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European Union Bill

Part of Safe Standing (Football Stadia) – in the House of Commons at 6:08 pm on 7th December 2010.

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Photo of Kate Hoey Kate Hoey Labour, Vauxhall 6:08 pm, 7th December 2010

I was new into Parliament shortly before the Maastricht treaty and I lost my position as the shadow spokesperson on the citizen's charter and women because I voted against that treaty. I am therefore well aware of the issues. I was obviously in a minority then in my party, even though prior to that we had been quite sceptical on Europe.

I give the coalition Government some credit, because I know that they are facing great difficulties. The Conservatives said fine words before the election about how they were going to get more powers back and not allow any more powers to go. Unfortunately, perhaps because of the coalition, but also because of other pressures, most of those have not been complied with. The Government have therefore come up with this Bill, which seeks to show the country that there is still support within the coalition for getting some powers back. As my right hon. Friend Yvette Cooper has said, the Bill is unfortunately a minefield that lawyers will absolutely love.

The Bill misses the whole point. Some people continue to say that we should not even discuss whether we should leave the European Union, whether we should have that debate in the country and whether we should have a referendum. They have yet to prove to me-I have studied this very carefully-just how having that debate, having that referendum and voting to leave the European Union would be a disaster for this country. No cost-benefit analysis has ever been carried out on that. No Government have undertaken a proper cost-benefit analysis of the benefits to this country of being in the European Union. Although other countries, such as Switzerland, have carried out such analysis, every time it has been suggested here, it has been brushed away by the elite in Europe and in this country, who say that the net gains of membership are so obvious that there is no need even to think of quantifying them. That is increasingly becoming not true and the public are beginning not to believe it.

I am not a reader of the Daily Express, but its campaign, which has shown huge support for a discussion and debate on the European Union, is very much to be welcomed. Recent developments have made all of us who have doubts about this country's involvement in the European Union queasy, because the United Kingdom's membership of the EU is incredibly expensive for us and the benefits are becoming increasingly difficult to see. We do not need, again, to go into the cost of our net budget contribution, the increase that is going to take place and how it will be spent. Nobody wants to let the public know just how our money is spent. They are not told about the huge costs of the European External Action Service. From now on, our ambassadors will become less important than this European Union ambassador and it is shocking that we have allowed that to go ahead. I cannot understand why the new Government have done so, apart from the fact that they are a coalition.

However, I still wonder whether a Conservative Government with a proper majority would really have done all the things that they said they would. Once someone goes to Europe and gets involved in it, they somehow start almost to be part of it. They start to make up the discussions and the arguments, and somehow their attitudes change. The Minister for Europe used to say some brilliant things about Europe that I agreed with, but now that he is on the Front Bench, his words have changed slightly and become slightly nuanced. We get the feeling that once people have been going to Brussels over and over again, they change their attitude.

I am concerned that the Bill does not go far enough. I am not going to vote for the Labour amendment, which is a cop-out and a nothing amendment-it does not say anything. It does not bring to people's attention all the opportunities that we missed when we were in government. I still have not decided whether I will abstain or vote for a Bill that we might be able to amend. I want this Bill to be used as the opportunity for people in the country to start being listened to. I want them to start having the opportunity to engage in the debate about why they feel so strongly that our membership is not giving us anything that is worth the money that we pay in.