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With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Amendment 17, page 2, line 2, at end insert—
“and persons who would be so entitled except for the fact that they will be aged 16 or 17 on the date on which the referendum is to be held.”
This amendment would entitle British citizens, qualifying Commonwealth citizens and citizens of the Republic of Ireland aged 16 and 17 to vote in the referendum.
Government amendment 24.
Amendment 18, page 2, line 13, after “Commonwealth citizens”, insert—
“or citizens of the Republic of Ireland”.
Amendment 19, page 2, line 16, at end insert—
“and persons who would be so entitled except for the fact that they will be aged 16 or 17 on the date on which the referendum is to be held.”
This amendment would entitle Commonwealth citizens aged 16 and 17 who would be entitled to vote in Gibraltar for elections to the European Parliament to vote in the referendum.
Amendment 7, page 2, line 16, at end insert—
“(d) the persons who on the date of the referendum would be entitled to vote in a European parliamentary election by virtue of the European Parliamentary Elections (Franchise of Relevant Citizens of the Union) Regulations 2001 (S.I. 2001/1184) (citizens of the European Union other than Commonwealth and Republic of Ireland citizens).”
This amendment would extend the franchise to EU nationals who would be entitled to vote in EU parliamentary elections in the UK.
Amendment 8, page 2, line 16, at end insert—
‘(1A) In subsection 1(a), “persons” include individuals who are aged 16 or 17 and would otherwise meet the conditions to be entitled to vote as electors in a parliamentary election.”
This amendment would extend the franchise to 16 and 17-year-olds.
Amendment 9, page 2, line 20, at end insert—
(a) In subsection 1(a) “a parliamentary election” includes elections to the Scottish Parliament,
(b) a person resident in England, Wales, Northern Ireland or Gibraltar who, if resident in Scotland, met the conditions for inclusion in the electoral register for Scottish elections, will be entitled to vote in the referendum.”
This amendment would extend the vote to 16 and 17-years-olds and EU nationals.
Amendment 10, page 2, line 20, at end insert—
‘(3) In subsection 1(a) “a parliamentary election” includes elections to the Scottish Parliament.”
This amendment would extend the vote to 16 and 17 years olds and EU nationals in Scotland.
Amendment 21, page 2, line 20, at end add—
‘(3) Notwithstanding the provisions of the Representation of the People Act 1983, as amended, or of any other statute, a British citizen resident overseas in a country within the European Union will be eligible—
(a) to register to vote, and
(b) to vote in the referendum, irrespective of the length of time that the citizen has been resident overseas.”
This amendment is intended to allow British citizens resident in other EU countries to vote in the referendum.
New clause 1—Impartiality of broadcasters—
‘(1) Notwithstanding any enactment or legal instrument, before the start of the referendum period the Secretary of State shall by regulations make provision to ensure the impartiality of broadcasters during the referendum period.
(2) Regulations made under this section must include provision for the appointment by the Secretary of State of a referendum broadcasting adjudicator.
(3) Regulations made under this section must require the referendum broadcasting adjudicator
(a) to draw up and publish guidance applicable to the referendum to ensure the impartiality of broadcasters during the referendum period, notwithstanding any relevant guidance currently in force or in draft; and
(b) to make arrangements by which any allegations of breach of the guidance on impartiality can be referred to and determined by the adjudicator and where an allegation, in the adjudicator’s view, is vexatious or frivolous to dismiss the allegation.
(4) Guidance published under subsection (3)(a) shall apply to—
(a) the holder of a licence under the Broadcasting Act 1990 or 1996 and
(b) the British Broadcasting Corporation.
(5) Regulations made under this section shall require the referendum broadcasting adjudicator within one day of receipt of an allegation that a broadcaster has breached the guidance on impartiality to determine whether the guidance has been breached and publish its determination and, where a breach has taken place, to require the broadcaster to remedy the breach within one day.
(6) Regulations made under this section are to be made by statutory instrument which is subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.”
The intention of this amendment is to ensure impartiality of television and radio broadcasters during the referendum campaign and to allow for swift adjudication where an allegation of bias is made.
New clause 11—Limit of the expenditure of registered political parties—
‘(1) Notwithstanding Schedule 14 of the 2000 Act and any other enactment, for the purposes of the referendum there will be a cumulative limit on the expenditure which political parties registered under Part II of the 2000 Act can spend cumulatively on campaigning during the referendum.
(2) For the purpose of subsection (1) the cumulative limit is £14,000,000.
(3) Each political party’s share of the cumulative limit shall be determined in proportion to its share of the total votes cast at the general election that took place on
(4) On the basis set out at subsection (3) the Electoral Commission shall calculate and notify each political party of its share of the cumulative limit.
(5) No registered political party shall spend any money in respect of the referendum campaign until the notification required at subsection (4) has been issued.
(6) Each political party is responsible for its own expenditure and must not breach the limit notified by the Electoral Commission in respect of its own expenditure.”
The purpose of this amendment is to impose an expenditure limit on the cumulative total amount that political parties can spend during the referendum campaign.
Amendment 5, in clause 1, page 1, line 9, at end insert—
“or a date within three months before or after May 5.”
This would ensure the referendum vote could not be held on a day three months before or after the date of the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish elections.
Government amendment 12.
Amendment 6, page 1, line 9, at end insert—
“(c) must not be the same day as local government elections in England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.”
This amendment would ensure the referendum vote could not be held on the same day as local government elections.
Amendment 15, page 1, line 9, at end insert—
“(c) must not coincide with local or mayoral elections planned for
This amendment would rule out holding the referendum on the same day as the 2017 local elections.
Government amendment 23.
Amendment 13, page 1, line 11, at end insert—
“or leave the European Union?”
Amendment 14, page 1, leave out line 14 and insert—
“A ddylai’r Deyrnas Unedig bara i fod yn aelod o’r Undeb Ewropeaidd neu adael yr Undeb Ewropeaidd?”
Amendment 16, page 1, line 14, at end insert—
‘(6) At least 10 weeks before the date on which the referendum is to be held the Government shall publish a White Paper outlining the terms of any renegotiation between the United Kingdom and the European Union and the consequences for the United Kingdom of leaving the European Union.”
This amendment requires the Government to produce a white paper on the results of the Government’s renegotiation with the EU and the consequences for Britain of leaving the EU.
Government amendments 25 to 28.
Amendment 3, in clause 6, page 3, line 40, at end insert—
‘(5) Regulations made under this Act or the 2000 Act in respect of the referendum must be made and come into force not less than six months before the start of the referendum period.”
The purpose of the amendment is to ensure the legislative framework for the referendum is clear at least six months before it is required to be implemented or complied with.
Government amendments 29 and 30.
Amendment 1, in schedule 1, page 6, line 6, after second “period”, insert—
“of not less than 16 weeks”
The purpose of the amendment is to ensure that the referendum period lasts for at least 16 weeks.
Government amendments 31 to 43.
Amendment 22, page 12, line 23, at end insert—
‘(3) Notwithstanding the European Communities Act 1972, an EU institution (within the meaning of article 13(1) of the Treaty on European Union) may not incur referendum expenses during the referendum period.”
This amendment would prevent the EU institutions, including the Commission, from direct campaigning in the referendum, whether under the guise of EU law or otherwise.
Government amendments 44 to 46.
Amendment 2, page 13, line 11, at end add—
‘(6) For the purposes of paragraph 6 of Schedule 15 of the 2000 Act a permitted participant must not accept a relevant donation, irrespective of whether or not it meets the requirements of the 2000 Act and this Act, if the donation is funded directly or indirectly in whole or part from moneys, resources or support disbursed or allocated by or at the direction of the European Commission, its agencies or any related European institution to the donor or via other parties to the donor.”
The purpose of the amendment is to ensure that no funds or support provided directly or indirectly by European Union bodies have a bearing on the outcome of the referendum.
Amendment (a) to amendment 2, after “(6)” insert
“Notwithstanding the European Communities Act 1972,”.
This amendment would ensure that amendment 2 takes effect as intended. It would make clear a permitted participant could not accept donations paid by EU institutions under the authority of EU law.
Government amendments 47 to 52 and 54 to 77.
Order. There is a great deal of noise in the Chamber. It is only right and courteous that there should be a mood of hushed attention as the hon. Gentleman addresses the House.
Just as we in the Labour party have, for better or worse, widened our franchise, so the widest possible franchise should be involved in the referendum, which is likely to be held next year. The Government have proposed that the referendum should not have the same franchise as there was for the Scottish referendum, which was the local government franchise, but should simply have the parliamentary franchise. They propose restricting the franchise to those who vote in parliamentary elections and not including some people who vote in local government elections and in European Parliament elections, some people who can vote in the London mayoral election next year and some who were eligible to vote in the Scottish referendum in 2014.
Is it not the case that in many constituencies across the country, including mine, a large number of people will not be allowed to vote in the European referendum simply because they are Europeans, even though they pay their taxes, their children go to school in the area and they see themselves as Londoners?
