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Matthew Hancock: No, the constitutional basis is that, under the European Union Referendum Act 2015, the Government are required to take a position. The Government have taken a position, as I have set out, and it is for civil servants to support that position. It is therefore necessary to set out how civil servants should act with a Minister who does not support the Government position. The guidance is precisely limited to the in/out question, and the reason for publishing it is to ensure that everyone knows what the position is.

Margaret Ferrier (Rutherglen and Hamilton West) (SNP): Sir Nicholas Macpherson, the Treasury’s most senior civil servant, was quoted as saying that he believed that impartiality guidelines did not apply in “extreme” cases such as the Scottish independence referendum. Would the Minister classify the EU referendum as an extreme case, and if so, can we expect normal rules of civil service neutrality to be completely disregarded?

Matthew Hancock: Civil servants support the position of the Government of the day, and this Government have a position. I do not know how many times I am going to have to repeat that. That is the case. Civil servants are impartial, but they support the Government of the day. That is the law and it is the situation in this case too.

Neil Carmichael (Stroud) (Con): Does the Paymaster General agree that it would be supremely ironic if this referendum had an impact on the way in which our civil service operated in the future? It is absolutely right that the civil service should support the Government, and the Government have made the decision—the right decision, in my view—that we are safer, stronger and better in the European Union.

Matthew Hancock: It is disappointing that the leave campaign seems to want to focus on process issues such as this rather than discussing whether we would be better off inside a reformed European Union, as I believe we would. My hon. Friend raises an important point. If any Members do not think that the rules should operate in the way we published last week, the only other position would be for the civil service to support a position that was not the Government’s position, which would go against everything that it was set up to do.

John Cryer (Leyton and Wanstead) (Lab): Is not the Prime Minister effectively saying to his own Ministers, “You can exercise your democratic rights as long as you agree with me at the end of the day”? Is this not the latest sordid attempt—there will be more—to rig the referendum to get the result that the Prime Minister wants?

Matthew Hancock: No; on the contrary, this is a consequence of allowing Ministers to express their views freely on whether they want to remain in or to leave, as many of them are doing.

Nick Herbert (Arundel and South Downs) (Con): Does the Minister agree that the misunderstanding of the Government’s position has been evidenced by the last question, which suggested that the Prime Minister required Ministers to agree with him? That is not the case. The public will surely agree that fairness is ensured

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by the fact that Ministers are free to speak out. That is what the Prime Minister is allowing, and that is a generous position. There is no reason why those Ministers should be supported by the civil service or the taxpayer in expressing their view, to which they are entitled in conscience. If they feel that this is unfair, they have the option of not remaining in the Government.

Matthew Hancock: Yes.

Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab): The Lord Chancellor has an important constitutional job, but he cannot do it under these restrictions. At the weekend, we heard that the so-called British Bill of Rights was going to be postponed again, for at least six months. If the Lord Chancellor wants his lawyers or civil servants to put together well-crafted arguments on parliamentary sovereignty or the powers of the European Court of Justice, should not they be allowed to do that? Otherwise, we shall be getting second-class government, and God forbid that we should have that.

Matthew Hancock: Of course the Lord Chancellor can continue to do the work that he is doing in reforming the courts system and in all sorts of areas. Indeed, I visited a prison with him on Friday, as I have mentioned. That shows that the Government are getting on with their work. On top of that, we are having a debate in the country and between Ministers on both sides on the specific question of an in/out referendum.

Richard Fuller (Bedford) (Con): When people in Bedford and Kempston have raised the issue of the European referendum with me over the past week, they have wanted to hear the facts. They hear lots of statistics, but they fear that they are being warped by one side or the other, so they want facts. How will this restriction on access to information enable those people to get the facts?

Matthew Hancock: It will not have any implications for facts, because factual briefing and fact-checking is allowed to be done by civil servants.

Jonathan Edwards (Carmarthen East and Dinefwr) (PC): The civil service, the state broadcaster and the central bank were all central players in project fear 1 in Scotland. Is it therefore naive not to expect the use of the same public assets on project fear 2 and the EU referendum?

Matthew Hancock: I do not understand the premise of the question, because we are putting forward the positive case for remaining in a reformed European Union.

Dr Sarah Wollaston (Totnes) (Con): Will the Minister set out what the harm would be in allowing full transparency of these data? Surely there would be much greater harm if at the end of the referendum we were left with people feeling that it had been an unfair process.

Matthew Hancock: The challenge of taking a position other than the one the Government have taken is that it would require civil servants to do work that was not in

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support of the Government’s position. The Government have a position, and it is part of the civil service code, and it is put into law in the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010, that civil servants should support the position of the Government. It would put civil servants in a very difficult position if we were to do anything other than that.

Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): I will be campaigning for Britain to remain in the EU, but I see no issue with all Ministers having access to the very strong arguments for Britain to remain in the EU—this is a matter of democracy. Is the Minister really suggesting that we could have a situation where a Secretary of State is denied access to key Government papers but his or her junior Ministers have access to that information?

Matthew Hancock: What we are saying is that the Government have a position and the civil service will advise on that position. If Ministers have taken a personal decision to campaign personally, in a personal capacity, against the position of the Government, it is inappropriate to ask civil servants to support that other position, which is not the position of the Government.

Dr Andrew Murrison (South West Wiltshire) (Con): I very much appreciate that the Minister has qualified and caveated some of the guidance that has recently been issued. Does he not agree, however, that there is a danger that without further clarification we could have the ludicrous situation where Freedom of Information Act requests, or requests made by Members of Parliament through parliamentary questions, could get information out of Ministers that those Ministers would have been denied by their own civil servants?

Matthew Hancock: I do not know whether that was directed at people on the shadow Front Bench, but the situation is as I have set out. The key point is this: if we were to take any other position, we would have civil servants being asked not to support the position of the Government. We are approaching this in the way these things have been approached in referendums in the past—in 1975 and in the Scottish referendum—which seems perfectly reasonable.

Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con): Because this is such a divisive issue and because so many people feel so strongly about it, it has been decided that instead of Government taking the decision, the people should take the decision. What does it do for the sense of fairness among the people if the big battalions of the civil service seem to be lined up on one side of the argument and spin doctors in Downing Street do botched letters to the press from generals who have not even signed up to them saying that one side of the argument is right and the other side of it is wrong?

Matthew Hancock: The debate over how this would operate took place during the passage of the European Union Referendum Bill, which my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe took through Parliament. During the passage of that Bill, there was quite a debate, for example, about how purdah should operate, and many concessions were made by the Government in order to ensure that the process is fair. The result of that was an Act that included the requirement for the Government

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to take a view and then to be able to set out information on various aspects of the referendum, and that is exactly what we are doing.

Sir Gerald Howarth (Aldershot) (Con): I think I heard the Minister say that dissenting Ministers will not be allowed to see papers making the case for Britain to remain in the EU, which suggests that the Government have very little confidence in their own arguments. May I put it to my right hon. Friend that it is a constitutional outrage to deny access to arguments that “may”—as the briefing paper says—have a bearing on the referendum to some key Ministers in the Department for Work and Pensions and the Ministry of Justice who are intimately involved in the central issues of this referendum? The Government really need to think again about that, because otherwise the British people will think that the Government intend to rig the referendum.

Matthew Hancock: I would argue to the contrary. The constitutional difficulty would arise if civil servants were being asked to support a position that was not the position of the Government. The civil service is there to support the Government. I would argue that this is precisely in order to stick to the constitution, as set out by the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 but as carried out in practice for decades and decades before that. The job of the civil service is to support the Government, and that is what it should do.

Mrs Anne Main (St Albans) (Con): The British public could be forgiven for thinking that, if someone such as the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith), is not permitted to see all the relevant documents, he may be unable to advise the Government. The Government may then come to a fixed opinion on a particular view such as benefits without having all the facts. A question and answer document from the Cabinet Office says:

“Can dissenting Ministers see Department papers on matters that aren’t directly about the Referendum, but may have a bearing.”

The answer is:

“They can see or commission any papers produced by their Departments in the normal way except those that have a bearing on the referendum question or are intended to be used in support of their position”.

It is not a simple black and white matter; it is a matter of interpretation. Special advisers are being handcuffed and told that they must keep things from the Secretary of State. That is appalling. Are the Government afraid that the facts might change the minds of the public and some Cabinet members?

Matthew Hancock: My hon. Friend’s question was focused on what the public think. I believe they will think, “Please can we get on to debating the substance of the question rather than the process of how to make sure that Ministers are allowed, unusually, to depart from the Government position while the constitutional position of the civil service remains in place.”

Mr David Jones (Clwyd West) (Con): Is it true, as reported in The Times this morning, that without the consent or knowledge of the Secretary of State, officials of the DWP carried out research on the instructions of No. 10 to help support the case for remaining in the

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EU? If that is the case, will the Minister please explain how the Secretary of State can be expected to be responsible for the work of his own Department?

Matthew Hancock: These guidelines are restricted to the issues of the question of in/out. It is perfectly normal —it happens all the time—for there to be communications between Departments and No. 10. That is how the Government operate.

Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham) (Con): Perhaps the solution is for Ministers to submit freedom of information requests to their own Departments to get the answers. A key part of the Prime Minister’s reform package was very complex changes to benefits and indexing of benefits. If, at the next DWP Question Time, I ask the Secretary of State what progress he is making to determine whether those reforms are deliverable by 23 June, will he be able to give me an honest and full answer?

Matthew Hancock: Yes, of course he will. On issues that are not about the in/out referendum question, Ministers will be fully informed. That is the position. As to the question of whether this will change people’s minds, the Government have made their position clear, which is that, obviously, we are in favour of remain.

Sir Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): Say for a moment that I am the fisheries Minister, young, ambitious, good looking and anxious to do the Prime Minister’s bidding, and the Prime Minister tells me that I have to set out my vision of what life outside the EU means for fishing—indeed that is a huge question for our fishing fleets—what do I do? The EU determines everything in my Department. I have no national policy on fishing, but I happen to be in favour of the out campaign. Do I go home for four months? Do I get no advice from Ministers? Is it not so much “Yes, Minister” as just “Go home for four months and we will see you in June”?

Matthew Hancock: My hon. Friend makes an incredibly important point, which is that the rules set out last week make it clear that on all issues, including EU issues other than the in/out question, government continues as normal. I am afraid that he cannot have four months off, even in the circumstances he describes. I am sure that he would not miss the next four months for the world.

Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): The Paymaster General is a Minister in the Cabinet Office, which is the Department responsible for the civil service, yet my right hon. Friend has form when it comes to civil service advice. In June 2015, he signed a special declaration overriding civil service advice that further money should not be given to Kids Company, which subsequently disappeared. Would it be open to Ministers of the Crown to use that same special declaration to override this present civil service edict?

Matthew Hancock: Making what is called a direction, such as that which I made on Kids Company because I thought that it was worth spending the money to look after those kids—it is right that Ministers should be able democratically to override the advice of civil servants when they choose to, so long as that is published—is

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about the expenditure of money. The EU debate is not specifically about the expenditure of money, although there are debates about growth, jobs and the economy, and so the question would not arise.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): Several of my constituents have contacted me and asked where they can get the facts to decide in their own minds how to vote. It is, after all, the people, not the Government, who will decide this matter, so is it not the duty of the civil service to provide facts to our people to enable them to decide how to vote? In these circumstances, is it not fair to ask the Cabinet Secretary, in his capacity as a neutral observer, to prepare a document for the people who will make this decision?

Matthew Hancock: It is absolutely necessary to ensure that information is available on questions about the referendum. For instance, that is why this morning we published a document on the process for leaving the European Union should that be the decision at the referendum. My hon. Friend is right that it is for the people to decide. The Cabinet Secretary is not neutral; he supports the Government position because he is a civil servant, and the whole civil service supports the Government position. If my hon. Friend is responding to his constituents and they really want information, I can always recommend a website called strongerin.co.uk, which has some great information.

Bob Stewart: It has to be impartial.

Matthew Hancock: There will be a campaign to leave, as well, and I hope that this debate continues so that by 23 June everybody feels fully informed.

Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) (Con): Will the Minister tell the House how the guidance rules would have affected the advice given to the Prime Minister by Sir Lynton Crosby when he said that the renegotiations were not good enough, that they should be rejected at the European Council and that proper renegotiations should be carried out and the referendum delayed until 2017? Clearly, in that situation, the adviser was not supporting the Government line at all.

