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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 will give way, but I want to make some more progress and get through my speech, as well as taking interventions.

The second way in which power will be transferred from Britain to Brussels, as defined for the purposes of the Bill, will be by granting an EU institution or body, through treaty change, a new ability to impose further obligations or sanctions on the United Kingdom or on individuals and organisations within the United Kingdom.

That point has been the subject of some debate, although some of that has been based on scant acquaintance with the content of the Bill. It has wrongly been claimed that Ministers will be able to use a significance test on any future treaty change. That is not true. The Bill places an absolute and unqualified referendum requirement on the transfer of competence, the creation of new competence, or the removal of limits to existing competences and upon a whole raft of vetoes. The Bill also provides that the consent of the British people will be required if the Government wish to agree to certain other specific decisions-for example, joining the euro, joining a common European army, or joining the group of countries that have shared border controls.

If the only reason for a proposed treaty amendment being caught by the referendum lock is that it would, while not transferring or extending competence, confer upon the EU the ability to impose new obligations or sanctions on this country, we need to be able to distinguish between important and minor changes. We are providing a workable, sustainable solution to prevent referendums being held on matters that we could not justify to the public as having the significance to merit a referendum.