis will potentially cost the EU a fortune. Who will have to contribute to those costs if we remain in the EU? It is none other than the British taxpayer. I think my right hon. Friend’s prediction is right, but I hope we will never see whether it comes to pass because by then we will have left the EU.

Mr Hollobone: Ten billion pounds sounds like an enormous figure, and it is, but people often struggle to deal with figures when they get so big, so let me place it into a local context. In Kettering, we are struggling to get £30 million for an improvement to Kettering general hospital and the development of an urgent care hub on the site there. That sum is less than one day’s subscription to the EU but we are having a really difficult job getting even that small a sum out of the Treasury. Imagine what we could do with £10 billion to spend on important public services across our country, providing hospitals, schools, doctors, police officers and nurses.

Mr Chope: Exactly. My hon. Friend makes the point brilliantly. One thing the Treasury is apparently willing to help on is the cost of vellum; I believe it is offering to pay £30,000 a year. That is the way the Treasury works.

Sir Edward Leigh: Worth every penny.

Mr Chope: I am not commenting on that, but we will have plenty of £30,000 sums to spend when we leave.

Clause 5(b) talks about taking into account our

“competitiveness and ability to trade freely (including consideration of the UK’s restricted ability to negotiate trade agreements and to engage in free trade with other countries)”.

I have already covered that. Subsection (c) then deals with the issue of

“national security and defence (including the UK’s ability to decide which non-nationals should be allowed to reside in the UK)”.

That is a very big subject and I suspect some of my colleagues will wish to go into it in a bit more detail. At the moment, we do not have any control over non-nationals from the EU coming into our country. The figures published yesterday show a massive increase in net migration—it was again more than 300,000 in the year to September 2015.

We all supported the Prime Minister and the Conservative party manifesto on the promise in 2010, in a pledge repeated during the last election campaign, that we would bring net migration in the UK down to the tens of thousands. I looked today in the press to see what the Prime Minister’s response was to the latest net migration figures, which show that more than 300,000 people came in that year period, 257,000 of whom came from the EU. If we were going to get the figure down to the tens of thousands and even if we prevented anybody from coming to this country from anywhere other than the EU, we would still have to reduce the number of people coming from the EU by about two thirds—from 257,000 to just less than 100,000. With the most heroic assumptions, how is it possible to say that the very modest measures contained in the package that came back from the negotiations in Brussels could ever deliver a reduction of 157,000 EU migrants a year?

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Mr Hollobone: Is this not the crucial point for people who voted Conservative at the last election on the basis of that manifesto pledge to cut immigration to tens of thousands? The truth is that that objective will simply be unattainable while we remain a member of the EU, so the only way to solve this is to vote to leave on 23 June.

Mr Chope: Exactly. If we ask whether the Government have any idea how we could achieve that without leaving, I am sure we will be told that we cannot have any more information because it might prejudice the outcome of the referendum.

It is not just the numbers; there is also an associated cost. I refer to the document called “The best of both worlds”. There is a problem with the title of that document. I believe in one world, and the people who are defending our position in the European Union seem to be under the illusion that there is more than one world. There is just one world, and we can be the masters of our own destiny in that world if we are released from being in the European Union.

Mr Hollobone: Maybe some members of the Government are living on a different planet.

Mr Chope: My hon. Friend makes the point in his own inimitable way. Perhaps that should be the subject of a parliamentary question in due course.

The document entitled “The best of both worlds” refers in paragraph 2.103 to the costs of the migration coming in. It has been pretty difficult to get hold of this information, but it has at last been wrung out of the Government. The document states:

“On average, families with a recent EEA migrant claim almost £6,000 per year in tax credits”.

If a million EU migrants have come in during the past four or five years, as we know from the latest figures, and over 40% of those are claiming tax credits, the cost of that is 400,000 multiplied by £6,000 per year. That is a lot of money, and that is just the cost of in-work benefits to non-UK citizens from the European Union. That creates pressure on our public services, such as health and schools. I saw in the Evening Standard last night how many people will not be able to get their children into the school of their choice in London in the coming year because of the increased population.

All the issues have a bearing on the question whether it is in our best interests to leave the European Union. Having done research such as I have, I am in no doubt that it would be in the best interests of the United Kingdom to leave the European Union. The purpose of this Bill is to ensure that the Government put forward objective figures in relation to the issue, rather than figures that are based on prejudice.

11.22 am

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope) who, as ever, has put his case persuasively. I did not need much persuasion, as it happens, but if I had, he would certainly have persuaded me of the case that he made.

I shall focus on a few aspects of the Bill. One part that needs stressing is the independence that the Bill asks for any cost-benefit analysis. My fear is that over

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the next few months we will hear the Government say—we may even hear it from the Minister today—that they will do a cost-benefit analysis of our membership of the European Union, and, as we have been calling for that, we should be placated by that assurance. But we are not asking just for the Government’s cost-benefit analysis of our membership of the European Union. We already know the Government’s view of that, and I have no confidence at all in the Government producing an objective cost-benefit analysis. They will resort to all kinds of dodgy figures, spin, presumptions and so on, and we will no doubt end up being told that the benefits of being in the EU are enormous and the costs are negligible, and vice versa were we to leave.

