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Referendum Questions

Volume 597: debated on Thursday 18 June 2015

2. What assessment the Electoral Commission has made of the effect of whether the question is posed in the affirmative or negative on the outcome of a referendum. (900396)

6. What assessment the Electoral Commission has made of the neutrality of the proposed EU referendum question. (900400)

The Electoral Commission has begun its assessment of the referendum question proposed in the European Union Referendum Bill and will publish its assessment before Parliament returns from recess in September. The Commission has previously reported on the neutrality of the proposed question as part of the assessment of the question contained in a private Member’s Bill in 2013. That report found that a number of voters perceived a bias if the phrase, “Remain a member of the European Union” is used in isolation. The Commission therefore recommended an alternative question, which it found to be more neutral but which did not use yes and no as response options.

The Electoral Commission has given its advice on the wording of the question in the referendum, and the Government have accepted its advice. Will my hon. Friend confirm that a similar approach will be taken to changes to the purdah rules?

It is certainly the case that the Electoral Commission has given advice on the purdah rules, which I will discuss when we reach question 5. Happily, I am not responsible for the Government accepting that advice.

The Electoral Commission has said that the most neutral question for the EU referendum would be: should the UK leave the EU, or should it remain within the EU? Does my hon. Friend not believe that the Government should accept the independent advice of the Electoral Commission as to what is the most neutral question and put that in the referendum Bill?

My hon. Friend slightly anticipates the situation. The Electoral Commission is currently assessing and consulting on two questions: the question in the Bill and the question, “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union, or leave the European Union.” It will provide its findings and recommendations to the House in September.