Hague: Referendum is ‘still right’

By Alex Stevenson

William Hague sought to brush over the referendum issue in his first speech to the Conservative party conference.

The party’s agenda in making reform of the welfare system the centrepiece of its autumn conference in Manchester is being overshadowed by apparent uncertainty over whether a retrospective referendum on the Lisbon treaty should take place if it is ratified.

Conservatives have consistently called for a referendum but last week David Cameron suggested, in the event of it actually coming into force, a referendum may no longer be appropriate.

Shadow foreign secretary Mr Hague did not refer to this scenario in his speech to the party conference.

“The rights and powers of the British people should not be given away without their explicit consent,” he said.

“Let no one ever forget whenever a European referendum is discussed, Labour and the Liberal Democrats solemnly promised a referendum and then shmefully broke that promise.

“It is right that we voted for a referendum and right that we still want to hold a referendum and it is right that a Conservative government will amend the 1972 European Communities Act so if any future government proposes to transfer new competencies or areas of power to Brussels a referendum of the British people will be required by law.”

Mr Hague’s speech did not touch on foreign policy issues but instead focused on the day’s theme: reforming politics. He spent several minutes listing Labour’s failures before launching a wider attack on Gordon Brown’s “burnt-out government”.

“It would make their day if they could get rid of each other and it would make the country’s day if we could get rid of them all,” he said to applause.

Mr Hague reserved special criticism for the first secretary of state, Peter Mandelson. After listing his many titles he added a few of his own, including “terror of ministers” and “ruler of Downing Street”.

His main announcement was a plan to introduce a “public reading” stage to the legislative process. This, Mr Hague said, would use “modern technology” to allow the public to give its views on laws.

“Our democracy can only gain from the greater involvement of their citizens,” he added.