I have no doubt that that is what the Government would do. We have only just started the referendum campaign and already some rather strange arguments have started to develop. I will come on to some of those shortly. The key part of the Bill, which I hope the Minister will take away with him for when the Government pull their cost-benefit analysis out of the hat, relates to the appointment of the commission that carries out the analysis. The Bill calls for a balance between those members of the commission in favour of remaining and those in favour of leaving the EU, with an equal number on either side. The chairman should be broadly neutral, and no member should be or have been a Member of the European Parliament or an employee of the European Commission, whose pension would therefore be dependent on our membership of the European Union.

Those are not unreasonable proposals. Most people would say that that is a reasonable basis for carrying out a cost-benefit analysis. If the Minister thinks that saying that the Government intend to conduct a cost-benefit analysis will satisfy us, it will not. We want some guarantee of the independence of the people involved, and only at that point will I be satisfied.

I was intrigued by what my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch said about the questions that he has posed to Treasury Ministers, and not getting an answer to the question, but a different answer altogether. Funnily enough, I asked the Chancellor a question in the Chamber a while ago. I thought it was quite a patsy question. As far as I could see, I was giving him a great opportunity to sell the benefits. I asked him in June last year to outline what exactly we get from our £19 billion membership fee to the European Union. Here was a great opportunity for the Chancellor to stand at the Dispatch Box and reel off a huge number of benefits that we get for our £19 billion membership fee. I could not have asked a more helpful question.

David Morris (Morecambe and Lunesdale) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that £19 billion is an inaccurate figure? It has recently been reported in the press that our membership of the EU costs up to £120 billion. The point of this debate is to try to find out exactly what our direct membership fees are to the EU and what benefits we get back from it.

Philip Davies: My hon. Friend is right. I have taken the figure from the Office for Budget Responsibility, which publishes the figures in the Treasury Red Book. It states that our gross contribution is around £19 billion

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a year. The EU generously gives us back some of that money—a very small amount—as a rebate. That has been a diminishing amount since the Labour Government gave up much of our rebate for nothing in years gone by, but the gross figure that we hand over each year is £19 billion.

In answer to my question, the Chancellor said:

“I certainly commend my hon. Friend for his consistency. I remember that in his maiden speech he made the case for Britain leaving the European Union, and he will of course have his opportunity in the referendum. I would say that this is precisely the judgment that the British people and this Parliament have to make: what are the economic benefits of our European Union membership, such as the single market, and what would be the alternative? That will be part of the lively debate, and as I say, the Treasury will be fully involved in that debate.”—[Official Report, 16 June 2015; Vol. 597, c. 165.]

As far as I could see—people can make their own interpretation of the Chancellor’s reply—he could not give one single example of what we got back for our £19 billion membership fee. He knows, presumably, as he is a canny kind of fellow, that he could not say that we get free trade for our £19 billion a year, because he presumably knows, just as the rest of us know, for the reasons set out by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch, that given that we have a £62 billion trade deficit with the EU, we would be able to trade freely with the EU if we were to leave.

David Morris: Hypothetically, if we did come out of the EU, what would happen to the £62 billion trade deficit? Does my hon. Friend have any idea how we would be able to pay Europe back, or vice versa?

Philip Davies: I suspect that, in the short term, not a fat lot would happen to the £62 billion trade deficit with the EU, as we would pretty much carry on in the same way. We would keep trading with it, and it would keep trading with us. I tried to check that out. I asked the Prime Minister, after one of his European Council meetings, whether he had had any discussions with Angela Merkel that would indicate that, if we were to leave the EU, she would want her country to stop selling BMWs, Mercedes, Volkswagens and Audis free of tariff to the UK. The Prime Minister did not say anything at all about that, so I presumed that he had not heard anything. Given his determination that we should stay in the EU, I am sure that, if he had had any inkling at all that the Germans were not going to continue selling us their cars free of tariff, he would have been more than happy to put it on the public record. As people can see from his answer, it appears that he had had no such indication from the German Government that they would stop trading freely with us.

Sir Edward Leigh: The answer to my hon. Friend’s question is simple: if we left the EU, we would not have to pay a £10 billion a year subscription just to have a £70 billion a year deficit.

Philip Davies: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. At the end of the day, what this boils down to is people’s confidence in their negotiating abilities. I used to work for Asda, and I fear that, if some of my hon. Friends had been our buyers and had used their negotiating skills, we would have gone bust. In effect, what many my colleagues are saying—and what Labour Members

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are saying—is that we have a £62 billion trade deficit, but we do not think that we can negotiate a free trade agreement without handing over a huge membership fee every single year. That is the easiest negotiation known to mankind. If they cannot negotiate that deal, what on earth can these people negotiate? If the Prime Minister were to claim that he could not negotiate a free trade deal with the EU based on that trade deficit every year—I am sure that he will not say that because he claims to be a good negotiator—he would not be fit to lead this country into those negotiations. That is what I would say to anybody who aspires to such a role.