That is exactly the point addressed in amendment 20. People can vote in a European Parliament election if they are a citizen of any of the 27 other European Union countries and are resident in the UK. If the Government get their way, people who are paying taxes in this country and living in this country, perhaps having done so for decades, with children who were born in this country, and who are perhaps married to British citizens but who happen to retain the nationality they had when they came here from Italy, Germany, France or one of many other countries, will not be able to vote in the referendum which will affect their status and that of their family in the UK.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for reminding me of that. We discussed this issue in Committee on
I do not want to delay the House much longer, but let me briefly refer to my other proposal, amendment 21.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the two groups of people he has identified in his amendment are those who will potentially be the most affected, particularly if the UK votes to come out of the European Union?
That is absolutely right. Just as there are more than 2 million EU citizens living in the UK, more than 2 million British citizens are living in other EU countries. Some of them will have registered to vote as overseas voters under the existing law, which allows people who have been abroad for up to 15 years to vote in parliamentary elections. Some thousands of people do that, but the bulk of them do not. British people who have been living in Portugal, Spain, Germany, Cyprus, Greece or France for more than 15 years are not going to be eligible to vote in a referendum that could seriously damage their prospects of being allowed to stay in those countries and have rights there, should the British people vote in the referendum that we leave the EU. Many overseas voters are incensed about that. There is an organisation called Labour International with which I am associated, and a similar organisation for the Conservatives. I know that those voters have been sending communications for months saying that this is a democratic outrage, that the Government will damage their future and that they will have no say on their position.
Ironically, the Conservative party said in its election manifesto that it was going to get rid of the 15-year rule, yet the Conservative Government—they cannot even blame the Liberal Democrats for this—are introducing legislation in effect to disfranchise many British people who will no longer have a say in their future within the European Union. That is undemocratic. It is outrageous that British people’s futures will be affected. As Tom Brake said, if we leave the European Union, there will be two groups of people who will be particularly badly affected. I am talking about EU citizens living in the UK who may have British-born children, and British citizens living in other European Union countries.
Given the shortage of time, I shall not say any more on this. I will be supporting my Front-Bench team on widening the franchise to 16 and 17-year-olds. Although I have raised these issues, I know that neither the Government nor, unfortunately, those on my own Benches will support my position. In order to save time, I shall not press my amendment to a vote.
I rise to speak to amendments 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10 in my name and that of my hon. Friends. We want to see the gold standard of the independence referendum applied to the European referendum. I hope that Members of the Official Opposition will vote with us tonight. Earlier we voted together and defeated the Government. That is what can be achieved when we stretch across and vote together. I hope that we shall be doing that later tonight.
One area that might help us to achieve that gold standard is votes for 16 and 17- year-olds, which is proposed in amendment 8. I know that we have discussed this matter before and I am glad that we will be able to vote on it tonight. There are benefits to involving young people at an early stage in the political process. Let us not forget that when we have a European Union referendum, those aged 16 and 17 will have to live with the consequences of that decision for a whole lot longer than many Members of this House. Let us consider some of the comments made by Members about the positive aspects of including 16 and 17-year-olds in the vote.
We will also consider amendment 7. I was grateful to Mike Gapes for his excellent contribution on votes for EU nationals. He talked about how Cypriots and Maltese can vote but not those of other nationalities. I mentioned the position of Christian Allard, the Member of the Scottish Parliament, who will not be able to vote. We should also consider the big contributions that EU nationals have made to all our constituencies. I am talking about the people from Poland, Ireland, Italy and from elsewhere in Europe.
The independence referendum had a significant impact, and I pay tribute to the people who campaigned for a yes vote, as well as to those who campaigned for a no vote. The turnout of 85% was extraordinary, as was the democratic journey that we made. I hope that Members from across the Chamber will learn the lessons from the independence referendum when it comes to voting this evening.
I also wish to touch briefly on the issue of double majority. We have been told that we are in a partnership of equals in the United Kingdom. If we are, why should it be the case that Scotland—or indeed England, Wales or Northern Ireland—can be dragged out of the European Union against its will?
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is regrettable that our new clause 3 has not been selected, as there is a certain irony in a Government that want to introduce a double majority in this House on English votes for English laws but do not want that principle to apply to the much more fundamental question of our membership of the European Union?
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point about the double majority and why we brought it up.
Let me make a point about amendment 5. I am glad that the Government have acceded to some of our demands, so that we will not see a vote on the first Thursday of 2016 or the first Thursday of 2017. We welcome those concessions, which have been among a few so far. If we are going to have the referendum, however, we want a proper political debate. We do not want it to be rushed just before the crucial elections to the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly or local government. That is why we propose in amendment 5 to have a three-month period on either side of them to protect the referendum debate.
To sum up, let me touch on the debate to come. It is disappointing as we reach the final stages of debating the Bill that we still do not have more details about the Government’s proposed renegotiation. I am not sure when we will see those details, as we have a Government who have for the past five and a bit years been adept at losing friends and influence throughout the European Union. I do not see that changing any time soon.
There is no one on the SNP Benches who does not think that the European Union could do with a bit of reform, but that reform should be a two-way process. That was set out by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to the European Policy Centre on
I want to finish on a serious point. We talked today about the refugee crisis, and that is certainly an area in which we could be working more closely with our European partners, as was well debated today. I sense that when the Government moved forward today they were moving a little behind other European partners, not least those in the Vatican. It was in July 2013 that Pope Francis said:
“We have lost a sense of brotherly responsibility…we have forgotten how to cry.”
We are now seeing action, almost two years on. We are late to this, and sometimes we need to learn from our European partners and to work more closely with them. I hope that even those on the Government Benches will accept that that is something we have to do.
Our amendments strengthen the Bill and strengthen the debate we could have during the referendum period.
I rise to speak on the issues of the independence of broadcasting and campaign funding covered by two of the new clauses. It is most important that we should have a fair referendum and I think that the House has made a wise decision this evening to further that aim. I hope that the nation’s leading broadcaster, the BBC, will enter into the spirit of wanting that fair campaign and will study and understand where those who wish to stay in and those who wish to leave are coming from. It needs to learn that in the run-up to the referendum campaign proper as well as in the campaign itself. My hon. Friend Sir William Cash has tabled a suitable new clause to try to ensure that that happens and I hope that the Minister will share our wishes and might have something to say on this point.
I notice that in recent months it has been absolutely statutory for practically every business person being interviewed on business subjects and subjects of great interest to consumers and taxpayers to be asked for their view of whether their business would be ruined if we left the European Union. The question is always a leading question and they are treated as somewhat guilty or suspect if they do not immediately say yes, of course, their business would be ruined if we were to leave the European Union.
It would be far too dangerous for me to speculate on that without more factual information at my disposal. My hon. Friend is being slightly mischievous. I could not possibly agree with him and call into question how people are invited to BBC interviews. However, it is interesting that the one argument that the campaign to stay in the EU seems to have—that leaving the EU would be bad for business and jobs would be lost—has become a constant refrain in all BBC interviews.
The BBC seems devastatingly disappointed when a lot of businesses take the opposite view. It was fascinating to hear the wonderful interview with Nissan last week. The whole House will welcome the great news that Nissan has a very big investment programme for the United Kingdom’s biggest car plant, which will carry it through the next five years and beyond with a new model. When the BBC tried to threaten that investment by asking, “Wouldn’t you cancel it if the British people voted to come out of the EU?”, Nissan said, “No, of course we wouldn’t.” It is about the excellence of the workforce, the excellence of the product and access to an extremely good market here. It is in no way conditional upon how people exercise their democratic rights in Britain.
It is that spirit—the spirit of Nissan—that I hope the BBC will wish to adopt when contemplating such interviews in future. I hope that it will understand that most business interviews over the next few months should not be about the politics of the EU; they should be about whether the company is doing well—creating jobs, making profits and investing them wisely. If the business is misbehaving, then by all means the interview should be about the allegations.
Who does the right hon. Gentleman think is behind this sinister conspiracy at the BBC? Is it the director general or some other individual in a senior position, or are other forces directing the BBC in such a way that he believes there is a conspiracy to keep Britain in the European Union?
I never said that there is a conspiracy, and I have not suggested that there is one figure in the BBC who holds that view; I think that most people in the BBC hold that view, and I think that it is quite spontaneous. I think that in some cases they are not even aware that they are doing it. I note that many Members, including on the Opposition Benches, are nodding their heads wisely. They, too, have heard such interviews. It now seems almost a statutory requirement in what should be interviews on general business subjects to regard those people as having some unique insight into our future in the European Union, ascribing to them supernatural powers that apparently the millions of other voters in the country do not share, asking them to dictate the future. I think that the referendum is a democratic process and that everyone’s vote is of equal weight and value. It is a conversation for the whole country. I am not against business people joining in, because I am a democrat, and they have voices; I just think that it is a bit odd that our leading broadcaster wants to turn every business interview into a political interview.
