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European Union Bill

Part of Safe Standing (Football Stadia) – in the House of Commons at 9:29 pm on 7th December 2010.

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Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey Conservative, Suffolk Coastal 9:29 pm, 7th December 2010

It is a great pleasure to speak on Second Reading, and I will cut to the chase given that I know one more colleague wishes to speak before the Front Benchers.

There is a lot to commend in the Bill, and I will vote for it, but I wish to alert the Minister to some questions that I have posed previously. I hope that he can provide comfort, perhaps not tonight, but in Committee or by writing to me. After I had read the Bill, I thought it went further than I had expected from the coalition agreement. It does much of what we were told it would do by ensuring that ratchet clauses and passerelle clauses will be subject to a referendum. However, there seem to be a few exceptions, to which I wish to draw the House's attention.

Clause 9(2)(a) to (c) covers articles 81(3), relating to family law, 82(2)(d), relating to criminal procedure, and 83(1), relating to cross-border crime, of the treaty on the functioning of the European Union. Subsection (2)(c) permits

"the identification of further areas of crime to which directives adopted under the ordinary legislative procedure may relate."

The word "further" indicates to me a transfer of competence or power on which we should have a say. I shall give one example. It could be that Europol is given powers to investigate more areas of crime, for instance in fishing, which might worry my hon. Friend Priti Patel. Such a change would not be covered by the need for a referendum. I believe that the Home Affairs Committee and the Select Committee on Justice are due to table several amendments, covering a number of the passerelle clauses that are not currently guaranteed to cause a referendum, and I urge the Government to examine them carefully.

The Foreign Secretary said earlier that we are not giving up control of borders, but the accession treaties to which he referred automatically do that, because they extend the borders within which citizens of the European Union can circulate without hindrance.

As has been said, especially by my hon. Friend Chris Heaton-Harris, it is really important that we are careful about the language that we use to describe the Bill and how we sell it. We certainly do not want to oversell it, as happened in the last Parliament when all three parties said that they would vote for a referendum on the European constitutional treaty but did not. The timing of the Bill is also relevant, and I believe that the Minister is going to talk about that.

There is one other key area in which no referendum is provided for, and it is set out in clause 7(2)(d). It refers to the third paragraph of article 311 of the treaty on the functioning of the EU, which is about own resources. That article states:

"The Council, acting in accordance with a special legislative procedure, shall unanimously and after consulting the European Parliament adopt a decision laying down the provisions relating to the system of own resources of the Union. In this context it may establish new categories of own resources or abolish an existing category."

In all the discussions about the Lisbon treaty, and about the European constitution before it, that was seen as one of the key articles that would allow the EU to levy its own taxes. When I raised the matter previously with the Minister he suggested that that would require unanimity in the Council of Ministers, and that I should not worry about it, especially under a Conservative coalition Government. However, I do worry about it, because the Bill is about trying to set up the law for the future.

Dare I say it, if the Bill had been in place under the last Government, I am sure that we would not have had a referendum even on the Lisbon treaty, given how it was sold to the UK Parliament as a mere tidying-up exercise. I will vote for the Bill tonight, but I ask the Minister to address my strong concerns about the British public. They do not want to be sold short, and they would be horrified to know that we might be voting for a Bill that would allow the EU to levy taxes, and that they would have no say.

I was three at the time of the last referendum on the EU, and ironically I do not want us to have a referendum in which the Government give away powers. However, it is important that the powers in the Bill are introduced soon to give the public confidence. Dare I put it in a way similar to my European parliamentary colleague Daniel Hannan? Pactio Europae censenda est.