Mr Hollobone: Is not my hon. Friend’s point exactly right and enhanced by the fact that we already by definition meet 100% of the EU’s requirements for a free trade deal because we are part of the single market? Once we are outside the European Union, it should be relatively straightforward, given that we are the fifth largest economy in the world, to come up with terms.

Philip Davies: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The point he makes is self-evident, and I am sure that it will be self-evident to the British public.

When we look at the terms of reference of our cost-benefit analysis, the areas that the Bill asks the Government to consider are the economy, trade, national security, further regulation, and sovereignty.

David Morris: What I want to clarify is this: if we are the fifth largest economy in the world, how much is that down to trading with Europe, and how much does that contribute to us being the fifth largest economy in the world?

Philip Davies: It is not a question of “if”—we are the fifth largest economy in the world. That is a matter not of hypothesis or aspiration, but of fact. We are the fifth largest economy in the world, and therefore, clearly, we are in a very good position to negotiate trade deals. I am not sure that there is any country in the world that would not want to have a trade deal with the fifth largest economy in the world.

Interestingly, the people who are so anxious for us to stay in make what they think is the killer point that 44% of our exports go to the European Union and that only a very tiny proportion goes to the emerging economies of the BRIC—Brazil, Russia, India and China—nations. We should not boast about that; we should be deeply concerned. The fact is that we have got ourselves shackled to a declining part of the world’s economy. That is the problem for the remain campaigners. According to figures from the House of Commons Library, when we joined the European Union, the countries that make up the EU now account for a third of the world economy. By 2020, that will be 20%, by 2030 17% and by 2050 13%. We should bear in mind, too, that we are 4% of the world economy. If we were to leave the European Union we would take off the 4% that we represent, which would mean that the EU would be 9% of the world’s economy. Some people think that it is great that so much of our trade is dependent on being shackled to such a group, but I think that is something that we should be deeply concerned about. It is a matter of great shame that we have such a low proportion of

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trade with the growing parts of the world economy, which is why it is so important that we leave the European Union. We need to leave this declining market and start building up our trade with all the growing parts of the world economy. That is what we should be doing.

Mr Hollobone: The world’s largest economies in order are: China, America, Japan, Germany and Britain. Were we to leave the European Union, there is every chance that we could overtake Germany and move into fourth place. We could negotiate on our own terms, with our seat back at the World Trade Organisation, friendly free trade agreements with growing economies such as China and India, and all those old Commonwealth countries that we effectively abandoned in 1972.

Philip Davies: My hon. Friend is absolutely right about that. We are always told that the EU is the biggest single market in the world. What is not said is that it would not be if we were to leave. It is only the biggest single market in the world largely because we are a member of it. If we were to leave it, it certainly would not be. Nobody ever mentions that particular point.

Interestingly, a briefing from the House of Commons Library said that if we were to leave the European Union, the UK would be the EU’s single biggest export market—bigger than China, America and anywhere else in the world. Why on earth would the EU not want to do a free trade deal with its single biggest export market? Of course it would. Anybody who tries to suggest otherwise is either completely crackers or is deliberately misleading people. It is palpably clear that that would not be the case.

The case in terms of the economy and trade is very clear. Competitiveness is one of the key points. My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch touched on that when he said that staying in the EU was a leap into the dark. Of course, it is just that. We pool our sovereignty in many areas because we sign lots of treaties, but when we sign treaties with other countries, that treaty agreement tends to stay the same; the nature of it does not change in any shape or form unless we agree to it. That is how treaties tend to work. But our membership of the European Union is based on a treaty that does not work like that. What happens is that, every so often, the European Commission, which is completely unelected and unaccountable to anybody, proposes new legislation. We think that it is completely ridiculous. In any other normal kind of treaty relationship, we would not be susceptible to it unless we agreed to it. With the EU, we are being asked to sign up to changes on a monthly basis based on qualified majority voting where we get outvoted in the Council of Ministers. If we vote to remain in the EU, we are not signing up to the status quo; the European Union does not do the status quo. The EU is always trying to introduce new regulations, new burdens on business, and new protectionist measures to protect its failing businesses, to protect French farmers and all the rest of it. Effectively, we are signing up to something about which we know little. We have no idea where it ends and what measures will be introduced as a result of it.

David Morris: As far as I am aware—I have been out to Brussels and done battle with the bureaucrats there—the problems are to do with not what Europe gives to us,

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but how ineffectively it is scrutinised when it comes here. A lot of the problems that we have are lost in translation. For example, there was a proposition to stop women wearing high heels in hairdressing salons, and that legislative measure spread to town halls, and perhaps even to shiny floors here in Parliament. When we drilled down into the detail, however, it was a mis-translation that eventually got the whole thing thrown out. Does my hon. Friend agree that more scrutiny should be given to European issues in Parliament and in Committees, and that more Committees should be set up should we vote to stay in the EU at the referendum?