Matthew Hancock: Sir Lynton Crosby is many things, but he is not a civil servant.

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Mr Stewart Jackson (Peterborough) (Con): Would a reasonable and fair-minded person not conclude that having been rebuffed in their attempts last September to alter on a sui generis basis the purdah rules relating to the referendum, the Government have come back and undermined the sovereignty of this House by using the civil service to achieve the very same objective?

Matthew Hancock: No, on the contrary. This guidance is a precise consequence of the Prime Minister’s decision to allow Ministers to campaign to leave. If the Prime Minister had not decided to allow Ministers to remain in the Government but to campaign to leave the European Union against the recommendation of the Government, such rules would not be necessary and we would not have had to publish them. This is a direct consequence of the Prime Minister’s decision to allow that debate to take place and to allow Ministers to take one or other side of the debate.

Andrew Percy (Brigg and Goole) (Con): Talking of guidance, my association was this morning issued with guidance from our north of England field director stating:

“The Party is neutral, which means that as an organisation we are not getting involved in any way on an official basis. In practice this means that Associations must not use any resources available to them, including money, data, premises etc. to promote a particular view.”

Given that this is a Conservative Government from the Prime Minister all the way down to us lowly Back Benchers, who are all members of a party that has no official view on the matter, why should civil servants who work for Conservative Ministers take a view on it? That is leading people out there to conclude that there is stitch-up to try and keep us in the wasteful EU.

Matthew Hancock: I do not think that is right. This House passed the European Union Referendum Act 2015, which required the Government to take a view and therefore the civil service follows the Government view. The Conservative party, as my hon. Friend says, is neutral on this matter, but the Government are not. That is a matter for how the party machine acts, rather than how the Government act, because as I have said many times, the civil service is duty bound by tradition and by law to follow the position of the Government of the day. That is why the guidance is constructed thus.

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Points of Order

5.1 pm

Mr Bernard Jenkin (Harwich and North Essex) (Con): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. During the exchanges that we have just had, it was noted that the Minister did not refer to the question and answer brief that has been circulated by the Cabinet Office to civil servants, which carries some of the wider interpretation of the letter. I wonder how I can draw the House’s attention to the fact that we will be publishing it on the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee website later today or tomorrow.

Mr Speaker: As I think the hon. Gentleman knows—I say this in response to his spurious point of order—he has achieved his objective. He should consider the matter so advertised.

Mrs Anne Main (St Albans) (Con): Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker.

Mr Speaker: I am not sure there is a “further” to that point of order, but I will hear it first and then come to a view about it.

Mrs Main: I read out the self-same question and answer, which uses the words “may have a bearing”. At what point may we have an explanation of what “may have a bearing” means? Who will arbitrate on that?

Mr Speaker: That is a matter for the Government. Legendarily, the Minister for the Cabinet Office is always keen to address the House—indeed, in the past he has likened himself to Disraeli, who had a notable enthusiasm for addressing the House. If he wishes to respond to the hon. Lady with that legendary succinctness for which he is renowned, we are happy to hear from him, but he is not under any obligation to do so.

The Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General (Matthew Hancock): Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I think I answered that point. The question is how we make sure that the guidance means that civil servants follow the Government position, including on the in/out question, which is the only question on which Ministers can move from the Government position. So it is a question of whether something is an in/out question or is normal EU business. I think I set that out earlier; I might have said the same.

Mrs Main indicated dissent.

Mr Speaker: We are extremely grateful to the Minister. I am not sure, from the head movements of the hon. Member for St Albans (Mrs Main), that he has satisfied her, but I am not sure any Minister would have been able to do so. None the less, the Minister has graciously come to the Dispatch Box.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Speaker: I will come back to Members who are expectant—[Interruption.] Well, expectant of the opportunity to raise points of order, I should perhaps say. But perhaps I may be permitted to take other points of order first. We will come to those illustrious denizens ere long.

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Nia Griffith (Llanelli) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. This morning the Secretary of State for Wales—I have made his office aware of my intention to raise this point of order—announced major changes to the timetable and content of the proposed Wales Bill; he has decided to jackknife the Bill and skid it to an undignified halt. Instead of coming to the House to inform right hon. and hon. Members and answer their questions about how he will proceed, he choose to make that significant announcement in front of a gathering of journalists in Cardiff, even suggesting on Twitter that hon. Members can wait until Thursday to question him. Did he give you any indication that he would be announcing this major change of policy today, Mr Speaker, and has he indicated that he will be making an oral statement to the House, as per paragraph 9.1 of the ministerial code?

Mr Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her point of order. The answer is that I have had no advance notice of this matter. It would be only fair for me, from the Chair, to say at this stage that whether it amounts to what she has described as a major change of policy or is merely a temporary pause or tactical judgment, I do not know. Suffice it to say that if there is a change of policy or a significant change in Government intentions for a notable period, the House would expect properly to be informed of that, and there are means by which Ministers can inform the House: either through the device of an answer to a written question or by a written ministerial statement. To my knowledge, neither has thus far been forthcoming. The hon. Lady’s point of order and my response to it will shortly be heard by the Wales Office, and I hope that proper account will be taken of it. If the hon. Lady needs to return to the point, doubtless she will do so.

Kirsten Oswald (East Renfrewshire) (SNP): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I seek your assistance in relation to a matter that is of some concern to me. In December I asked, by means of a written question, when the Chancellor of the Exchequer had last met the Financial Conduct Authority to discuss certain matters. The response advised me that Treasury Ministers meet a wide variety of organisations and referred me to the Treasury’s transparency reports online, stating that that is where details of such meetings are published. The reports detailed no bilateral meetings between the Treasury and the FCA over a two-year period.

I therefore challenged the Economic Secretary to the Treasury—she is aware that I am raising this matter today—on that point during a Back-Bench business debate on 12 January. She did not address the matter in her response, so I raised it with her again in a Back-Bench business debate on 1 February. To my great surprise, the hon. Lady stated:

“Contrary to what the hon. Member for East Renfrewshire seems to think,”—[Official Report, 1 February 2016; Vol. 605, c. 748.]

she had met the acting chief executive of the FCA, and that she regretted that I had formed a different opinion.

Of course, my opinion was formed on the basis of a written answer, the Treasury’s own transparency reports and exchanges with the Minister in this Chamber, all of which I should have been entitled to rely upon. It is worth noting that a similar issue has arisen in relation to another question, with the Under-Secretary of State

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for Disabled People referring me to a non-existent or impossible to locate piece of information on the Department for Work and Pensions website.

The record therefore suggests that I have misunderstood or am mistaken, but neither is true. I would be very much obliged for your advice, Mr Speaker, on how to put the record straight on this matter. Finally, I would be most grateful if you could advise me on how best to stop Ministers referring Members to websites that do not contain relevant information.

Mr Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her point of order, of the thrust of which she was kind enough to give me advance notice. I think that I am right in saying that she also gave notice to the Minister concerned.

Kirsten Oswald indicated assent.

Mr Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Lady for that confirmation. The short answer to the hon. Lady—this is for the benefit of the House—is that answers to Members’ questions should be direct, substantive and candid. I have sympathy with the view, which she has expressed, that it is not helpful if Government Departments simply refer right hon. and hon. Members in written answers to websites on which the information requested may be located but cannot easily be found. The much more straightforward process, which I think the public would expect, would be to provide an answer to the question. It is not really all that complicated.

That said, I have to emphasise, of course, that the content of written answers, and indeed of ministerial statements in the House, has to be a matter for the judgment of individual Ministers; it is not for the Chair to determine. However, I am offering an overall sentiment, which I think would be shared across the House. As to how the hon. Lady can put the matter straight, I suggest that, by dint of this point of order, she has begun to do so.

Dr Liam Fox (North Somerset) (Con): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. My point of order relates not to the ministerial code but to the conduct of the House of Commons. When Ministers come to the House of

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Commons, they are required to give full and informed answers to the questions we ask as Members of Parliament. Having given the matter some thought, can you give us some guidance on how we will know whether Ministers have been fully informed, if we know that there is a process of purposely withholding information from those who may be required to give answers to the House of Commons? How can we then carry out our duty of scrutiny properly?

Mr Speaker: I fear that it would be hazardous for me to tread on the terrain of what might be called the “known unknowns” or even the “unknown unknowns”. That would be difficult. The question, though a very good and legitimate one, is, I fear, at this stage hypothetical, but it is a problematic matter. The best I can say to the right hon. Gentleman is that the Chair, of course, will keenly attend to events and to the process of question and answer, and we will have to look at this matter as and when it arises, on a case by case basis. I will not be looking at it proactively, but if Members raise the matter with the Chair, the Chair will do his best to respond.

Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I have already expressed my admiration for my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office, who is on the Front Bench. I wonder whether there is any mechanism to reward someone who, first, is thrown into the lion’s den and, secondly, has to defend the indefensible.

Mr Speaker: I think I will treat that as what it is: not a point of order, but an inventive rhetorical question. At any rate, the hon. Gentleman seems justly satisfied, so I think we will, for now, leave it there. We are deeply grateful to the Minister for coming into the Chamber and responding to our inquiries.

If there are no further points of order, and the appetite has been satisfied, at any rate for today, we now come to the motion on the draft European Union Referendum (Date of Referendum etc.) Regulations 2016. Just before I ask the Minister—my illustrious neighbour, the Member for Aylesbury—to move the motion, I should inform the House that I have now considered the instrument, and I have decided not to certify it under Standing Order No. 83P.

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5.12 pm

The Minister for Europe (Mr David Lidington): I beg to move,

That the draft European Union Referendum (Date of Referendum etc.) Regulations 2016, which were laid before this House on 22 February, be approved.

The statutory instrument before us does a simple, but critical job: it puts in place the necessary legislation to enable a referendum to be held on 23 June this year. It is the last piece of legislation that will be debated in this Chamber to make that vote possible. As such, it represents Parliament taking the final steps towards an historic moment when, for the first time in over 40 years, the British people will be given their say on the United Kingdom’s membership of the European Union.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister announced a few days ago his intention to hold the referendum on 23 June, and the Government believe that that strikes an appropriate balance, giving plenty of time for a vigorous and comprehensive debate. Ultimately, however, the date is a matter for Parliament to decide, and as set out in the European Union Referendum Act 2015, it is a decision that must be approved both here and in the House of Lords.

Sir William Cash (Stone) (Con): I am fascinated by my right hon. Friend’s reference to vigorous and open debate, because it is quite clear from the preceding urgent question and from many other matters that have come to light recently that the one thing that everybody needs—information—is the one thing that people are going to find themselves deprived of. If the voters do not have balanced, impartial and accurate information, what are they supposed to do?

Mr Lidington: My advice to any elector would be to look at what the Government are saying and advising, but also at what the various campaign groups and other organisations in this country are saying. I will come later to the designation of campaign organisations. We need this statutory instrument to be approved, among other things, to make it possible for the Electoral Commission to go ahead and designate the campaign groups on each side of the argument, and give them access to the privileges that come with that status, precisely so that they can go out and present their case and make information and argument available to the people to whom my hon. Friend refers.

John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): I am very happy to have an early referendum, but did the Government decide not to push back on the absolutely pathetic non-offer we were made because they did not think we were ever going to get anything worth having out of the EU?

Mr Lidington: On the contrary, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister secured a deal that has brought some significant reforms to the European Union. I would advise my right hon. Friend to look at the reaction in many European capitals, in the media across Europe, and in the European Parliament, which has very largely been one of considerable surprise at the degree to which the Prime Minister of the United

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Kingdom was able to secure reforms. In some cases, that commentary involved a fair measure of criticism of other Government leaders for conceding what was believed to be too much.

Kate Hoey (Vauxhall) (Lab) rose

Mr Lidington: I will give way to the hon. Lady and then I must ask the House to allow me to make some progress.

Kate Hoey: I would be very happy to have a referendum as I have wanted one for years, but why did the Prime Minister ignore the views expressed in the letter from the leaders of the three Assemblies and Parliaments in the United Kingdom? Did that not show huge disrespect?

Mr Lidington: First, the letter was not ignored, and we certainly took account of the views of the devolved Administrations even though we decided in the end to disagree with their recommendation. I want to come to that point at a later stage in my remarks.

