pro-EU leaflet
Prime Minister David Cameron holds his notes as he addresses students at Exeter University in Exeter. REUTERS/Dan Kitwood/Pool

A petition to stop the government from spending British taxpayers' money on pro-EU referendum leaflets has attracted more than 108,500 signatures and is rising fast. It needed to get 100,000 signatures before the matter can be debated in Parliament,

The petition which was started by Jayne Adye says: "We believe voters deserve a fair referendum - without taxpayer-funded biased interceptions by the government. The great British public have waited since 1975 for a vote on our relationship with Brussels. No taxpayers' money should be spent on campaign literature to keep Britain inside the EU.

But Prime Minister David Cameron and his Tory government are holding fast that their actions are correct. In a statement posted on the petition page, The Foreign and Commonwealth Office said: "The EU Referendum Act 2015 commits the government to provide information to the public on EU membership ahead of the vote, and that is what we will do."

It said: "This is a big decision for the country. The government is determined that the public should be clear on what reforms have been agreed, and what EU membership means for the UK. The Referendum Act requires the government to publish reports that set out the outcome of the negotiation of our EU membership and the government's opinion on that outcome and provide information on rights and obligations in EU law and on examples of countries that do not have EU membership but do have other arrangements with the EU."

The FCO maintains that in the last 28 day of the referendum period, publications about the referendum by bodies or persons who are wholly or mainly public funded will be restricted. "It is fully expected that the voices of the two official designated campaigns will lead the debate," it continued.

"In the end, the British people will decide whether we are stronger and better off with our European neighbours as part of the European Union, or on our own. That is because we made a promise and kept it - to deliver an in-out referendum," the FCO said.

Separately, speaking to students in Exeter in Devon, Cameron said: "The UK government, with our experience, our understanding, our knowledge, we think we should stay in this organisation."

David Cameron
Prime Minister David Cameron addresses students at Exeter University. REUTERS/Dan Kitwood/Pool

He continued: "So I make no apology for the fact that we are sending to every household in the country this leaflet, which sets out what the government's view is and why we come to that view - we're not neutral in this."

Cameron added: "We think it would be a bad decision to leave - for the economy, jobs, investment, family finances and universities." When asked whether he thought the referendum campaign was "undemocratic", he said: "I absolutely don't think it is."

He said the official Leave and Remain camps would each be entitled to spend £7m and receive free postal leaflet in the formal campaign period running up to the polling day. "There's nothing to stop the government from setting out its views in advance of the campaign," the prime minister said.

Defending the use of taxpayers' money to print and send out the leaflets, Cameron said he wanted every voter to have "all the information at their fingertips" when they go to vote. "I think that is money well spent. It is not ... just legal, it is necessary and right," he maintained.

Cameron also warned that young people would be the hardest hit by a Brexit. "The facts are these. Young people are less likely to vote than older people. Yet you're the ones that are going to be most affected by the outcome - more than any vote in your lifetime."

He said: "And remember: It's widely accepted there would be an economic shock if we left. Who gets hit hardest by those shocks? Young people."

Wrong to use taxpayers' money - Gove

Justice Secretary Michael Gove who is backing the Leave campaign, however had a different view. He said it was wrong to spend taxpayers' money on "a one-sided piece of propaganda", saying the money should have gone on public services instead.

He said that the funds should have been spent on the National Health Service and the people's priorities and "not on propaganda." The leaflet costs £458,000 to create, with £5.9m spent on printing and delivering it across the UK in two batches.

Another £2.9m will go towards producing a website and promoting it via social media and other on line platforms. It would cost each household 34p. The leaflet titled Why the Government believes that voting to remain in the European Union is the best decision for the UK will be put through letter boxes in England next week.

Leave campaigners have complained that the cost of the promotional push by the government is more than the £7m that each campaign will be allowed to spend by law during the campaign's last 10 weeks.

UPDATED to show that within a matter of hours, the signatures received have exceeded the 100,000 required for Parliament to consider the issue for debate.