Philip Davies: There is not much point in spending hours and hours scrutinising legislation that we have no ability to amend or change in any way. It does not matter how much time we spend scrutinising it; we are still susceptible to it, so I cannot see that there is a great deal of point in doing that. If my hon. Friend is right and a lot of the problems in this country are created by bad translations of European legislation, that is another good reason why we should leave the European Union, so that all our laws can be decided in this place and written in English so that we understand them. I am pleased that he has given us yet another reason—one I had not thought of—for leaving the European Union. His intervention is welcome.

Mr Hollobone: An extension of that argument is the imposition of VAT on key products in this country, and a lot of fuss has been made about the fact that we cannot cancel the 5% VAT on domestic fuel, which has a big impact on low-income households. Recently, a very big fuss was made about VAT on women’s sanitary products. The British Parliament and Government are unable to remove VAT on those items without the consent of the European Union. If people want such situations to change, surely the message is clear: vote to leave on 23 June.

Philip Davies: My hon. Friend is right, and we have a ridiculous situation. We are supposed to be a proud nation, and in that debate on sanitary products, everybody in the House agreed that it was inappropriate for VAT be levied on them. If we were a properly sovereign nation outside the EU, that could be mended in a flash in the forthcoming Budget. In mid-March, the Chancellor could announce that VAT on sanitary products will be ended, and that would be the end of the situation. Instead we are left as a proud nation that resorts to a Treasury Minister saying, “I will commit to go and ask the EU if it will give us permission to do something. It will be hard. It might not want us to do this, so I cannot promise anything, but I will do my best and have a word.” What a situation we are in when we in this country are unable to make such decisions for ourselves.

My constituency suffered terribly from the floods over Christmas, and one of the worst affected places was the Bradford rowing club, which has to spend tens of thousands of pounds repairing the damage. It has to pay VAT on those repairs. I wrote to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and said that given the extenuating circumstances, it would be a decent gesture for him to waive VAT on the repairs caused by that flooding. What was the answer? That the Chancellor’s hands are tied

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and he does not have the ability to waive VAT because that matter is decided by the European Union. Therefore, 20% will be added to the bill of my rowing club for the repairs from the flooding, and we cannot make decisions on VAT ourselves because they are decided for us by the European Union. It is funny how we never hear that from the remain campaigners. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale (David Morris) will defend that situation.

David Morris: I will defend that because VAT is the sole domain of HMRC and not the Chancellor of the Exchequer—I know because I had a similar problem in my constituency. Perhaps my hon. Friend will consider the point about sanitary products. I agree that we should not be paying VAT on them, but because of our special relationship in Europe, my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Will Quince)—sadly, he is not in his place today—found a way around that VAT going to Europe, so that it now goes to charities. Does he agree that that was a good move?

Philip Davies: That had nothing to do with a special status, and neither does it benefit the consumer who still has to pay VAT on the sanitary products that they buy. Where the money ends up is of no benefit to the consumer whatsoever; it just means that it does not benefit the Treasury directly.

Mr Hollobone: As I understand it, VAT is still paid on the sanitary products and it still goes to Brussels, but the Chancellor is paying the equivalent sum of money to charities. We are effectively paying twice as much as we would if we had sovereignty.

Philip Davies: My hon. Friend makes his point well, as always, but we should not be in this situation. Such decisions should be taken in this House for the benefit of our constituents, but they are not.

We are signing up to a treaty, and the EU is saying to us, “You sign the treaty, and if we want to change things against your wishes, we have the freedom to do so through qualified majority voting.” If I said to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, “Let’s sign a deal on something, but by the way, I can change the terms at any time, and there is nothing you can do to stop me”, I do not think you would sign up to it—nobody would sign up to such a deal, but that is in effect what we are being asked to sign up to in the EU referendum if we vote to remain.

Mr Chope: My hon. Friend has not mentioned the part of the deal that states that we will now lose the little influence that we had in the past in relation to the deeper integration of the eurozone. For example, we will not be able to argue that Greece would be better off outside the eurozone, or have any influence on the consequences of a sclerotic eurozone being uncompetitive, and the result that that leads to of more people from the eurozone wanting to work in our country.

Philip Davies: My hon. Friend is right. I have already covered economic and trade matters and regulations, and I know that other people want to speak so I shall not go on for too long. National security and immigration are crucial issues that are mentioned in clause 5 of the Bill. National security is a key area, and the remain campaign seems to think that it is one of its trump

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cards, and that we are more secure and safer from terrorist attacks within the European Union. I would love them to go and tell the people of Paris how much safer they were from terrorist attacks as a result of being in the European Union, but I suspect they would not get particularly far.

Last night in a debate at York University we hit a new low in the tactics of the remain campaign. I was making the point that we cannot stop people coming into the UK from the EU if they have a valid EU passport, and that that applied to everybody, whether law-abiding people or criminals. But would you believe what the remain campaign announced last night? Perhaps the Minister can confirm it. I am on the Justice Committee, but I was not aware of it. It emerged last night during the debate that, apparently, when an EU national comes to the UK, our robust border controls mean that we check who people are. Apparently, when passports are scanned—this was a new one on me—it flags up whether or not a person has criminal convictions in their home nation, which enables us to stop them from entering the United Kingdom. If only that were the case. The most generous thing I can say about that claim is that it is an absolutely blatant lie, because no system exists across the European Union to scan passports, trigger a huge list of criminal convictions and enable us to stop people coming into the country. That claim is simply untrue—I cannot be any clearer than that. The Minister may want to confirm or deny that when he comments, but let us please have an honest debate about these things. That system does not exist.

