The House of Lords Constitution Committee has today published a report on the European Union (Referendum) Bill, a Private Member’s Bill sponsored by James Wharton MP and Lord Dobbs.
The Committee says that the current proposal in the Bill for the rules for the conduct of a referendum on whether to leave the EU to be made by the Secretary of State and not in primary legislation may open up the risk of a challenge in court to those rules. The report states that the House of Lords, which will have a second reading debate on the Bill on 10 January 2014, may want to consider whether or not the rules governing the conduct of a referendum should be set out in full in an Act of Parliament. Alternatively, the Committee says the House may wish to seek clear undertakings from the Secretary of State as to what rules would be put in place for a referendum.
The Committee also suggests that the House will want to consider whether or not the referendum question should be worded in accordance with the advice of the Electoral Commission. The Electoral Commission has recommended that the wording of the referendum question proposed in the Bill should be amended, and proposed two alternative wordings. The House of Commons voted against one of the Commission’s alternative wordings.
The Committee also explains the process that the Bill has undergone to date, and sets out the timetable that applies to Commons Private Members’ Bills. The Committee suggests that parliamentary timetables may mean that if the Lords amend the Bill it will not be able to be considered further by the Commons this session.