Martin Howe QC is a former Conservative councillor and parliamentary candidate who has written a number of publications on constitutional and European matters. As today's Sunday Telegraph speculates that eurosceptic Tory MPs may seek to defeat the European Union Bill later this month if it is not amended to their liking, he explains here why the Bill is fundamentally a good thing.
Paul Goodman's blog on the second reading of William Hague's European Union Bill ("Sceptical at least, hostile in part") reveals some of the suspicion which exists on the Conservative backbenches about this Bill. But from a Eurosceptic perspective, this is fundamentally a good Bill - even though there are certainly respects in which it could be improved or could go further.
The Bill is designed to control how the UK decides to grant its consent to future treaty changes or other steps under the EU Treaties, which would result in a transfer of power from the UK. There are three tiers of possible changes: those that can only be approved after a referendum, those which need to be approved by an Act of Parliament, and those which require approval by an affirmative resolution of both Houses.
The Bill addresses a glaring defect in our constitution which has existed since the UK joined the EEC in 1973. The European Communities Act 1972 gave free rein to the government of the day to commit the UK to many kinds of irreversible decisions under the Treaty of Rome without any formal requirement for approval by Parliament, let alone by the people. This Bill for the first time imposes a comprehensive legal structure on the taking of at least of those decisions which result in the EU acquiring new powers over the UK. This is very much to be welcomed even if one can argue about whether some types of measure are allocated to the right 'tier'. A cynic would say that this is the kind of Bill which only a new government fresh to office would ever introduce.