I am charitable to the BBC and do not think that it sets out to be biased in its coverage. The problem—I am not entirely sure how my right hon. Friend will tackle this point—is that it sets out to talk only to people from the same metropolitan set, and they all have the same opinions. The people in the BBC need to get out more and discover that across the country there are opinions different from those of their narrow band of people. How does he think they can address that? It is not conscious bias; they just need to get out more.
My hon. Friend make his comments in his own inimitable way. That is not quite what I was trying to say, or how I was going to say it, but this is a free country and it is wonderful to hear him contribute to the debate.
I am just trying, in the brief few moments that you have kindly allowed me, Mr Speaker, to extend the conversation from this great Chamber to the BBC and to say to it, “We all want you to be part of this big family conversation in the run-up to the referendum, but you have a unique responsibility, because you are charged with independence, fairness and balance. We trust that you will be especially careful, because many people have very passionate views on both sides of the argument, and that always creates more tensions and difficulties for broadcasters.”
I am curious to know whether the right hon. Gentleman was as acutely aware of that bias among business leaders during the Scottish referendum campaign, when they were wheeled out repeatedly as part of “Project Fear” to hone their skills, which we will doubtless see much of in the coming months. I just cannot remember him being so outraged at the time. Perhaps he could confirm that.
If the hon. Gentleman cares to check johnredwoodsdiary.com, my blog, he will see that I wrote on that very subject during the Scottish campaign ahead of the referendum and made very similar points to the ones I am making now about the role of business, where it can help and where it cannot. He will be disappointed to learn that I believe in being consistent. It has been one of my problems in politics, trying to be consistent, and if one seeks to combine consistency with being right, it can be absolutely devastating. I must now teach myself humility and realise that no one can always be right; we just have to carry on the conversation as best we can.
Are there any circumstances in which it would be legitimate for a BBC reporter to ask a UK business that trades with Europe whether there would be an impact on that business were the UK to come out of the European Union?
That would be appropriate if they were doing a package on attitudes towards Europe, for example; or it would be appropriate during the referendum campaign to have business voices as well as political voices and others—but not in every interview that is meant to be about a business subject. BBC reporters do not choose to do that every time a social worker is on to talk about a social work case, or some local government worker is on. They do not immediately ask, “What would happen to your job if we left the EU?” There is something quite odd about it. Very often, the business matters that are being discussed have nothing to do with foreign trade. Nor do I understand why the right hon. Gentleman and some others wish to mislead and threaten the British people into thinking that our trade would be at risk, because clearly it would not be at risk. All of us wish to trade with Europe and be friends with Europe, but some of us wish to have a relationship with the European Union that allows their euro to evolve into the political union that they want without dragging Britain in and losing our democracy in the process.
I am getting more confused, because now the right hon. Gentleman is drawing a parallel between the impact that coming out of the EU would have on a business and the impact on a social worker. Perhaps he would like to explain in what way the UK coming out of the EU would have an impact on a social worker.
Of course coming out of the EU will have an impact on the conduct of the public sector in Britain, as well as on the private sector. It will change who makes the laws and how the budgets are run, for example. If we did not have to send £11 billion a year to the EU to be spent elsewhere, we would have more scope to have better social work and tax cuts in the United Kingdom. I think that would be extremely good news. Why are public service workers not asked whether they would rather see some of that money spent on their preferred public service than sent to be spent elsewhere in the European Union? That line of questioning would be just as interesting as the one trotted out each time for business people: “Will your business come to an end if the British people dare to vote for democracy?”
Is not the point that the BBC tries to show that every business wants to remain in the European Union, when the fact is that many businesses want to leave the EU? The BBC always seems to be able to find businesses that want to stay in, but never seems to be able to look at the website of Business for Britain, which has more than 1,000 businesses that are quite happy to be outside the European Union.
That is a good point. The other constitutional point I would make about businesses is that in an entrepreneurial business where the entrepreneur-owner-manager owns 51% or more of the shares, of course they speak for business, so if they say, “I want to stay in,” or, “I want us to pull out,” that is not only their view but the view of the whole business. I can understand that and it is very interesting, but quite often the people being interviewed are executives with very few shares in very large companies, who have not cleared their view through a shareholder meeting or some other constitutional process. The BBC wishes to give the impression that that is the view of all the members of the company, whereas in fact it is just the opinion of an executive. It is interesting, and the executive may be quite powerful, but he does not necessarily speak for the company, and that is never stressed in the exchanges.
Does my right hon. Friend accept that, quite often, what is interesting is which questions are not asked, as well as those that are asked and the people who are put on? For example, some of us have for a long time been making the argument, based on House of Commons Library statistics, that we run a deficit with the other 27 member states of about £62 billion, whereas the Germans run a surplus with the other 27 member states of about the same amount or more. Why does that sort of argument never get aired or heard?
I am being tempted into byways on the substance of the debate in the forthcoming referendum, but my hon. Friend is absolutely right. We would like to hear more questioning of our deficit and a reminder that we are the customers more than the producers; it is the other way round for the Germans. It is unusual for the customers to be in a weak position and the producers in a strong position.
We should remember that we are the customer country in the European Union and that the customer used always to be right. Perhaps we should have rather more care taken over our attitudes because we are the customer, as a heavy net contributor to the European Union, and we would like to hear more questions about what are the other possibilities. What could we do with the money if we were not paying it in? What would happen to our trade deficit were we no longer inside the Union? The answer is that we would still have a big trade deficit with the European Union because trade would continue on exactly the same basis as it has so far throughout our partial membership. Of course, we are not in Schengen and not in the euro, so we are already in a different position.
I and many others want us to have a good relationship with the European Union, but to recognise that it is now driven by the euro. Britain is not about to join the euro, and therefore does not want or need the political union. I am very pleased that our Prime Minister is trying to sort out a new relationship. That had to done. Any sensible person, wherever they are on the spectrum of European-ness or pro-EU-ness, should see that this is a crucial moment in the future of the European Union where we need to sort out our relationships, so that we do not impede the EU but it does not make too many decisions on our behalf that the British people do not welcome or want.
On funding, to make sure that we have a campaign that is fair and perceived to be fair, we need to avoid the European Union itself spending any money or putting forward any propaganda during the campaign period. We also need to make sure that the spending limits on the political parties and the two main campaign teams are fair. I have no problem if one side raises more money than the other within the limits and is able to use it—that is the advantage of being more popular and that is the system we use. However, it is also fair to have some overall limit, as the Government are proposing. We need to be careful that the cumulative limits between different political parties and actors on one side do not become disproportionate, with the other side limited in the amount it can raise so that the thing is out of balance.
I would like my hon. Friend the Minister to say a little more about how the two sides might line up. I would not want to find that the “leave” campaign, for example, did not have lots of political parties adding to its funding, and obviously did not have the European Union adding to it, and was then limited too much as a formal campaign. It would not be perceived as fair if one side was spending three times as much as the other under legal rules, and the other side was constrained. I hope that he will consider that and realise that we need a fair system so that people think it is a good result.
This is a very broad debate, covering a number of issues. I want to set out our views on the amendments that we have tabled.
Amendment 17 and associated amendments 18 and 19 deal with the ability of 16 and 17-year-olds to vote in the referendum. I do not propose to go over all the territory covered in Committee about 16 and 17-year-olds having the vote, but I want to make one or two specific points about why it is important for this referendum.
The referendum will be a major constitutional decision that will have a bearing on Britain’s future for decades to come. None of us expects it to be a regular event like local elections, elections to Assemblies, or elections to this House. It has been 40 years since the last such referendum and such a vote on our constitutional future is a once-in-a-generation decision. The result will affect every young person in the UK for decades to come. At the moment, British citizens have the right to live, work and study in any EU member state. One of the main motivations—if not the main motivation—for those seeking to leave the European Union is to end the principle of free movement of people and to impose stricter controls on immigration. In the context of our leaving and restrictions coming into play, it is hard to see how such a move would not be reciprocated towards our own citizens and their ability to live, work and study in the remaining European Union. The rights, opportunities and freedoms of young people for decades to come are very much on the ballot paper in this referendum.
The right hon. Gentleman seems to be arguing that 16 and 17-year-olds should have a vote because the referendum will impact on young people for decades to come. It will presumably also have a massive impact on my 12 and 10-year-old sons. By the same logic, he will be arguing that they should have a vote, too. Why should the vote be extended just to 16 and 17-year-olds? He seems to be arguing for a complete nonsense.
The argument has the benefit of not only principle, but recent experience. While I do not share the view of every member of the Scottish National party about all the virtues of last year’s referendum, extending the vote to 16 and 17-year-olds worked well. No one on either side of the debate in that referendum would argue that 16 and 17-year-olds did not understand the issues, engage in the debate and carry out their vote, whether for yes or for no, in a responsible manner. For those reasons, we believe that the vote in this referendum should be extended to 16 and 17-year-olds, and that there are specific reasons for doing so on such a long-term constitutional decision such as this which go above and beyond the general debate about the voting age.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree with me and the leader of his party in Scotland that we also benefited from EU nationals having the vote in the independence referendum? It was a benefit then and could be a great benefit in this referendum as well.