The date is just one element of the order, but clearly the most important, because the remaining elements largely flow from it. I will therefore explain the Government’s thinking on the date and then turn to the rest of the order. There must be enough time for a full, serious and considered debate that allows all the issues to have a full airing, and the campaigners must have enough time to put their case to the British people. On the other hand, although this may grieve some hon. Members, the campaign cannot continue indefinitely. The vote should be timely, while the issues are live and the details fresh—and we should also be wary of testing the public’s patience. Several prominent campaign groups are already active on both sides. Following the Prime Minister’s announcement on the outcome of the renegotiation, the debate on the referendum question will now begin in earnest and is already starting to gather real momentum.

The Government selected 23 June because we needed enough time for a proper airing of the issues, and we thought that any sooner would risk curtailing that debate, but to go any later would test the patience of the British people. School holidays in Scotland begin on 24 June, and from then people will be travelling and enjoying their summer. Later than 23 June would mean, in essence, waiting until after the summer holiday period had concluded in all parts of the United Kingdom and in Gibraltar. Frankly, I think that the British people would have found it very difficult to understand if we had asked them to wait seven or eight months after the conclusion of the renegotiation before they could have their say.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): I have previously raised with my right hon. Friend the fact that a European Council meeting is also scheduled to take place on 23 June. What can we do to ensure that, if the leave campaign looks to be gaining momentum at a late stage, that will not be used to pretend that there are things on the meeting’s agenda to try to change people’s opinions, or that things will not be leaked in advance of that meeting to try to give people the impression that the Government have agreed a better deal than is actually the case?

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Mr Lidington: I think my hon. Friend needs to study more carefully the words both of the document published at the end of the renegotiation and of a number of other European leaders. They could not have made it clearer, first, that they were not interested in a hypothetical further renegotiation in the event of a vote to leave, and secondly, that the very important safeguards that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister secured during the renegotiation would lapse automatically in the event of such a vote. That is written into the document itself.

In practical terms, holding the vote on 23 June means 18 weeks between announcing the deal and the vote, and a full 10 weeks’ regulated referendum campaign period, with six weeks for the designation of lead campaigners, thus meeting the Electoral Commission recommendations. We envisage that the designation process will be commenced on 4 March and that the Electoral Commission will have to designate the two umbrella campaign groups by 14 April at the latest. The Electoral Commission supports the Government’s approach to the timing of the referendum. Last week it published its assessment of readiness and said that it was content that the date

“does not pose a significant risk to a well-run referendum”.

It is true, as the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) has said, that there are still some concerns about the date, particularly among Members of the three devolved Administrations and right hon. and hon. Members in this place who represent those three parts of the United Kingdom. In particular, the right hon. Member for Gordon (Alex Salmond) expressed concern during Foreign Office questions about the possible interaction with the elections in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland on 5 May, which is also the date for various local and mayoral elections in different parts of the United Kingdom.

I think that those fears are misplaced, not least because multiple elections are already being held on 5 May. I really do not understand why a referendum that will take place a full seven weeks after the date of the devolved parliamentary and Assembly elections should be regarded as disrespectful. By contrast, I would argue that we are treating voters with respect when we assume that they should be perfectly capable of distinguishing between two different campaigns that will be nearly two months apart.

Jonathan Edwards (Carmarthen East and Dinefwr) (PC): The Minister has just confirmed that the official campaign will launch bang in the middle of the devolved Administrations’ campaigns. It is quite an achievement to get Sinn Féin, the Ulster Unionists, the Scottish National party, Plaid Cymru and the Labour party in Wales to agree on anything. Why is he not taking seriously the concerns expressed by all those parties?

Mr Lidington: For the reasons I have given, I think that to have left the referendum until autumn, which was the next window available had we ruled out 23 June, would have tested the patience of the British people for the duration of the campaign. The campaign has already got under way. What will start in the period described by the hon. Gentleman is the regulated campaign period, during which special rules on campaign expenditure apply.

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Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): Will the Minister take some reassurance from the fact that in the canvassing that I have been doing for Caroline Pidgeon, the Liberal Democrat London mayoral candidate, I have found that voters have no difficulty whatsoever in understanding that there will be elections for the London Mayor and the London Assembly, and that the European referendum will take place a few weeks later?

Mr Lidington: The right hon. Gentleman puts the case very well. Others have said that June is simply too soon, and I do not agree. Traditionally, in our history, a general election has been held with only six weeks’ notice. Only since the implementation of the Fixed Term Parliaments Act 2011 under the coalition Government have we moved away from that practice. The referendum has had a much longer gestation period. The intention to hold a referendum before the end of 2017 was announced in the Prime Minister’s Bloomberg speech in January 2013, and it was reaffirmed at the general election last May, and again when the European Union Referendum Act received Royal Assent in December 2015. The intended date was announced four months in advance. The referendum has been a long time coming.

Patrick Grady (Glasgow North) (SNP): The Scottish independence referendum was held in September, and, if anything, the campaign benefited from the fact that people could campaign during the warm summer months with extended daylight hours. What advice does the Minister give to the devolved Administrations, who will no sooner have come out of a pre-election purdah period than they will have to go into a pre-referendum purdah period, just as they start implementing the manifestos they were elected on?

Mr Lidington: Of course, the purdah rules vary depending on the nature of the election concerned. The purdah rules for devolved elections limit what Government agencies can say and do in respect of devolved matters. We are talking about the question whether the United Kingdom should be in or out of the European Union, and that is, without any doubt whatsoever, a reserved competence in respect of all three devolution settlements.

Peter Grant (Glenrothes) (SNP): The Minister is trying manfully but, dare I say it, completely unsuccessfully to explain what consideration the Government have given to the strong representations they have had from the elected Governments of 75% of the equal partners in this Union. I appreciate that he does not have time to do so now, but will he undertake to make sure that full details of the Government’s consideration of that letter are placed in the Library of the House as soon as possible after the debate?

Mr Lidington: We took account of that letter. We also took careful account of the specific request from the official foreign affairs spokesman of the Scottish National party, the right hon. Member for Gordon, during Foreign Office questions on 12 January for an assurance that the date of the referendum would be

“at least six weeks after the date of the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish elections”.—[Official Report, 12 January 2016; Vol. 604, c. 683.]

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That request made by the right hon. Gentleman—I presume on behalf of his party, for which he was speaking at Foreign Office questions—has been met, and has been met in full.

The Electoral Commission has confirmed that it is content with the Government’s proposals and has said that, in its view, arrangements for a well-run referendum are now well advanced. The statutory instrument has been considered by both the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments and the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee. Both have considered the statutory instrument, and neither found any cause for concern.

I turn now to the other aspects of the regulations. They are very much in line with the framework set up by the European Union Referendum Act 2015, so I shall be brief. As well as setting the date, the regulations do three things. First, they set the start date for the designation process. That is the process by which the Electoral Commission appoints lead campaigners on one or both sides. We have followed the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 and allowed a full six weeks. That will give campaigners a four-week window to finalise and submit their applications, after which the Electoral Commission will have up to two weeks to decide which, if any, applicants to designate as the lead for each side. Let me be absolutely clear, to avoid misunderstanding. The regulations do not tell the Electoral Commission how to make its decision. That decision is entirely impartial, and the test the Electoral Commission must apply when making its decision is set out in the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act, as modified by the European Union Referendum Act. All the regulations do is set the start of the process as 4 March, while the rest of the timetable, finishing on 14 April at the latest, was set by the 2000 Act.

Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con): Will the Minister give us some indication of whether the Electoral Commission’s designation process is open to challenge, and if so, of how that challenge would operate?

Mr Lidington: Any executive decision by any public authority might be at risk of judicial review, but criteria for the Electoral Commission are set out in PPERA and they will guide the commission in making its assessment. I am sure that the commission will want to explain its verdict when it is published. There would have to be a pretty overwhelming case for a judicial review application for it to succeed, but such an option is available.

The Electoral Commission’s initial guidance for campaigners on this issue was updated on 5 February, so potential applicants have had plenty of notice. The commission has also now published the application form online. I remind the House that the lead campaigners, once designated, will receive a number of benefits, including a higher spending limit of up to £7 million, a free delivery of mailings to every household or every elector and, assuming that campaigners are designated on both sides, access to a grant of up to £600,000 and access to a broadcast.

The second additional element in the regulations is the referendum period—namely, when full financial and campaigning controls apply and, in particular, when spending limits are imposed on campaigners. The referendum period, as set out in the regulations, is a full

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ten weeks and will not overlap with the designation process. That was the approach recommended by the Electoral Commission. The referendum period will, under the regulations, start on 15 April.

Kate Hoey: The Minister may be coming on to this, but will he clarify very clearly and succinctly how this will affect Government spending? I do not mean the Government, but the Cabinet members who support staying in as opposed to those who do not. How will that work for them?

Mr Lidington: The limits on what the Government can do are set out in section 125 of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000. The hon. Lady will recall that that provision was the subject of significant debate when the European Union Referendum Bill was going through its stages in the House. The so-called purdah restrictions remain those set out in the 2000 Act. In addition, in requiring the Government to publish particular items of information, the European Union Referendum Act states that the Government must do so at least 10 weeks before the date of the referendum. Those are the restrictions that she asked me about.

Finally, the regulations set out the periods for reporting donations and loans received by registered campaigners, and set the deadline by which the reports must be submitted to the Electoral Commission. The purpose of those arrangements is to ensure that sources of campaign finance are visible and public before the poll, so ensuring that the campaign is transparent.

The decision before us is a simple one: when should the British people have their say? We believe that 23 June strikes the right balance: it gives time for a substantial campaign, without testing public patience. There is time for campaigners and political parties to make their cases, and for the British people to decide. I commend the regulations to the House.

5.34 pm

Pat Glass (North West Durham) (Lab): We seem to have focused on process for so much of today that I hope this will be the last time we do so.

I want to check some of the details of the statutory instrument with the Minister. It sets the date of the referendum on whether the United Kingdom should remain a member of the European Union. It also prescribes the length of the referendum period, the start of the period for applications to become a designated organisation, and the periods for the reporting of donations or regulated transactions. If would be good if the Minister nodded.

Mr Lidington indicated assent.

Pat Glass: The main purpose of the statutory instrument is to set 23 June 2016 as the date of the referendum, which will take place over the whole of the UK and in Gibraltar. It prescribes the referendum period, which will begin on 15 April 2016, and it prescribes 4 March 2016 as the start of the period in which applications can be made to become designated organisations in the referendum. I understand that that poses no problem for the organisations in the remain campaign, but those in the hopelessly splintered out campaign seem to be having a much greater problem. Now is the time for them to get their act together if they are to hit the deadline.

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The statutory instrument also sets out periods for the reporting of donations or regulated transactions—for example, loans—by permitted participants who are not registered parties or are minor parties. It sets out the dates on or before which reports must be delivered to the Electoral Commission. Okay so far?

Mr Lidington indicated assent.

Pat Glass: Labour has always said that as soon as the Government’s European negotiations are completed, they should get on with the referendum and end the uncertainty, which is bad for British jobs, growth, investment and working people.

Jonathan Edwards: The shadow Minister will be aware of the letter written by the First Minister of Wales in conjunction with the First Ministers of Scotland and Northern Ireland. Of course, the First Minister of Wales is a Labour party member. He said:

“We believe that holding a referendum as early as June will mean that a significant part of the referendum campaign will necessarily run in parallel with those elections and risks confusing issues at a moment when clarity is required.”

Will the shadow Minister support his position tonight in the Lobby when there is a vote on this issue? If the Labour party here abstains or votes with the Government, does it not show that we cannot take a word the First Minister says seriously?

Pat Glass: I will come on to those issues.

Labour agreed with the Electoral Commission that the referendum date should be separate from that when other polls are taking place, and succeeded in pressuring the Government to amend the European Union Referendum Bill to stop the referendum being held on 5 May 2016 so that it did not clash with the other elections on that day. However, we do not agree with the SNP and others that it is in some way disrespectful to hold the referendum on 23 June.

Jonathan Edwards: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Pat Glass: Just a second.

We believe that the people of the UK are perfectly capable of making an important decision in early May and another important decision in late June, seven weeks later. It is patronising to suggest otherwise.

This country is safer, stronger and more prosperous in Europe and Labour is campaigning to stay in. Our membership of the EU brings jobs, growth and investment. It protects British workers and consumers, and helps to keep us safe.

Patrick Grady: Will the hon. Lady confirm what the shadow Foreign Secretary said the other day, which is that it is the position of the Labour party that if Scotland votes to stay in the European Union and the rest of the UK votes to leave, Labour is quite happy for Scotland to be dragged out of the EU against its will?

