House of Commons Library

Regulation of Referendums

Published Tuesday, January 29, 2013

This Note sets out the mechanics for holding referendums. It summarises the applicable provisions of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 (PPERA) which regulate publicity and campaigning.

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The Prime Minister, David Cameron, announced on 23 January 2013 that if his party is elected to power following the next election expected in 2015, it would hold a referendum in the UK on EU membership, framed on an in out question. The wording of the question was not specified.

This Note sets out the mechanics for holding referendums. It summarises the applicable provisions of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 (PPERA) which regulate publicity and campaigning. The Electoral Commission has to be consulted over the intelligibility of the question or questions to be asked in the referendum. The Commission also has the power to designate organisations to campaign for Yes and No.

The Note also sets out a timeline of events for the 1975 referendum on the Common Market. It is important to note that regulation of a referendum would have significantly different elements, following the enactment of PPERA.

Research Paper 10/79 European Union Bill and Standard Note 6024 provides further detail on the provision for referendums following an EU treaty change (or related provision).

Lords Library Note 2013/002 Debate on 31 January: the Prime Minister’s speech on Europe provides further reading, as summarised on its front cover:

The Note provides a short history of Prime Ministerial speeches on Europe since 1970; outlines Government policy towards Europe since 2010; summarises David Cameron’s speech and selected reaction to it; and considers some aspects of the proposed renegotiation and referendum. It concludes with information about trends in public opinion towards Britain’s membership of the EU.

Commons Briefing papers SN05142

Authors: Oonagh Gay; Vaughne Miller

Topics: Elections, EU political integration

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