I want to deal with that issue and the comments of the hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend Mike Gapes. The contribution made to this country by EU citizens is not disputed by me or any Opposition Front Bencher. What my hon. Friend said about that positive contribution and people paying taxes is absolutely true. It is also true of the many British people living and working in other EU member states. I completely agree with him that the argument is not about contribution, value, rewinding the clock or any of the other general points. The issue is about precedents in other referendums concerning such matters in other countries. We looked at the precedents and every referendum we found regarding accession to the European Union, joining the single currency or European treaty change was restricted to citizens of the relevant member state. That does not mean that they think that citizens of other countries living in that state do not make a contribution or pay taxes and are not valuable citizens, but that precedent has been set time after time when countries make significant decisions about their own future.
Mike Gapes failed to enunciate any specific undertakings, responsibilities or rights for voters elsewhere in the European Union who are British citizens. Can the shadow Minister share with the House any specific rights that would be circumscribed or removed as a result of a decision by the United Kingdom to leave the European Union?
I do not think that is clear at all. It is very uncertain what the rights of British people living in other member states would be in the event of the UK leaving the European Union. The hon. Gentleman raises an important question, which is one of many. I do not want to get sidetracked into the arguments for in and out tonight because I want to concentrate on the amendments, but I do not think that anyone can say with confidence that there would be no effects on those citizens in the event of Britain leaving the European Union.
My right hon. Friend referred to precedents. Is it not the fact that in our elections and presumably in the referendum that took place in 1975, citizens of other countries who are not British citizens have participated, because we allow Commonwealth citizens, such as the citizens of Malta and Cyprus, and citizens of the Republic of Ireland to participate? There are problems with a definition that relates only to citizens of this country. I accept that there is a parliamentary franchise, which is the position that the Government have taken and something that my right hon. Friend will no doubt remind me of, but the position is messy and not straightforward.
My good and hon. Friend anticipates my reply. He is right that history comes into play here, and not always in a linear manner. The thing that unites citizens of the Republic of Ireland and the other examples he mentioned is that they are part of the parliamentary franchise. He is right to say that it is not strictly about citizenship, but about who can vote to elect a national Parliament.
It remains the case that throughout the European Union when countries have had referendums of this type they have not extended the vote to citizens of other countries. It is important to state that, because too often the debate becomes about the value of the contribution of those citizens to the UK. That is not in dispute at all. The issue is having consistency in how we take decisions on our nation’s future.
The exchanges that took place on broadcasting impartiality showed the dangers of those proposals. We should allow broadcasters to do their job. The Opposition do not favour the appointment of a broadcasting referee. I do not think that the finest moment in the Scottish referendum was the mass demonstration outside the headquarters of the BBC in Glasgow, calling for the head of the political editor. I hope that we do not see that in this referendum. I am therefore not in favour of proposals that seek to set up some kind of referee to go through BBC news bulletins and second-guess who should and should not be interviewed. We should allow our broadcasters to do their job.
The right hon. Gentleman is clearly referring to my new clause. He ought to take into account the fact that that the Secretary of State, in correspondence with the chairman of the BBC Trust and Ofcom—the hon. Gentleman may or may not have seen it—has quite a lot to say about the necessity of improving the manner and process of adjudication. I will deal with that in a moment.
I look forward to the hon. Gentleman’s speech, but it will take more than a letter from the Secretary of State to the BBC to convince us that some kind of broadcasting referee is needed to adjudicate in this process.
I am slightly confused by what the right hon. Gentleman is saying. He seems to be saying that there should be no adjudicator of the BBC’s impartiality. There already is one: it is called the BBC Trust. Is he saying that the BBC Trust should be abolished and that nobody should oversee the BBC’s output? He said that there should be no referee, but there is a referee. Is he saying that that should no longer be the case and that there should be a free-for-all at the BBC?
The fact that there are processes in place proves, rather than negates, my point. We have trusted broadcasters in this country and I do not agree with trying to intimidate them in any of these referendums. They should be allowed to do their job.
Since the right hon. Gentleman has raised the issue of intimidation twice, is he aware that the father of the chapel at BBC Scotland said that far from being intimidated by the protesters, the main intimidation broadcasters felt was in fact from the Better Together campaign? The father of the chapel has no dog in the fight, as I am sure the right hon. Gentleman knows.
I will just say that if the hon. Gentleman takes a sense of pride from the demonstration that took place in Glasgow, he is entitled to his view, but that is certainly not something I would feel. I do not think it was the finest moment in that referendum campaign.
On the date of the referendum, we have said all along that it should not be held when other important elections are taking place. In Committee, the House accepted a Government amendment ruling out the date of the elections due in May 2016. Our amendment 15 would also rule out holding it on the date of the elections due on
Government amendment 23 deals with the new question wording put forward last week by the Electoral Commission. The Opposition respect the work of the Electoral Commission. Its job is to examine referendum questions and to comment on them. We therefore accept the change it suggests, but may I ask the Minister a couple of questions? Has he asked the Electoral Commission why it was appropriate to approve the question “Should Scotland be an independent country?” on a yes/no basis without an alternative statement about remaining part of the United Kingdom being deemed as necessary? Has he asked why a yes/no question was approved for the referendum on the alternative vote a few years ago, but is not deemed appropriate this time? Does he know if this decision should be considered a one-off for this referendum, or whether we should expect all future referendums to be a choice between two alternative statements, rather than yes/no in answer to a proposition, as has often been the case in the past? As I said, we accept the new wording, but would like to know more about the reasons behind it and the contrast in the approach taken with other recent referendums.
Amendment 16 calls for a White Paper to be published outlining the terms of any renegotiation settlement the Prime Minister has reached and the consequences for the UK of leaving the European Union. We believe this is important because the referendum needs to examine not only our current relationship with the EU but what leaving might mean for the UK. This, too, was touched on in Committee. The Minister for Europe indicated at that point that the Government may produce a White Paper. May I press him on this tonight? Has further thought gone into that, and can he tell the House definitively that that will be the case? This is important, because voters deserve as much information as possible about what the decision on Britain’s future means. This will in the end be a choice between two futures and there should be information about both of them. Our amendment states that such a White Paper should be published at least 10 weeks before the poll, well away from any of the discussions about purdah, which applies to the final 28 days of the referendum period. We are not calling for Government information to be sent to every household, or for this to be a last-minute intervention. We are saying that at least 10 weeks from the poll it will be important to have a proper view on remaining and leaving. What does anyone advocating leaving have to fear from the consequences of doing so being set out in a White Paper?
This section of the amendment paper contains many other amendments, a lot of them dealing with technical points about registration, reporting and other issues, but the amendments on 16 and 17-year-olds, the White Paper and my other comments touch on the issues that we believe we should focus on in the period available to us.
I begin by referring particularly to my amendment on the impartiality of broadcasters. It will be observed that I have not confined my remarks exclusively to the BBC. I am aware, having been on the Broadcasting Bill in the 1990s, that the broadcasters have different regimes: the BBC has a royal charter and the other broadcasters are regulated by statute. I introduced an amendment to the second of the two Broadcasting Bills to ensure impartiality that was accepted by the now Baroness Bottomley when she was Secretary of State. Impartiality is a fundamental necessity in relation to the function of broadcasters. Given that £3.7 billion—I think—of the BBC’s total annual income of over £5 billion comes from the taxpayer, I think the taxpayer has an absolute right to be certain that there is no manoeuvring and completely unbiased reporting and comment.
I was deeply disturbed, as Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee, when I set up an inquiry into the BBC’s handling of European issues, against a background that I will explain in a moment, when the right hon. Lord Patten, then BBC Chairman, refused three times to appear before the Committee. I had effectively to require him to do so through the aegis of the Liaison Committee, which unanimously supported my proposal. I had exactly the same experience with Lord Hall, who also refused three times. I again had to use the aegis of the Liaison Committee to ensure he appeared, which eventually he did. On the other hand, Rona Fairhead, who is now the Chairman of the BBC Trust and who did not have the protection of being a Member of the House of Lords, did appear. The correspondence, which is set out in our report, is interesting to read. Whatever the excuses given, both Lord Hall and Lord Patten, as Members of the House of Lords, were in a position to refuse a summons from a Select Committee. This seemed completely extraordinary, and eventually, through the good offices of the then Chairman of the Liaison Committee and others, both of them did eventually acquiesce, although Lord Patten subsequently resigned because of ill health. The bottom line is that it was a very serious situation.
It has been claimed in evidence to us, which I am now slightly paraphrasing, that the BBC is effectively completely independent. This is simply not the case. First, it has to report to Parliament. Secondly, its representatives ought to appear in front of Select Committees. I have to say that they do appear before the Public Accounts Committee and the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, but I am talking about the European dimension, which is my main concern and which is relevant to the conduct of the Bill, and to how the taxpayer will be affected if there is not complete impartiality
The late Hugo Young, whom I knew extremely well, wrote a book called “This Blessed Plot”. I have known him since we were about 10 years old. We both lived in Sheffield and more or less grew up together in our respective ways. We were not very close friends, but knew one another well enough. He went to Oxford as I did: he went to Balliol, I went to Lincoln. We used to speak to each other. He went on to become one of the most celebrated journalists in our time.
