EU Referendum Bill passes third reading


The European Union (Referendum) Bill passed its final stage of scrutiny in the House of Commons, before passing to the House of Lords, on 29 November 2013.

The private member's bill, introduced by Conservative MP James Wharton, would legislate for a referendum on the UK's membership of the European Union, to take place no later than 31 December 2017.

Opening the third reading debates Mr Wharton said "This [bill] is a commitment from members from government benches to give British people a say on that most important of matters: our membership of the European Union.

"I think it is time we let Britain decide"

Speaking for the government, Foreign Secretary William Hague congratulated Mr Wharton on the passing bill saying "it is right for the people to be given their say. It is right for a British government to seek a new settlement with Europe. It is right for us to put it on the statute book now.

"This bill deserves the support of the House"

In his opening remarks Mr Wharton seemed to criticise the length of time the bill had taken to pass through the House of Commons saying "we have had extensive debut debate and scrutiny for what is a short debate with a handful of clauses."

However speaking for the opposition shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander described the scrutiny the bill had received as "appropriate and necessary".

Mr Alexander also went on to say that he thought the bill was not "about the Conservatives trusting the public but about Conservative backbenchers not trusting a Conservative prime minister."

Labour defeats

The session started with MPs giving the bill a third day of scrutiny at report stage among accusations of time wasting and opened with a series of Labour amendments suffering heavy defeats.

MPs considered a series of amendments tabled by Labour MPs including Mike Gapes, who tabled more than 50 amendments to the bill in total, which attempted to change the date and make procedural changes the referendum.

Mr Gapes, a former chair of the Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee, defended his amendments as "necessary" in order to allow the referendum to be properly carried out.

Amendment 35 tabled by Mr Gapes which would have changed the proposed wording of the referendum question to "shall the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union?" was defeated by 241 votes to three, while amendment 51 which would have allowed citizens of British Overseas Territories to vote in the referendum was defeated by 233 votes to five.

Following a series of delays in the lobby during four consecutive divisions Speaker John Bercow warned Labour MPs saying " I hope [Mr Gapes] will be successful in persuading colleagues to vote and come out of the lobby in a timely manner.

"If his efforts are unsuccessful that might prejudice the judgement of the chair in future votes."

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