Pat Glass: The position of the Labour party is that it is for the people of the UK to make a decision on this, because the people of Scotland had a referendum and chose to stay as part of the UK.

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Emma Reynolds (Wolverhampton North East) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that if we put the date of the referendum back beyond 23 June, it would slip beyond the summer and into the autumn, because many people in Scotland go on holiday earlier than those in the rest of the UK and we will be on our holidays in August? That would prolong the period of uncertainty and all the risks to business investment that go with it.

Pat Glass: I agree entirely. Uncertainty is bad for British jobs and the British economy, and we believe that the longer this goes on, the more damage will be done to our economy and our jobs.

John Redwood: What does the hon. Lady think that EU state aid rules, energy prices, energy intervention and procurement rules have done to our steel jobs? What has the common fisheries policy done to our fishing jobs?

Pat Glass: People will have to make a decision on those issues, but they are not related to this statutory instrument. We accept that this great country would be able to make its way in the world outside the EU, but leaving would cost us dearly in all kinds of ways including jobs, our competitiveness in business, and the safety of our citizens from terrorism, crime, climate change and war. At a time of Russian expansionism and international terrorism from groups such as ISIS-Daesh, we do not believe that it is right to risk our safety and security as a nation. We want the UK to lead, not leave, Europe. We are the second biggest economy in the EU, and many of our partners such as Denmark, Sweden, the Netherlands and others want to work with us further to reform the EU, and they are looking to the UK to lead on that. Leaving the EU risks future peace in Europe, and Britain’s influence in the world.

In government, Labour passed the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 and we supported the passage of the European Union Referendum Act 2015. We support this statutory instrument, and we will leave it to others to moan about the date of the referendum. We are getting on and putting our energy into winning the referendum and keeping Britain leading in Europe.

5.41 pm

Sir William Cash (Stone) (Con): The date is obviously a crucial moment in the development of this referendum, but I have reservations about 23 June. I have not yet decided, and I want to hear what the Scottish National party has to say about this issue, because that will be interesting and may have some impact on the way I vote. I am interested in the democratic side of this issue.

On 3 February, in my response to the Prime Minister’s statement on the UK-EU renegotiation, I said that this is all about voters’ trust, and I went on to give examples of why I thought that promises and principles had been broken. Above all else, I asked whether this will be a political stitch-up by the European Council because the agreement—such as it is—and any other subsequent legal arrangements must be both legally binding and irreversible.

Information was contained in the White Paper published a few days ago, and I have had quite an interesting weekend, given the remarks that were made about me—I need not elaborate on that, and I assure you, Mr Speaker, that it caused me no concern whatsoever. Whether this

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agreement will be irreversible is a question of trust, and today we had an extremely important urgent question on information. I put a question to the Minister, and tomorrow my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin) will interview the Cabinet Secretary on this matter. The real question is about voter trust. On 23 June, will people have enough proper information, based on a fair arrangement between those on both sides of the debate? The Government first insisted on the purdah arrangements that they wanted to use for the whole of the civil service machinery. We drove them off on that, but then they brought in, through the House of Lords, a legal duty to provide such information —if I may say so, they pretended that that had come from other people in the House of Lords, but it was clearly at least half sponsored by the Government.

When we got to ping-pong, I waited until the last minute before it ended, and I got up and asked the Minister—he knows what is coming—whether he would give me a straight answer, yes or no, about whether the information that is due to be published would be both accurate and impartial. He said, “Of course.” He added that it would be perverse if the Government were to do otherwise.

Well, Mr Speaker, I have to say that I am intrigued. On 23 June, the people may not have impartial and accurate information. I believe the Government are probably, if not certainly, in breach of their duty under sections 6 and 7 of the European Referendum Act 2015. Furthermore, despite what the Minister had to say on this today, the words “the opinion of” in this context will not, I believe, be a sufficient safeguard from the potential concerns that they know must already be in some people’s minds that this is not fair and may well not be legal. This is a very, very important matter.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): I am confused. When the Paymaster General answered the question I put to him, he said that the Cabinet Secretary is not neutral. That I accept, when the Cabinet Secretary is working for the Government. In this matter, however, the Cabinet Secretary may well be working for the people, because it is the people who are going to decide this matter. In my view, it is therefore proper that the Cabinet Secretary, or someone of his ilk, should draft or head up a paper that puts the facts for both sides of the argument, so that the people who are going to make the decision—this is the people’s decision—can make a decision that is based on objective facts.

Sir William Cash: The sentiments my hon. Friend expresses are very relevant to the question of voter trust. In the debate on 25 February, and when the Foreign Secretary gave evidence to the European Scrutiny Committee, which has considered these matters in great depth, I said that the Government are effectively—in fact, I will go further and say definitely—cheating the voters. This cannot be said to be legally binding and irreversible. In the debate on 25 February, I pointed out that the Council conclusions—I ask that hon. Members look at the Council conclusions—refer to the words “legally binding” and there is a common accord with respect to the international law agreement. What they cannot do is say that it would be irreversible. Furthermore, although Mr Tusk, the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have been saying “irreversible”, they cannot prove that that is the case. I will explain why in one second.

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On 23 June, a most momentous and historic decision will be taken by all the people in the United Kingdom who can vote. They have a right to know whether the question they are going to be asked, on whether to remain or to leave, can be answered. It is the basis of my proposition that it is impossible for them to know whether it is going to be irreversible for a simple reason. Under the international agreement where the European Court may or may not take into account the question that has been posed by the White Paper, certainly there is no guarantee of a treaty change and certainly there is no guarantee that the mechanics of the international law decision will produce a definite result that the European Court can decide on. Nobody can say that the European Court will or will not accept any treaty change. As a matter of fact, with respect to the question of referendums, there is no guarantee that there will not be referendums.

There are currently at least four Governments of the 28 in the EU, in the great stitch-up in the political decision-making process I referred to, who barely have control over their government at all. There are massive problems in Portugal and Spain, and now in Ireland as well, and there are massive problems in Greece. There is absolutely no reason why anybody should guarantee either that there will be treaty change or that it will be irreversible.

I happened to take part in the referendums that produced “no” votes in other countries, including France and Denmark. To say as a matter of absolute certainty in this disgraceful White Paper that it is irreversible when it is impossible as a matter of fact, let alone of law, for anyone to say that they know what the European Court will do or indeed that there will not be a referendum and what the outcome of that would be, is simply unacceptable.

John Redwood: Is it not also the case that if we read the language of this political agreement after rather difficult negotiations and if we take the example of something crucial such as the protection of our interests against the wishes of the euro, that language says that we can be overridden in certain circumstances, so we will have gained absolutely nothing?

Sir William Cash: Absolutely nothing at all. I think that the British people, who are a great people, are waking up to this. As I said in last Thursday’s debate, Churchill said that we should tell the truth to the British people and they will follow, but they are not being told the truth—that is the real truth, and nothing but the truth.

A comprehensive poll was published in the Evening Standard on Friday on the question of whether the voters trust the outcome of this negotiation. The result is simple to describe: 53% said that they did not trust it at all; only 22% said that they did; as for the balance, the pollsters said that half of those who were undecided tended not to trust it. I know that a poll is a poll, but I also say that on the question of trust, the outcome is either to be trusted or not to be trusted. This whole negotiated package, whether it be looked at from a political or a legal point of view, is not to be trusted.

I say that to the House of Commons because this is where the real issues have to be resolved, but we have quite rightly handed this over to the voters—and they

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do not trust it. I do not think that anything they will have heard today from the Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General, or anything they will hear tomorrow from the Cabinet Secretary, or indeed any of the matters discussed in relation to the component parts of this package, either in aggregate or individually, will provide any reason for anybody to trust this deal.

The question before us today about the date of 23 June must be weighed against the background of whether that date is appropriate. I want to listen to what SNP Members say, as I have a great interest in that. They are elected to stand up for their own views and for their own part of the United Kingdom. I may disagree with what they say, but I saw what happened with the Scottish referendum, particularly regarding the date and the length of time allowed for debate. We will hear from SNP Members how they were stitched up by the BBC and all the rest of it. What I am saying is that this entire question of the date is dependent on the extent to which proper information is given to the voter. As I said in the urgent question earlier, the crucial issue is what reliance the voters can have on the fact that the information they are being given is transparent and honest, and additionally impartial and accurate, which is what the Minister for Europe told me on the Floor of the House it would be.

Simon Hoare (North Dorset) (Con): I rise with some trepidation in recognition that my hon. Friend is an expert in this field. I do not think he will agree with me, but this is my take. For most people, this will be a vote on the principle of whether to remain or to leave rather than on the minutiae of the detail of the renegotiation. That was always going to be case, in my view, irrespective of when the referendum is held. Given that he has argued so cogently for so long that a referendum should be held on this issue, I am inclined to agree with our Front-Bench team that it should be held as quickly as possible and that a date after the Scottish and Welsh elections seems to be the right time. Otherwise, it falls to the autumn.

Sir William Cash: What I would say in reply is very simple. If my hon. Friend were good enough to read the speech and the remarks made by my good right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary on the question of the whole package, he would realise that our right hon. Friend says that we do not want to look at anything other than the whole package. That is what he says; my hon. Friend should read it for himself. It is very strange that we are going to such lengths, with the Prime Minister roaming around the country making all these speeches, with the putting out of all this information, with all this business about the civil service and the guidance, and with all the rest of matters that I have referred to. Why is so much emphasis being placed on this? Why are the airwaves being dominated on such a scale and why is so much paper being used?

This reminds me of what I said to the late Baroness Thatcher when I was invited to lunch in Downing Street. When I went into the room, most of the Cabinet were sitting around the table. She said, “Bill, you sit next to me.” Then she turned to Geoffrey Howe and said, “I’ve brought Bill in to talk about Europe.” Then she turned to me and said, “What do you feel about Europe, Bill?” I said, while looking at Geoffrey Howe, “Prime Minister, I think your task is more difficult than Churchill’s.”

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She said, “You will have to explain this, won’t you?” I said, “Prime Minister, Churchill’s task was more difficult than yours for this reason. You are in greater difficulty than he because he was faced with bombs and aircraft, but you are faced with pieces of paper.” It is those pieces of paper that I am worried about, and I think the voters should be as well.

5.57 pm

Stephen Gethins (North East Fife) (SNP): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Stone (Sir William Cash), and I will address some of the points he raised.

Let me first make it clear—it seems appropriate to do so in this place—that the Scottish National party position has not changed. Our position remains consistent in that we are still against the 23 June referendum date. I say to the hon. Member for North West Durham (Pat Glass) that our position has remained unchanged despite what the Conservatives have said on this issue.

My first point is about the important issue of respect. The hon. Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr (Jonathan Edwards) mentioned the Labour First Minister of Wales, who wrote a letter along with the First Ministers of Scotland and Northern Ireland. The right hon. Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds) and his colleagues also raised the issue of the date. The point was that this campaign period will overlap with the May election campaign, and this was raised not only by the three First Ministers, but by Jenny Watson, the chair of the Electoral Commission, who said:

“Referendum campaign periods overlap with May election campaign periods if the referendum period is held on any date in June”.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Gordon (Alex Salmond) also made this point very clear. If the Minister would like to speak to whoever takes the Prime Minister’s mail, he will find out about a letter of correction from my right hon. Friend who was misrepresented by the Minister for Europe and by a number of the Minister’s colleagues. Many of them signed my early-day motion 1042. It was signed by Members of all parties, including Conservative Members, given the respect agenda on this issue. There is a respect agenda—there is the idea that democracy does not begin and end in this place. We have incredibly important elections coming up in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and English local authorities, which is a point that we have made consistently. It is one of the reasons why we will vote against the motion today.

Before I discuss some of the other issues associated with the date, let me deal with some of the practical questions. Will the Minister tell us what significant changes have been made in the statutory instrument as a result of his consultations with the devolved Administrations, and will he make his correspondence available in the House of Commons Library? That is a very simple question, which was asked earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Glenrothes (Peter Grant). Perhaps the Minister will make a note of it.

