House of Commons
Friday 8 November 2013
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
European Union (Referendum) Bill
Consideration of Bill, not amended in the Public Bill Committee
I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order and I respect the spirit in which he has raised it. My understanding of the situation is that a Member who shouts Aye must not then vote in the contrary direction, or vice versa. I do not think, although I entirely respect the spirit of the hon. Gentleman’s point, that it reflects in this case because a Member is not obliged to vote simply because he or she has shouted. What he or she must not do is shout one way and vote the other. But the point that the hon. Gentleman has raised is an important one, and I thank him for raising it.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I would be grateful for your guidance on whether there is a modern-day precedent for the use of imperial legislation, as outlined in new clause 1, which looks more like an attempt to prevent stories from appearing about more divisions in the Conservative party over Europe and about the date of referendum being before the general election.
I cannot say I am very grateful for that point of order, for the simple reason that, as the hon. Gentleman is well aware, that is a point that he could and should, if he is so minded, raise in the debate, rather than detaining the House with a bogus point of order now.
Order. The hon. Gentleman will resume his seat. He has been in the House long enough to know that the Chair is never required to explain or, as he puts it, shed light on the selection of amendments. The hon. Gentleman will have to rest content with the selection. If I were inclined to put it bluntly, I would say that he can like it or lump it.
New Clause 1
‘(1) An order under section 3(2) or (3) which extends to Gibraltar may—
(a) provide for conduct to constitute a criminal offence under the law of Gibraltar;
(b) extend and apply to Gibraltar, with or without modification, the provisions of any enactment relating to referendums or elections;
(c) modify any such enactment so far as it has effect in relation to any part of the United Kingdom;
(d) modify or apply or incorporate, with or without modification, the provisions of any legislation in force in Gibraltar relating to elections, or referendums.
(2) The capacity of the Gibraltar legislature to make law in relation to any matter in relation to which provision may be made under section 3 is not affected by the existence of the power conferred by that section.
(3) Subsection (2) is not to be regarded as restricting the operation in relation to law made by the Gibraltar legislature of the Colonial Laws Validity Act 1865 (under which colonial laws are void if repugnant to provision made under an Act of Parliament).
(4) “Enactment”, and “modification” have the same meaning as in the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 (see section 160(1) of that Act).’.—(Andrew Rosindell.)
Brought up, and read the First time.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Amendment 41, in clause 2, page 1, line 18, leave out ‘and’.
Amendment 43, in clause 2, page 1, line 18, at end insert—
‘(aa) persons who have right of abode in the United Kingdom.’.
Amendment 45, in clause 2, page 1, line 18, at end insert—
‘(aa) persons who would be entitled to vote as electors in a European Parliament election.’.
Amendment 46, in clause 2, page 1, line 18, at end insert—
‘(aa) all persons who are legally entitled to vote as electors at a local government election.’.
Amendment 47, in clause 2, page 1, line 18, at end insert—
‘(aa) all British citizens resident in any of the member states of the European Union.’.
Amendment 48, in clause 2, page 1, line 19, after ‘peers’, insert ‘or prisoners’.
Amendment 8, in clause 2, page 1, line 20, at end add—
‘(c) British citizens, regardless of where they are resident, who have registered to vote with a British Embassy or High Commission or with the local authority where they last lived in the United Kingdom not less than six months before the date of the referendum, and the statutory provisions relating to overseas voters shall be disapplied for the purposes of this section.’.
Amendment 44, in clause 2, page 1, line 20, at end insert—
‘(2) Persons aged 16 or 17 on the date of the referendum shall be entitled to vote if they would, save for their age, be otherwise entitled to vote under any of the categories set out in subsection (1) above.’.
Amendment 49, in clause 2, page 1, line 20, at end insert—
‘(c) citizens of the Republic of Ireland, Cyprus and Malta resident in the United Kingdom shall not be entitled to vote.’.
Amendment 50, in clause 2, page 1, line 20, at end insert—
‘(c) residents of all Crown Dependencies.’.
Amendment 51, in clause 2, page 1, line 20, at end insert—
‘(c) residents of all British Overseas Territories.’.
Amendment 63, in clause 2, page 1, line 20, at end add—
‘(2) Provision will be made for all electors included in the Gibraltar register as defined in Schedule 1 to the Government of Gibraltar’s European Parliamentary Elections Act 2004 to vote in Gibraltar in person or by post.’.
Amendment 69, in clause 2, page 1, line 20, at end add—
‘(c) persons who are citizens of British Overseas Territories.’.
Amendment 80, in clause 2, page 1, line 20, at end insert ‘and
‘( ) Commonwealth citizens who, on the date of the referendum, would be entitled to vote in Gibraltar as electors at a European Parliamentary election in the combined electoral region in which Gibraltar is comprised.’.
Amendment 81, in clause 5, page 2, line 21, at beginning insert—
‘( ) This Act extends to—
(a) England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland; and
Amendment 82, in line 1 after ‘Kingdom’, insert ‘and Gibraltar’.
I am proud to move new clause 1, in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton South (James Wharton) and myself.
On 1 January 1973, the people of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland joined the then Common Market, the European Economic Community, as it was known at that stage, but it was not just the people of the United Kingdom who joined what is now the European Union at that point. It was also the people of the then British Crown colony of Gibraltar, now known as a British overseas territory.
As all Members of the House know, the people of the Rock of Gibraltar are deeply proud of the fact that they are one of Her Majesty’s British overseas territories. They are proud of being British and proud of being part of the British family of nations and territories, but they are also part of the European Union.
Is it the hon. Gentleman’s opinion that the people living in Gibraltar today are also pleased that they have the right to vote in European parliamentary elections and would therefore wish to take a role in the future of the European Union?
I was about to come to that very point. It was only a few years ago, in June 2004, that after a very long battle the people of Gibraltar were rightly granted the ability to vote in European elections. It was wholly wrong that part of the European Union was excluded from those elections. The people of Gibraltar, as members of the European Union, are now entitled to vote in those elections, so it is consistent with that argument that the people of the Rock should also be granted the right to vote in any future referendum regarding the European Union.
Of course it is right that we should ensure that the provisions of the Bill before the House today are extended to the people of Gibraltar as loyal subjects of the Crown and as British citizens, to ensure that all 20,000 inhabitants of the Rock are given the right to vote in any forthcoming referendum. As in our own nation, there are divided views about the European Union, but of course, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton South has pointed out many times, today’s debate is not about our future in the European Union. It is about the right of the people to decide and to choose their own destiny. If it is right for the people of the United Kingdom to have that right, it is surely correct that the people of Gibraltar should be extended that same right of self-determination within the European Union.
The people of Gibraltar have a right to vote in this referendum. That is why my hon. Friend and I have tabled the new clause. It is only correct that all the people affected by the European Union are given the right to choose, so why should the people of Gibraltar be excluded from that decision?
Whenever the referendum is held, the people of Gibraltar will vote enthusiastically for or against their membership of the European Union. We can see from the results of European elections in Gibraltar that the vast majority of people—
I will not be giving way.
The vast majority of people in Gibraltar, unlike people in the United Kingdom, choose to use their votes. In fact, the most recent European elections saw a 57% turnout—far higher than the turnout in the south-west region of which Gibraltar is a part. It is therefore right that they be given this opportunity. We know that they want the right to make the decision, along with the people of the United Kingdom.
The national anthem of Gibraltar says:
The Rock on which I stand,
May you be forever free,
Gibraltar, my own land.”
If the people of Gibraltar are to be free, if they are to choose their own destiny, and if it is to be their own land, they too must be given the right to vote in this referendum and in all elections. I commend the amendment to the House.
I served on the Committee, and during our proceedings we looked very closely at this matter. I remind the House that at that time the Government were unaware of, or had forgotten, the fact that the people of Gibraltar were a very special case because, as a European election constituency, they are part of the west of England seat and, as such, should have been included from the very start when this Bill was dreamt up.
Of course, we know that this is very much not a normal private Member’s Bill. I have never, in my experience in the House of Commons, seen a private Member’s Bill where Government Members are on a three-line Whip.
No, I am sorry, but I do not. I think the whole question of a referendum is a very important one that this House should look at, but it is a major constitutional issue that should have been introduced with a Green Paper and had a pre-legislative inquiry. It should have been taken seriously because it would totally change the nature of Europe and our role in Europe. It is unseemly and furtive, and not at the level of great parliamentary democracy, to try to use a private Member’s Bill to bring this forward.
Until we discussed this issue in Committee, the Government seemed unaware that Gibraltar had this special status and had a vote in the European elections. Often when we take part in a Bill Committee, we realise that we do not do a lot that changes anything, but in this case we made the Government aware of the special status of Gibraltar, and that is why this is a common-sense new clause.
My hon. Friend rightly says that Ministers and, indeed, the Bill’s promoter, completely forgot about Gibraltarians in this context. He will remember from his time in Committee that they refused to accept our amendment that would have given Gibraltarians the right to vote in any referendum. Does he have any intelligence as to why there has been this U-turn on the part of the Bill’s promoter?
I have been in this House long enough to be grateful for small mercies, and we did, after all, get a change. As I said, it is very unusual to do something in a Bill Committee that one can remember as being quite creative.
It was an unusual Committee, Mr Speaker. I was in full flow at one stage, and when I turned to look at the Public Gallery, the Prime Minister was sitting in on the proceedings. This is a very special Bill—
I am grateful for that, Mr Speaker.
I will conclude my remarks and hope to be called later in the debate. I am in favour of the new clause, which fits in with the whole tone of the discussion that we had in Committee. The Opposition acted very positively in relation to this Bill in trying to refine it and to be supportive. All of us, as a team, tried to work together. We disagreed, but we disagreed in a rather pleasant way.
I rise to support new clause 1. The absurd proposal in this group is obviously amendment 43, which seems to suggest that everyone across Europe will vote on this issue, whatever their nationality.
As somebody who supports a referendum on our membership of the EU but would probably vote in favour, I think it very important that UK citizens who live abroad should be entitled to vote. Obviously that is allowed, but people who live in Gibraltar also need to vote. We will eventually need to consider the wider issue of what representation the Crown dependencies have, but that is for another day.
I am most grateful to you, Mr Speaker, for calling me to speak in this debate.
As I am sure the hon. Member for Stockton South (James Wharton) will recall, I intervened on him to raise the issue of Gibraltar when we first gathered here on a Friday to discuss this Bill. I think I am accurate in saying that he was rather dismissive of my concerns about the people of Gibraltar and accused me of merely trying to wreck the Bill. I very much welcome the fact that he has had a conversion along the way from here to the Whips Office to get his instructions and back again, and now supports giving the people of Gibraltar the right to take part in this referendum.
