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EU Treaties

Volume 515: debated on Tuesday 14 September 2010

I refer my hon. Friend to my written statement yesterday. The Government are clear that there should be no further transfers of competence or powers from the UK to the EU in this Parliament, and we will introduce legislation to ensure that any subsequent future treaty that proposes to transfer such competence or powers would be subject to a referendum of the British people before it could be ratified by this country.

I am grateful to the Minister for his reply. Can he elaborate on exactly how transparent the process for deciding on a referendum will be, and will the legislation be drafted in such a way that there will not be undue delay by possible judicial review?

The legislation will be drafted to make clear those aspects of the European Union treaties on which the Government would expect to require a referendum were there to be a proposal for change. It will, of course, be possible for people to use judicial review if they wish to challenge a Minister’s decision. I think that is likely only in cases where a Minister were for some extraordinary reason—no Minister in the current Government would do this—to wish to deny the people the right to have their say.

The Minister seemed to get his ratchets in a bit of a twist in his written ministerial statement yesterday. First he said that all ratchet clauses would be subject to primary legislation, then that major ratchet clauses would be subject to a referendum, and then, towards the end of his written ministerial statement, he confessed that there is no agreed definition of what a ratchet clause is at all, so his legislation is a pile of nonsense really. Does he not accept that the real danger here is that, effectively, what he is doing is asking the courts to decide when there will be a referendum or when there has to be primary legislation, because they will be deciding what is a ratchet clause? Some of us would like the Government to opt in rather more frequently, not least to the directive on human trafficking.

When the hon. Gentleman sees the Bill, I think he will find that we have very clearly defined those articles of the treaties where a referendum would be required and those where primary legislation would be required. I only wish that the Minister had it in him to welcome the fact—[Hon. Members: “Minister?”] Old habits die hard, I am afraid. I wish the hon. Gentleman would have the grace to recognise that whereas in the Government in which he served decisions to cede powers to the European Union took place on the sofa in No. 10 Downing street, we are ensuring that under this Government it is the British people who will have the final say before any further powers are transferred to Brussels. It will be up to the people, and I wish the hon. Gentleman had as much confidence in democracy and the will of the people as we on this side of the House have.

Has the Minister read last week’s interesting and very long speech—a state of the Union address—of the President of the European Commission, Mr Barroso? He calls for own resources to be raised by the European Union. What is the Government’s view and will this be subject to the referendum lock?

The President of the Commission made his comments in the context of the forthcoming negotiations about the new financial perspectives. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, who will be leading the Government in our approach to those negotiations, has made it clear that we will seek cuts in the European Union budget for the protection of the British rebate and no new European-level taxes.