We see problems throughout this instrument. It states that the referendum period begins on 15 April 2016, three weeks before the devolved elections. It also states that the first reporting period ends on 21 April 2016, and the report is supposed to be sent to the Electoral Commission on 28 April, one week before those crucial devolved elections. When the Minister answers our question

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about what practical changes have been made in the SI as a result of his correspondence, will he also tell us what impact the purdah rules will have on any programme for government that might need to be agreed? Under the Scotland Act, it could be up to 28 days before the appointment of a new First Minister is agreed to, and I think that broadly similar arrangements apply to First Ministers in Wales and Northern Ireland. The referendum campaign eats into that period quite significantly.

I refer the Minister to paragraph 7.11 of the explanatory memorandum, which states:

“It is for the Devolved Administrations to consider any restrictions on their own referendum-related activity”.

Given that the Minister wrote that, can he tell us what correspondence he has had with the devolved Administrations about it, about the formation of new Governments, and about what impact this could have on the publication of a programme for government? As was pointed out by my hon. Friends the Members for Glenrothes and for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady), there are European Union issues that will have a significant impact on that programme, including agriculture and fisheries. Let us not forget that it was the United Kingdom Government who described our fishing industry as expendable, not the European Union. What will happen in regard to those and other issues that are affected by European Union legislation?

Sir William Cash: As a veteran of the Scotland Acts, all the way back to when Mr Dewar was Secretary of State at—I believe—the beginning of 1979, may I ask whether the hon. Gentleman recalls the reserve powers? Would they not be an issue?

Stephen Gethins: As usual, the hon. Gentleman has made a very good point. European Union legislation has a significant impact on significant powers that sit with the Scottish Parliament, and the same applies to Northern Ireland and Wales. I have mentioned some already, but energy is another example. On renewables, for instance, the Scottish Government are much more in line with our European partners than with the United Kingdom Government.

Let me now address issues that the hon. Member for Stone raised in what was—again, as usual—a very informed speech. I am glad that my right hon. Friend the Member for Gordon has come into the Chamber, because this is a good time to remind the House that he called the independence referendum 545 days before the day on which it took place. I shall give the Minister some leeway by saying that SNP Members are not seeking quite that number of days. However, we need to have the courage of our convictions, and have a proper debate.

The hon. Gentleman and I will not agree on this particular referendum. Indeed, I am not sure that we will agree on many referendums that may be held during my time in the House. One thing on which we will agree, however, is that a proper debate takes a great deal longer than the seven weeks that we have been given, and we want a proper debate that goes to the heart of this issue. As someone who wants Scotland, and the rest of the United Kingdom, to remain part of the European Union, I believe that our case stands up to scrutiny, and that the Conservatives should have the courage of their convictions and subject it to appropriate scrutiny.

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Sir William Cash: Whether or not we agree on the immigration issue, does the hon. Gentleman agree with what I said on 3 February? As everyone knows from the recent figures, the question of immigration—which is actually about numbers and the effect on social services, including those in Scotland—has now been whittled down to a narrow argument about in-work benefits, on which the Government want to go on harping so that they can distract attention from the really big question, which is “Who governs this country, and are we going to be in the second tier of a two-tier German Europe?”

Stephen Gethins: The hon. Gentleman was clearly listening to Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister of Scotland, when she raised that very point about in-work migrant benefits this morning. I believe that people who are going to live and work in a country, and contribute, have every right to the same benefits, just as 2 million United Kingdom citizens, including 1 million in Spain, benefit from being part of the European Union.

Nicola Sturgeon made what I thought was a very valid point. When we were “whittling down” the debate, as the hon. Gentleman put it, to a discussion of the rather minor issue of in-work migrant benefits at the European Council, time was taken from a discussion of the refugee crisis, in regard to which, incidentally, Ireland was giving way on its opt-out. The hon. Gentleman will not agree with me about this, but I think that that had a great deal more to do with the Minister trying—unsuccessfully, as I can see—to keep his Back Benchers happy than with anything to do with the broader debate on our membership of the European Union.

Bob Stewart: I am listening carefully to what the hon. Gentleman is saying. I am intrigued to know when the SNP and the other parties would like the referendum to be held. I assume that it will not be in 543 days.

Stephen Gethins: As a number of us have said, mid-September is often a good time for a referendum. It gives us the summer days to campaign and engage, and the longer nights to chap on people’s doors. It is to be hoped that people will also form their own groups in an organic way. Mid-September is probably a good time, but we would certainly not opt for 23 June.

Let us give this a little bit of time. I urge all Members to listen to the social democratic case—as someone described it earlier—that was put by the First Minister this morning not so far from here, at St John’s Smith Square. Let us look at what membership of the European Union does. The United Kingdom could stand on its own two feet and be successful as an independent member state outside the European Union. We absolutely reject the “Project Fear” scare tactics: they do nothing for the case for staying in, and nothing for the case for going out. I hope that we will all bear in mind the 20-point lead that the no campaign squandered in Scotland, not just because of the positive case that we put, but also, to an extent, because of the fear tactics that those campaigners used. I hope that the Conservatives will learn the lessons of that referendum.

Kate Hoey: I am sorry; I am not a Minister yet.

I know that the hon. Gentleman and I are on different sides, but I agree with him that this should be a positive campaign. May I return him to the issue of what I

29 Feb 2016 : Column 723

consider to be the hugely important letter that was signed by the First Ministers of the three home countries, all of whom had different views on the European Union? Does it not shame the Government that they showed so little respect—for respect is the word—by simply throwing that letter away and implying that it meant absolutely nothing?

Stephen Gethins: The hon. Lady and I will find ourselves on different sides, by way of a respectful debate. She has made a very valid point. The issue was raised by three First Ministers, including the Labour First Minister of Wales, and was agreed on by the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland, who, as we all know, do not necessarily agree on everything, but managed to come together on this particular issue.

Jonathan Edwards: The hon. Gentleman is making a very intelligent speech. He mentioned “Project Fear”. Did he happen to catch “Newsnight” on Friday, when there was an analysis of “Project Fear”? John McTernan, a Labour strategist in Scotland, said that it was all about ramping up the risk. That is exactly the sort of campaign that we do not want to risk. I am afraid that a campaign based on that premise will fail.

Stephen Gethins: I hope that, given his track record, Mr McTernan will not be on our side during the European referendum campaign, because otherwise we could be in serious difficulties.

The hon. Gentleman has made a good point about “Project Fear”. Let us hear a positive case about the economic and social benefits, and about the benefits of an arrangement whereby independent member states agree on a common set of rules. I hope that the Minister will give us a few more pointers. I have already set him a few questions. Here is another: will there be a special recess, or, if the Minister thinks that he will lose—we would not advocate this—will the Government abandon Prime Minister’s Question Time at the last minute in order to rush off and campaign?

Sir William Cash: In relation to “Project Fear”, which is very real, does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Government should listen to Mervyn King, the former Governor of the Bank of England, who said that it was the euro and Europe that were causing massive unemployment and making Europe so dysfunctional? In fact, the dangers to the UK and to Scotland are also dangers to Europe as a whole. We have only to look at the way in which the Germans treated the Greeks, not to mention opening the doors to immigration, causing dislocation and more barbed wire in Europe today then there was even during the cold war.

Stephen Gethins: When we talk about “Project Fear”, we have to acknowledge that it is taking place on both sides of the debate. There has been a positive debate on the environmental benefits of membership; when Germany was experiencing acid rain as a result of UK industry, for example, we had to formulate a common set of rules. Let us also think about the benefits to the economy when people go on holiday. Also, the benefits to Scotland’s small and medium-sized enterprises of exporting to Europe are worth £2,000 to every man, woman and child in Scotland.

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I say to the hon. Member for Stone that I want to have a positive debate, including with him, and I am sure that we will do so over the next little while. Let us not mistake the faults of the European Union for the faults of the member states. This is a mistake that we know only too well in Scotland. Let us have a positive debate, but let us have an honest debate as well.

6.11 pm

John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): I welcome a fairly early date for the referendum. I do not know about you, Mr Speaker, but there is only so much that I can take of all the stories of the pestilence, famine and plague that are going to be visited upon us by the very European Union countries that the Government say we love and work well with. The Government have this strange vision that those countries would suddenly change and become extremely unpleasant were we to want a relationship based on friendship and trade rather than on the current treaties. I personally think that 16 weeks would be quite enough to do the job that I would love the Government to do, which is to win it for the leave campaign by using this highly inappropriate tone and by constantly slanging off our European partners by telling us just how unpleasant they would be. I would have thought that a Government wishing to encourage us to stay in the European Union would want to be rather more obliging about our European partners and to paint a picture of how things might be better were we to stay in, rather than concentrating only on ascribing false futures to the leave campaign.

I am interjecting in this debate because I am worried that 16 weeks might not be long enough for the Government to carry out all the tasks necessary to fulfil the requirements of the legislation. In particular, I have been moved to that view by listening to my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash), who is often absolutely right about these points and their salience. The Government have an important duty to provide impartial information to the public as part of the task of preparing them for the referendum. Having seen their work so far, I am afraid to say that it fails by all standards. It is not impartial, it is not well researched and it is often exceedingly misleading. I am using parliamentary language, Mr Speaker; I might use richer language were I not inside the House. It seems to me that the Government are going to need a lot more time to work with their ever willing officials to come up with balanced, mature and sensible information about what the future might look like under either scenario.

One thing that the Government have clearly had no time to prepare so far—this is a particularly worrying lacuna—is information on what the future might look like if we stay in. We have had no response from the Government on how they would respond to “The Five Presidents’ Report: Completing Europe’s Economic and Monetary Union” or on how they would handle demands for capital markets union, banking union, full economic and monetary union and political union. Would such a situation immediately trigger a requirement for us to veto the next treaty, would we seek a comprehensive opt-out from it, or would the Government want to work with their partners and agree to some modest treaty changes that would affect the United Kingdom, in the spirit of “The Five Presidents’ Report”? Any such changes would be triggered after about 2017, so probably within this Parliament. Could we then look forward to a second referendum if we stayed in the European Union?

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Under the European Union Referendum Act 2015, there would need to be a referendum on any treaty changes made as a consequence of “The Five Presidents’ Report” and the clear desire of our partners to go along the route to political union.

Sir William Cash: Has my right hon. Friend had the opportunity to see not only the White Paper that was produced a few days ago but the latest jewel in the crown from the Government, which is entitled “The process for withdrawing from the European Union”? It contains page after page of tendentious remarks, assertions and assumptions that cannot be substantiated. I can see the Minister for Europe wriggling around a bit on the Front Bench, because the bottom line is that he will not be able to answer these questions, but they will be tested before 23 June.

John Redwood: That is why, in my amiable way, I was suggesting that the Government might like to rethink their position on the timing of the referendum. Having seen that piece of work, I agree with my hon. Friend. I was frankly ashamed that such a document could come from the United Kingdom Government. It bore no relation to what the leave campaigns are saying about how we would like the Government to handle the British people’s decision if they decide to leave. It did not give any credence to the idea that we would be negotiating with friends and allies who would have as much interest in a successful British exit as we would, should that be the will of the British people.

Ministers never seem to understand that the rest of Europe has far more exports to us at risk than we have to the rest of the European Union, because we are in massive deficit with those countries. I have had personal assurances from representatives of the German Government, for example, that they have no wish to see tariffs or barriers being placed in the way of their extremely profitable and successful trade with the United Kingdom. To issue a document implying that all sorts of obstacles would be put in the way of such trade over a 10-year period simply beggars belief.

Sir William Cash: May I give my right hon. Friend an example? These documents contain scarcely any serious objective analysis from bodies such as the Office for National Statistics or the House of Commons Library, and their arguments are tendentious. I am sure he will remember, because this is at the forefront of his mind, that in current account transactions relating to imports, exports, goods and services, we run a deficit with the other 27 member states of about £58 billion a year, and that Germany runs a surplus in those same goods, services, imports and exports. If that is a single market, I’m a Dutchman.

John Redwood: I am sure that my hon. Friend is many fine things, but a Dutchman is clearly not one of them. He has, however, revealed an important fact, and it is the kind of fact that we would expect to see in a balanced document setting out the position on trade. I hope that the Minister will leave enough time in his urgent timetable to ensure that those sorts of important facts—

Sir William Cash: With references.

John Redwood: With references and proper statistical bases. Those important facts should be put in front of the British people. Indeed, the Minister would be wise

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to do that from his own point of view—perhaps I should not help him as much as I am apparently trying to do. The Government have been rumbled on this. The press and a lot of the public are saying that they want factual, mature and sensible information setting out the risks of staying in, the risks of leaving and what it would look like in either case, but that is not what we are getting.

