European Union Referendum Bill: Clause 1 — The referendum

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


Bill Cash Conservative, Stone

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

On whether contradiction might be created in respect of the position of Government Ministers in this country, my flow has been slightly diverted by my hon. Friend’s perfectly understandable intervention, but the fact is that Ministers and the civil service are in a position under the purdah rules such that they would not be able to use the machinery of government. In relation to the EU, which I know a little bit about, the machinery of government is extensive, but there are methods that could be applied, with a sensible degree of amendment, to ensure that the restrictions on the matters to which I have referred are complied with, because this is what we are talking about; it is not some generalised assumption that Ministers are going to wander on to completely different paths.

Section 125 lists the material I have already referred to—

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

“designed to designed to encourage voting”,— and it states that none of that material

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

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

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