European Union Referendum Bill (Programme) (No. 2)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:02 pm on 7th September 2015.

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Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond Shadow SNP Westminster Group Leader (International Affairs and Europe) 6:02 pm, 7th September 2015

Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. I always think that it is marginally to my advantage to speak when I am trying to persuade hon. Members to support my cause. Many people have argued to the contrary —that silence could be golden in the circumstances—but looking at the programme motion, I do not think the Government should succeed. Only six weeks have passed since we were here discussing the European Referendum Bill. Of course I understand the Government’s anxiety to progress the business while the Labour party is concerned about other matters, but the motion on the Order Paper strikes me as hardly adequate for reasonable discussion.

Those of us who were present during the Committee stage will remember, among many other events, a last-minute starred amendment allowed relating to the timing of the referendum; the Government facing defeat on the issue of purdah; and the absolute confidence with which the Leader of the House and the Minister told us that the question to be put in the referendum was already more or less accepted by the Electoral Commission and we did not have to worry about that process.

Now we come to Report stage, and we find that we are to have two and a half hours to debate the issue of purdah. We also find that a Government amendment—new clause 10—was tabled so late that you, Mr Speaker, have allowed a manuscript amendment to that new clause. I have absolutely no idea what the Government were doing during the six weeks of recess that they were only able to table a new clause so late as to allow a manuscript amendment to it. That will cause considerable controversy, and I imagine that debating it will take up the full two and a half hours.

That brings us to the second two and a half hours allowed to us, in which we have to discuss the

“Entitlement to vote, impartiality of broadcasters, party spending limits, the referendum…campaigning…financial controls…further provisions about the referendum” and, crucially,

“the question on the ballot paper”.