We have had another example in the past few days. We have been witnessing a long-term decline of the pound against the dollar for many months, because we are living through a period of dollar strength. In the past few days, when Brexit was in the news, we were told that the pound was going down because of fears about Brexit, whereas that was clearly not the case on other days when the pound had been going down. However, on those same days, the Government bond market had been going up. The prices of bonds had been rising and our creditworthiness was assessed as being better, but I did not hear the Government saying that the idea of Brexit was raising Britain’s credit standing. We could make that case just as easily as we could make the case that the fear of Brexit was leading to a fall in the pound.

That is the kind of tendentious information that I hope the Minister will reconsider if he wishes to keep up the normally high standards of Government documentation and use impartial civil service advice in the right tradition, which we in the House of Commons would like to see. I can see that a few colleagues are not entirely persuaded that those high standards are always met, but I shall give the Government the benefit of the doubt. I have certainly seen many Government documents that achieve higher standards than the ones on this matter.

I again urge the Minister to make sure that he leaves enough time in the action-packed timetable to produce high-quality, balanced information that includes the risks of staying in and the wild ride to political union that others have in mind, as well as what he sees as the risks of leaving. For instance, the Government should point out that if we stop paying the £10 billion of net contributions—money we do not get back—that will immediately improve the balance of payments by one fifth next year. Would that not be a marvellous advantage? I do not see it being pointed out in any of the current material in order to show some kind of balance.

Mrs Anne Main (St Albans) (Con): My right hon. Friend is making a hugely powerful argument. The answer is quite simple: the Government do not want the facts in there—they do not want the British public to know. The British public will come to that conclusion, and it is not a good conclusion if we are to have a balanced debate on the referendum.

John Redwood: I fear that is right, but I also fear I am beginning to give the Government too much help. Obviously, I would like them to lose on this occasion, because I think we will be much better off if that happens. I will therefore vote with the Government, because 16 weeks is quite enough of “Project Fear” and of people misrepresenting a whole lot of things that are going on by saying, “These are the results of the fears of Brexit.” That will do the job I would like the Government to do and help the case I am trying to make, but the Government have a long way to go in the interests of good government and in meeting the legal requirements

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that they have placed on themselves to provide impartial information. I just trust that in the next few weeks they can lift their game.

6.21 pm

Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): The Liberal Democrats will support this statutory instrument, which, as the Minister says, puts in place legislation for the referendum on 23 June. He will know that the coalition legislated so that any treaty change would trigger a referendum, but, as we know, his party won the election on the basis of a manifesto commitment to offer a referendum independent of any treaty change, and so we are where we are now.

Sir William Cash: Is the right hon. Gentleman thinking that the European Union Act 2011, which many of us opposed for all sorts of reasons, should be severely amended and/or repealed with regard to treaty change?

Tom Brake: We have a referendum ahead of us, and I suggest we get on with that before looking at whether to make any changes to that Act.

The Liberal Democrats support the referendum on 23 June. I have been in this House for some time now—longer than some Members but not as long as others—and it seems to me that, in this House and beyond, we have had a very full debate in recent general elections about the EU and whether we should or should not be members of it. As I said in an earlier intervention on the Minister, there is certainly no confusion in the minds of the electors in my constituency between the mayoral and Assembly elections taking place in May, and the EU referendum that will take place, presumably on 23 June. Clearly, it is more difficult for the political parties and the campaigners if one election follows on so relatively quickly after another.

Jonathan Edwards: I take the point the right hon. Gentleman is making, but is he aware that Kirsty Williams, the leader of the Liberal Democrats in Wales, has written a letter to the UK Government saying that the vote should be moved from 23 June?

Tom Brake: I am aware of that, and I suppose one consequence of devolution is that people in different places adopt different positions. Like many others, I am suspicious of the motives behind the Scottish National party’s position: is it about the need to delay the referendum for the reasons it sets out, or is it about increasing the chances that the UK might vote to come out of the EU, in order to facilitate the SNP’s campaign to hold a second referendum? In relation to splits within parties, there appears to be one within the SNP, as the First Minister of Scotland is clear that this should be a positive campaign, but what we have heard here today from SNP Members has been all about the procedure and not at all about the positive nature of what the EU campaign should be.

Patrick Grady: Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that, like the Labour party, the Liberal Democrats’ position is that if Scotland votes to stay in the EU and the rest of the UK votes to leave, they are happy to see Scotland forced to leave the EU against its will?

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Tom Brake: The Liberal Democrat position is that those who want to stay in the EU should be united behind the campaign and should start campaigning positively. That includes not only the SNP but the leader of the Labour party, who perhaps needs to spend some time with the leader of the Labour campaign and draw on some of his enthusiasm so that he can put his back into ensuring that we win on 23 June.

Ms Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh (Ochil and South Perthshire) (SNP): On suspicious intentions, may I remind the right hon. Gentleman that he campaigned with the Conservative party and the Labour party in Scotland, telling the people of Scotland that if they voted no in the Scottish referendum, they would be guaranteed to remain in the EU? What is his position on that point today?

Tom Brake: I am confident that if we have a united front from the SNP campaigning positively on the matter, from the Labour party and from the Prime Minister—I am pleased to say that he has, after I requested it, come out forcefully behind the campaign in support of staying in—we will collectively win the campaign. I look forward to doing that.

As I said, we need to get on with the campaign, which is actually about the peace, prosperity, opportunity and security that we derive from being a member of the EU; it is not about “Project Fear” at all. The Conservative party, or those on the Benches immediately in front of me, may refer frequently to “Project Fear”, but I must say that quite a degree of whitewash or “Project Status Quo” is coming from those on the Government Benches.

Sir William Cash: I am so glad that the right hon. Gentleman has referred to “Project Status Quo”, because I am sure he will accept that almost nothing has changed, for example, on ever closer union, or in any word of any treaty or law in relation to the EU. Would he therefore be good enough simply to say that he agrees with us that proper, impartial information should be published, and that the current documents simply do not cut the mustard?

Tom Brake: What I will agree with the hon. Gentleman on is the fact that there is a “Project Status Quo”, but I think he has misunderstood the point I was making, which was that there are people on his side of the argument who would like us to come out of the EU and who claim repeatedly that the basis on which we would be able to trade with the EU would be unchanged. They say, “There is no change. It will be exactly the same. We will get exactly the same terms whether we are in or out.” That is why I referred to “Project Status Quo”.

Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North) (Lab): I have made the point many times, as have other hon. Members, that we have a gigantic trade deficit with the rest of the EU, and with Germany in particular. Germany is therefore not going to play games with us on trade, because it will only shoot itself in the foot by doing so.

Tom Brake: I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman can read forward two, three, four, five, six or seven years to what the arrangement between the UK and the EU would be if the UK were to leave. I cannot do that, but clearly he is clairvoyant.

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One serious question I wish to put to the Minister is whether he is confident that the Electoral Commission and the police will have the resources and the tools they need to ensure that the rules on expenditure will be observed in the campaign. He will be aware of a recent exchange in which the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker)—I warned him I was going to raise this point in the debate—said in an email:

“It is open to the Vote Leave family to create separate legal entities each of which could spend £700k: Vote Leave will be able to spend as much money as is necessary to win the referendum.”

I hope that the Minister will provide some clarification on that. My memory of being a Minister and being involved with the rules of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 is that it is very clear that if organisations are working in concert—the Vote Leave family suggests that that is exactly what would happen—the total limit would be £700,000, and that to seek to go beyond that by some artificial creation of a number of identities would be a breach of the law. However the campaign is conducted, we need to know that all sides will treat it in a way that observes the law.

6.30 pm

Peter Grant (Glenrothes) (SNP): May I start by referring Members, particularly the last speaker, to the comments made by the First Minister this morning? She made it perfectly clear that it is not her preferred outcome that Scotland should leave the Union simply to prevent ourselves from being dragged out of the European Union. She said that she wants the United Kingdom to deliver a resounding yes vote to the European Union. I cannot see that happening if the UK-based yes campaign continues to behave in this way.

This afternoon, we have seen the reality behind the Government’s respect rhetoric. Despite the promises that we have been given time and again, and as recently as a few weeks ago in this Chamber, the views of the elected Governments of three of the four equal partners in this Union are being ignored and trampled underfoot by the fourth partner. That comes as no surprise to us in Scotland, because the Government made it perfectly clear that, regardless of what the sovereign people of Scotland say about our membership of the European Union, others can overturn that simply by sheer weight of numbers.

One very interesting confession today is that the Labour party shares the Conservative party’s contempt for the sovereign will of the Scottish people. If the Labour branch office leader in Scotland had not conceded defeat in the Holyrood elections last week, I strongly suspect that she would have done so very quickly had she heard the comments of the hon. Member for North West Durham (Pat Glass) just a few moments ago.

The elected national leaders of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have all said that the democratic processes in their three countries are likely to be flawed if this statutory instrument is agreed tonight. In Northern Ireland, we even saw the Sinn Féin Deputy First Minister add his name to a letter from the Democratic Unionist party First Minister. Those are two politicians who, for a number of reasons, do not agree on very many things. How much wider a coalition of opposition to this proposal do the Government need to see before they accept that, in this case, sheer weight of numbers is not

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enough to crack an argument? They must listen, which is what they promised the devolved Governments that they would do.

Sir William Cash: I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, especially as he is a member of the European Scrutiny Committee, of which I have the honour to be chair. Does he agree that a democratic question lies at the heart of this matter? If there is information on which the voter is expected to make his decision, as was the case with the Scottish situation a few years ago, the bottom line is that, without genuine and properly sourced information and proper time, the British people will effectively be cheated?

Peter Grant: I do not think that a referendum date of 23 June gives adequate time for the complex issues to be considered. This is the time to be discussing not those issues, but the procedural motion before us so that we can decide on the date. I am up for a positive and, if necessary, heated discussion as to why it is in the interests of all of our nations to remain part of the European Union.

In the interests of time, I will not repeat all the arguments that have been marshalled on the Opposition Benches and, sometimes, on the Government Benches against the proposal deliberately to overlap the referendum campaign with elections in which more than 20 million of our citizens will take part on the first Thursday in May. Let us look quickly at some of the consequences. As has been mentioned, 10 weeks before the referendum—in the middle of April—the Government’s response to the EU negotiations has to be published, including a statement, which we now know will say that the Government believe that people should vote to stay in the European Union. The Scottish Government will be in purdah for a full three weeks after that. Are the UK Government seriously suggesting that it is acceptable for the Prime Minister to issue an official document saying that the United Kingdom should stay in the European Union, while not allowing the Scottish Government to say that they agree because they are in purdah? Saying that they agree will inevitably be seen as seeking to influence the votes in the Scottish parliamentary elections away from the parties that will stand on an anti-European Union ticket—make no mistake about it.

There used to be an agreement that the UK and Scottish Governments would fully respect one another’s purdah arrangements. If this statutory instrument is agreed today, that agreement is gone, and it may well be gone for ever. Any attempt to pretend that this Government respect the democratic legitimacy of the Scottish Government will go out the window with it.

People will receive the UK Government’s document on the referendum at the same time, and possibly on exactly the same day, as they receive the polling cards or the postal vote applications for a completely different election. The problem is not just that the elections are held close together—in some ways, administratively, it is simpler if two polls are held on the same day, but it becomes more difficult if the nature of the question is different for those polls. In this case, every single part of the election administration process, which is immensely complicated and which our returning officers and our counting officers cannot afford to get wrong, will be happening twice, a few weeks apart. We will have the

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ridiculous situation of people being encouraged to register to vote in one election before they have to turn up at the polling station to vote in the other.

The newly elected national Governments will find themselves back in purdah fewer than three weeks after the parliamentary elections. As has been pointed out, it is quite possible that, if there is a very keenly contested election in any of the three nations, the First Minister of one or of all three nations might not be elected until the Government are back into purdah. We then have a newly formed Government who are restricted in their ability to launch their legislative programme in case some of it is affected by the result of the referendum. That is not sheer speculation, but fact. For example, how can a new Scottish Government announce a five-year spending plan if they do not know whether European Union procurement rules will continue for over half of that five-year period? How can a Government put forward a legislative programme on such crucial areas as fisheries, agriculture, public procurement, investment and tourism if they do not know, and are not allowed to speculate on, whether they will still be a part of the European Union a couple of years later. If this is what the Government describe as being respectful, I shudder to think what contempt for the Scottish Government would look like. The Minister claimed that the EU referendum purdah is different from a parliamentary election purdah. Technically, it is, but so many subject matters will be covered by both that in fact, in practice, the elected Governments will be in purdah as regards a significant range of their devolved powers.