Mark Tami (Alyn and Deeside) (Lab): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Philip Davies: Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will repeat that claim.

Mark Tami: I am not going to repeat it. However, the hon. Gentleman should make it clear that a lot of terrorism is actually home-grown. We should not suggest that this is just about people coming from outside—the UK faces a much bigger problem than that.

Philip Davies: I invite people to look at the transcript of what I said—I am not sure I did say that terrorism came only from other parts of the European Union and that it could not be home-grown. Of course it can be—it is both. We cannot stop British people from living in Britain, and I do not think that anybody has ever proposed that we should, but the fact that we have home-grown terrorists is surely no reason to let in people from other countries who may want to cause us harm.

If people think that this robust system is in place, perhaps they would like to explain why so many crimes in the UK each year are committed by EU nationals and why the UK prison population of EU nationals has gone through the roof since we had free movement of people. The reason why it has gone through the roof since we had free movement of people is that a lot of those people have taken advantage of that arrangement to come here to commit their crimes. That is the fact of the matter; it may be an inconvenient fact, but nobody can deny that that is what has happened.

Every quarter, the Ministry of Justice publishes the prison population figures broken down by nationality.

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I invite anybody to look back over a few years at the figures for each nationality, because they will see a huge increase in the number of EU nationals in our prisons. That is because these people are coming to the UK under the free movement of people to commit crimes. As a result, we are creating lots of unnecessary victims of crime in the UK. People who want to remain in the EU should be honest about the fact that that is one of the downsides. They should not pretend that there is some miracle passport control system that stops these people coming into the UK, which, as I say, is a blatant lie.

David Morris: I wish there were a passport control system that could vet these people coming into the country, but does my hon. Friend not agree that the Prime Minister, in his renegotiations, has secured easier ways to deport these criminals and, may I add, to stop them coming into the country?

Philip Davies: No, I do not accept that at all. The Prime Minister has done absolutely nothing to stop these people coming into the UK—literally nothing. There is nothing in place to stop them; there are a few people on a watch list whom we can stop coming into the UK, but they would be on a watch list whether we were in the EU or outside it. We need to develop a watch list for people from around the world, because this is not an EU issue. We can already stop those people coming to the UK, and we would always be able to stop them coming to the UK, if they are on a terrorist watch list. I am talking about the thousands and thousands of criminals who are unknown to the British authorities, who come through every week on an EU passport to commit their crimes. When I was out with West Yorkshire police a few years ago—this might seem fanciful, and it seemed fanciful to me when I first heard it—they told me they had a problem with people getting a short-haul flight from other EU countries to Leeds Bradford airport, going out into Leeds city centre and committing high-value crimes and robberies, and then being back on the plane out to their country of origin before the police have even finished investigating the crime. I had not even thought that that type of thing could happen, but West Yorkshire police told me that that was a serious concern for them.

Of course, it is easy for people do these things while we are in the EU—there is nothing to prevent them from coming here. They are known to their own national law enforcement agencies, so they are at risk of being apprehended in their own countries. It is much easier for them to commit crimes in the UK, where they are not known to anybody—they can come in and go out in a flash. We have to be aware that these are problems.

Sir Edward Leigh: To be absolutely fair—we should be fair, and that is why we need an independent audit—our own crooks can presumably do the same in those other countries?

Philip Davies: Yes, indeed. My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The problem is that there are much richer pickings in the UK than in some of the countries these people come from.

The other aspect of this is that, even if these people run the risk of being caught, they would, I suspect, much prefer to spend their time in a British prison than

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in a prison in their home nation. So this is a win-win, given their chances of being caught and what happens when they are caught. I am afraid that that does not quite work the same in reverse.

Mr Chope: When I visited Denmark with a Select Committee in the last Parliament, we heard directly from the Danish about the problem they have with eastern Europeans coming into Denmark and committing crimes. If those people are convicted of those crimes, they will earn more in prison than they would have been able to earn in their home country, so there is no deterrent.

Philip Davies: That is another interesting point I had not factored in. I will bow to my hon. Friend’s superior knowledge. I have visited prisons in Denmark, and that is not something I was aware of, so I am grateful to him for putting that point on the record.

Suggesting that our national security is enhanced by being in the EU, when we let thousands of EU criminals in every year, is fanciful in the extreme. Being susceptible to crime from such individuals is doing nothing at all for the security of my constituents.

Mr Chope: May I give my hon. Friend an example of where our security is much worse as a result of being in the European Union? People from outside who come into the European Union at the moment often do not give their fingerprints, as they should. I suggested that we take DNA samples from people coming from outside, but I was told that that is unlawful under the Eurodac regulations, so we cannot take that precaution.

