HC Deb 13 April 1972 vol 834 cc1430-3
Q6. Mr. St. John-Stevas

asked the Prime Minister whether he will seek to raise the question of the future of the European Parliament at the forthcoming summit conference of European Economic Community member countries and applicants.

The Prime Minister

I should be glad to discuss this important subject with the Heads of Government of our future partners in the enlarged Community.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Was it not the Leader of the Opposition who—I presume he is, in his absence, preparing the collected edition of his letters for publication—in days of yore—[Interruption.]—called for a directly elected—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I remind the hon. Gentleman that this is Question time.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I am well aware of that, Mr. Speaker, and that is why I am asking a question.

Mr. Speaker

In that event, I wish the hon. Member would make quite clear that that is what he is doing.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I am always willing to bow to good advice, Mr. Speaker.

Have the Government any plans for bringing to the notice of the European Commission, which I understand is preparing a report on this matter for the Council of Ministers, precisely what are the British views on this issue?

The Prime Minister

We are in close contact with the Commission through our ambassador in Brussels. The proper way to approach this matter is to allow the Commission to put forward whatever proposals it may produce to the Council of Ministers, on which we of course have the right of consultation, but primarily to handle the issue in the discussions between Heads of Government at the summit in October. To this end I have already discussed the matter with the President of France, and I shall have an opportunity to discuss it with the German Chancellor next week and with the Belgian Prime Minister early in May.

Mr. Mendelson

Prior to addressing himself to a hypothetical and potential future European Parliament, before legislation has passed through the House of Commons, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether it would not be preferable for him to read the account in the Guardian two days ago under the headline: The poor in Britain to pay for British entry into the Common Market. Does the right hon. Gentleman appreciate the importance of allowing the poor and other citizens of this country to have some form of democratic say before he commits this country to entering the E.E.C.?

The Prime Minister

They voted at the last General Election just like everybody else.

Sir D. Walker-Smith

Can my right hon. Friend say whether, after 14 years, the European Parliament has the accommodation, premises, staff, services and facilities in any way sufficient or suitable for carrying out a full democratic function?

Hon. Members

Have we?

The Prime Minister

As indicated, hon. Members might ask the same question about our own Parliament. If my right hon. and learned Friend is referring to questions of location, procedure and so on, then these are obviously matters which will be of very great concern to us when we become a member of the Community, as I have assured him personally on previous occasions. I have always believed that those who are most strongly opposed to our membership will be most strongly infavour of making the European Parliament work.

Mr. Heffer

Is not the right hon. Gentleman jumping over bridges? This country is not yet in the Common Market. Before we reach discussions as to the future of the European Parliament, will the right hon. Gentleman indicate to the people of this country, as he rules out a General Election and equally rules out a referendum, precisely how he intends to ask the British people whether they want to go into the Common Market?

The Prime Minister

The advantage of a bridge is that one does not have to jump over it; one has other means of making normal progress, and that is what we are doing. We had a solid vote, with a 112 majority, from Parliament. We have had the Second Reading of the Bill, and we propose to carry it through Parliament in the normal way and to enter the Community on 1st January, 1973.

Mr. John E. B. Hill

Whatever method of electing members to the European Parliament is finally adopted, does my right hon. Friend agree that it is vital that the British members should remain in very close contact with the House of Commons?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir, and this is obviously one of those matters which has to be examined and discussed in detail with the other members of the Community. There are those who would like to have direct election to a European Parliament, with separate election to national parliaments. I have already expressed my personal view that I do not believe that this would generally be considered satisfactory, and that there would have to be an arrangement—not necessarily the present arrangement—by which there was the very closest connection between this Parliament at Westminster and the Parliament of Europe.

Mr. Lipton

Whatever arrangements the Prime Minister makes, will he be good enough to give an undertaking that among those arrangements will be a decision to send to the European Parliament the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas)?

The Prime Minister

At this stage I cannot give any firm undertakings. I certainly take into account what the hon. Gentleman said, because I am sure that no one could be more helpful to the European Parliament than my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford.

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