The Government are trying to suggest that a referendum in September will not work, but if a major test of the success of any electoral process is public engagement and public participation, I have to remind the House that a September vote produced the most successful test of electoral opinion that any of these nations have ever seen, whether we measure it by the number of people who took part, the number of people who registered or the number of people who voted. I would much rather see 98% of people registering to vote and 85% of people voting than the low numbers we might get in a snap election.

I am ready for the debate to begin. I honestly believe that a date of 23 June makes it more likely that the United Kingdom will vote to stay in. Despite that, I do not want to see the UK voting on a flawed referendum and in a flawed process. I would much rather see a referendum in which everybody participates and for that reason, it cannot be held as soon as 23 June.

Question put.

The House divided:

Ayes 475, Noes 59.

Division No. 201]


6.39 pm


Abbott, Ms Diane

Abrahams, Debbie

Adams, Nigel

Afriyie, Adam

Aldous, Peter

Alexander, Heidi

Ali, Rushanara

Allan, Lucy

Allen, Mr Graham

Allen, Heidi

Amess, Sir David

Anderson, Mr David

Andrew, Stuart

Ansell, Caroline

Argar, Edward

Atkins, Victoria

Austin, Ian

Bailey, Mr Adrian

Baker, Mr Steve

Baldwin, Harriett

Barclay, Stephen

Barron, rh Kevin

Barwell, Gavin

Bebb, Guto

Beckett, rh Margaret

Bellingham, Sir Henry

Benn, rh Hilary

Benyon, Richard

Beresford, Sir Paul

Berger, Luciana

Berry, Jake

Berry, James

Betts, Mr Clive

Bingham, Andrew

Blackman, Bob

Blenkinsop, Tom

Blomfield, Paul

Blunt, Crispin

Boles, Nick

Bottomley, Sir Peter

Bradley, Karen

Bradshaw, rh Mr Ben

Brady, Mr Graham

Brake, rh Tom

Brazier, Mr Julian

Bridgen, Andrew

Brine, Steve

Brokenshire, rh James

Brown, Lyn

Brown, rh Mr Nicholas

Bryant, Chris

Buck, Ms Karen

Buckland, Robert

Burden, Richard

Burgon, Richard

Burnham, rh Andy

Burns, Conor

Burns, rh Sir Simon

Burt, rh Alistair

Butler, Dawn

Byrne, rh Liam

Cadbury, Ruth

Cairns, Alun

Campbell, rh Mr Alan

Carmichael, rh Mr Alistair

Carmichael, Neil

Carswell, Mr Douglas

Cartlidge, James

Caulfield, Maria

Chalk, Alex

Champion, Sarah

Chapman, Jenny

Chishti, Rehman

Chope, Mr Christopher

Churchill, Jo

Clark, rh Greg

Clarke, rh Mr Kenneth

Cleverly, James

Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey

Coaker, Vernon

Coffey, Ann

Coffey, Dr Thérèse

Collins, Damian

Colvile, Oliver

Cooper, Julie

Cooper, Rosie

Cooper, rh Yvette

Corbyn, rh Jeremy

Costa, Alberto

Cox, Jo

Coyle, Neil

Crabb, rh Stephen

Crausby, Mr David

Creagh, Mary

Creasy, Stella

Cruddas, Jon

Cummins, Judith

Cunningham, Alex

Cunningham, Mr Jim

Dakin, Nic

Danczuk, Simon

David, Wayne

Davies, Byron

Davies, Glyn

Davies, Dr James

Davies, Mims

Davis, rh Mr David

De Piero, Gloria

Dinenage, Caroline

Djanogly, Mr Jonathan

Donelan, Michelle

Double, Steve

Doughty, Stephen

Dowd, Jim

Dowd, Peter

Dowden, Oliver

Doyle-Price, Jackie

Drax, Richard

Dromey, Jack

Drummond, Mrs Flick

Duddridge, James

Dugher, Michael

Duncan, rh Sir Alan

Duncan Smith, rh Mr Iain

Dunne, Mr Philip

Eagle, Ms Angela

Eagle, Maria

Efford, Clive

Elliott, Julie

Ellis, Michael

Ellison, Jane

Ellman, Mrs Louise

Elphicke, Charlie

Esterson, Bill

Eustice, George

Evans, Chris

Evans, Graham

Evans, Mr Nigel

Evennett, rh Mr David

Fabricant, Michael

Farrelly, Paul

Farron, Tim

Fernandes, Suella

Field, rh Frank

Field, rh Mark

Fitzpatrick, Jim

Fletcher, Colleen

Flint, rh Caroline

Flynn, Paul

Foster, Kevin

Fovargue, Yvonne

Fox, rh Dr Liam

Foxcroft, Vicky

Frazer, Lucy

Freeman, George

Freer, Mike

Fuller, Richard

Fysh, Marcus

Gale, Sir Roger

Gardiner, Barry

Garnier, rh Sir Edward

Garnier, Mark

Gauke, Mr David

Ghani, Nusrat

Gibb, Mr Nick

Gillan, rh Mrs Cheryl

Glass, Pat

Glen, John

Glindon, Mary

Goodman, Helen

Goodwill, Mr Robert

Gove, rh Michael

Graham, Richard

Gray, Mr James

Grayling, rh Chris

Green, Chris

Green, rh Damian

Greenwood, Lilian

Grieve, rh Mr Dominic

Griffith, Nia

Griffiths, Andrew

Gummer, Ben

Gwynne, Andrew

Gyimah, Mr Sam

Haigh, Louise

Halfon, rh Robert

Hall, Luke

Hamilton, Fabian

Hammond, rh Mr Philip

Hancock, rh Matthew

Hands, rh Greg

Hanson, rh Mr David

Harman, rh Ms Harriet

Harper, rh Mr Mark

Harrington, Richard

Harris, Rebecca

Haselhurst, rh Sir Alan

Hayes, Helen

Hayes, rh Mr John

Hayman, Sue

Heald, Sir Oliver

Healey, rh John

Heappey, James

Heaton-Harris, Chris

Heaton-Jones, Peter

Henderson, Gordon

Hepburn, Mr Stephen

Herbert, rh Nick

Hillier, Meg

Hinds, Damian

Hoare, Simon

Hollern, Kate

Hollinrake, Kevin

Hollobone, Mr Philip

Holloway, Mr Adam

Hopkins, Kris

Howarth, rh Mr George

Howarth, Sir Gerald

Howell, John

Howlett, Ben

Huddleston, Nigel

Hunt, rh Mr Jeremy

Hunt, Tristram

Huq, Dr Rupa

Irranca-Davies, Huw

Jackson, Mr Stewart

Jarvis, Dan

Javid, rh Sajid

Jayawardena, Mr Ranil

Jenkin, Mr Bernard

Jenkyns, Andrea

Jenrick, Robert

Johnson, rh Alan

Johnson, Diana

Johnson, Gareth

Johnson, Joseph

Jones, Andrew

Jones, rh Mr David

Jones, Gerald

Jones, Graham

Jones, Mr Kevan

Jones, Mr Marcus

Jones, Susan Elan

Kane, Mike

Kawczynski, Daniel

Kendall, Liz

Kennedy, Seema

Kinnock, Stephen

Kirby, Simon

Knight, rh Sir Greg

Knight, Julian

Kwarteng, Kwasi

Kyle, Peter

Lamb, rh Norman

Lammy, rh Mr David

Lancaster, Mark

Lavery, Ian

Leadsom, Andrea

Lee, Dr Phillip

Leigh, Sir Edward

Leslie, Charlotte

Leslie, Chris

Letwin, rh Mr Oliver

Lewell-Buck, Mrs Emma

Lewis, Brandon

Lewis, Clive

Lewis, Mr Ivan

Lewis, rh Dr Julian

Liddell-Grainger, Mr Ian

Lidington, rh Mr David

Lilley, rh Mr Peter

Long Bailey, Rebecca

Lopresti, Jack

Lord, Jonathan

Loughton, Tim

Lucas, Ian C.

Lumley, Karen

Lynch, Holly

Mackinlay, Craig

Mackintosh, David

Mactaggart, rh Fiona

Madders, Justin

Mahmood, Shabana

Main, Mrs Anne

Mak, Mr Alan

Malhotra, Seema

Malthouse, Kit

Mann, Scott

Marris, Rob

Marsden, Mr Gordon

Maskell, Rachael

Matheson, Christian

Mathias, Dr Tania

May, rh Mrs Theresa

Maynard, Paul

McCabe, Steve

McCarthy, Kerry

McCartney, Jason

McCartney, Karl

McDonagh, Siobhain

McDonald, Andy

McDonnell, John

McFadden, rh Mr Pat

McGinn, Conor

McGovern, Alison

McInnes, Liz

McLoughlin, rh Mr Patrick

McMahon, Jim

McPartland, Stephen

Mearns, Ian

Menzies, Mark

Mercer, Johnny

Merriman, Huw

Miller, rh Mrs Maria

Milling, Amanda

Mills, Nigel

Milton, rh Anne

Mitchell, rh Mr Andrew

Moon, Mrs Madeleine

Mordaunt, Penny

Morden, Jessica

Morgan, rh Nicky

Morris, Anne Marie

Morris, David

Morris, Grahame M.

Morris, James

Mowat, David

Mulholland, Greg

Murray, Ian

Murray, Mrs Sheryll

Murrison, Dr Andrew

Nandy, Lisa

Neill, Robert

Nokes, Caroline

Nuttall, Mr David

Offord, Dr Matthew

Onn, Melanie

Onwurah, Chi

Opperman, Guy

Osborne, rh Mr George

Parish, Neil

Patel, rh Priti

Paterson, rh Mr Owen

Pawsey, Mark

Pearce, Teresa

Pennycook, Matthew

Penrose, John

Percy, Andrew

Perkins, Toby

Perry, Claire

Phillips, Jess

Phillips, Stephen

Philp, Chris

Pickles, rh Sir Eric

Pincher, Christopher

Poulter, Dr Daniel

Powell, Lucy

Prentis, Victoria

Prisk, Mr Mark

Pritchard, Mark

Pugh, John

Pursglove, Tom

Quin, Jeremy

Quince, Will

Qureshi, Yasmin

Raab, Mr Dominic

Rayner, Angela

Redwood, rh John

Reed, Mr Steve

Rees, Christina

Rees-Mogg, Mr Jacob

Reynolds, Emma

Reynolds, Jonathan

Rimmer, Marie

Robertson, Mr Laurence

Robinson, Mr Geoffrey

Robinson, Mary

Rosindell, Andrew

Rotheram, Steve

Rudd, rh Amber

Rutley, David

Ryan, rh Joan

Sandbach, Antoinette

Selous, Andrew

Shapps, rh Grant

Sharma, Alok

Sheerman, Mr Barry

Shelbrooke, Alec

Sherriff, Paula

Shuker, Mr Gavin

Siddiq, Tulip

Simpson, rh Mr Keith

Skidmore, Chris

Skinner, Mr Dennis

Smeeth, Ruth

Smith, rh Mr Andrew

Smith, Angela

Smith, Cat

Smith, Chloe

Smith, Henry

Smith, Jeff

Smith, Julian

Smith, Nick

Smith, Owen

Smith, Royston

Smyth, Karin

Soames, rh Sir Nicholas

Solloway, Amanda

Soubry, rh Anna

Spelman, rh Mrs Caroline

Spencer, Mark

Starmer, Keir

Stephenson, Andrew

Stevens, Jo

Stevenson, John

Stewart, Bob

Stewart, Iain

Stewart, Rory

Streeting, Wes

Stride, Mel

Stuart, rh Ms Gisela

Stuart, Graham

Sturdy, Julian

Sunak, Rishi

Swayne, rh Mr Desmond

Swire, rh Mr Hugo

Syms, Mr Robert

Tami, Mark

Thomas, Derek

Thomas, Mr Gareth

Thomas-Symonds, Nick

Throup, Maggie

Timms, rh Stephen

Timpson, Edward

Tolhurst, Kelly

Tomlinson, Justin

Tomlinson, Michael

Tracey, Craig

Tredinnick, David

Trickett, Jon

Tugendhat, Tom

Turley, Anna

Turner, Mr Andrew

Turner, Karl

Twigg, Derek

Tyrie, rh Mr Andrew

Umunna, Mr Chuka

Vaizey, Mr Edward

Vara, Mr Shailesh

Vaz, Valerie

Walker, Mr Robin

Warburton, David

Warman, Matt

Watkinson, Dame Angela

Watson, Mr Tom

West, Catherine

Wharton, James

Whately, Helen

White, Chris

Whitehead, Dr Alan

Whittaker, Craig

Whittingdale, rh Mr John

Wiggin, Bill

Williams, Craig

Williamson, rh Gavin

Wilson, Phil

Wilson, Mr Rob

Winnick, Mr David

Winterton, rh Dame Rosie

Wollaston, Dr Sarah

Wood, Mike

Wragg, William

Wright, Mr Iain

Zahawi, Nadhim

Zeichner, Daniel

Tellers for the Ayes:

George Hollingbery


Sarah Newton


Ahmed-Sheikh, Ms Tasmina

Arkless, Richard

Bardell, Hannah

Black, Mhairi

Blackman, Kirsty

Boswell, Philip

Brock, Deidre

Brown, Alan

Cherry, Joanna

Cowan, Ronnie

Crausby, Mr David

Crawley, Angela

Day, Martyn

Docherty-Hughes, Martin

Donaldson, Stuart Blair

Edwards, Jonathan

Ferrier, Margaret

Gethins, Stephen

Gibson, Patricia

Grady, Patrick

Grant, Peter

Gray, Neil

Hendry, Drew

Hoey, Kate

Hollern, Kate

Hosie, Stewart

Kerevan, George

Kerr, Calum

Kinahan, Danny

Law, Chris

Maskell, Rachael

Mc Nally, John

McCaig, Callum

McDonald, Stewart Malcolm

McDonald, Stuart C.