We heard an excellent speech from the hon. Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell), who is one of the leading experts on the overseas territories. I was slightly disappointed, however, that he did not explain the precise reason why it is vital for Gibraltar to have its voice in the referendum. The reason is that under the treaty of Utrecht, which—he may correct me—took place in 1713, the United Kingdom has ownership of Gibraltar for as long as we and the people of Gibraltar should wish it, but should we ever renounce our ownership of the Rock, ownership automatically passes back to Madrid. Therefore, under the treaty, the people of Gibraltar have no ability to seek their own independence. If they were not given their chance to have a say in the referendum, if the United Kingdom chose to leave the EU, they would be placed in the ridiculous situation of having to choose whether they wished to remain part of the European Union or to become Spanish.
That is why I very much welcome the fact that eventually, after six months, the hon. Member for Stockton South and his colleagues have accepted the argument that I tried to make back in July. I look forward to his explaining why it has taken him so long to come to the conclusion that was obvious to us at such an early stage.
I fully agree. You will recall, Mr Speaker, that on Wednesday evening we had a debate about the use of explanatory statements. As I think the House knows, I was a little sceptical about the mandatory nature of that proposal. However, I must confess—as I said, I am not as much of an expert as the hon. Member for Romford—that it would have been helpful in this case, because yesterday there was some genuine confusion about the amendments, with several hon. Members seeking guidance from the Clerks, the Library and elsewhere. I am disappointed that the hon. Gentleman did not explain why that particular line was included in the new clause. Does he wish to provide an explanation?
No? I am sorry about that, because it has been puzzling me.
I am keen on giving the people of Gibraltar an opportunity to take part in a referendum that will directly affect them. I regret that it has taken us so long to persuade the hon. Member for Stockton South to accept that obvious point about a flaw that has been in his Bill from the very beginning.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife (Thomas Docherty), who is right to say that this omission—this flaw in the Bill—was pointed out at a very early stage and that the anomaly of the situation of the people of Gibraltar could have been rectified much earlier. That reflects the nature of the Bill, which in many respects—I am sure we will come on to them—is not very well thought out. It was, in effect, a public relations exercise to cover up the deep division in the Conservative party over the question of whether or not to remain in Europe.
That has been highlighted clearly in today’s edition of The Economist, the front cover of which has a road map that goes onwards and upwards to Great Britain, with a little cul-de-sac off to the right marked “Little England”, accompanied by an image of the European Union symbol with a cross through it. I think that the risk of the little Englander is the real issue behind much of the Bill.
The subject of new clause 1 is Gibraltar. It raises the obvious question of what would happen if Gibraltar exercised an expression of its destiny, as the hon. Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell) eloquently put it, and voted to remain in the European Union but the UK voted to leave, perhaps with the votes of people in Scotland, which may by then have voted, in theory, to leave the United Kingdom. I am not clear where that would leave Gibraltar. It is included in the European Union only by virtue of the UK’s membership of the EU. It is represented in the European Parliament, not in its own right, but only by virtue of being a British Crown dependency.
If I may briefly correct the hon. Gentleman on two points, he just referred to Gibraltar as a Crown dependency, but I am sure he meant to say that it is an overseas territory. I am sure he also misspoke when he said that it is represented by the United Kingdom when, of course, it has votes in the South West and Gibraltar constituency of the European Parliament.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. I was talking about representation and was about to point out that Gibraltar is part of the South West England and Gibraltar constituency, which also includes my constituency of Cheltenham and is ably represented by Sir Graham Watson. The point is that Gibraltar does not have separate representation in its own right in the European Parliament. The hon. Gentleman is right to correct me on calling it a Crown dependency; it is, of course, an overseas territory. It has many of the same special arrangements as various other territories but, uniquely, it is part of the European Union while other overseas territories and Crown dependencies are not formally part of it.
That will probably get the hon. Gentleman “quote of the day” in somebody’s column, but I am not sure how well it will go down in Gibraltar. I do not think we should make light of the serious issue of Gibraltar’s future in the European Union, but I value the hon. Gentleman’s humorous contribution.
We could end up in a bizarre situation whereby Gibraltar votes to remain in the EU and the rest of the UK votes to leave it. We face the prospect of going to the effort of accepting this new clause and giving Gibraltarians their say and the ability to express their own view on their own destiny, but then expelling them from the EU against their wishes. I am not clear how that gives Gibraltarians a real say over their destiny.
I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman is getting this completely back to front. The people of Gibraltar would vote in a referendum, just like anybody else in the United Kingdom. If the people of Essex chose to stay in the European Union—I am not sure that is going to happen—it would make no difference: we are treated as one country in terms of the EU. I assure the hon. Gentleman that the people of Gibraltar will want to stay with Britain.
I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman is wrong. Gibraltar is not equivalent to Essex in any respect. It is a separate territory and it has self-government. It is not represented in this Parliament. That is a fundamental principle of our relationship with Gibraltar. It is more analogous to Denmark’s relationship with Greenland, which voted in its own right to leave the European Union despite remaining a Danish territory. Greenlanders were given their right to have control over their own destiny, but the Bill does not explain how Gibraltarians would be given that same right should their conclusion in a referendum differ from that of the people of the United Kingdom. The Bill leaves a huge unanswered question, in that it appears, on the face of it, to offer a clear scenario whereby the voters of the United Kingdom could, in effect, expel Gibraltarians from the European Union against their wishes.
I am listening attentively to the hon. Gentleman and, as a Scot, I do not quite follow his logic. Under the new clause, which seems to have cross-party support, the people of Gibraltar will get a say in the referendum. If Scotland chooses to stay part of the EU, it would still be bound by the collective result and the same is true of Gibraltar, unless it chooses to cease being part of the United Kingdom. I am struggling to understand why the hon. Gentleman does not see it in that way. Perhaps he could explain further.
I will explain. The situation is different from that in Scotland, because Scotland, for the time being at least, remains part of the territory of the United Kingdom, has representation in this Parliament and is represented in Europe by virtue of being part of the UK, not of being a territory of the UK. Gibraltar has self-government and that is a cardinal principle of our relationship with it. Should it at any point decide to join the kingdom of Spain, it could take that step without having to leave the United Kingdom. In effect, we are saying that we would expel Gibraltar from the EU even if it voted to remain in it.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for endorsing me. I do not think the hon. Gentleman meant to say that. He said that Gibraltar is self-governing. It has self-government on many issues, but not all. We still provide its international relations, Home Office functions and defence functions. I think the hon. Gentleman is misspeaking.
No, on this occasion I do not think the hon. Gentleman is right. Gibraltar is a UK territory but, like other overseas territories and Crown dependencies, it is not actually part of the United Kingdom. The test is whether there is direct representation in this Chamber.
I really am disappointed that the hon. Gentleman has not had an opportunity to talk to the many Members throughout the House who have a close interest in overseas territories. Overseas territories have a great deal of self-governance, but they still rely on the UK for many of their functions, including defence and foreign affairs. It is not mutually exclusive to say that they have self-governance but that the UK provides many of their functions.
Would the hon. Gentleman also like to take the opportunity to correct the record? It has been endorsed by my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) that he said that Gibraltar could choose to join the kingdom of Spain without leaving the United Kingdom.
The reason why Gibraltar could decide to join the kingdom of Spain should it ever want to—obviously, there is no prospect of that in the near future—without leaving the United Kingdom is that it is not formally part of the UK at the moment. We would respect the wishes of Gibraltarians if they ever expressed that desire. They would not have to leave, because they are not formally part of the territory of the United Kingdom itself. They are an overseas territory.
It is a rather semantic point. I feel that we are leading the House down something of an angels-dancing-on-a-pinhead diversion, so we should probably move on to more substantial issues. The substantial point that I was trying to make before being entertainingly diverted by the hon. Gentleman was that we could end up in a situation in which the people of Gibraltar voted to remain in the European Union, but were effectively expelled from it by virtue of a United Kingdom referendum. We can leave the debate about the precise nature of Gibraltar’s detachment from the United Kingdom for another time.
My intervention is on a different point. Is not a more powerful argument in support of the new clause that there is a strong argument to make to Gibraltarians that their interests are very well served within the EU, particularly because of the importance of the EU to international global treaties on maritime issues, fisheries issues and so on? That is the strong argument that we should make if the new clause is to be passed.
That was a much more constructive intervention and it was typically well made by the hon. Gentleman. He is absolutely right that there is a strong case for Gibraltar to remain within the European Union, as there is for the United Kingdom to remain within it, not only because of the issues that he mentioned, but because of the fight against cross-border crime and terrorism and a range of other issues.
The hon. Gentleman has not mentioned the most important benefit of the European Union. We have a bully in Spain that has been trying to force its will upon the people of Gibraltar. One of the huge advantages of the European Union, as the people of Gibraltar know, is that it allows them, following the representations of the Minister for Europe and others, to stand up with the United Kingdom to that bully. That would not be happening if they were outside the European Union.
I will not rise to that point. It takes us away from the core subject matter of the new clause.
I want to make it clear to Members on both sides of the House that I support the new clause because it aims to correct the anomaly. There are some reassuring parts to it. It is great to know that subsection (2)
“is not to be regarded as restricting the operation in relation to law made by the Gibraltar legislature of the Colonial Laws Validity Act 1865 (under which colonial laws are void if repugnant to the provision made under an Act of Parliament).”
I am sure that that will be a massive reassurance to the people of Gibraltar. It is a serious point that it will reassure them that the overall constitutional framework is being respected and not changed by the fact that we are passing legislation in this Chamber that relates to the constitutional position of Gibraltar.
I am happy to support the new clause, although I would be interested to hear what the right hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr Lidington) thinks the position would be for Gibraltarians in the event of their voting yes and the United Kingdom voting no. Where would that leave them constitutionally? Would they be able to renegotiate their own separate membership of the European Union? If so, would their membership carry on automatically or would they be in the position that it has been suggested Scotland might be in if it voted for independence, whereby it would leave the European Union automatically and have to reapply as an independent country?
I will not go through the raft of amendments that we are considering in this group one by one. I am sure that that is to the relief of Members behind me. However, some of the amendments, although addressing issues that are critical to the future of the UK and its position within the European Union, run the risk of looking a wee bit frivolous. It is important for those of us who are in favour of a debate on Europe and in favour of European Union membership to retain some credibility.
The substance of the amendments is a matter for debate. I sincerely hope that the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood), who has erred rather seriously once already, is not suggesting that it was inappropriate for the Chair to select the amendments. If he thinks that their content is not up to his high standards of intellectual argument, that is a matter for debate. That they were proper amendments to be selected is not a matter for debate, because I selected them. That is the end of it.