Order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not be too modest or self-effacing to inform the House that there is a chapter in that book named after him and devoted to a study of his activities.
I do not know what to say. That is true. I did not know it was going to be written. In a discussion over lunch during the Maastricht period, I heard Hugo Young, one of the greatest journalists of his generation, say “Bill, you’ve got The Daily Telegraph, The Times, the Daily Express and the Daily Mail; we’ve got the BBC.” I thought that was pretty revealing. The bottom line is that there is a serious concern here, although I believe it is now potentially capable of being remedied.
The BBC remains the most important source of news for the country. An Ofcom survey in 2013 noted that 34% of those who consume news named BBC 1 as the most important news source to them. According to Ofcom’s calculations, the BBC has the highest share of each of the platforms on which it has a presence— 56% on television, 64% on radio and 27% on the internet. As reflected in the conclusions of the European Scrutiny Committee report, after evidence was taken from wide sources, 58% of the public look to the BBC for the news they trust. This is very important, and we need to be certain about the degrees of impartiality maintained during the referendum campaign—not only for taxpayers and licence payers, but for voters, 58% of whom, as I say, look to the BBC for the news they trust. It is a hugely important issue.
Correspondence published recently by the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, following the report of the European Scrutiny Committee, is also important. I sent a copy to him as well as to the Prime Minister and others. The Secretary of State wrote to the chairman of the BBC Trust, which has the responsibility for enforcing BBC standards. He said that the corporation’s coverage of Europe had not been “faultless” in the past. A committee had been set up—in 2005, I believe—called the Wilson committee, which was extremely critical of the manner in which the BBC covered European issues. I was not surprised when I discovered from another source—I hope I am right in quoting it—that when it comes to newspapers, people in the BBC tend to come from what might be called The Guardian stable. The figures on that were interesting.
The Secretary of State went on to say that
“complaints about the BBC’s referendum coverage should be adjudicated on within 24 hours”
—which is what my amendment says—
“amid fears ‘partial’ treatment”,
as he put it,
“could mislead voters.”
We know that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport has looked at the European Scrutiny Committee’s report, in which we were very critical. It was a unanimous, all-party report, which did not present just one side of the equation; many Committee members who were on the left of the party agreed with our conclusions.
I am quoting from a report that was published only a few days ago in The Daily Telegraph, but I have the full correspondence, which has been made available through the Secretary of State and is, I believe, on the DCMS website. The Secretary of State said to the trust that, although he was not going to accept my amendment as such,
“I am sure that you will agree that the coverage of this referendum by our broadcasters must be beyond reproach.”
That is absolutely axiomatic. As I said during an earlier debate this afternoon, this is not a debate about Conservatives versus Labour, SNP, Liberal Democrats and others. It is about the question “Do you want to remain in the European Union, or do you want to leave?” That is a national issue. The BBC’s charter must guarantee that it will conduct a proper and fair analysis, ask the right questions, and carry out the research properly. It must also guarantee that the BBC will ask the right people on to the programmes, and ensure that they are given an opportunity to answer the questions properly.
My hon. Friend rather glossed over the Wilson report, but it is important for us to remind people what Lord Wilson said. He said:
“While we have found no evidence of deliberate bias in BBC coverage of EU matters, we have found that there is a widespread perception that it suffers from certain forms of cultural and unintentional bias…The problem is complex. In essence it seems to be the result of a combination of factors including an institutional mindset” and a lack of knowledge about the European Union. He also said:
“The BBC needs to take more care in the selection of interviewees.”
Does my hon. Friend agree that all the problems that Lord Wilson identified about the BBC coverage, whose existence the BBC itself accepted, are still there today?
There is a case, which my right hon. Friend John Redwood touched on earlier, relating to the business news. In its report, our Committee referred to the business section which comes on at about six o’clock in the morning, and to what I hope will not continue to be a stream of people putting forward the pro-EU case. Given that the charter itself is under review and a consultation period is in operation, we look to the Secretary of State to ensure that the opportunity is taken to address this question as part of the review, and that includes addressing the question of public purposes.
The basis on which a chartered body operates is reference to the objects of the charter, and those public purposes do not specifically include the impartial delivery of commentaries and news. The question of the charter is linked to the guidelines, and the guidelines are rather like a statutory instrument: they must have regard to what the charter says. On the other hand, the charter itself should specifically ensure that in its wording, impartiality is an absolute.
Has my hon. Friend ever heard a BBC journalist ask someone how they would like to spend all the extra money we would have if we did not make a contribution to the EU, or is it just my bad luck that I have never been around when they asked that?
There have been suggestions, of course, that the BBC has been in receipt of money from the EU. My hon. Friend Mr Rees-Mogg, who is not in his seat at the moment—he usually is—put that question to Mr Harding, and we were hoping we would get further information on the matter. We have, however, invited Lord Hall to return and he will be coming back to see the Committee quite soon. He has accepted the invitation this time—he has not been required to appear—and we are looking forward to getting an answer to that question, and many others.
Perhaps when Lord Hall does appear, we might put a point to him about choosing interviewees, which is just as relevant in respect of businesses. We might suggest that when the BBC is seeking an anti-European Union viewpoint, it should not always go to members of UKIP, because there are members and supporters of all parties—not just the Conservative party, but the Labour party, too—whose views it could, and should, be seeking.
Kelvin Hopkins and other Labour Members on my Committee put that very question to the witnesses—Lord Hall and Mr Harding in particular, as well as Rona Fairhead—because it is essential that all sides of the arguments are heard. As I have said repeatedly in this debate, this is not a party political issue in the sense that it is not Conservative versus Labour. The very fact that the referendum has been set up and the question is “Do you want to remain in or leave?” means that it is a national issue and therefore all the broadcasting authorities, including the BBC, must have regard to the fact that we are passing over in this Bill the entire conduct of the referendum. That means it must be conducted not on a party political basis, but on yes versus no and on the question: “Do you want to remain in or do you want to leave?” Therefore there must be impartiality. We do not just want a Eurosceptic view. Some might think, “I would want that, wouldn’t I?” but actually, no; it must be done on an impartial basis.
It is rather strange that the BBC was somewhat dismissive of News-watch, an organisation that runs a comprehensive analysis of all news programmes—who goes on, what questions are asked and the whole conduct of the BBC output. I am afraid that it seems to me that the BBC was somewhat dismissive of that, to say the least. I believe from what I have heard that the BBC does not in fact have its own monitoring system. If it does not have its own monitoring system, how is anybody to know whether or not it has been impartial, because that is like looking for a needle in a haystack? We do not have the facilities to be able to conduct the analysis for ourselves, but the BBC has £5 billion and I would have thought that was the least it could do.
May I ask the hon. Gentleman the same question I asked earlier—although I might of course have overlooked his comments on this on billcash.com? Does he now regret the fact that the Conservative party acted as a cheerleader for bias during the Scottish independence referendum, and does he accept that that set something of a precedent for one-sided BBC coverage in referendums?
I do not blog so I am not in a position to answer the hon. Gentleman’s question. All I can say is that I would deplore any bias whether in the Scottish referendum or the European referendum, or indeed in just normal current affairs.
To return to my point, there is the facility for this if the BBC steps up to the mark and does in full what the Wilson committee report recommended and, more than that, what is in line with what the Secretary of State is now proposing. This is a hugely important question given that according to the BBC 53% of the British people depend on it for the news they trust.
Would the hon. Gentleman accept, however, that apparently with the sole exception of John Redwood, there was broadcast silence from Conservative Members when there were dramatic examples of corporation bias during the Scottish referendum coverage? With all due respect, I never heard Sir William Cash utter a cheep in complaint about that, which makes us feel a trifle cynical about his motivation. One feels that it might just be about Europe rather than bias.
I do not want in any way to sound as though I am drawing on the fact that I have been in the House for 30 years, but with great respect, the hon. Gentleman ought to know that I am not known for dodging issues or not taking a serious point seriously. If I did not say anything at the time, I do not regard that as a fault on my part, but if he is right about how the BBC dealt with the issue, I deplore it. I think that is all I can say on that subject for the moment.
The BBC recently published an annual report that was rather critical of the fact that Select Committees ask questions about the BBC’s performance on so-called editorial independence. I am not denying that it is important that the BBC should have a degree of independence in order to be impartial, but I think I have made the case that there has not been the complete impartiality that we believe the BBC should deliver to the British public. That is perhaps for lack of a monitoring system, or perhaps because of a certain cultural bias of the kind that my hon. Friend Philip Davies mentioned, and we can see it in the evidence that we have accumulated in the European Scrutiny Committee and in the reports of News-watch.
“the BBC needs to be driven by evidence and fact, not by prejudice”.
