Second reading of European Union Bill

08 December 2010

Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, William Hague, introduced the second reading of the European Union Bill in the House of Commons on Tuesday 7 December. The Bill passed with a vote and will now be consider in Committee of the Whole House, dates to be confirmed

Summary of the Bill

The Bill aims to strengthen the UK procedures for agreeing to or ratifying certain EU decisions and Treaty changes. The Bill has been drafted in the context of new EU methods of approving Treaty changes and calls for more public and/or parliamentary involvement in such decisions.

Key areas

  • Provides for a referendum throughout the United Kingdom on any proposed EU treaty or Treaty change which would transfer powers from the UK to the EU
  • Ensures that an Act of Parliament would have to be passed before a ‘ratchet clause’ or a passerelle (bridging clause) in the European Union Treaty could be used. In addition, if the passerelle involved a transfer of power or competence from the UK to the EU, this would also be subject to a referendum before the Government could agree to its use
  • Enables the UK to ratify a Protocol to allow additional European Parliament seats for the UK and 11 other Member States during the current European Parliament term, and to legislate for the extra UK seat
  • Provides for a sovereignty clause in the European Communities Act 1972 confirming that ultimate legal authority remains with the UK Parliament rather than the EU.

Committee of the whole House

When a Bill passes its second reading and is considered in detail, this usually takes place in a Public Bill Committee held outside the Chamber. These Committees - which are made up of between 16 and 20 MPs - reflect the political makeup of the House, so the government always has a majority.

But occasionally a Bill will be considered by a Committee of the Whole House and this discussion takes place in the Commons Chamber itself, where all MPs can take part.

Any Bill can be referred to a Committee of the whole House, but the procedure is normally reserved for finance bills and other important or controversial legislation.

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