Heaven forfend that I should question the selection of amendments once again, having been appropriately chastised at the beginning of the debate.
I apologise to the hon. Member for Ilford South (Mike Gapes) if I suggested that he was being frivolous. I am sure that that is not true. I am sure that he was well-meaning in tabling the amendments. What I was highlighting was that those of us who are on the pro-European side of the debate and who want to move on from arcane discussions about the minutiae of referendums to the real issue, which is whether Britain should be in or out, do ourselves no favours if we run the risk of being seen as putting forward anything that might be interpreted as frivolous. If I may put it in those guarded terms, I hope that he will respect my slight warning that we are getting close to dangerous territory.
The one amendment that I will single out is amendment 44, which raises the issue of the voting age. We debated that matter in Committee, but it was not fully resolved. I want to put on the record the long-standing Liberal Democrat commitment to extend democratic voting rights to those of 16 or above. It is important to young people and to the future of our democracy that people who are younger than 18 are given the vote and are engaged in political debate, if possible while still at school. Yesterday, I was at Balcarras school, which is an outstanding comprehensive school in Cheltenham. I had a long, gruelling debate with the sixth-formers, who were really engaged in the issues. It must be a frustration to such well-informed observers of the political scene that they cannot vote. We should take every available opportunity to advance the arguments for votes at 16 and this is a good opportunity to do so.
Is the hon. Gentleman as perplexed as I am that the Government can justify reducing the voting age for a referendum in Scotland on the basis that the young people there will be determining the long-term future of their country in deciding whether it should be in or out of the UK, but will deny them that privilege in a referendum that will determine the long-term future of the entire UK in deciding whether we should be in or out of Europe? Where is the logic and consistency in that?
Amendment 44 does not say that we should extend the vote to 16 to18-year-olds in order that they can vote for staying in the European Union. It would give them the franchise. The jury is out on whether they would vote in or out, but it is important that they have a say in the future because it is their future.
The hon. Gentleman again makes a good point. It is the future of those young people that we are debating. This issue is even more important in respect of this referendum than in respect of the wider franchise. In elections, people can change their mind after five years and kick out the Government. This decision will last a generation. The more young people we can involve in the decision, the better.
I will draw my remarks to a close. Important issues are finally being tackled in the amendments that relate to Gibraltar, but they do leave questions unanswered.
The hon. Gentleman has understandably focused the majority of his remarks on Gibraltar on the entitlement of its people to vote. May I bring him back to new clause 1 and the intention of the Bill’s promoter to refer to the Colonial Laws Validity Act 1865 in the Bill? Does he think it would be helpful if the Minister explained to the House why it is necessary to have a piece of outdated, colonial legislation in the Bill?
I have already invited the Minister to comment on the new clause in general. In fact, I should really call him the right hon. Member for Aylesbury in this context, not the Minister, since he is not speaking on behalf of the Government. We should be mindful of the issues raised by including such colonial legislation in the Bill, although the hon. Member for Harrow West (Mr Thomas) is probably technically incorrect in calling it outdated, as I believe it is still valid legislation. As I said earlier—
That raises an interesting issue that perhaps the Government—both sides of the coalition—should reflect on. I stand corrected for the second time in the space of an hour or so, and I am grateful to the right hon. Member for Warley (Mr Spellar) for that point of order.
I was drawing my remarks to a conclusion. The key issue is not whether the new clause is right, because I believe it has wide support throughout the House, but the anomalous position in which Gibraltar could be left if it voted to remain in the European Union, but then faced involuntary expulsion from it as a result of the vote of the rest of the United Kingdom—or of the United Kingdom, depending on whether we regard Gibraltar as technically being part of the UK. I should like to hear the Minister’s opinion about that.
First, I thank you, Mr Speaker, for selecting a large number of amendments that I tabled and for your ruling that they are entirely valid and not frivolous.
It is important that this parliamentary democracy asserts the primacy of Parliament and its democratic processes. I have received a large number of tweets over the past few days from people who seem to believe that we should move to a plebiscitary form of decision making in this country.
I do not want to diverge from the substance of the debate, so I will concentrate on the new clause and amendments in the group. It is important to understand why there are so many amendments on the franchise to be used in a referendum: because this short Bill is woefully inadequate. It would create a referendum held on the basis of the franchise for parliamentary elections, not European elections, even though it would have enormous implications for the 1.4 million British people living in other European Union countries. It would also affect British people who live elsewhere in the world, perhaps working for companies based in the UK, with families still living in the UK. Their prosperity depends on our membership of the EU.
There would also be enormous implications for the 14 British overseas territories and their populations. New clause 1 rightly addresses the question of Gibraltar, and I am pleased that the Government have clarified their position on that in recent weeks. However, it is not sufficient, because people in other overseas territories, such as the Falkland Islands, would be affected. Our relationship with the EU also has implications for the future of people such as the Chagossians who were expelled from Diego Garcia.
I do not fully follow my hon. Friend’s logic; I hope that he will explain it better. We do not allow the people of the Falkland Islands to vote in a Westminster general election even though, as he rightly says, it has a big implication for their future. Will he explain in a little more detail why he thinks they should have a vote in the referendum when they do not participate in a Westminster general election?
I will talk about overseas territories’ relationship with the European Union later. Along with the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood), I served on European Committee B when we discussed at great length a series of documents about the new relationship between the overseas territories and the EU—I have them with me and may well quote from them. Some overseas territories have become what is called in the jargon “outer areas” of the European Union. For example, the French have overseas territories that not only have the right to be represented in the French Senate, but are defined as territories of the EU. However, the British overseas territories, apart from Gibraltar, are not.
I wrote to the overseas territories a few months ago to inquire about that point, and I know that the hon. Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell) and others have been making a case about it in the Foreign Affairs Committee for some time. There is no great appetite for the UK overseas territories to have representation in the UK Parliament. Will my hon. Friend give us his thoughts on why that is the case?
I am a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee. In the previous Parliament, we carried out a major inquiry on the overseas territories. They are all different. Some of them are completely depopulated, some have few people, such as the Pitcairn Islands, which I think have 56 or 57 people, and others, such as the Falkland Islands, have a long-standing British population. The people of the Falkland Islands have expressed their self-determination in a vote, but they still suffer serious threats from Argentina.
Gibraltar still has a problem with regard to Spain, which is why new clause 1 is important. The point made by the hon. Member for Cheltenham is valid, because if the United Kingdom were to leave the EU, what would happen to the efforts of the British Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary to get the European Commission President to intervene when Spain puts pressure on Gibraltar? If we were on an exit path or had already left the EU, presumably the Commission would not try to help the citizens of Gibraltar when they were suffering blockades, huge queues and all the other problems that have arisen in recent months. I have not yet mentioned the dispute that has arisen over territorial waters, concrete blocks and fishing access.
I thank my hon. Friend for setting out his lucid argument. Although I support new clause 1 and many of the amendments in the group, we must consider territories that rely not only on the UK’s voice but, in a diverse and asymmetric way, on the EU’s voice. I am thinking of my area of expertise, which is fisheries, maritime issues and so on. Those territories’ voices will not be heard, and none of the amendments will enable that to happen. We must consider how their voice can be heard in any future vote to leave the EU.
I am curious about what would happen if the people of Gibraltar voted to remain part of the EU, but the rest of the UK voted to opt out. If Gibraltar then found itself in conflict with Spain, where would we appeal for international support for Gibraltar? What would be the EU’s position?
My guess is that if we had left the EU, the rest of the EU would not necessarily regard us as a country to which it owed any favours, to put it mildly. Presumably we could appeal to the United Nations, but given the problems we have had in the so-called Special Committee on Decolonisation in the UN over the years, and the way in which countries such as Argentina have behaved with regard to other British overseas territories, we would be in a difficult position. The people of Gibraltar would be in a very difficult position, because if they wished to stay in the European Union, they would presumably have to find some way of getting Spain to sponsor their membership of the EU. Britain would have deserted and betrayed them.
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point that applies to other British overseas territories that have associate status with the EU and that benefit from trade, sustainable development and regional co-operation. Is he aware, for example, that the Falkland Islands receives, €4 million a year directly through such arrangements? How will their people’s wishes or intentions be considered in this process if they are not included in the franchise?
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I know that we are considering a private Member’s Bill, but is it in order for its promoter, the hon. Member for Stockton South (James Wharton), to be taking advice from Foreign Office civil servants in the Box?
Order. I know where the hon. Gentleman is now thank you, Ms McCarthy, but I am saying that I did not see him approach the Box and I am sure he will not do that. It is supposed to be for Ministers. Having eyes in the back of my head is not a skill I have yet developed, but I am sure the protocol will be observed.
Order. There cannot be anything further to that point of order. I have said that Ministers may approach the Box and nobody else should. I am sure that from now on nobody else will, apart from Ministers or their Parliamentary Private Secretaries. Where were we?
My hon. Friend has concluded. As an aside, perhaps the solution for the Government would be to appoint the hon. Member for Stockton South (James Wharton) as a PPS for today so that such difficulties could be avoided. Perhaps that could be conveyed rapidly to the powers that be.
I want to return one last time to the point that my hon. Friend raised about Gibraltar and the situation involving Spain. He said that if the people of Gibraltar wanted to be in the EU but the rest of Britain did not, we might have to appeal to Spain, with whom we would also have some difficulties. He suggested that we would be driven into the arms of Spain. Has he had an opportunity to talk about that to the hon. Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell), who moved new clause 1, because he has clearly not foreseen that as one of the consequences of his proposal?
The hon. Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell) and I have had many discussions, and we were both at the United Nations in Washington last week with the Foreign Affairs Committee. He is my near neighbour; my constituency, like his, is in Greater London and in Essex. I am afraid that we have not discussed the details, but no doubt we will at some point over the next few days or weeks.
Let me return to the reasons behind the many amendments that I have tabled. There is a major problem with the Bill. For example, because the choice has been made to have a franchise based on parliamentary elections, people who would be able to vote in a European election in this country will not be able to participate in the referendum. That means we are in the absurd situation whereby the citizens of some European Union countries will be able to vote in our referendum, but others will not.
For example, a French person living in the UK who is married to a British person and has children at school, growing up, or at university in this country, will not be able to vote in the referendum. Someone from the Republic of Ireland, Malta or Cyprus will be able to vote, however, because Malta and Cyprus are in the Commonwealth, and Commonwealth citizens, along with British citizens, are able to vote in parliamentary elections. Because of our long-standing arrangements with the Irish Republic, even though it is not in the Commonwealth, citizens of the Republic of Ireland are able to vote in parliamentary elections and to stand for Parliament in this country. The measures in the Bill mean that we will exclude people who are settled with families in the UK, and who have a long-standing relationship with this country, from voting on whether to wrench apart the UK from their European country, yet we will be allowing other people who are not British to vote in our referendum.