However, in addition to what the annual report had said, she effectively stated that the BBC should not be subjected to Committee questions in the way that it is. I can only assume that she meant the European Scrutiny Committee, but perhaps she meant the Culture, Media and Sport Committee as well—my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley asks some tough questions when people from the BBC appear in front of that Committee. Rona Fairhead stated:
“Research carried out for the trust”— on what basis I do not know—
“shows clearly that the public see a need for independent scrutiny and regulation, but they want this done by a separate body representing licence fee payers, not by politicians.”
However, we have overarching responsibility for the accountability of Ministers, and of the BBC, which has to appear in front of the Public Accounts Committee and so on. Rona Fairhead’s article continued:
“That independence has needed defending over decades, not just from governments but also from parliament, with a growing tendency in recent years for select committees to question BBC executives about detailed editorial decisions.”
That is quite an extraordinary statement.
We took evidence and legal advice, and the bottom line is that the BBC does not have complete, unfettered independence, editorial or otherwise. It has to comply with the charter. We make it clear in our report that we expect the impartiality requirements that are embedded in the framework agreement and other documents to be complied with in the light of what the charter states. The first port of call is what the charter says and unfortunately we felt, very strongly and unanimously, that the BBC had fallen short. We look to it to remedy that. I have referred to the correspondence on 15 and
Does my hon. Friend agree that the BBC Trust is not good enough to regulate and monitor the BBC’s coverage, because not only does it regulate the BBC, but it is a cheerleader for it as well? That means that it is not in the best position to be an independent monitor of the BBC’s output, and the BBC Trust chairman’s rather snooty view of politicians having any say in what goes on is undermined by the fact that she herself is appointed by the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport.
From what I have observed from press reports and elsewhere, she appears to have accepted that the BBC Trust is in need of significant reform. The general thrust is that the BBC Trust is bust. Basically, there will have to be a new system, and that is what the correspondence to which I have referred indicates.
Former BBC commentator and employee Robin Aitken’s book, “Can We Trust the BBC?”, covers many matters related to the European Union. I also recommend Peter Shore’s book, “Separate Ways”, the introduction of which contains some extremely pertinent views of the BBC as being deeply biased on EU matters, going back to meetings in the Connaught, alleged connections with the CIA and other similar issues.
News-watch has demonstrated the truth that
“in crucial respects, the BBC has not provided the Committee clear evidence that its EU-related output is properly balanced, informative and wide-ranging across all its platforms—or that the Corporation has raised its game in the ways urged by the Wilson report.”
I have given many of the reasons for that, and more will have to come out in our next inquiry.
What would the adjudicator’s role be vis-à-vis the BBC Trust? Would the adjudicator have primacy over it? Would the trust’s power to make a ruling on the issue of bias be removed, or would the two compete with each other, giving perhaps contradictory rulings?
New clause 1 states:
“Notwithstanding any enactment or legal instrument”,
so that would affect the Broadcasting Acts and the charter. Under my proposals, the Secretary of State would make provision by regulations
“to ensure the impartiality of broadcasters during the referendum period.”
There would also be a requirement for
“the appointment by the Secretary of State of a referendum broadcasting adjudicator”,
who would be completely separate. In effect, during the referendum period, the adjudicator’s arrangements would take the place of those of existing broadcasting authorities and the BBC. I do not dispute the fact that the Government do not want to go down that route, but it has emerged from the correspondence between the Secretary of State, Ofcom and the BBC Trust that serious discussions are taking place to make sure that the BBC and broadcasting authorities generally are properly impartial during the referendum campaign. There are those who do not think that there is a problem, but there are many who think there is, and that it needs to be rectified.
Even if the Government do not accept my amendment, the elements that I have described will need to be addressed in the charter review. The problem is that it is highly possible, if not probable, that the conclusions of the charter review will emerge after the referendum. It is therefore a matter of urgency that we sort this matter out in the run-up to the referendum, and before the charter review is completed. We shall look into this in the European Scrutiny Committee proceedings, to which we have invited Lord Hall, and we will continue to look into it because we believe that it could have a significant bearing on the outcome of the referendum if the situation is not remedied. If, on the other hand, the matter is taken seriously by the BBC and the broadcasting authorities, we will be able to find a solution in the framework of the existing legislation. This is a really serious matter.
I will not spend too much time on the other amendments, except to say that I think I will get an interesting response from the Minister to my amendment 1, which proposes a referendum period of not less than 16 weeks. I shall therefore not dwell on that one. We have to have a proper length of time for the referendum, so that the arguments can be properly put and understood on all sides.
New clause 11 deals with the limit on the expenditure of registered political parties. We have taken advice on this, because it is a matter of grave concern that the political parties, three of which are known to be pro-EU in the broadest sense, might find that they had too much money at their disposal, or at any rate have what we think is too much money if we look at this from the point of view of those who wish to leave. We have proposed a cumulative limit of £14 million. We have also proposed:
“Each political party’s share of the cumulative limit shall be determined in proportion to its share of the total votes cast at the general election that took place on
The new clause also proposes that
“the Electoral Commission shall calculate and notify each political party of its share of the cumulative limit.”
For practical purposes, I look to the Minister to give me his view on that one.
In addition, I have tabled amendment 3, which states:
“Regulations made under this Act or the 2000 Act in respect of the referendum must be made and come into force not less than six months before the start of the referendum period.”
We discussed some aspects of that in the debate on the previous group of amendments. A further amendment relates to the question of permitted participants and the European Union. I should add that quite a lot of my amendments have been endorsed by the Electoral Commission. The Minister can no doubt refer to that body as he goes through the amendments. This is not just a matter of Back Benchers coming forward with proposals; I have been in discussion with the Electoral Commission on many matters, including my amendment 78, which we covered in the previous debate. The commission endorsed that amendment, but unfortunately it was not accepted by the Labour party.
A significant number of Members have signed my amendment 2, which proposes that
“a permitted participant must not accept a relevant donation, irrespective of whether or not it meets the requirements of the 2000 Act and this Act, if the donation is funded directly or indirectly in whole or part from moneys, resources or support disbursed or allocated by or at the direction of the European Commission, its agencies or any related European institution to the donor or via other parties to the donor.”
The object is to ensure that no funds come from the European Union for the purposes of promoting pro-European arguments, including, obviously, the yes vote. It is an important amendment, and my hon. Friend Mr Baker has sensibly suggested that we add the words
“Notwithstanding the European Communities Act 1972”,
just to make sure we do not slip up by finding that there is some law in the European Union that would contradict our proposals.
The hon. Gentleman has concluded his speech. We are grateful to him.
I shall speak relatively briefly to the SNP amendments put forward by my hon. Friend Stephen Gethins. As he said, the rules, regulations and conduct of the Scottish independence referendum represent a gold standard for referendums and political engagement more generally.
When the EU referendum does reach the streets and town halls of the UK, Members in this Chamber might be in for a bit of a surprise about people’s willingness to engage in that debate. Key to that political engagement is the right of 16 and 17-year-olds not only to vote but to participate in the debate. They galvanised and energised the debate on the independence referendum. Their generation will have to live with the consequences of this vote for longer than any of us, so it is only right that they should be included. The Scottish Parliament has just enfranchised 16 and 17-year-olds with the vote. As a result, a 16-year-old in my constituency faces being able to vote in the Scottish Parliament elections in 2016 and in the local government elections in 2017 but being denied the right to vote in the EU referendum, which will fall at some point between or shortly after those elections.
That leads us to the question of timing, where the Government seem to have been scrambling to keep up with the demand for clarity. At the last stage they had to confirm that the referendum would not clash with the Scottish Parliament or Welsh Assembly elections, and now they are introducing amendments to say that it will not clash with local elections specifically planned for
There are additional benefits to having that clear run-up to the date of the referendum. I saw major benefits in holding the Scottish independence referendum in September, not least because it gave us a good long period of campaigning during the glorious summer for which Scotland is renowned and which it experiences every year but experienced particularly last year during the Commonwealth games. That led literally to engagement on the streets, with stalls, petitions and conversations that would not have happened if the referendum had come in May. But the precise month is less relevant to this than the length of time available; no matter the exact date, what was crucial was the good period of time available for a free and full debate.
Allowing three months on either side of the referendum gives it the respect and the place that it is due in our national discourse. I think some Members on the Labour Benches have been surprised to see so many people filling out town halls because of an election. Such a thing is no surprise to us in Scotland who have seen a democratic reawakening and an engagement with the political process that was brought about by our independence referendum. We have the opportunity now to do the same thing. It does not matter what we believe in or how we vote in the referendum. Like my right hon. Friend Alex Salmond, I am pro-European to my fingertips, and I look forward to shedding light on the positive case for remaining in the European Union. No matter what side we support in the EU referendum, we should allow that space and time to be made available.