Philip Davies: My hon. Friend is absolutely right about that. I very much agree that people wanting to come and live in the EU should have to give their fingerprints and DNA, so that if they do commit a crime, it is easy to track them down, convict them and deport them. As he says, however, that is not what happens. The best the Government have come up with so far is that if somebody comes into the UK and commits a crime, the police can go through some burdensome procedure of asking other EU countries whether they have a fingerprint match for a crime that has been committed there. If those countries ever manage to get back to us, which they probably do not half the time, Lord knows what may happen on the back of that. However, that is not the same as stopping people who are criminals coming into the UK.

David Morris: I am listening intently to my hon. Friend’s eloquent arguments about letting people into the country. Will he clarify whether these are people coming into the EU from nations outside the EU? As I understand it, the security systems between the EU bloc and Great Britain are seamless and can interface with, say, the databases of the French and the German authorities, but where people are coming into the EU, we have to get the co-operation of the country they are coming from. If we came out of the EU, would we have to do the same procedure in reverse?

Philip Davies: I am not entirely sure what my hon. Friend is driving at. At the moment, if somebody comes to the UK from outside the EU, we do not have to let

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them in, whereas if they are an EU citizen, we pretty much do have to let them in. It does not matter how suspicious we are of their motives—that is irrelevant. I want the more robust immigration policy that we are allowed for non-EU nationals to apply to EU nationals too. Nobody is saying that we do not want anybody to come into the UK from the EU, but I would rather we had some choice as to who we allow in. It is a great privilege to come into the UK. We should make sure that it is indeed a great privilege and that we are not just letting any old person into the country, which is the situation at the moment.

On sovereignty, it cannot be right that people making so many of our laws are unelected and completely unaccountable to anybody. The remain campaigners say, “Well, of course we have a European Parliament to scrutinise all these laws.” First, Members of the European Parliament who represent the UK are a tiny proportion of the total, so even if every single UK MEP voted against something, there is no guarantee that it would make any difference whatsoever. Secondly, if, in this country, the Government were permanently in office and the only people elected were the MPs scrutinising the decisions they were making, that would be a bizarre situation and there would be uproar. Yet the justification for having the European Commission, unelected and unaccountable, initiating all the legislation, which is the role of Governments in most national Parliaments, is that MEPs are elected. It is unbelievable that anybody can justify that kind of democratic situation. When we sign treaties with other countries, that is the end of it—the position does not get changed every five minutes by qualified majority voting, with things being imposed on us against our wishes. That is not how treaties work, but it is how our relationship with the European Union works.

We are told that we have a lot of influence in the EU. That argument was completely demolished by my right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr Lilley) in his contribution to the Prime Minister’s statement on Monday. He pointed out that a freedom of information request showed that over the past two decades there had been a definitive vote in the European Council 72 times and that we had been outvoted 72 times. So on Monday the idea that we are wielding this huge influence in the European Union was clearly demolished. It was shown to be a complete load of old codswallop. It is an illusion of influence. We do not have any influence; we are having discussions around a table and being outvoted at every single turn, as Ministers who attend these things know to their cost.

We are told that the US wants us to stay in the EU and that that is a reason why we should. I do not doubt that it is in the United States’ best interests that we stay in the European Union, because we add a bit of common sense to it and it does not want the French, who are very anti-American, having even more power. If it is so important for the Americans that we stay in the European Union, perhaps they will pay our £18 billion membership fee each year for us. I look forward to President Obama making that offer when he comes to campaign in the referendum. I am sure that amount would be a drop in the ocean for the United States.

Mr Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset) (Con): Let me bring to my hon. Friend’s attention the fact that the person representing the United States Government

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who has called for us to stay is John Kerry, a former senator, who in the 1980s showed himself to be no friend of the United Kingdom but a sympathiser with the IRA when he held up a treaty allowing for the deportation of IRA activists from the United States to the United Kingdom, saying that the justice system in Northern Ireland did not work effectively. He is no friend of Britain and has been in the past a terrorist sympathiser.

Philip Davies: I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for bringing that to the House’s attention. With friends like that in the United States, I suspect we do not need many enemies.

I am prepared to accept that it may be in the best interests of the United States that we stay in the European Union. I am not going to question that for one minute, and I am sure that if I was an American I would probably be arguing the same. However, we should be making decisions that are in the best interests of the United Kingdom, not of the United States, which is big enough and bad enough to look after its own interests.

I look forward to a truly independent cost-benefit analysis that takes into account the points that my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch has made and some of the points that I have made. Any cost-benefit analysis that ignores those points that have been raised today is not worth the paper it is written on. I say to the Minister that, if anybody in the Government is working on some bogus cost-benefit analysis that they think is going to work in hoodwinking the British public, I hope he will insist that it takes into account the points we have raised today.

Crucially, the membership of any committee that puts together a cost-benefit analysis must correspond to that insisted upon by this Bill, which calls for a balance of people who are in favour of and people who are against the UK’s membership, a neutral chairman, and for none of them to be a current or past Member of the European Parliament or the European Commission. Only if those criteria are met will we have a truly independent and worthwhile cost-benefit analysis. However, given the Government’s reluctance over many years to publish such a cost-benefit analysis, I am afraid that any decision to rush one through now will be treated with a great deal of cynicism and scepticism, not just by me, but by many people across the House and, more importantly, by the British public.