The hon. Gentleman’s interesting point raises an intriguing prospect. If the referendum were to be as finely balanced as other referendums around the world have been, it might be the votes of Irish citizens, Scots who may have voted to leave the United Kingdom, Commonwealth citizens and others that actually change the result.
Absolutely. A large number of my constituents come from many parts of the world. There are British Pakistanis, British Indians, British Bangladeshis, British Somalis—all kinds of people. When they get British citizenship they can, of course, vote in our elections, but some choose to retain citizenship of another state. I have a close friend who is a local councillor in my constituency. He has a British passport, but his wife has kept an Indian passport, even though they have sons who are in their 30s and they have been living in this country for decades. Because his wife is an Indian citizen, that facilitates them when they go back to India, rather than meaning that there are problems with visas. She is able to vote in British elections and, as a Commonwealth citizen, she will be able to vote in this referendum. Let us say, for the sake of argument, that a constituent is married to someone from a non-Commonwealth country, such as Somalia or the United States. They are not allowed to vote in our parliamentary elections, so they will not be able to vote in the referendum. The Government are increasing the number of anomalies. European Union rules allow citizens of any EU country to vote in European elections; indeed, they allow people to stand for the European Parliament in any EU state, whatever their nationality.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent contribution and referring to matters that relate specifically to my family, given that my husband has dual citizenship, as does my mother-in-law. Does he agree that the right of European citizens living in the UK to participate in the referendum is a particular issue for those of us with London constituencies that are home to huge numbers of French, German and Spanish citizens, who perhaps know best about the importance of relationships between countries in the European Union?
I might be wrong, but I understand that London is the fifth largest French city. We live in a globalised world. People come to London to give to our country and contribute to our prosperity. One reason for the dynamism and growth in the London economy is that we have attracted the brightest and best people from many European countries, and yet we will not allow them to vote on the future of the place where they have their families and connections, and to which they have made a contribution.
It is not just London. An individual in Durham who is an American citizen has lived here for 34 years. He runs a very successful business and his wife is English. Clearly, the Bill will affect his business, but he will not be allowed to have a say on whether the UK is part of the EU.
My hon. Friend tickled me when he described London as the fifth largest French city—he must not forget the London Welsh contingent. [Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas) has turned around from the Front Bench to express sympathy. On a serious point, the forensic analysis that my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford South (Mike Gapes) applies and the anomalies he exposes make me wonder whether introducing a referendum in the shape of a private Member’s Bill—hon. Members have proposed right-minded amendments—has given the Electoral Commission sufficient time to look at the Bill in detail and raise similar concerns.
We will discuss the Electoral Commission’s report on the wording of the question when we speak to another group of amendments. The commission clearly takes a different view from the Government on the question, but that issue is not for this group of amendments. I do not know about the commission’s detailed views on the issues I am discussing, so I will not comment on them.
My hon. Friend misspoke very slightly earlier when he referred to the general election franchise, but that is not quite true, because Members of the other place would have a vote. On a more substantive point, in the referendum that we in Scotland have next year on whether we should leave the EU, European Union citizens will be granted the vote. I did not support that, but given that the Government supported EU citizens having the right to vote on that precedent on that occasion, should they not be given the right to vote on whether the whole of the UK leaves the EU?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend, and that is why I have tabled amendments that would apply either the local government franchise or the European Parliament franchise. That would meet his point about Scotland.
I was going to come to the question of prisoners later—not prisoners, Members of the House of Lords. [Interruption.] I said prisoners because, under our present law, Members of the House of Lords, lunatics and prisoners are excluded from voting in elections to the House of Commons. The Government propose to modify that to allow peers to vote in the referendum, but not lunatics or prisoners. I have tabled an amendment on prisoners—I was unable to get an amendment on lunatics on the amendment paper. My point is that the Government are making a constitutional change in the relationship between the Houses of Parliament and in the role of Members in the other place. Are the Government proposing that Members of the other place should vote in the referendum? I referred to the Government—I must apologise; I meant the part of the Government that is putting forward the proposal. They need to clarify why they think that it is appropriate to change that long-standing relationship.
My hon. Friend is expertly disentangling all the anomalies and contradictions in the Bill and the franchise, but does he agree that in respect of Gibraltar there is another one which has wider implications? A quarter of a million or so British citizens live in Spain. Some may have served this country with distinction fighting in our armed forces; others may have been in receipt of an honour from Her Majesty the Queen; and others may be working for Britain in companies in countries such as Spain. A quarter of a million people living just across the water from Gibraltar will not have a vote, but Gibraltarians will have one. What is the logic of that?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. There is no logic to the proposal; it is absurd. As I said in my introductory remarks, 1.4 million British citizens live elsewhere in the EU. Only those who have registered as overseas voters may vote in the referendum. The law says that one must have been away from the UK for no more than 15 years and specifically register as an overseas voter. The figures I have seen show that there were fewer than 20,000 registered overseas voters in December 2012. The future of the 1.4 million British people living elsewhere in the EU could be seriously and adversely affected by the consequences of a referendum that leads to withdrawal, but they will not be given a say.
Some might register, but many may have been living abroad for longer than 15 years. Since I tabled my proposal, I received, on 5 November, an e-mail from Mr Brian Cave, who lives in France. He states:
“I, myself, have lived in France for over 15 years and thereby am disenfranchised. That of course is wrong. To further not be permitted to vote in any IN/OUT referendum is an appalling double insult for any British Citizen in Europe. We, who would be most closely affected, must have a vote in this.”
Millions of people could be damaged. More than 1 million British citizens live elsewhere in the EU—in Spain, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Mr Hain) has said, in Portugal, in France or elsewhere. Many are pensioners, but some live in France and work in London. Some have their families in France but contribute regularly to British companies and businesses. It is rumoured—I do not know whether this is true—that even Members of this House sometimes live in France. It is therefore important that we understand that the Government are not allowing a large number of British citizens to have a vote in the referendum. One of my amendments would make it possible for British people living in all EU countries to have a vote in it.
Does my hon. Friend agree that many people will have sold their houses here and retired to Spain, for example? I am sure a lot of people from Romford have retired to Spain to a better life and winter sunshine. Disfranchising those people is anomalous in the sense that they are the ones who will be directly affected if we withdraw from the EU.
That is absolutely true. The Government—[Interruption.] I am sorry; I meant to say the Minister. Given the earlier ruling, I assume he will speak for the Government. He will need to clarify why we are not allowing those British citizens to vote in the referendum. After all, the devolution referendums held by the previous Government in 1999 were conducted under the local government franchise, which allowed EU citizens to vote. My proposal would widen that so that British citizens everywhere could vote.
May I take my hon. Friend back to the point he made about the Members of the other place having the right to vote? That raises the concern that several of us have had from the outset about the wisdom of addressing such a constitutionally far-reaching measure in a private Member’s Bill. In particular, has he sought any advice on the implications of the Bill’s consideration in the other place? Will Members there have to declare an interest or say how they intend to vote in such a referendum? Will they have to disbar themselves from taking part in the debate? As far as I can see, this is new constitutional territory.
It is difficult enough for me to contemplate the implications of rulings from the Chair in this Chamber without tying myself in knots over how the Lord Speaker would deal with such issues should they be raised with her in the other place. It would be best to put that issue on the agenda for the other place if it comes to consider this Bill. It will have to deal with that issue at that point. I do not have a view on or any detailed knowledge of how it would be dealt with at that time.
I want to be clear about the important differences between the amendments I have tabled. Amendment 43 would allow people with the right of abode in the United Kingdom to vote in this referendum, because it would affect them. Would they be expelled from the European Union? Would they no longer have the right to travel freely to the 27 other member states?
As I have already said, amendment 45 concerns those who are entitled to vote as electors in a European Parliament election, such as all the residents of the UK who are citizens of Austria, Latvia, Estonia, Italy, Germany, France, Spain, Portugal, the Czech Republic or Slovakia—I will not list all the other 27 member states, but there are a lot of them. Some of those people gain the full benefit of our education system and contribute to our society in many ways, just as British people living in other European countries benefit from their systems. We have seen recent reports that say that more British people are on welfare benefits in other EU countries than people from other EU countries living in the UK on benefits. If we were to leave the European Union, what would happen to those British people’s right to reside in those other European countries and benefit from the facilities, social security systems and other amenities of those countries? These are issues of great importance, but British people living in other countries would not be allowed to vote in the referendum, and nor would European Union citizens living in this country. That would be wrong, because the decision would have profound, long-term implications for them. That is why we need proper parliamentary scrutiny of it, which we are beginning here today. I hope that we will be able to continue it over the coming weeks and months.
Amendment 46 relates to the local government franchise, which is the basis for the Scottish referendum. In my opinion, there are no strong arguments against that. I have already covered amendment 47, which addresses the issue of those British citizens resident in any of the member states of the European Union.
Amendment 48 refers to the rights of prisoners to vote. Interesting statements have been made recently by the Government’s senior law officers, but the position is confused on whether some—if not all—prisoners will be given the right to vote. The Bill is silent on that issue, but if the Government’s position changes in the next few months—despite the clear vote of this House against giving votes to prisoners—we would need to discuss it in some detail. There would be implications if the European Court maintains its judgment that some prisoners should be given the right to vote, not just for parliamentary elections but for the franchise for any referendum on leaving the European Union. That is why I have tabled the amendment.
Amendment 8 would clarify the basis on which people would be able to vote. At present, overseas voters can register under the 15-year rule using the address of the local authority area in which they had lived previously. The amendment would allow people to register to vote at a British embassy or high commission. It is deplorable that only 20,000 people living elsewhere in the European Union have the entitlement to vote under the 15-year rule. Some 1.4 million British people live in other European Union countries and we should be trying to find ways to encourage them to register. To reduce the bureaucratic hurdles, the easiest way to do that would be to allow people in Spain, say, to contact the British embassy in Madrid; people in Portugal to go to Lisbon; people in France to go to Paris; and so on. Similarly, if we were to change the franchise to allow British citizens living anywhere in the world to take part in the referendum, we should allow them to go to the British high commissions in Delhi or other countries of the Commonwealth.
I have touched on amendment 44 and I know that other hon. Members will wish to speak on it. My hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline and West Fife (Thomas Docherty) mentioned the age at which people can vote in the Scottish separatist referendum, and the UK referendum should be held on the same basis. Young people have a great interest in the future of the European Union. I would hope, therefore, that they would be able to take part.
