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European Union Bill

Part of Safe Standing (Football Stadia) – in the House of Commons at 4:48 pm on 7th December 2010.

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Photo of William Hague William Hague The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs 4:48 pm, 7th December 2010

My hon. Friend may have worked out that the Bill has exactly the same effect as amending the Act and that it therefore absolutely honours the commitment in the coalition agreement. We additionally agreed, in the coalition agreement, that we would not agree to any transfer of powers from Westminster to Brussels for the duration of this Parliament. In addition, if Parliament approves the Bill, any future treaty change that transfers powers from Britain to the EU could be agreed only subject to the consent of the British people. That will provide a referendum lock to which the British people hold the key. The Bill makes a very important and radical change to how decisions on the EU are made in this country. It is the most important change since we joined what was then called the European Economic Community. It marks a fundamental shift in power from Ministers of the Crown to Parliament and the voters themselves on the most important decisions of all: who gets to decide what.

It has been said that because the Bill will place a high democratic test before any Government can agree to participation in deeper political integration in the EU, it will marginalise Britain, but I believe that that argument is dangerously mistaken in its assumption of what progress in the EU means. The yardstick for progress in the European Union is not the depth of political integration. The lost opportunities of the past decade of institutional navel-gazing have made that plain. Progress for the European Union means its institutions' ability and willingness to help its member states meet the challenges of today, and for us today that means our international economic competitiveness, sustainable low-carbon growth and the use of our collective weight in the world to advance our shared values and interests.

That is why, from their first day, the Government have been active and activist in European policy. That is why we have played a strong and positive role in the EU which in six months has delivered significant results-agreement on EU sanctions against the Iranian Government that are already having a material effect, and agreement on measures that will substantially aid Pakistan's economic recovery in the aftermath of the floods. We have pushed hard at EU level on measures to further free trade, in particular with Pakistan and South Korea, thus far with success.

The UK has not taken part in every aspect of the EU's development. When the euro was created, the decision to retain our own currency has, for example, been vindicated. Staying out of the euro and maintaining our own border controls has not weakened our influence, either. The previous Government's successful championing of enlargement to the east, to which I pay tribute, is proof of that. In the single market-for example, on patent reform-the UK should be ready to move forward in the national interest with other like-minded partners.

As in all matters, the Government's policy on European issues should be based on the pursuit of our enlightened national interest. Our ability to advance our goals by working with European partners is crucial to that. Ensuring that our role is based on democratic consent is equally necessary, and that is what the Bill is about.