Peter Bone on a National Referendum on the European Union

25th October, 2011, House of Commons

Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con):It is customary when summing up to say, “This has been a good debate,” but this has been an amazing debate. We must thank the hon. Member for North East Derbyshire (Natascha Engel) and the Backbench Business Committee for putting it on, and we must also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) for having opened it so sensibly so many hours ago. I have sat and listened to most of the debate, but as there were 52 speeches, I must apologise to the majority of contributors because I will not be able to respond to what they said.

Let me say at the beginning, however, that I must praise the Prime Minister. If it were not for him, we would not have the Backbench Business Committee. If it were not for him, we would not have petitions either, and it is the petitioning of this House of Commons that has brought this debate into being. I also thank the Prime Minister for his speech on 26 May 2009, when he encouraged returning power to the people. He said that in the past when debates were held in this House, the arguments went one way and the other, but then the bells rang and the Whips got into action and Members floated through the Commons like a herd of sheep. That is not going to happen tonight. I am going to take the advice of my Prime Minister when he encouraged every Member to be independent-minded, to put his constituents first, to put his country first, and to put narrow party interests last. I say, “Well done, Prime Minister,” and I will be voting in accordance with my conscience tonight.

It is unfortunate that some of the Whips have not quite got the Prime Minister’s message yet, but there is a rule of thumb in this House: if the three Front Benches agree on something, it is absolutely wrong. That is the situation tonight.

I say to my Whips that a mistake has been made tonight. The Backbench Business Committee was set up to test the will of Parliament, not in order for us to vote on party lines. This is exactly the sort of debate on which we should have a free vote. I am of the opinion that if there had been a free vote tonight, this motion would have been carried.

Lights have started flashing, instructing me to shut up early, although I thought I could go on for a little longer. I am afraid I must apologise to all 52 members who contributed for not having had time to comment on their speeches, but I will write to them.