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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 am satisfied that it does not affect the rights or powers of the United Kingdom and therefore does not require a referendum in this country.

The Bill will give the British people and Parliament powers that they have not previously enjoyed in decisions about engagement with the European Union. Some have criticised the Government's proposals, saying that they will necessarily stymie further progress or put the UK in the slow lane of Europe. The Government do not subscribe to that argument, for three reasons.

First, it is wrong to accept continuous political integration as a definition of progress. Secondly, although other European nations have different constitutional frameworks, a number of countries require a referendum of their people to be held if a treaty change proposes a further shift of powers to Brussels. Some, most notably Germany, also have provisions in place to ensure effective parliamentary control over specific key decisions taken by their Governments. There is a growing trend across Europe to give citizens and Parliaments more control over the decisions taken by their Governments on EU matters, and it is right that we should be not just part of that trend but leading it from the front.

Thirdly, if a future Government can demonstrate a compelling case as to why a further transfer of power is in the national interest, they should be able to persuade the British people of its merits. If a future Government were to take a different view from ours, they would have to convince the British people. Whatever the outcome of such an argument, our democracy would be all the healthier for the decision lying in the hands of the British people as a whole. That fulfils an important part of the Conservative manifesto, but it also draws on a line of thinking that has found its place in recent Liberal Democrat manifestos. I hope that Opposition Front Benchers will in time support it too, because when the voters cast a party out of government, it must understand why. The previous Government's high-handedness on EU matters is one reason why Labour is no longer in government, and it should now learn from that.

The Bill can receive support from those who like the EU just as it is, those who want it to do less, and those who want it to have more power but who are prepared to argue for that. The Bill does not determine the shape of our future place in the EU, but it ensures that our position will command the voters' consent. It will give the British people the assurance, which they are entitled to expect, that the sovereignty of Parliament and the ultimate right of the people themselves to decide which powers are the subject of collective decisions within Europe are both properly safeguarded. Those safeguards will put our participation in the EU on a sturdier and more democratic footing. That is why we present the Bill to the House.