Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:56 pm on 6th September 2010.

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Photo of George Eustice George Eustice Conservative, Camborne and Redruth 8:56 pm, 6th September 2010

My hon. Friend makes an absolutely valid point. Cornwall is a special case. It is not just a normal county-it is a duchy. That is certainly something that should be considered in Committee.

I want to finish by making a couple of points about the fairness of the referendum. I understand the Deputy Prime Minister's argument about the cost of holding a referendum on a separate date. As somebody who would like to see more referendums locally, I also recognise that we need to find a way of running certain local referendums on the same day as local elections. However, this is a very different kettle of fish-we are talking about a national referendum on a major constitutional issue, and that should be held on a separate date.

The current proposition is to run the referendum simultaneously alongside national elections in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. That poses two major problems. First, national elections in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have different spending limits from those pertaining in the referendum, so the Electoral Commission will have two parallel sets of spending restrictions under the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000.

Secondly, there is the question of getting a fair debate in terms of broadcasting. It is already challenging enough for broadcasters to show fairness to all parties in an election: imagine how much more difficult it will be if, as well as showing fairness to all the parties in three separate national elections, they also have to show parity and fairness to two sides of a referendum campaign, where different parties will take different views, and different people within those parties will take different views. This aspect has not been considered sufficiently, and I hope that the Government will have further consultations not only with the Electoral Commission but with the Broadcasters Liaison Group to see whether there is a way around it.