We do not want the referendum to be conflated with any other vote that may be taking place. The Government may want to cast their mind back to the alternative vote referendum, which was completely lost in Scotland—perhaps rightly so—in the debate on the Scottish elections. Elsewhere in the UK, the vote effectively became a referendum on the popularity of the Con-Dem coalition, and it went decidedly against the result that the Deputy Prime Minister wanted. Perhaps in 2017, or whatever date is picked, the Prime Minister should consider whether he wants this vote to turn into a referendum on the popularity of the Government rather than on the question of the UK’s membership of the European union.
Finally, in an earlier intervention, I mentioned new clause 3, which has not been selected but which makes a very important point. It called for a double majority across the United Kingdom before we leave the European Union. A majority of votes in favour of leaving should be cast in each constituent part of the UK before withdrawal can take place.
I am interested in this idea of double majorities. Obviously, giving a veto to each of the constituent countries of the United Kingdom would be very useful in certain contexts, but does the hon. Gentleman think that it should be something that applies to all national referendums in future, including one on changing the voting system?
That is quite an interesting proposition and it is certainly worth considering. We were told that Scotland should be leading, not leaving, the UK. If we are to have a respect agenda and a family of nations, perhaps that is the kind of thing that we should be considering. As I said earlier, it is precisely the principle that this Government want to introduce in their proposals for English votes for English laws. Therefore, legislation, which can always be revisited and amended in different ways, will be subject to a double majority in this House, but a fundamental, decisive and long-term principled decision on our membership of the European Union will be denied that opportunity of a double majority when we are trying to decide the future of the United Kingdom and its role in the modern world.
Like much of what we have tried to do in this House since being elected, the SNP has tabled amendments on the basis of what we were told during the independence referendum. We heard that Scotland was a valued member of the family of nations and that we should be leading the UK, not leaving the UK. But we now face the prospect of Scotland’s 16 and 17-year-olds and European Union citizens being denied a vote on this matter of vital importance. The date of the referendum is being chosen on a whim to suit the political expediencies of the Government rather than to allow a free and fair debate. Worst of all, Scotland’s citizens are being forced to leave the European Union even if they vote to stay in. That does not suggest a respect agenda. It might be that some of us see that as the kind of material change that requires a fresh evaluation of Scotland’s place in the United Kingdom.
The SNP has tabled clear and sensible amendments that are consistent with the points that we have made throughout the passage of this Bill. If the EU referendum is to be seen as free and fair, the rules must be clear and based on consensus. We do not have to look far to see what the gold standard of a referendum process should be. I hope that the Government will listen, but I fear that, as on so many issues, they will not.
I wish to support my hon. Friend Sir William Cash and his new clause 11, but the House will be relieved to hear that I shall do so rather more briefly. There is a quote by Sir Winston Churchill in the No Lobby, which says that he wants to spend the first million years in heaven painting. As much as I love my hon. Friend, I fear that I might spend the first million years in purgatory listening to his speeches.
Although there has been a lot of fire and emotion and a vote tonight about purdah, the question of spending by both sides is probably more important. Lord Lamont, the former Chancellor, has written a number of articles about it. It is incredibly important when we have the referendum that we get a sense of closure. At the end of this, whatever the result, people should feel that it has been broadly fair. Otherwise, we might reap the whirlwind. We should remember what happened after the Scottish referendum. If the yes campaign should win, we do not want to create a sense of unfairness for the other side.
I know that my hon. Friend the Minister has taken seriously the points I have put to him. In our earlier debates, the way he put it was that there should be a “broad equality” of forces, but we fear that that simply will not happen. Although there are sensible, firm and clear limits on how much public money will be available to the no and yes campaigns—say, £600,000 or something on each side—and that is completely fair, the party establishment of the main political parties, the Conservative party, the Labour party, the Liberal party, and the SNP, will almost certainly campaign to stay in Europe. Their ability to spend will be based on the votes that they got, with the Conservative party allowed to spend £5 million, the Labour party £4 million, the UK Independence party only £3 million—they will be the only people on the other side—and the Liberal Democrats £2 million. We could reach a situation in which the yes campaign is spending up to £17 million and the no campaign only £8 million.
That has already happened once before. In 1975, the no side was outspent 10:1, which simply cannot be fair. When I put those points to my hon. Friend the Minister in the past, he said that although he accepted that morally and logically there was force in my arguments, that was not in our tradition, as we do not have limits for general elections. I am sure that he will make the same argument again tonight. However, a general election is somewhat different. Separate political parties all have their own position that they are putting forward, rather than ganging up, in a sense, on one side of the argument. There is no sense of unfairness at the end of the process, or a sense that one important political point of view has been massively outspent by the other side.
Although I accept that the Minister will make those arguments, I hope he will feel that there is some sort of moral force in what we have said. For instance, the official yes side in the AV referendum spent £3.436 million and the official no side spent £2.995 million. There was a broad equality in what the yes campaign and no campaign were spending on the AV referendum, was there not? I think we all felt it was a fair referendum. The arguments were put, there was a clear decision and people accepted it. Surely we do not want to be in the situation that has arisen with so many other referendums in Europe, in which there is a sense that the political establishment—the European establishment—has a massive imbalance of resources on its side when it comes to spending. That creates a sense after the referendum that it has somehow been unfair.
Our sole UKIP Member is not present for this important debate, but we do not want to create a situation like the one that existed after the Scottish referendum, do we? There was suddenly a great surge in support for the SNP, and we would not want to recreate that position. [Hon. Members: “Why not?”] There will not be a surge in support for the SNP after this referendum; there might be a surge in support for somebody else, which SNP Members might not welcome.
I hope that when the Minister replies to the debate he will try to convince us that the Government do want a broad equality of resources during the campaign, so that we can feel that the yes and no campaigns have put their points of view fairly, that the public have listened to their arguments and that a fair decision has been made.
May I say what a pleasure it is to take part in this debate? Certainly, for some Members on the Government Benches it is as though two Christmases have come at once—the BBC and the European Union. Had we also been able to debate political correctness, traffic wardens and road humps, their ecstasy would have been complete.
And wiping out the Lib Dems would be the final segment.
I want to make a few points about amendments 8, 19, 17, 20, 21 and 23. With regard to votes at 16 and 17, I will not repeat the arguments that have already been set out on Second Reading and in this debate, but clearly it is something we support. One of the fundamental reasons why we support votes at 16 and 17 in the EU referendum is that young people could be deprived of the benefits of our EU membership, such as the ability to live and work abroad. That would be extremely regrettable, because it would close down their options.
Amendments 20 and 21 were tabled by Mike Gapes, who is no longer in his place. I assume that he did so—I support him in this—to try to initiate some sort of debate, because one thing that is sorely lacking in debates on our membership of the EU is the impact that pulling out would have on UK citizens who live elsewhere in the EU and on other EU citizens who live in UK. I think that he was trying to trigger that debate, because those who support leaving the European Union have to start talking about that. It is only fair that they set out what they think the impact would be on the millions of EU citizens who live in the UK, and on the millions of UK citizens who live elsewhere in the European Union.
When Mr McFadden referred to precedent, I hope that he was not saying that the Labour party could not move on the issue of votes for EU citizens in the UK simply because there was no precedent for that anywhere else in the EU. If we always waited for a precedent to be set, we would never do anything. I hope that there are other reasons why the Labour party cannot support that, although it was not entirely clear what they were. All he referred to was the fact that precedents elsewhere in the EU were against that happening.
Government amendment 23 relates to the wording of the referendum question. Like the official Opposition, we accept the wording put forward by the Electoral Commission, but we are disappointed that it is more complicated than the original question. Indeed, the Electoral Commission has suggested in its own findings that the change was not necessary because there was no evidence to suggest that the original question resulted in participants changing their voting preferences. I am slightly confused about why the Electoral Commission then felt that it was necessary to put forward an alternative and more complicated question, but that is where we are and that is what it has set out.
I am a little confused about why the right hon. Gentleman thinks that the words “remain” and “leave” could possibly be confusing to anyone. Surely it is perfectly obvious that “remain” means stay in, and “leave” means get out.
To us as we debate it, potentially it is quite clear what the two mean, but I think that the hon. Gentleman might accept that, outside this Chamber, the original question was simpler. There is the risk that people will be more challenged by the alternative question proposed by the Electoral Commission.
I see the hon. Gentleman shake his head. I am sure he has attended counts, looked at people’s ballot papers and tried to work out the reasoning behind the decisions taken in for example, crossing two boxes rather than one during a general election, or in the more confused voting that takes place in elections where there are multiple choices. The question and the way in which people participate in the referendum does present challenges and lead to difficulties, which is why a simpler question is always the better choice. However, the Electoral Commission has recommended this question, the Government are implementing its recommendations and, with some misgivings, we will support that.
A great many fascinating and important points have been made about impartiality of the media and spending by political parties. I will speak briefly about amendment 22 and my amendment (a) to amendment 2, tabled by my hon. Friend Sir William Cash, which deals with the EU institutions and their spending.
