The three Brighton and Hove MPs all voted together in the House of Commons yesterday (Tuesday 9 June) at the end of the debate on the European Union Referendum Bill.
Caroline Lucas, the Green MP for Brighton Pavilion, invoked Monty Python during her five-minute speech near the end of the debate. And Peter Kyle, the Labour MP for Hove, briefly intervened.
Simon Kirby, the Conservative MP for Brighton Kemptown, is now a government whip – or business manager. Whips do not usually speak in debates under a longstanding parliamentary convention.
Mr Kirby did though act as a teller during the divisions – or votes – and reported the number of votes cast.
The bill passed its “second reading” – the stage at which MPs debate the purpose and general principles of a piece of legislation.
It is expected to be debated in detail next Tuesday (16 June) and Thursday (18 June) at the “committee stage”.
Usually a small number of MPs deal with a bill at the committee stage. But, in this case, the House of Commons is expected to sit as a “committee of the whole house”, enabling all MPs to take part in the detailed debate.
In the debate yesterday Caroline Lucas said: “The long-standing Green position on the debate about the UK’s membership of the EU is one of three yeses – yes to a referendum, yes to major reform, and ultimately yes to staying in the EU.
“I will say a little more about those three in a moment but I want to add one more big yes to that list – yes to allowing 16 and 17-year-olds a say.
“That is one of the most important amendments we can make to the bill.
“Although I believe we should change the voting age to 16 for general and local elections too, the EU referendum is materially different and the outcome cannot simply be reversed at the next election.
“When given the vote in the referendum on Scottish independence, young people engaged strongly, intelligently and responsibly with the debate.
“An estimated 75 per cent of them turned out to vote. This suggests that young people are not uninterested in politics. They are quite understandably disillusioned sometimes by what happens at Westminster.
“Denying 16 and 17-year-olds their say on an issue as historic, far-reaching and long-term as the UK’s membership of the EU would only compound that.
“That is why I say we must amend the bill to give our young people a say.
“On the Greens’ wider position of saying yes to the referendum, I welcome the bill and will support it.
“Greens have long called for a referendum on EU membership, not because we are anti-EU but because we are pro-democracy.
“That is not to understate the need for EU institutions to be dramatically more democratic and accountable, nor to understate the need for the EU urgently to change direction away from an obsessive focus on free trade above everything else.
“We must use this opportunity to have a real debate about the role and purpose of the EU. That means ensuring that civil society organisations are encouraged to play their full part as well.
“It is one of the most potent reasons for ensuring that the referendum is not held on the same day as other polls, notably those taking place next May.
“As someone who was once a Member of the European Parliament for more than 10 years, I have seen up close that there is plenty wrong with the EU institutions.
“But one thing that struck me was that there is a lot of common ground among European parliamentarians from all parties about the changes needed.
“For example, MEPs from all parties would agree that the unelected Commission has too much power and the elected politicians not enough. Democratic renewal and curtailing the power of the unelected bodies must be a top priority.
“We also need to tackle the pernicious corporate lobbying that takes place in Brussels. It is quite wrong that on big issues such as international trade, MEPs still have no formal decision-making powers at all.
“A more democratic EU matters more than ever at a time when an infamous trade agreement is being negotiated more or less in secret.
“That agreement, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, is one of the egregious examples of corporate power run out of control.
“But who is the driving force behind that? Yes, some of those unelected EU bureaucrats but most forcefully the UK government.
“The redesign of trade rules along very different lines – guaranteeing decent work, achieving meaningful democracy, fighting poverty and driving transition to a low-carbon economy – should be at the top of our EU reform list.
“There are many other areas where reform is sorely needed, not least the common agricultural and fisheries policies, but I have no doubt that we have more chance of securing positive changes from a position of influence inside the EU than from a position of impotence outside.
“I believe we need a people’s Europe, not just a business Europe.
“We need to inspire people with a more compelling vision of the EU’s role and purpose – how it could be a world leader in poverty eradication, promoting peace and spreading human rights and environmental protection.
Too many people out there are not sure what the EU is for any more.
“That involves us having to make it much clearer how EU membership makes our lives better.
“So, to paraphrase Monty Python, what has the EU ever done for us?
“Well, perhaps not very much except for clean beaches and rivers, cleaner air, lead-free petrol, restrictions on landfill dumping, a recycling culture, cheaper mobile charges, improved consumer protection and food labelling, a ban on growth hormones, stronger climate policy, freedom to travel, funded opportunities for young people to undertake work or work placements abroad, access to European health services, labour protection, the right not to work more than 48 hours a week, and so on and so on.
“That is before I even get to the extraordinary role that the EU has played through its soft power, spreading human rights throughout the wider European area and playing a key role in maintaining peace in that area as well.
“As we go forward, we need to make a much more positive case for the EU.
“We should not leave it to UKIP and the others to fill that space and spread their mean-mindedness and backward-looking policies.
“We should claim that space and make a positive case for a positive EU. We want radical reform of that EU, as do many citizens of the European countries.
“But the idea that the best way of doing that is by walking away from the EU makes no sense at all.
“So, finally, irrespective of pro or anti-EU views, I look forward to working with honourable members from all parts of the House to ensure that this referendum is as fair, inclusive and democratic as it possibly can be.”
Earlier Caroline Lucas intervened during the opening speech by the Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond.
She said: “I want to press the Foreign Secretary again on the question of extending the franchise to 16 and 17-year-olds.
“The answer he gave about why we should not do it – because it is an issue of national importance – is the main reason he should do it.
“He said that he did not want to deviate from the franchise for Westminster but he is already doing that by extending it to peers.
“Why not let young people have a say on their future, which is what this Bill is about?”
The Conservative cabinet minister replied: “My personal view on the extension of the franchise is that we would be better expending our efforts on trying to get a decent turnout rate among 18 to 24-year-olds before we start worrying about 16 and 17-year-olds.”
The new Hove MP Peter Kyle intervened during a speech by a Labour colleague Pat McFadden. Mr Kyle said: “Does my right honourable friend agree that the issue of business and Europe is progressive because bigger businesses will have the resources to relocate if they do not like the decision to pull out of Europe, but smaller ones will not and will be stuck here?”
Mr McFadden replied: “For businesses of all sizes, big and small, it makes no sense for us to put barriers and risks between them and their customers that do not exist at present.”
Mr Kyle was yesterday listed as a supporter of Liz Kendall in the contest to succeed Ed Miliband as Labour leader.