No, I am afraid I want to conclude my remarks, because other Members wish to speak.
The Crown dependencies, including their very important financial institutions, would also be affected, so should be allowed to vote. We have discussed British overseas territories, so I will not spend any longer on that point, and we have also talked about Gibraltar at length. The important point is this: my amendments expose the Bill’s inadequacy and need for proper consideration and scrutiny. I hope the House will provide that and support at least some of my amendments.
In response to the point from my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood), I wish to make it clear that, in respect of this Bill, as has been the case with at least one or two other Bills since the 2010 general election, the two governing parties have agreed to differ in their approaches to a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU.
I want to address the various points made about Gibraltar.
I am speaking as a Minister at the Foreign Office and, as always, as a member of the Conservative party to make clear my view of the amendments and, in particular, to respond to the points made in Committee by Members representing different political parties about extending the franchise to the people of Gibraltar.
In Committee, I undertook to review this question, in response to points made by the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman), who I do not think is in his place any longer, and by other Labour, Liberal Democrat and Conservative Members who argued that Gibraltarians should receive the franchise, in view of the fact that Gibraltar was perhaps uniquely affected among our overseas territories by the question of Britain’s membership, or otherwise, of the EU.
Mr Jones, you know full well that that is not a point of order. It is entirely up to the Minister or the Member who has the Floor to decide to whom they give way, but perhaps the Minister could indicate to the House whether he wishes to make some progress.
I intend to continue with my remarks and respond to the points made about new clause 1 and then to respond briefly to the points made by the hon. Member for Ilford South (Mike Gapes), so I do not intend to give way to those who are seeking to intervene at the moment.
Under the 2006 constitution of Gibraltar, the United Kingdom is responsible for Gibraltar’s external relations, including its membership of international organisations. For example, the United Kingdom would be at risk of infraction proceedings if the Government of Gibraltar failed to implement EU legislation. Gibraltar’s association with the EU is itself founded on the UK’s membership and the terms of Gibraltar’s association are set out in declaration 55 attached to the treaties of the European Union. To those hon. Members who have asked, “What would happen if in 2017 the UK voted to leave the EU?”, the answer is that in subsequent negotiations about the UK’s future relationship with the EU, the future relationship of Gibraltar with the EU and the acquis would have to form one aspect of those considerations.
Gibraltar is not a party to the whole of the EU acquis. For example, it is not part of the single European market for the free transit of goods. As I promised in Committee, I have consulted the Chief Minister of Gibraltar about his Government’s wishes, and he has advised me that they wish the franchise for this proposed referendum to be extended to the citizens of Gibraltar. Having taken advice, I am confident that the wording of my hon. Friend’s new clause would give proper effect to that wish by enfranchising Gibraltarians.
Hon. Members have asked about subsections (2) and (3) of new clause 1. To some extent, my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham answered this point by saying that they were designed to make it clear that the underlying constitutional order, expressed in the 2006 Gibraltar constitution, remained untouched. Under current arrangements, the franchise for European parliamentary elections in Gibraltar is determined by an Act of the Gibraltarian Parliament and Government, rather than by this House. In this case, however, the new clause proposes that the UK Parliament set the terms of a franchise that, for the purposes of this referendum, would include Gibraltar. For that reason, subsections (2) and (3) make it clear that despite this particular instance, that underlying constitutional relationship—the 2006 constitution gives far-reaching internal powers of self-government to the elected Administration in Gibraltar—remains undisturbed.
I am following very clearly the Minister’s attempted explanation for why subsections (2) and (3) should be written into the Bill. Essentially, I am struggling to understand why he thinks there might be some problem with Gibraltan law preventing the smooth running of a referendum in Gibraltar. Is not the reference to the Colonial Laws Validity Act 1865 a bit of overkill?
No, it is not overkill. This is a sensible piece of legislative drafting designed to put it beyond the risk of any misunderstanding or misinterpretation that the underlying constitutional relationship would remain undisturbed, despite the specific and exceptional provisions of the Bill. I would say gently to the hon. Gentleman that if he looks back at the Committee proceedings, he will find that his predecessor as shadow Europe Minister, the hon. Member for Wolverhampton North East (Emma Reynolds), was among those arguing and tabling amendments to extend the franchise to people in Gibraltar through the vehicle of this Bill.
No. I have consulted the Chief Minister and have concluded that I should give my support and endorsement to the new clause tabled by my hon. Friends the Members for Stockton South and for Romford (Andrew Rosindell). It ill behoves Opposition Front Benchers to try to retreat from a new clause that seeks to give effect to something that they themselves were proposing in an amendment, which was extremely technically deficient, in a debate in Committee.
No, I will not.
The hon. Member for Ilford South has tabled many different amendments. He acknowledged that they cover a wide range of issues, which are perfectly legitimate, about the extent of the franchise in the UK. He proposed in one amendment that the UK franchise should be extended to prisoners and in another that the franchise—
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. From the start of the debate, I have listened intently to every word. I believe that perhaps inadvertently the Government Front-Bench spokesman has misrepresented the position of our Front-Bench team. However, he is refusing to give way. Is there any recourse for our Front-Bench team to clarify a point not only of debate but of accuracy?
I get the gist. It is not a point of order. The Minister has the Floor and is responsible for what he says to the House. Opposition Front Benchers will get their opportunity to speak in the debate. If the Minister does not wish to give way, that is a matter for him. The normal courtesies are that Members give way at some point, but they do not have to do so repeatedly.
I am responding to the hon. Member for Ilford South. I am sure that the hon. Member for Harrow West (Mr Thomas) will have a chance to catch Madam Deputy Speaker’s eye in a few minutes if he wishes to go over again the points that were made in Committee.
The hon. Member for Ilford South raised the question of extending the franchise for UK expatriates beyond the 50-year maximum, which would be the effect of at least one of his amendments. He also proposed altering the general election franchise, in effect, to include European citizens as well as UK and Commonwealth citizens. All those are legitimate questions for debate but the purpose of the Bill is to apply the UK’s general election franchise terms to the proposed referendum.
Given that we are apparently going to use the UK’s general election criteria, why would there be a major anomaly? The citizens of three EU states would be able to vote in the referendum but others would not. Is that not a strange situation? Citizens of Cyprus, Malta and Ireland would be able to vote but French people living in London could not.
It is no more or less anomalous than the situation that applies already at our general elections, where citizens of those European Commonwealth countries who are legally resident here and registered as voters are entitled to participate, whereas nationals of other EU member states who are also lawfully resident are not so entitled to vote in a UK general election. In respect of the hon. Gentleman’s amendments, it would be legitimate for him to use the vehicle of a representation of the people Bill at some stage to seek to alter the terms of the UK’s general election franchise in the way he proposes, but it is not appropriate to use the Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton South to make such a change when my hon. Friend’s purpose, as I understand it, is to apply the UK’s general election franchise to his proposed referendum. For that reason, I disagree with the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Ilford South and support the general election franchise as set out by my hon. Friend in his Bill.
I rise to support amendment 69. I would also like to comment on other amendments, including those tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford South (Mike Gapes).
Some important points have been raised about the franchise. The first I would take up is the one about EU nationals. I have a regular correspondence with a Danish constituent in the Hogganfield part of my constituency who is married to a UK national, and has the right to vote in a Scottish Parliament election, a local government election in Scotland and European elections in this country. He will have the right to vote in the Scottish referendum, but under the Bill as drafted by the hon. Member for Stockton South (James Wharton) he will not have the right to vote in this referendum.
That throws up an interesting anomaly. We know that one of the implications of the Scottish referendum is that Scotland would no longer be an EU member state. Therefore, my constituent is being allowed the opportunity to vote once on whether to stay in the EU, but in the event of Scotland’s voting to stay in the UK he would be denied the opportunity to vote a second time on whether to stay part of the EU as a citizen of the UK. Such anomalies show the mess that the hon. Gentleman and the Government are getting themselves into with the Bill as currently drafted.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ilford South mentioned prisoners’ right to vote. Of course none of us in the House wants prisoners who have been convicted of serious offences or given long sentences to be given the right to vote, but an important point in relation to the franchise of prisoners in referendums came up in the discussion about the Scottish referendum. It is regrettable that we have not been joined by the Attorney-General because we would have benefited from his good counsel on that point. There is case law from the European Court of Human Rights in 2008. That says that article 3 of protocol 1, which deals with the right to vote and participate in democratic votes, says that that right is qualified, is limited to the choice of the legislature and does not apply to the election of a Head of State or indeed to referendums.
I wonder whether my hon. Friend thinks it is also regrettable that we have not been joined this morning by the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, the hon. Member for Boston and Skegness (Mark Simmonds), who has responsibility for British overseas territories. He could have dealt with some of the issues that my hon. Friend has raised. Much as I love to hear the Minister for Europe’s comments, he seemed slightly reluctant to engage with those issues in his contribution.
I wonder what bearing the fairly recent debate and vote that the House had on prisoners’ entitlements to vote will have on the amendment. In the light of the detailed way in which my hon. Friend has explained the difference between referendums and other elections, does that vote have a bearing on whether the amendment should or should not be put before the House?
My hon. Friend raises an important point. One of the issues that must accompany the referendum debate is the cost and potential cost to the taxpayer. That is why we need a definitive opinion from the UK Government and the relevant Law Officer about whether the ruling in the Polish case in 2008 would apply to this referendum. If it did, that would mean that there would be no money incurred, potentially, through legal disputes raised by prisoners who were not given the right to vote. That is why we need guidance from the Attorney-General and from the promoter of the Bill on the legal position.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I have been in the House quite a long time, but I have never known a debate on a private Member’s Bill in which, after two and a half hours, the promoter still has not said a word. Is that right that he never speaks, and that the Minister dominates the conversation?
That is not a point of order. It is entirely up to Members to indicate when they want to speak. In fact, I have a long list of Members who have indicated that they want to speak in this debate, and it would be good to make some progress.
Order. That is quite enough. If the promoter of the Bill wishes to take part in the debate, he will indicate that in the normal way. I do not require Mr Bain to comment on that. I would like him to speak to his amendment and the other amendments that we are discussing.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.
I fully support the amendment on votes at 16 tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford South. It is clear that 16 and 17-year-olds will have the right to vote in the Scottish referendum, and I support that right for all elections. It is intolerable that, as Demos showed in 2010, 16 and 17-year-olds contributed £500 million in taxes over the preceding 10 years but are still disfranchised.
My hon. Friend will remember that, in Committee, I was embarrassed when my name was accidentally attached to an amendment in favour of votes at 16. I was put in the embarrassing position of having to speak and vote against “my” amendment. Is it not amazing that up to this point we have had no debate on this major constitutional change this morning? In my view, we are going down a dangerous path, yet we have not debated the matter until now.