12.5 pm

Sir Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope) for promoting the Bill. This is an interesting debate. I am not sure that anybody could rationally oppose the idea of an independent cost-benefit analysis run by independent people. If somebody, including the Minister, wishes to intervene on me and deny the rational basis of that argument, I would be interested to hear what they had to say.

We had a debate about Europe yesterday. I apologise, Madam Deputy Speaker, because this is the third time this week I have wearied the House with my views: I spoke yesterday, I questioned the Prime Minister on Monday and I am also speaking today. However, this is such an important issue and, frankly, it is our job to be

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here, even on a Friday morning, to hold the Government to account. I make no apology for that.

You were present for some of yesterday’s debate, Madam Deputy Speaker, but I recommend that you read it in its entirety in Hansard, because some very interesting arguments were made. I knew that my hon. Friend was going to promote this Bill today, so I asked the Foreign Secretary directly why we could not have an independent cost-benefit analysis of our membership of the EU so that we could decide whether we should stay. He said that that would not be possible because there were so many uncertainties involved in what leaving the EU would amount to. That is an interesting point of view, but it has not stopped many groups—I will refer to them in a moment—feeling that it is possible to have, or at least possible to make a decent fist of having, an independent analysis of what the decision either to remain in or to leave the EU might mean.

It is extraordinary that, while the Government tell us, quite rightly, that this is the most important decision we will take in our lifetime, constituents are already writing to me, asking, “Please can we have all the arguments laid out?” Most people in this House know their views, but millions of people in the country want an informed debate and would welcome some independent analysis of what this most important decision would mean. Apparently, unless there is going to be an announcement today—I doubt that that is going to happen—we are not going to have an independent analysis.

The question we need to direct to the Minister, therefore, is whether the Government are going to produce their own analysis. He and the Prime Minister are completely honourable people—they would never, ever wish to deceive the British public—but they are arguing for a certain point of view. Therefore, civil servants produce documents that argue a certain case. As the Minister has indicated, the Government’s viewpoint is absolutely clear: under its rules, the civil service works according to Government policy. Government policy is that we remain in the EU, so civil servants will defend that policy and produce briefing papers, analysis and all the rest in terms of that policy. Of course, civil servants would not consciously lie or deceive in any way, but we want to know from the Minister exactly what analysis the Government intend to produce over the next four months, what form it will take and what will be the nature of its independence.

The question that I put to the Foreign Secretary was this. I said that during the years when we were in opposition, we accused Gordon Brown, when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer, of making assumptions before the Budget that were influenced—let us put it as gently as we can—by the direction in which he wanted to go. That is why we created the Office for Budget Responsibility, which is one of our foremost achievements, apparently. I agree that it is an achievement. The assumptions that lie behind the Budget are now in the hands of a genuinely independent body.

When I was Chair of the Public Accounts Committee during those years of Labour Government, the moment the Chancellor stood up and started his Budget speech, a messenger would deliver to me on the Back Benches a fat envelope containing all the assumptions on which the Budget was based. The trouble was that they were assumptions written by civil servants who were working towards Government policy—the policy of the then

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Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown. That is why we created the Office for Budget Responsibility. The question that I put to the Foreign Secretary, which he did not answer and which I repeat to the Minister, is: if this is the most important decision that we are going to make, why can we not depute the OBR to produce an analysis?

My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch has suggested a different format. Because this is a private Member’s Bill, it is, as we know, for all sorts of reasons unlikely to become law, but he has at least raised the question. It is now incumbent on the Minister to answer my hon. Friend. I am sorry, but I think that my hon. Friend’s creation is unwieldy, calling as it does for us to find an equal number of people who are in favour of leaving and of remaining. There may be perfectly justifiable arguments for that, but the Government already have independent bodies, such as the OBR and the National Audit Office, which could do the work. The NAO, which is well respected, would perhaps not be expert at dealing with issues of sovereignty, but it could certainly deal with other issues mentioned by my hon. Friend such as “burden of regulation”,

“economy (including consideration of public expenditure and receipts”

and “competitiveness and ability”. The Government already have in their hand a body or bodies that would be capable of producing such an analysis.

It is deeply worrying that Ministers who have decided to campaign to leave the EU are denied any civil service briefing on the matter. They are immediately thrown into purdah this week, and yet Ministers who are campaigning to remain in the EU have the full benefit of the civil service, which can apparently for weeks churn out propaganda. I do not use that word in a derogatory sense; propaganda simply means putting one’s point of view forward. The situation seems to me to be fundamentally unfair. Surely, the British way of doing things, particularly in referendums, is that we are fair.

We had a vote on purdah in the autumn, and my hon. Friend and I got into a bit of trouble for voting in favour of it, but we thought it was important. We thought that once the referendum campaign started, the Government should not be able to use its machine—its civil service—to argue for a point of view, because that does not happen in a general election. Perhaps we will learn from the Minister today when that purdah will actually start. Obviously, the Government are not in purdah at the moment. Civil servants are fully briefing, and the whole machine is churning out papers all the time.