It has been put to me that if the EU institutions spent heavily in the referendum campaign, it would greatly assist the campaign to leave, particularly if some of the Commissioners came over on speaking tours and explained their plans for a federal Europe. Notwithstanding that, it is a matter of concern that the EU institutions might end up being the only unregulated parties in the course of the campaign. I am therefore keen to hear the Minister’s thoughts on spending by the EU institutions, but I know we all want to hear him cover the wide range of points made during the debate, so I shall sit down.
This is a very large group of amendments, covering almost the entirety of the Bill, it is late and I have less than 10 minutes, so I shall skip lightly over anything covered during Committee stage with the Leader of the House and focus on the new points and the new areas raised this evening. I commend all the Government amendments in the group and will try to summarise the most important ones briefly, before moving on to some of the others in the group.
First, there are amendments dealing with changes to the campaign rules. They broadly have the support of the Electoral Commission and will ensure that the Bill and PPERA operate together and that campaigning is fair and transparent. They include changes to allow the lead campaigns to be designated quickly if needed, so that they do not cut into the short 10-week campaign period, and to allow the Electoral Commission to reject applications from campaigners with offensive or obscene names. Second are the amendments dealing with changes to the administration rules. They are all technical and deal primarily with the interaction between UK law and Gibraltarian law. Third are amendments responding to concerns raised by Members in previous debates to rule out holding the referendum on
I will deal first with clause 2 and the referendum franchise. Quite a lot of this was dealt with in Committee, and given the limited time, I will have to skip very lightly over it. I will, however, mention Government amendment 24, which makes a small change to permit Irish citizens resident in Gibraltar to vote in the referendum to bring equality to who can vote in the UK and Gibraltar. The Government of Gibraltar support the change, and I am pleased to see consensus across the House with an Opposition amendment for the same purpose, amendment 18, having been tabled. I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend Stephen Phillips for raising the matter in Committee.
Given the limited time I have, I do not propose to spend a great deal of time—in fact, any—on votes at 16, because we covered it in Committee. I will come back to the issue of EU citizens at the end, if time allows, but there is an awful lot of other ground to cover.
As I said, the Government amendments on campaigning broadly have the support of the Electoral Commission and will ensure that the Bill and PPERA operate together and that campaigning is fair and transparent. On designation and the time allowed for the campaign, we have proposed changes which I hope will please my hon. Friend Sir William Cash, as they address concerns he raised with me in Committee and again this evening. He was worried that we should have a full 16-week campaign and that designation should not eat into the final 10-week short campaign period. I promised him that we would find an answer to make sure that it did not. These changes mean that the required statutory instrument to fix the date for the referendum should, as is usual for an affirmative resolution, take six weeks to go through the House. Only once that process is complete does the 10-week short campaign period start. Obviously, six plus 10 equals 16. I hope that my hon. Friend and others will be reassured that we will have adequate time to debate during that entire 16-week period.
Equally, it is important that the designation process means that the decision on who are the lead campaign groups for the “in” and the “out” campaigns is properly arrived at that and those groups are clearly designated before the start of the 10-week campaign, since that will allow them to access the money that designation as lead campaign groups allows and also to spend that money correctly to put their points as strongly as possible during the last 10 weeks of the campaign. We have therefore decided to table an amendment that will allow the designation process to be done via a negative resolution and, if necessary, for that resolution to take effect immediately on the day, at the latest, that the SI setting the date for the referendum is tabled. That will mean that while the SI setting the date is going through Parliament, the work by the Electoral Commission to designate lead campaign groups can be going on in parallel and will be complete on or before the start of the 10-week period so that designation will be complete in time for the full 10 weeks to be carried out properly. I hope that that answers, very briefly, the major concerns that were raised in Committee and again here today.
I should also mention that the negative resolution I have described would need to take effect very promptly on the day that it was tabled. That is unusual; we usually wait for two to three weeks after tabling something before it takes effect. I have already spoken to the Chairman of the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments to discuss the importance and exceptionality of getting the provision to take effect immediately rather than after three weeks. I look forward to working with him on this wherever possible.
I now move on to some of the non-Government amendments. Amendment 1, in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Stone, would require that the referendum period be no shorter than 16 weeks. I hope we have already dealt with that and therefore do not propose to dwell on it any more strongly.
Amendment 3, also in the name of my hon. Friend, would require that the legislation be clear at least six months before it is required to be implemented or complied with. I think that his rationale is based on the Electoral Commission recommendation that the rules be clear six months before they are enforced. We can satisfy that recommendation in a slightly brisker and less onerous fashion, because we have already published the detailed draft regulations on how the vote should be held. They have been available in the Commons Library since July, and the Electoral Commission has been assessing them carefully too. The rules will already have been extremely clear for six months by spring next year, and I hope that that will give everybody plenty of chance to consider and absorb the details and subtleties as needed. I hope that my hon. Friend will therefore be able to withdraw his amendment.
New clause 11 deals with spending caps, which were mentioned by a number of colleagues. The new clause would mean that all political parties seeking to campaign in the referendum would not be able to spend, in total, more than £14 million. This would replace the individual spending limit set for political parties that register as permitted participants under the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000. I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Stone is seeking to reduce the impact that political parties—presumably the major ones—can have in campaigning in the referendum, but I am afraid that the new clause would not necessarily achieve what he may intend. For example, assuming that the 11 parties had secured between them 99% of the general election vote, the Lib Dems and the UK Independence party would find that their spending limit fell by between 55% and 60% compared with the levels currently set in PPERA, and the Greens, Plaid Cymru and the Democratic Unionist party would find their allocations falling by over 90%. Instead of £700,000 each, Plaid Cymru, for example, would be stuck with a limit of £84,000.
If political parties wanted to get round my hon. Friend’s proposal they could simply register several other permitted participants and funnel any extra money that they might have into them. Their total spending would be well above the limit that he suggests, and the new clause would not be able to stop it. It also opens up the option for political game playing, whereby parties may not want to campaign but simply register to impact on and reduce the limits of other political rivals. That would not reflect well on the quality of rules underpinning the referendum. I therefore hope that he will be able to withdraw the new clause.
I hope that I can reassure my hon. Friends in relation to the various amendments on the European Commission’s role. For a start, neither EU institutions nor foreign Governments are legally permitted donors under UK election law, so any campaign group that took money from them would be committing an offence. I note that the Electoral Commission announced on Friday that it does not support the amendments for that reason. There are well tested rules, modelled on election rules, to prevent anyone from circumventing that by using middlemen. Equally, to take an example entirely at random, if my hon. Friends are considering supporting the out campaign, I gently suggest that any attempt by the EU to interfere in the campaign would be a huge boost to my hon. Friends’ side, and although the EU is many things, it is not stupid, so I suspect that it already understands that point.
Time is very tight, but I propose to speak very briefly about the changes proposed to broadcasters’ impartiality. I simply say that the existing regulators already have many of the required powers; the question is about turning principle into practice and getting them to use those powers. I am delighted to confirm that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport has urged them to do so. I therefore hope that we will not need to add any further regulators to the panoply that already exists.
I will sit down to leave Mike Gapes, who moved the lead amendment, a few moments to round off the debate.
It is important to say that this has been a useful and interesting debate. The real debate is of course yet to come for the country. I will withdraw amendment 20, but the issues that I raised are pertinent to our country’s democracy and are certainly of great concern to the millions of British people living in other EU countries, who feel that they are being disfranchised on a vital decision that could affect their wellbeing and future. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Five hours having elapsed since the commencement of proceedings on consideration, the proceedings were interrupted (Programme Order, this day).
The Deputy Speaker put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time (
Amendment proposed: 17, page 2, line 2, at end insert
“and persons who would be so entitled except for the fact that they will be aged 16 or 17 on the date on which the referendum is to be held.” —(Mr McFadden.)
This amendment would entitle British citizens, qualifying Commonwealth citizens and citizens of the Republic of Ireland aged 16 and 17 to vote in the referendum.
Question accordingly negatived.
Amendment made: 24, page 2, line 13, leave out paragraph (c) and insert—
“(c) the persons who, on the date of the referendum—
(i) would be entitled to vote in Gibraltar as electors at a European Parliamentary election in the combined electoral region in which Gibraltar is comprised, and
(ii) fall within subsection (1A).
‘(1A) A person falls within this subsection if the person is either—
(a) a Commonwealth citizen, or
(b) a citizen of the Republic of Ireland.” —(John Penrose.)
This amendment includes within the category of persons entitled to vote in the referendum citizens of the Republic of Ireland who would be entitled to vote in Gibraltar at a European Parliamentary election.
Amendment proposed: 7, page 2, line 16, at end insert—
“(d) the persons who on the date of the referendum would be entitled to vote in a European parliamentary election by virtue of the European Parliamentary Elections (Franchise of Relevant Citizens of the Union) Regulations 2001 (S.I. 2001/1184) (citizens of the European Union other than Commonwealth and Republic of Ireland citizens).”—(Stephen Gethins.)
This amendment would extend the franchise to EU nationals who would be entitled to vote in EU parliamentary elections in the UK.
Question put, That the amendment be made.
The House divided:
Ayes 64, Noes 494.