Is my hon. Friend aware of the Power Commission, funded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, which spent a considerable amount of time looking into the workings of British democracy? It made an unequivocal recommendation that the franchise should be lowered to enable 16 and 17-year-olds to vote in our elections.
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend’s point. In this Parliament, I and many of my hon. Friends have already voted in the referendum on electoral reform to give 16 and 17-year-olds the right to vote. My support for the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford South is consistent with that line of thinking and with my voting record in the House.
Amendment 69 raises an important question. The Minister has already conceded that there is a need to extend the franchise to the people of Gibraltar, but there is another group of individuals who would be significantly affected by the result of any referendum held under the Bill if it became law. They are the 260,000 people living in the British overseas territories, which include Anguilla, Bermuda, the British Antarctic Territory, the British Indian Ocean Territory, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, the Falkland Islands, Montserrat, the Pitcairn Islands, South Georgia, the South Sandwich Islands, St Helena, Ascension Island and Tristan da Cunha, and the Turks and Caicos Islands. Those territories’ relationship with the European Union is connected to our membership of the EU.
The hon. Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell) moved the new clause on Gibraltar. Is my hon. Friend aware that, on 26 January 2012, the hon. Gentleman made comments in the press calling for all overseas territories to be represented here at Westminster? I wonder why he now wants to exclude them from this important EU vote.
The hon. Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell) will be accountable for his own statements, but given the consistent line of reasoning that he takes in his politics, I should have thought that he would want to be consistent by showing his approval of amendment 69 later.
Article 198 of the treaty on the functioning of the European Union sets out the relationship between many of the British overseas territories and the EU. That provision allows them to form association agreements and to opt into the provisions on the free movement of workers and the freedom of establishment within the EU. All of that would be affected if the result of the referendum were to take the United Kingdom out of the EU.
The British overseas territories are not part of the EU, but EU law applies to them indirectly. It is important in regulating the trade relationships that many of the territories have with the EU, for example. Many of the islands are relatively small, and they are highly dependent on what they can export. Import tariff levels are also a significant factor in their economies. The overseas territory agreements with the EU benefit the territories through non-reciprocal preferential trade boosts and through the most generous form of tariffs. The territories’ associate status could be severely affected by the votes of people in the United Kingdom, but at present the Bill provides no ability for them to consent to such an arrangement. They would not be given the franchise in the referendum. That is a real anomaly, and the hon. Member for Stockton South must address it.
Part 4 of the treaty on the functioning of the European Union applies to the British overseas territories. The territories have regular tripartite meetings with the EU, as well as partnership meetings. As I said in an intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford South, under the current multi-annual financial framework, many of the territories receive money directly from the EU. They could suffer severe financial losses as a result of the referendum, yet the Bill in its current form does not allow them to consent to a change in their relationship with the European Union. The Falkland Islands receives €4 million a year as a direct result of its associate relationship with the EU. Anguilla receives €11.7 million a year and Montserrat receives €15.66 million a year. Does the hon. Member for Stockton South believe that the UK Government should indemnify those territories for the loss of that funding? Has he even raised the matter with the Minister?
These are crucial questions, and the hon. Gentleman and the Minister must satisfy the House that the people of those territories, who will be significantly affected by the Bill, will have an opportunity to be consulted and to have their say; otherwise, a gaping anomaly will remain at the heart of this deeply unsatisfactory Bill.
Amendment 44 deals with the question of giving 16 and 17-year-olds the vote. I am well qualified to speak about that, because I represent one of the youngest constituencies in the UK. About a third of my constituents are younger than 24 and just over a fifth are under the age of 16. As hon. Members can imagine, I have some interesting discussions with sixth formers in my constituency about this subject, which is debated hotly among local 16 and 17-year-olds.
Over the three years since this Government came to power, one issue that has galvanised young people about politics from a parliamentary perspective—many of them were active politically in a wider sense—is the withdrawal of the education maintenance allowance, and I was pleased that some Hackney sixth formers came here to speak to a Select Committee about the impact of that. About 80% of that cohort were in receipt of that benefit, so the loss of it made them feel suddenly connected to Parliament, yet disconnected because they did not have a vote.
I have met our local Youth Parliament representative a couple of times. He is very much in favour of this approach, but I have to say that support for votes at 16 is not unanimous among 16 and 17-year-olds—[Interruption.] I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) has strong feelings about this in the contrary direction. I think we need to have a reasoned debate about the issue. Scotland is moving in the direction of at least experimenting with this as an option.
When I talk to young people about the subject, some are nervous about it, some are downright opposed and some are very much in favour. Even those in favour sometimes admit difficulties because they feel that they do not know enough. They say, humblingly to me, “But, Miss, we are not informed enough to make decisions.” They have a laudable belief that being informed is a prerequisite to being a political representative or to voting. If every adult in this country had the same view, we would probably have an even smaller turnout at elections than we do now.
I believe that giving people the vote at 16 is the right way forward. It would ingrain voting habits early. It is a bit like learning to clean teeth from the age of two, because if people do something day in, day out, or year in, year out—or five years in, five years out for voting—they are encouraged to keep doing it, and that would be the case for voting. We all know that one reason why the Government have chosen not to touch some issues that would affect pensioners—they are not affected by the bedroom tax or cuts to council tax benefits—is the fact that people of pensionable age are more likely to vote than young people. I do not think that anyone in this place wilfully ignores young people, but we have to recognise that, beneath our national party strategists doing endless work through Mosaic and number-crunching, there is a ruthless look at how people vote. Bringing in votes for people at 16 or 17 could make a big difference to how young people are listened to up and down the country.
My hon. Friend is making some powerful arguments, and she will know that I very much support the move to give the vote to 16 and 17-year-olds in such a referendum. She made an interesting point about whether there is consensus among 16 and 17-year-olds about having the vote. Does she agree that, as these are matters of debate about where the world is going and what decisions need to be made, it is worth looking back to when women were first allowed to vote? There was no consensus among women at that time about whether they should have the vote, but the argument was won, and it was viewed as being in the national interest. No one wants to turn back the clock now.
My hon. Friend’s good contribution included an interesting point about intergenerational accountability. It is our generation that is making decisions on behalf of the nation about the future—about climate change, whether to go to war and so forth—and our decisions will substantially affect the next generation. Is it right for that generation to be denied a vote?
Is my hon. Friend aware that this country has been castigated for allowing young people—as young as 15 or 16—to join the armed forces? Does she not realise that it is the protection of children and childhood that so many of us value, and that that is why we do not want to bring the age of becoming an adult down to 16?
Yet 16-year-olds pay tax and can get married, and 17-year-olds can drive. Young people can join the Labour party at 15—[Interruption.] I am advised that they can join the Conservatives at 14, so perhaps we should have a discussion with the leader of our party about that. My own children make decisions and get support when they seek advice, and they are keen to be actively engaged, even when they are under the age of 16. I believe that we take more and more decisions in which young people should be involved.
Some young people say that they are not informed enough to vote, but if we were to agree to amendment 44, even if the referendum never went ahead, we would see a shift in thinking among people in our schools and the education system. It would provide an imperative further to improve general studies or civics lessons to make sure that people were well informed about what was going on in the world around them. We should not use young people’s fear of not being sufficiently informed as an excuse not to think about going down this road.
A precedent has been set with the Scottish referendum. It seems to me that it is unfair to say that a Scottish teenager can vote on the important issue of the future of their country within the UK—and, indeed, within Europe—but that an English, Welsh or Northern Irish teenager cannot have a vote on a similar issue.
Does my hon. Friend agree that if the voting age were reduced, it would act as a spur to the education system to ensure that there was better teaching in our schools about the importance of democracy and the civic duty to exercise the right to vote? Does she agree that our children need a political education to enable them to participate in our democracy?
Yes, I have made that very point. All of us in the Chamber have called the Secretary of State for Education to account, and no doubt even he would be keen to ensure that education about democracy was filtering down to our local schools through the national framework. We ask a lot of our schools, but it is important to develop that area of education, and it is right for us to provide an imperative to develop it. Frankly, if something is good enough for the Scots, it is good enough for Hackney’s 16 and 17-year-olds and those from London, England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Let me touch on some of the other amendments in the group. We have spent an awful lot of time discussing Gibraltar, so you will be glad to know, Madam Deputy Speaker, that I am not planning to discuss the 20,000 votes of the Gibraltarians, albeit not because that is unimportant. My hon. Friend the Member for Ilford South (Mike Gapes) has tabled significant amendments about British citizens and residents and their right to vote, and I feel strongly about this issue. When I was a Minister, I spent a lot of time dealing with not only issues affecting the UK, but European issues. During my three years as a Minister, I had quite a lot of contact with British citizens in Spain who were interested in and concerned about policies. I was the Minister responsible for identity cards, and those British citizens in Spain were among the greatest cheerleaders for those cards and wanted to be early adopters of the scheme. They have a strong interest in what is going on in their mother country and are keen to have a vote.
If we want to be fair in this referendum, we must unpick the Government's muddle. Why have they chosen the parliamentary boundaries rather than the local government boundaries, which will be used in the referendum in Scotland? There is a confusing message about who is a voter in this country.
My constituency is one of the most multicultural in the country, as well as one of the youngest, so Hackney is certainly up there at the top of what I like to think of as the chart of achievement. I have a large number of European and African constituents, as well as people with leave to remain and naturalised British citizens. Many of those people can vote in different elections, but there is often confusion about in which elections they can vote. Overall, the message from today’s debate is that we must be clearer about who has the right to vote.
Ultimately, in a European election, it is important that those from the wider European arena have the chance to vote. For instance, a French person living in Britain can vote for an MEP either where they live or where they are from—they have that choice. In this case, they would not have that choice. They would not be able to vote in this referendum, despite their links to Europe—this is obviously a European issue as well as a British issue—and to the UK.
I fully support amendment 45, which would enfranchise all those entitled to vote in European elections, including EU citizens. I feel very sore that I cannot vote in the Scottish referendum, as I am a British citizen with strong views about Scotland’s remaining part of the UK so that we stand united as a group of nations in Europe and the world. I do not get a say on that, and I think that that a similar anomaly will occur with this referendum.
On amendment 47, I feel that it is only fair that British citizens living in EU member states should get a say. As I said, I have had contact with those citizens abroad, and they feel that they are British even though they have chosen to live in another part of the EU. They have not gone to Timbuktu; they live in the political and economic union of which we are part. They are EU citizens, but feel that they are British EU citizens wherever they live. We are all EU citizens and we must see the issue in its EU context.