McGarry, Natalie

McLaughlin, Anne

Monaghan, Carol

Monaghan, Dr Paul

Mullin, Roger

Newlands, Gavin

Nicolson, John

O'Hara, Brendan

Oswald, Kirsten

Paterson, Steven

Rimmer, Marie

Ritchie, Ms Margaret

Robertson, rh Angus

Robinson, Gavin

Salmond, rh Alex

Sheppard, Tommy

Stephens, Chris

Thewliss, Alison

Thomson, Michelle

Vaz, rh Keith

Weir, Mike

Whiteford, Dr Eilidh

Whitford, Dr Philippa

Wishart, Pete

Tellers for the Noes:

Marion Fellows


Owen Thompson

Question accordingly agreed to.

29 Feb 2016 : Column 732

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29 Feb 2016 : Column 734

29 Feb 2016 : Column 735


That the draft European Union Referendum (Date of Referendum etc.) Regulations 2016, which were laid before this House on 22 February, be approved.

29 Feb 2016 : Column 736

Opposition Day

[Un-Allotted Half Day]

UK Steel Industry

[Relevant documents: First Report from the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee, on the UK Steel Industry: Government response to the crisis, HC 546, the Government response, HC 861, and oral evidence taken before the Welsh Affairs Committee on 10 February, on the steel industry in Wales, HC 767.]

6.57 pm

Ms Angela Eagle (Wallasey) (Lab): I beg to move,

That this House notes the crisis in the UK steel industry; calls on the Government to support tougher EU action to ensure a level playing field and prevent the dumping of Chinese steel, to support scrapping the lesser duty rule which prevents higher tariffs being imposed that reflect the actual margin of dumping and to examine the implications of granting China Market Economy Status for the EU’s ability to tackle unfair trade; and further calls on the Government to publish a full industrial strategy which includes a procurement policy which commits to using British steel wherever possible for publicly-funded infrastructure projects and which supports industrial supply chains across the UK.

Britain’s steel industry is in crisis, and despite the warning signs flashing red, the Tories have had to be dragged kicking and screaming to come up with any kind of response. So far, it has been far too little and far too late. More than 5,000 UK steel jobs have been lost over the past 12 months. Redcar has been abandoned, the blast furnace and the coke ovens destroyed by this Government’s shameful complacency and inaction. Tata Steel has announced the loss of 1,050 jobs this year alone, and there are worrying signs that the entire industry in the UK is hanging by a thread.

This is a vital foundation industry for the UK which, after all, was the world’s first industrial nation. Our steel communities are looking to Parliament to support them in their hour of need and we must not let them down. Steel production is worth £9.5 billion to our economy, £5 billion of that in exports, at a time when we have a deteriorating trade deficit.

Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): The hon. Lady speaks of this time of need. I grew up just a few miles from Port Talbot steelworks and played very poor rugby as a scrum half at a school close by. At this time, is it not better that all parties work together for the good of the British steel industry, rather than making party political points, when it is pretty obvious that the steel industry globally has changed not only in the past year, but over the past two decades?

Ms Eagle: I will be the first to work with Government Members, and I hope that by the time we have listened to the Business Secretary’s reply we will have something that we can all cheer.

The British Chambers of Commerce recently found that export growth continued to slow at the end of 2015, with manufacturers struggling in particular. In the words of a former Conservative Trade Minister, the Government’s own export target is “a big stretch”. The Government have obviously been asleep at the wheel. Ahead of the Budget next month, the Government must acknowledge that on their watch domestic structural weaknesses in the UK economy have been allowed to persist and that they are now in danger of holding Britain back.

29 Feb 2016 : Column 737

Stephen Doughty (Cardiff South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op): Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government have also been asleep at the wheel when it comes to the crucial issue of procurement? Will she join me in commending the Daily Mirror for its Save Our Steel campaign, which has been shining a light on defence procurement, in particular, and found that Swedish steel is being used in the Navy’s newest warships?

Ms Eagle: I certainly agree with my hon. Friend’s observations and share his surprise that Swedish steel is being used in Ministry of Defence contracts in quite that way. I note that it appears to be a Conservative donor company that was doing that work. I join him in commending the Daily Mirror for its fantastic Save Our Steel campaign, which has highlighted the very real effects of the current crisis on steel communities up and down the country. Long may it continue to help us campaign to save this vital industry.

In the light of all that, why has the Government’s response to the steel crisis been so complacent and ineffective to date? Perhaps it is because we have a Business Secretary who is ideologically indisposed to taking any worthwhile action as he does not actually believe in the concept of Government action at all. Perhaps it is because we have a Business Secretary who has read far too much Ayn Rand and thinks that markets should somehow just be left to look after themselves. Perhaps it is because we have a Business Secretary who will not let the phrase “industrial strategy” even pass his lips.

Tom Blenkinsop (Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland) (Lab): Is my hon. Friend concerned that the Business Secretary will write letters supporting the need to deal with dumping and to increase tariffs, but, when it comes to reality rather than rhetoric, is part of a Government who are one of the ring leaders in the EU Council preventing any increase in tariffs?

Ms Eagle: I thank my hon. Friend for that observation. I think that in this debate Opposition Members will want to explore the gap between the Government’s rhetoric and the reality of their actions, because all too often we find that the gap is far too wide.

Mrs Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) (Lab): Today in Defence Questions it was said that British steel companies had not tendered for defence contracts—for example, for the building of frigates. If it is unattractive for British companies to tender, is it not important that the Government explore what is happening in our contracting? There is a problem there—a gap between what is said and reality—that should be explored.

Ms Eagle: The Government should certainly be leaving no stone unturned in encouraging UK steel to tender for any contract, especially as they boast about changing the procurement rules—in my experience, one has to do a lot more than that to make a real difference.

Mark Pritchard: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Ms Eagle: Okay, but just because I am intrigued about the hon. Gentleman’s rugby-playing days.

29 Feb 2016 : Column 738

Mark Pritchard: I thank the hon. Lady, who is being generous in giving way—I believe in mixed rugby teams, so she is welcome on the pitch anytime. It so happens that 26 British companies were asked to tender for the offshore patrol vessels to which the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mrs Moon) referred, but only one did, so only 20% of the steel for those vessels will be British. Surely she agrees that it is not for the Government, or indeed for the Opposition, to promote and market individual steel companies, whether British or not; it is for those companies to market themselves, and it is for the Government to set the framework in which they can do the business.

Ms Eagle: I am just getting the idea of a mixed rugby team out of my mind so that I can address the hon. Gentleman’s point. I think that it rather makes the point that the Government need to do more than just change technical criteria. They need to take a root-and-branch look at what is actually happening in our steel industry, and an industrial strategy would assist them in doing that. We need to do what we can to ensure that any blockages are removed so that we can give our steel communities the best chance to take maximum advantage of the procurement opportunities available in this country.

Stephen Doughty: That is absolutely crucial. Does my hon. Friend agree that there is a pattern of behaviour here? We have seen foreign steel used in the Tide class tankers, in the scout vehicles and in the aircraft carriers, we have no commitments on the frigates, and we have also heard about Swedish steel being used. That pattern of behaviour across all defence procurement needs to be investigated.

Ms Eagle: My hon. Friend makes a perfectly fair point. The Government should leave no stone unturned in order to maximise the chances of British steel companies bidding for these contracts successfully.

Andy McDonald (Middlesbrough) (Lab): On investment in steel, does my hon. Friend recognise that there is an opportunity to invest in a catapult centre in my constituency and in that of my hon. Friend the Member for Redcar (Anna Turley)? That would be a major investment that would take steel forward. That opportunity ought to be embraced, but it is being dismissed out of hand—[Interruption.] The Minister for Small Business, Industry and Enterprise says from a sedentary position that it is not, so I am glad that she is embracing the concept.

Ms Eagle: My hon. Friend has anticipated a point that I plan to make later in my speech. I certainly hope that there will be some good news on the catapult centre in the Budget, because we would certainly support that.

John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): I agree with the hon. Lady; we need a streel industry and there needs to be cross-party working to try to find the way forward. What does she think the Government could do to try to get more steel orders? The main problem is that there just is not enough British steel being bought.

Ms Eagle: One of the first things we have to do is stop the tsunami of unfairly traded and dumped Chinese steel, which is preventing fair trade and competition in the market at the moment.

29 Feb 2016 : Column 739

The Opposition have had to drag this Government kicking and screaming to the House on no fewer than 12 occasions since 2014 to try to force them to turn their warm, sympathetic words on steel, which we all recognise they use, into effective action. Today, here we are doing so once again. The Opposition motion calls on the Government to stop using the European Union as an excuse for their own inaction. It asks them to support a more effective response to the dumping of Chinese steel, which threatens to decimate UK steel production. It calls on the Government to take tougher action to secure a level playing field for our industry.

Mark Spencer (Sherwood) (Con): I understand the point that the hon. Lady is making, but I hope she will recognise that the Government have to work within the European Union’s state aid rules.

Ms Eagle: Far be it from me to suggest that the Government should operate outside EU state aid rules; I simply do not think that they are being sufficiently inventive or creative with the rules as they are at the moment. Had they been more interested, perhaps we would not have had to drag them to the House 14 times to keep the pressure on.

Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore) (Lab): I apologise for my voice—I shall have to whisper.

I have been on the doorstep with steelworkers in my constituency, and, in a spirit of working across these Benches, all I want to be able to say to them is that the Minister has been to Brussels and demanded the highest possible tariffs—the sort of tariffs the Americans have. Then I can say that, in line with the proposals being put forward by the Welsh Government, we are doing everything we can to make sure we have a steel industry in this country—this year, in five years, in 10 years and in 50 years. Does my hon. Friend agree that if we do not have those tariffs, we risk losing the steel industry?

Ms Eagle: Again, I agree. In this moment, we all have to do the most we can to preserve a future for the UK steel industry.

Our motion calls on the Government to take tougher action to secure a level playing field for our industry by working in partnership with our European neighbours. As part of the largest economic bloc in the world, Britain is in a much stronger position to stand up to those who refuse to play by the rules of the game, damaging our future economic prosperity and putting at risk the jobs and livelihoods of families in our close-knit steel communities. We need a Government who are willing to make that case by standing up to China.

Ruth Smeeth (Stoke-on-Trent North) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that the issue affects not only the steel industry but ceramics? It will cost more than 2,500 jobs in my constituency, unless we send a clear message, as the Minister has said, that China does not meet the criteria for market economy status?

Ms Eagle: I am coming to that later in my remarks, but my hon. Friend is exactly right: all energy-intensive industries are affected, and ceramics is one of them.