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The European Union Referendum Bill 2015-16 was introduced in the House of Commons on 28 May 2015 and received its Second Reading on 9 June 2015. This Briefing Paper summarises the progress of the Bill; it complements Briefing Paper 07212 European Referendum Bill 2015-16 that was prepared before the Bill’s Second Reading debate.

Second Reading

The provisions of the Bill that attracted most debate during Second Reading were those concerning the franchise, the timing of the referendum, and the lifting of the purdah provisions (Section 125 of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 (PPERA)).

Committee stage

During Committee stage, amendments were made to ensure that:

  • the referendum is not held on 5 May 2016 (the day certain other elections are held across the UK);
  • the spending limits for permitted participants and designated organisations are increased (to take account of inflation since PPERA was passed in 2000); and
  • permitted participants who do not incur any referendum expenses are required to declare this to the Electoral Commission.

Report stage

At Report stage, the Government brought forward a series of amendments to reinstate the purdah provisions but with certain exemptions to be specified in regulations. The new clause setting out these arrangements was amended to require any regulations to be made four months before the referendum date. The Government was defeated on its amendment that would have applied the purdah provisions but with modifications. An Opposition amendment with the effect of applying the purdah provisions in full was agreed.

The Bill was also amended to change the referendum question to the wording recommended by the Electoral Commission. A number of other Government amendments were made:

  • the referendum cannot be held on 4 May 2017;
  • Irish citizens resident in Gibraltar will be included in the franchise for the referendum;
  • technical amendments that deal primarily with the interaction between UK law and Gibraltarian law;
  • changes to the referendum campaign rules to allow the lead campaigns to be designated quickly if needed.

The Bill received its Third Reading after a division.

House of Lords amendments

On 13 October the Bill received its Second Reading in the House of Lords. A number of amendments were made to the Bill during its Committee and Report stages and on Third Reading. Most of these were technical, but there were also amendments to:

  • extend the franchise to 16 and 17 year olds (Opposition amendment);
  • cap donations and loans to political parties;
  • define the referendum period as at least 10 weeks;
  • require the Secretary of State to publish reports outlining the outcome of the negotiations with the EU, and the Government’s view on these; and the rights and obligations arising under EU law, and arrangements non-member countries currently have with the EU;
  • enable the Electoral Commission to designate one campaign organisation only;
  • extend the scope of the reporting requirements for campaigners.

The House of Commons considered the Lords’ amendments on 8 December 2015. The Commons agreed to most amendments, but disagreed to the extension of the franchise to 16 and 17 year olds, “Because it would involve a charge on public funds”.

The House of Lords will consider this reason on 14 December 2015.

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