There are good reasons why many of those people would be important voters, and why 16 and 17-year-olds should be voting to support our membership of the EU. Although there is a need for some reform, as I saw at first hand during three years of negotiating on behalf of the British Government in the EU, there are huge benefits to our being part of Europe, especially with regard to justice and home affairs measures. We therefore need to ensure that all people who should have a vote get a vote.
I will not go into those benefits in enormous detail, Madam Deputy Speaker, because I fear your opprobrium if I go too far off the subject, but let us consider some of them. The much-discussed European arrest warrant, for all its faults, still provides major protection across Europe. I commend the Select Committee on Home Affairs for its report that considered all such issues, particularly the European arrest warrant. Without the warrant, we would need 27 separate treaties with EU member states to deal with the problem. It is important that we get the franchise right so that people can vote on such an important issue.
There is also a benefit from the European Union criminal records information system. People repeatedly worry when employing people from an EU member state that does not have our ability to check criminal records, which we do through our vetting and barring scheme, as they are not sure who they are getting. That information system is one way that the situation is being improved through European co-operation. If we cannot opt back into that system, it will be a real concern. I do not want to confuse the debate by going into the opt-ins and opt-outs on justice and home affairs, but those are big issues that affect and benefit Britain. Similarly, the Schengen information system—
Order. The hon. Lady is drifting considerably away from the subject. Occasionally saying, “That is why it is important to broaden the franchise,” is not keeping her comments in order. I would be grateful if she would refer specifically to the amendments, rather than the wider debate.
As I hinted, Madam Deputy Speaker, I suspected that I would be tempted to drift away. Thank you for reining me in, as my natural enthusiasm for this subject overtook me.
It is important that young people should have the chance to vote on these vital issues. British citizens living abroad should also have that chance to vote, because they will be affected by Britain’s opt-out, wherever they are living in the EU. EU citizens living in Britain also should have the chance to vote. I hope that I have made my points clear. Notwithstanding my concerns that a vote to remove Britain from the EU would be a great mistake, if we are to go down the route of having a referendum, we must ensure that it is fair and that the franchise is as wide as is reasonable to ensure that nobody feels excluded or cut out from this important decision.
It is a genuine pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier). We have had a really interesting debate, with a helpful opening contribution from the hon. Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell), who is not in his place at the moment, and similarly helpful contributions from my hon. Friends the Members for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman), for Dunfermline and West Fife (Thomas Docherty), for Ilford South (Mike Gapes) and for Glasgow North East (Mr Bain) and the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood). Indeed, the Minister’s contribution was enlightening on some things, although not on others. Of course, there was the short but rather special contribution from the hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr Bacon), too.
I shall speak to amendment 63, in my name, and to amendments 80 to 82, in the names of the hon. Members for Stockton South (James Wharton) and for Romford. These amendments relate to the electoral arrangements for the people of Gibraltar in the proposed referendum. I welcome the fact that Government Members have belatedly taken steps to address this rather glaring hole in their proposals. An apology might have been in order on behalf of the Conservative party, as it was a rather astonishing omission for Government Members to forget the people of Gibraltar in the referendum equation. Indeed, as the Bill’s promoter and Conservative Members consulted so few people before the Bill popped out of Lynton Crosby’s office, I suppose that I should not be at all surprised that the people of Gibraltar were not consulted before the Bill saw the light of day.
Perhaps this is not the only such occasion that Government Members have allowed the people of Gibraltar to slip their minds, but at least, thanks to the contributions of my hon. Friends the Members for Wolverhampton North East (Emma Reynolds), for Ilford South and for Huddersfield and the hon. Member for Cheltenham, this issue was addressed in Committee. Sadly, despite being awakened in Committee to the concern about the omission of the Gibraltarians from the Bill’s franchise, the Minister for Europe and, indeed, the Bill’s promoter have been silent on this problem in the intervening weeks. So it is only now, thankfully, at this the eleventh hour, that it seems that Government Members have seen the light and are prepared to address this anomaly.
Does my hon. Friend think it strange that the hon. Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell) moved—belatedly, as my hon. Friend says—the new clause to enfranchise the residents of Gibraltar, but that even though he has called for overseas territory residents to have direct representation in the House, he should not feel it fit to add them to the new clause?
I am sure that my hon. Friend is aware that, as late as 23 October, the Minister with responsibility for Africa and the overseas territories gave the impression to European Committee B that he thought that people in Gibraltar would have a vote. He subsequently had to write to me on 30 October to correct that impression and to point out that the Minister was still considering the situation. Even though the issue has been there for some time, my hon. Friend is quite right to say that the Government—I suppose it is the Government who are responsible—have belatedly come to this view.
My hon. Friend makes a helpful contribution by acknowledging the further mistake of Foreign Office Ministers in relation to Gibraltarians.
I have read the reports of the debates on the Bill in Committee, and I say gently to the Minister for Europe that what my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton North East most certainly did not do at any point during those proceedings was to suggest that provisions of an 1865 Act—legislation that was used for bullying the colonials—should be added to the Bill.
New clause 1, on which so little light was shed by either the mover of the amendment or the Minister, took me back to my masters studies at the London School of Economics, where I was fortunate enough to study imperial and commonwealth studies. I cannot remember a seminar touching specifically on the Colonial Laws Validity Act 1865, which is referred to in subsection (3) of the new clause, so I did a little reading up about that Act over the past 24 hours. The Minister may want to reflect further on whether reference to the Act is strictly necessary.
I ask the House to consider what possible problem there might be with Gibraltar law that would stop the smooth running of a referendum in the way that the hon. Member for Stockton South and others on the Government Benches want. What is there in Gibraltarian law that has sparked the concern that the potential legislative requirements of the Bill might be usurped by anything that the Gibraltarians already have on their statute book? I gently suggest to the Minister and to the promoter of the Bill that including reference to the Act is overkill and a further snub to the people of Gibraltar, after the hon. Gentleman forgot to give them the right to vote in the referendum in the first place.
Given the lack of clarity from the Minister when he referred to the matter earlier, would it not be appropriate for the House to divide on new clause 1 so that we can be clear that we are voting for its provisions, in order to avoid any ambiguity for the future?
It is for hon. Members in all parts of the House to make their own judgment on that. Given that the Minister has already spoken and has shown no sign of wanting to intervene on me to clarify the position in relation to the 1865 Act, I look forward to the hon. Member for Romford or the promoter of the Bill, when winding up the debate, giving us a little more clarity about what causes such concern that the Act needs to be added.
In my time as a Member of Parliament, I cannot remember another piece of legislation that needed provisions of the Colonial Laws Validity Act 1865 added to it. Perhaps the Minister or the Bill’s promoter could illuminate the House with details of when the Act was last used and when its provisions were last added to a Bill. In that way, some of my concerns and some of those of my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford South about the necessity or otherwise of the Act’s provisions might be addressed. The last thing we want is to over-regulate the Bill, as I fear the Minister and the hon. Member for Romford might be seeking to do.
For those in the House not familiar with the situation with regard to Gibraltar, it is, as my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline and West Fife made clear, a British overseas territory which has been ruled by Britain since 1713 under the terms of the treaty of Utrecht. Gibraltarians are British citizens. They elect their own representatives to the territory’s House of Assembly and our British monarch appoints a governor. Gibraltar is self-governing in all areas except defence and foreign policy, and it is home to an important British military garrison and naval base. The particular difficulty thrown up by the Bill is that should a referendum take place under the original terms of the Bill, a vote in Britain to leave the European Union could occur without the people of Gibraltar having any say at all in this huge constitutional change. The people of Gibraltar would be entirely disfranchised—ignored, in effect.
Thanks to the CBI’s work earlier this week, we know that the Prime Minister is willing to risk the possibility of a £3,000 drop in the living standards of the British people were Britain to leave the European Union. I fear that there would be an even bigger hit to the living standards of the citizens of Gibraltar if the Prime Minister’s reckless gamble, all because his party is so divided, were not to pay off. Taking away from Gibraltarians the benefits of European Union membership without giving them any say in the matter would be a cruel act against them by this Parliament.
There is certainly precedent for the inclusion of Gibraltarians in British votes concerning Europe. As I think the hon. Member for Romford and certainly the hon. Member for Cheltenham made clear, the European Parliament (Representation) Act 2003 provides for Gibraltar to be enfranchised for elections to the European Parliament. As many hon. Members may recall, the Act required the Electoral Commission to propose a region in England and Wales with which the citizens of Gibraltar could participate in European parliamentary elections. The region chosen was the south-west. I understand that in European elections since that Act Gibraltarians have been enfranchised appropriately and have taken part enthusiastically in those elections. Indeed, they will have the opportunity to vote again with the south-west region in the upcoming European elections next May.
Given how deeply divided the Conservative party is on Europe and how little influence Tory MEPs have, I hope that Gibraltarians will vote Labour, and that they will remember that it was only because of the intervention of Labour’s Front Bench in the form of my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton North East (Emma Reynolds) and certain Back Benchers—I should give an honourable mention in dispatches to the hon. Member for Cheltenham—that their situation got any recognition at all.
After the Committee stage of the Bill had begun, my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton North East wrote to the Chief Minister of Gibraltar explaining why she had tabled amendments to the Bill over the summer. The Chief Minister recently wrote back to her suggesting a slight tweak to the amendments. That is why her amendments were withdrawn earlier this week and I tabled amendment 63 to probe further the intentions of the Bill’s promoter and the Minister. I welcome the fact that, albeit very belatedly, the Bill’s promoter has tabled amendment 80. Given that the Minister for Europe has confirmed his support for that amendment, I do not intend to press my amendment to a Division.
I turn to the amendment in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North East. My hon. Friend the Member for Ilford South referred at some length to the amendment, too, as well as to his own similar amendment regarding the position of the citizens of Britain’s overseas territories. Britain has some 14 overseas territories encompassing a diverse range of cultures and communities across the world. They range from the tiny Pitcairn Island, with its 47 inhabitants, to Bermuda, with a population of over 62,000.
Some overseas British territories will be particularly familiar to Members in all parts of the House; others less so. The Falkland Islands, for example, is well known to many in this House and is itself very familiar with the business of referendums. At the referendum on the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands this March, 99.8% of its people voted to remain a British territory. An astonishing turnout of 92% meant that only three votes were cast against the Falkland Islands staying with the UK. One could not then argue that Falkland islanders were disengaged with the political process. Yet should this Bill become law, the Prime Minister will be putting at risk the benefits that the Falkland islanders get through Britain’s membership of the European Union. I say again that we know from the CBI’s work this week that the Prime Minister is putting at risk more than £3,000 of every British household’s income in order to try to hold his party together.
