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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

I shall try to space out the interventions, but I will come to my hon. Friend.

Clause 4 sets out the criteria that the Government of the day would have to apply to determine whether a transfer of competence or power would occur under a future treaty change. The Act of Parliament seeking parliamentary approval for the treaty change would also make provision for the holding of the referendum, if a referendum was required. Following the entry into force of the Lisbon treaty, the different types of EU competence-a European legal term that really means the power to act in an area of policy-and the extent of each type of competence has been set out explicitly in the treaties. Under this legislation, any extension of competence would trigger a referendum. That would also include any extension or creation of a new objective for the European Union. That is all clear in the Bill.

Power, on the other hand, is not so clearly defined, so I want to establish here what we mean by a transfer of power as set out in clause 4. First, it means the giving up of a UK veto in a significant area of policy because that would mean that the UK would lose the ability to block a future measure made under that treaty article. There is a large number of vetoes in the treaties, and many of them are in areas that hon. Members on both sides of the House consider important and sensitive-for example, foreign policy, tax, justice and home affairs. It is right that any treaty change that would transfer from unanimity to qualified majority voting the way in which decisions were taken over those key areas of policy should require the consent of the British people before a Government agree to such a change.

We do not propose to hold a referendum over the giving up of the veto over more minor or technical measures such as any future agreement to change the numbers of Advocates-General in the Court of Justice of the European Union. In my view, giving up such a veto would be a mistake and should require primary legislation in the House, but I do not think that the British public would understand it if such a narrow and relatively minor measure were to require a national referendum.