All this is important because the referendum is supposed to bring a degree of closure to this subject, is it not? To do so, it must be seen to be absolutely fair. It is very important that both sides of the arguments are properly aired. Speaking for myself, if the British people decide by 55% to 45%, or whatever the figures are, to remain in the EU—after all the arguments have been properly put, and the no and yes campaigns have spent broadly the same amount of money—I will just have to accept that point of view.

However, this is a very complex area and the whole nature of the Government’s case is that leaving is all too risky. I made this point yesterday, but it is an important

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one: we should bear in mind that the Government are not approaching the referendum campaign with the sense of a great visionary movement in favour of the EU. The Prime Minister is saying, “Look, I am as great a Eurosceptic as you are, but I’m sorry, it’s all too risky.” When he says it is all too risky, he presumably means the costs of leaving in terms of national security, which is mentioned in the Bill, and particularly the very detailed debate on our competitiveness, the decisions of European Council meetings and the rest of it.

I want to emphasise that I see no rational argument against the Government commissioning a genuinely independent cost-benefit analysis. As I said in an intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), our membership of the EU means paying a subscription of £10 billion a year in order to have a £70 billion a year deficit with the EU. Normally, when someone pays a subscription to a club, they do so to have a benefit: they are prepared to pay the cost because they get something back. Frankly, given that there is a deficit of £70 billion—I agree that it exists now there and will almost certainly remain if we leave the EU, because of the strength of German engineering products or French food and drinks products and all the other reasons—that is quite a big subscription to pay for it.

We want an independent study. To go back to yesterday’s debate, the Minister for Europe said in his summing up, “I’ve sat through this debate, and those who want to leave the EU have not given any sense of their vision.” That is quite true, and it is incumbent on us—it could be done as part of such a study—to give the people and the House of some sense of where we want to take the nation if we leave the EU. I accept that argument—the Minister for Europe kindly added that he said that “with the exception of my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough”—and I tried to give an alternative vision yesterday.

Such alternative visions need to be tested. I just have a point of view—I believe it is reasonable, but other people may say it is a prejudice—but there is no point my standing up in the House of Commons and articulating my alternative vision if there is no independent analysis of it. That is surely what the British people want and demand. I am asking them on 23 June to take the risk of leaving, and they therefore have the right to come back to me to ask such questions.

If we left the EU, I believe it would be quite exciting—I represent a rural area—to reclaim control of the common agricultural policy. In that context, I recommend the speech by my right hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr Paterson), the former Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, to the Oxford farming conference. He made a detailed analysis of what leaving the EU would mean for farming policy. He made the point that although food and agriculture is a huge and massively important industry—it employs more than 3.5 million people and accounts for £85 billion of GNP—agriculture policy is entirely determined by the EU. On that, this House has very little, or virtually no, independence from the EU. He was putting forward his view and arguing that alternative subsidy arrangements could be made. For instance, he argued that we should broadly spend on subsidies what we are spending now, but create a different subsidy system.

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He argued that we could divert more agricultural subsidies away from lowland farming to hill farmers in difficult farming environments.

I have been trying to wrestle with an understanding of farming policy for the 30 years I have been in this place. It is immensely complex, but again we have had virtually no detailed debate or analysis to inform our farmers on how they should vote. This is desperately important to them. There are hundreds of farmers in my constituency and tens of thousands of farmers throughout the country who want an answer, because they, for better or for worse, depend on the subsidy system.

Oliver Colvile: Does my hon. Friend recognise that it is not only the farming industry but the fishing industry that needs to be taken into account?

Sir Edward Leigh: I will come to the fishing industry in a moment.

Farmers are genuinely worried. I suppose the Government have got quite an easy task. They can just say, “Don’t worry. You don’t like the present system. You’ve been complaining for years that it is regulatory and burdensome, and that for years you were paid by the EU to rip out hedges and now you’re paid to put them back. You have to spend all your time not out on the land but sitting in your office in your farmhouse dealing with farming subsidies. It’s regulatory, burdensome, late and difficult but,” I suppose the Government would argue, “at least you are supported.” There is an implication on the part of the Government that if we were to leave the EU, the subsidies would vanish.

The Vote Leave campaign is absolutely explicit about that. I am absolutely explicit about it and I give this pledge. One should be quite careful what one says on the Floor of the House of Commons, but if we leave the EU the level of subsidy to the farming community will remain exactly what it is now. That is a pledge. I cannot give a pledge on behalf of the Government, but I cannot believe that anybody would resile from that. We have no idea. We have no independent analysis. We have had no real attempt, apart from by a few right hon. and hon. Friends, at detailing how the subsidies would change.

My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Oliver Colvile) mentioned fishing, which is even more important. I referred to this subject yesterday. I think I was the only one to mention it. This was the great debate we had on Europe this week with the Foreign Secretary and the shadow Foreign Secretary: we were limited to very short speeches and I had time to say perhaps one sentence about fishing. There was no detailed analysis yesterday of what leaving the EU would mean for our fishing industry, yet it is of absolutely massive and crucial importance.