I am not sure whether my hon. Friend, who is a London MP, takes The Northern Echo newspaper, but I recommend it to him. The Deputy Prime Minister has this morning rightly congratulated Nissan on its new generation of vehicles, but he has also pointed out that if we leave the EU, Nissan’s investment would go, too.
I apologise to the editor of The Northern Echo because I do not take the paper regularly, although I have heard it is a very good read. I am aware that Nissan’s boss has said that if the UK leaves the EU, the company would have to reconsider its future strategy and investments. It is astonishing that the Prime Minister is willing to put at risk Nissan’s investment. I suspect that if Britain exits the EU the risk for the living standards of Falkland islanders, like those of Gibraltarians, will be even greater than that for British households.
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is not just Nissan’s investment that will be put at risk, but Hitachi’s excellent new investment in the north-east of England for making trains? Does he also agree that it is ironic that, when the groundbreaking ceremony took place at the Newton Aycliffe site last Friday, the hon. Member for Stockton South (James Wharton) showed up for a photo opportunity? It is blatant that if this Bill progresses and we leave the EU, that investment and those jobs would not be in the north-east.
Order. Obviously, lots of things are said in this Chamber, but I am duty bound to point out that the hon. Member for Stockton South has been present for most of the time and that he informed the Chair that he needed to pop out for a few minutes. Although speculation is rife, I am sure he will be back very soon.
I note that my hon. Friend does not take The Northern Echo, but does he take the Derby Evening Telegraph? Just down the road from where the paper is based is the Toyota factory, which was the biggest inward investment in western Europe when it was made. It is clear that, were it not for Britain’s membership of the European Union, that investment would not have come to the UK and to Derbyshire. It has benefitted my constituency and the county and created thousands upon thousands of jobs. Would my hon. Friend care to comment on the impact that this Bill and leaving the EU would have on Toyota?
I hope to come to the amendments on the possibility of giving 16 and 17-year-olds—some of whom may be looking forward to a career in Toyota—the right to vote. Let me clarify that I do not read the Derby Evening Telegraph. I happen to think that the Harrow Observer and the Harrow Times are the better newspapers to read.
I could, of course, introduce the Hounslow Chronicle to the competition, but I will refrain from doing so.
On extending the franchise to 16 and 17-year-olds, does my hon. Friend agree that they should have a say in this incredibly important debate and referendum, given the importance of the stability of the UK economy for their future? Roughly half the European headquarters of non-EU firms are based in the UK—more than most other countries put together. This issue will have a tremendous impact on youth unemployment and potential jobs in the future.
My hon. Friend makes a good point. I will come to the issue of 16 and 17-year-olds shortly.
The benefits that Falkland islanders enjoy on account of Britain’s membership of the European Union are not insignificant. I was surprised on Monday when the Minister for Europe confirmed to me in a written parliamentary answer that the Government had made no preparations for the UK leaving the European Union. There are no transitional arrangements in case the people of Britain vote no. Presumably, there has also been no thought about the consequences of a possible exit for the Falkland Islands or any other overseas territory. We have the astonishing situation of the Prime Minister sleepwalking towards an exit from the European Union with no thought of the consequences for British citizens or for our overseas territories.
I have spoken about the trade advantages that the overseas territories gain from being linked to the European Union. I am sorry that the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) is not in his place, because he is certainly aware of the significant fishing interests that the Falkland Islands has in relation to trade with the European Union. As well as the trade advantages, the overseas territories also benefit from the European development fund. As my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North East said, the 11th European development fund has allocated just over €4 million to the Falkland Islands, with further payments expected to start from early-2014.
Many other overseas territories have benefited from the European development fund. Montserrat, a territory that I have had the pleasure of visiting, has been in need of support ever since the Soufrière Hills volcano, which had been dormant for centuries, erupted and buried the island’s capital, Plymouth. As my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North East said, Montserrat received almost €16 million from the last European development fund for infrastructure and other development. Anguilla has received €12 million, St Helena, Ascension Island and Tristan da Cunha have received some €16.6 million, and the Pitcairn Islands has received about €2.4 million.
In the recent European Committee to which my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford South referred, I asked the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, the hon. Member for Boston and Skegness (Mark Simmonds):
“Have any discussions begun with overseas territories about the possible loss of EDF funding and their beneficiary trade deals with other European countries?”
Bearing in mind that Government Members hope to persuade the British people of the Eurosceptic case for Britain to vote to leave the European Union, his response was that
“talking about hypothetical situations that are years away is dangerous, and asking questions based on assumptions, however real they may or may not be, is not necessarily a good use of time.”—[Official Report, European Committee B, 23 October 2013; c. 20.]
Perhaps the Under-Secretary of State ought to have a word with the Prime Minister, who offered exactly such a scenario when he pledged to hold a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU in 2017. That pledge was based on fragile assumptions about negotiations that not only have not started yet, but during which the Prime Minister has no idea what he hopes to achieve or simply will not tell this House what he hopes to achieve.
I am therefore sympathetic to the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford South that seek to address the problem that the British overseas territories will be excluded from a matter that could have a detrimental effect not only on their income, but on their trading ability. I am interested to hear how the Minister can justify their exclusion. If the Minister and the promoter of the Bill are not minded to accept my hon. Friend’s amendments, perhaps they will consider amendment 70 in the next group, which would hardwire into any referendum the opportunity for the views of our friends in the overseas territories to be heard.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ilford South also tabled amendment 44 on the voting age for the proposed referendum. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition spoke in his extremely well-received conference speech in September of the need to make 16 and 17-year-olds part of our democracy. I suspect that Government Members did not see that bit of his speech, because they were at sixes and sevens over another part of it. I could not agree more with my right hon. Friend’s clear commitment to the democratic enfranchisement of our young people. It would send a strong signal to young people who are suffering disproportionately under the current Government—people who have lost their education maintenance allowance, whose tuition fees will treble, and who are going through an often disheartening and bleak time searching for a job. Amendment 44 could send a powerful signal of the House’s intent to listen to the concerns of 16 and 17-year-olds.
The Prime Minister once famously asked us all to hug a hoodie. I think that according to the Daily Mail, it is now just “hug a Tory”. I do not suggest such bizarre measures, but I do suggest that we should listen to what young people have to say.
My hon. Friend makes a good point. In fact, in having discussed Crown dependencies, overseas territories and so on, we can look at some of those places, such as the Isle of Man, Jersey and Guernsey, for examples of where 16 to 18-year-olds can vote. If we look close to home, we can learn some lessons.
My hon. Friend makes a good point. I hope he will forgive me if I say that I have not looked at those examples, because I have been spending so much time reading through the Committee proceedings on the Bill. However, I accept that there are other good examples to point to.
Does my hon. Friend not find it rather strange that 16 and 17-year-olds are not being given a vote under the Bill whereas they are in the Scottish referendum? That seems anomalous and bizarre. Surely they should be given a vote in the EU referendum should the Bill succeed.
My hon. Friend makes a good point and, in a moment, I will come to an even more bizarre twist related to the Scottish referendum and the rights of 16 and 17-year-olds.
I cannot be alone in having received letters and e-mails over the past few weeks from young people who are undertaking their citizenship coursework. I have received petitions on such meaty topics as euthanasia, homelessness and child poverty, and each time I have been struck by how well informed and engaged young people are with some of the big issues facing the country. If Conservative Members are to be believed, Europe is the single biggest of those issues.
Does my hon. Friend agree that sending a positive message today about votes for 16 and 17-year-olds would be timely given that the UK Youth Parliament will be sitting in the Chamber next week and discussing a range of matters, including votes at 16 and 17?
My hon. Friend is making a good speech, but he knows that I have a long track record of disagreeing with votes at 16. The most bizarre argument that people make is that we have to introduce the vote at 16, because the Scots are going to have it in the referendum. Since when does Alex Salmond decide this country’s constitutional procedures?
I would not want to upset my hon. Friend further, but he makes a good point. I will come to the Scottish referendum in a moment.
I have never bought the argument that young people are not interested in politics, even if, sadly, like the rest of the country, they do not hold politicians in high regard at the moment. As my hon. Friend might recognise, there is a palpable disconnect between many young people and the political process. I believe there is consensus throughout the House that we must address the worrying trend of poor voter turnout among 18 to 24-year-olds, and amendment 44 could help with that ambition. I understand that people in that section of our society are among the least likely to vote. One MORI poll showed that only 39% of 18 to 24-year-olds were likely to vote, which is a worrying statistic.
We know that voting habits are formed at a young age, so if someone votes at the first election for which they are eligible, they are more likely to continue voting for the remainder of their life. Would it not be sensible for young people to have their first voting experience—in this case in a possible referendum—collectively while still at school or college? When I visit schools or colleges throughout the parliamentary year—it is particularly interesting to visit sixth forms and colleges at general election time—I see the excitement of some of those potential first-time voters who are carefully weighing up everything being said and deciding in whom to put their trust. Whenever there is an election or referendum, should we not be able to go into schools, sixth forms and colleges and talk to all those young people over the age of 16, and tell them that we value their views?
My hon. Friend is making a compelling case about 16 and 17-year-olds voting, and he is right to talk about engaging people in schools. When I go to high schools and speak to 16 and 17-year-olds, they are much more engaged in the political debate now they know they will have a vote in the Scottish referendum. In fact, they are so engaged in political debate that the vast majority are voting no.
My hon. Friend makes an interesting point, and perhaps I could encourage him to have a further conversation outside the Chamber with my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman). By including 16 and 17-year-olds in a debate, we would be involving in this discussion about a referendum an often passionate voice. If this issue is of such importance, as Conservative Members seem to believe, should not those with their lives ahead of them and those facing the particular challenges I have outlined—jobs, university fees and so on—have their voice heard too? Without the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford South, 16 and 17-year-olds will be excluded.
Let me make a little progress. There is an old adage that young people grow up too quickly these days, but I think we must consider fairly the responsibilities that already rest on some young shoulders at 16. Young people are old enough to go to work, join our armed forces and have children—they even have to pay full fare on the bus unless they are still in full-time education. If they earn enough, they have to pay tax. With all those responsibilities, we suggest that they should also have the right to vote and have their say along with the rest of the country in any elections and referendums.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I know that you follow the rules of the House closely, and clearly the rules on photography in the Chamber are very strict. As you know, this morning I have been keeping a close eye on the Box, and I was aware that a minute ago one of its occupants was holding up his mobile phone. I do not know whether he inadvertently did not know the rules on filming proceedings, and I ask for your guidance on that, Madam Deputy Speaker.
Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.
The House proceeded to a Division.
New clause 1 read a Second time, and added to the Bill.