Clause 1 — Interpretation of Part 1

Part of European Union Bill (Programme)(No. 2) – in the House of Commons at 7:30 pm on 24th January 2011.

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Photo of Nicholas Boles Nicholas Boles Conservative, Grantham and Stamford 7:30 pm, 24th January 2011

I agree wholeheartedly with my hon. Friend. Indeed, one of the most important things about the Bill-this has been eloquently addressed by my hon. Friend Charlie Elphicke and others-is that it is an important step in rebuilding the trust of the people in Parliament to do, broadly speaking, what the people want, especially on great questions of independence and the constitution. It is vital that we do this. That is why it is so important that the Bill sets out in such painstaking detail exactly which changes will lead to a referendum. Frankly, we cannot ask people to trust us on this anymore. We, as a class-not just a party-cannot ask people to take our word for it when we say that there will be a referendum on anything. If they are to believe us, we need to put it into law, take it through both Houses of Parliament and make it very difficult to go back on.

That leads me neatly to the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Stone. He believes that they would make yet firmer the protection of the people's right to a referendum on European changes. I fear that in his enthusiasm for this cause of his, which has lasted so long, and in his commitment to the fight for our country's independence, he is in danger of not being able to take yes for an answer. Finally, he has the Bill that he wanted so much, but he is suspicious of every little compromise and every little attempt to make it workable. I fear that his amendments will actually make the Bill much, much weaker and much less likely to survive. By suggesting that there be no exemptions to the requirement for a referendum, he is suggesting that we end up paralysing the European Union for all its members.

I can understand the appeal of that to some of us-some of us might want to get our own back on this project for all the iniquities that it has inflicted on us-but would that not produce a diplomatic crisis that would lead to monumental pressure on future Governments, including perhaps a Labour Government, to amend, or even repeal, the Bill? A number of Members have talked about seeking to bind the hands of our successors-but we all seek to bind the hands of our successors. Every Act of Parliament seeks to bind the hands of our successors; it is just that, fortunately, we cannot insist on it. We try to do it by making legislation part of the settlement, the culture and habit of this place and our country. We are trying, therefore, to bind the hands of our successors with the Bill, but if we manacle ourselves to something unreasonable, we will make it easier for a plausible future leader of the Labour party to stand up and say, "This Bill is ruining our relations and undermining our trade with Europe, and it has to go." We must not give them that opportunity.

That is why I hope very much that my colleagues, who like me are rejoicing in the fact that we are finally listening to the British people, will reject the amendments tabled by the Opposition Front-Bench team and my hon. Friend the Member for Stone, and vote for this magnificent Bill.