Bill Cash: voters must be properly informed and empowered to answer the question in the referendum

Bernard Jenkin, MP made an urgent question yesterday on the EU Referendum civil service guidance. During the debate Bill Cash made the following intervention:  

Mr Bernard Jenkin (Harwich and North Essex) (Con) (Urgent Question): To ask the Prime Minister if he will make a statement about the instructions issued by the Cabinet Secretary to permanent secretaries in respect of EU referendum guidance for the civil service and special advisers.

(…)

Sir William Cash (Stone) (Con): The Minister calls on the law. The question of voter trust in this referendum, as I said to both the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary on 3 and 25 February, is paramount. For the voters who will decide this question, knowledge is, as we know, power. Does the Minister deny that under sections 6 and 7 of the later and express provisions of the European Union Referendum Act 2015, a legal duty is imposed on the Government to provide referendum information and the voter is entitled to accurate and impartial information, as the Minister for Europe agreed in reply to me when the House debated that Bill, through and from the Government and all Ministers of the Crown equally, and that this therefore being a statutory obligation overrides any prime ministerial prerogative such as the Cabinet Secretary acted upon in the guidance of 23 February? Does the Minister therefore deny that civil servants as Crown servants are legally obliged to provide such information accurately and impartially to all Ministers within their Departments so that the voters are properly informed and empowered to answer the question in the referendum?

Matthew Hancock: On the legal details, the 2015 Act also requires the Government to express their view and the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 requires civil servants to support the position of the Government of the day. On that basis, it is right to follow the procedure that was agreed by the Cabinet. The position of the Government is set out; Ministers may disagree with it, but civil servants must support the Government’s position.

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