§ Again considered in Committee.
§ Question again proposed, That the Amendment be made.
§ Sir D. Walker-Smith
I was saying that the subject to which the Amendment related was a very important matter. It has excited very considerable interest outside. To date, that interest has been insufficiently reflected in our proceedings. It may well be that if this is not the occasion for a major debate on it, steps should be taken to initiate such a debate.
We start from two clear premises. The first is that the decision-making machinery of the European Economic Community as at present constituted is demonstrably, almost flagrantly, insufficiently democratic. The second premise which follows from the first is that if, in the event, this country entered the Community it would be both our interest and our duty to strengthen—
§ Sir D. Walker-Smith
The hon. Member for Ebb Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) dissents too soon. I had not concluded my proposition. It would be both our interest and our duty, in one way or another, to strengthen the democratic basis of the Community's decision-making machinery.
There are two possible methods, one of which will appeal to the hon. Gentleman and the other of which will not. They may not be wholly mutually exclusive. One is to strengthen the control of the affairs and decision-making machinery of the Community by the national Parliaments. The other is to strengthen it by the development of the powers and jurisdiction of the European Assembly, sometimes known as the European Parliament.
1393 It is clear that there is no efficient parliamentary underpinning at the moment. That is clear from any study of the matter. It is clear, for example, from Mr. Michael Niblock's study of the national Parliaments in relation to the Community. It is clear also from the recent Vedel Report in relation to the European Parliament.
At the moment the European Parliament is a very shadowy assembly. It is given very vestigial powers under the treaty and exercises none of the basic powers and duties which are the essential ingredients of a parliamentary institution. If in the future the European Parliament continues to exercise no greater powers than those which it possesses at present, I am not sure that the Amendment is very meaningful. It will then not be a matter of selecting the eager applicants for membership of the European Parliament. We shall be right back to the concept of the Middle Ages. We shall be conscripting those latter-day Knights of the shires and compelling them to go. It will be an unwelcome and unrewarding assignment if that is the case.
In all these matters we are looking at the long term. Our commitment under the treaty is in perpetuity. Then we have to consider the other possibility, which is that the European Assembly might grow in power, together with its representative institutions. In the last to years it has made some modest advances in its jurisdiction. It has acquired some modest advances in the context of "own resources" and the like. It has not been a very marked advance over a period of 12 years, and there has been no advance as yet towards what the treaty prescribes; that is to say, direct democratic elections of the European Parliament.
But we have now had in recent months the report of the Vedal Committee, which recommends both an extension of the powers of the European Parliament and a move towards a more representative and democratic form of election. Therefore, we must look at this matter in the light of the possibility that over a time these things may come to pass. There may be an accretion of power to this at present vestigial Assembly and there may even be in the long run some 1394 approach to the provisions of the treaty for direct elections.
Probably the safest assumption for us to make, however, is that there will be some increase in the powers of the European Parliament but that the question of direct elections will be deferred, if not to the Greek kalends, at any rate for a considerable time. If that be a probable or even possible assumption, it is extremely important that we in this Parliament have the machinery for making an effective representation in the European Parliament, which is not an easy thing to do.
As one can see from a study of the contemporary documents, of the Vedel Report, it is not a task in which the existing Community members have succeeded. There is great difficulty, we read, in getting high quality Members of Parliament to sit in the European Parliament.
§ Sir D. Walker-Smith
Of course not, and for two reasons. First, it is a shadowy assembly, exercising little power, and people do not wish to spend their time on these abortive deliberations. They do not wish, if I might recall an observation that I made in an earlier debate, to be parliamentary geldings grazing impotently in Strasbourg.
The second reason, of course, is that they are in great difficulties vis-àis their duties in their home Parliaments and to their own constituencies. Therefore, what has tended to happen, as we can read in the documents, in the Vedel Report and so on, is that the membership of the European Parliament tends to be confined to, or to be to a considerable extent composed of, enthusiasts for the so-called European concept, who do not carry much weight in the national Parliaments from which they come. That is the focal point of the matter—[Interruption.] No, no personalities. I am sure that anybody who went from these benches would represent the interests of the country and this House of Commons.
We have to see it in this light: that if we are to be members of the Community it is necessary to devise machinery to ensure that we shall be the exceptions to this melancholy rule, to ensure that the 1395 people who go there will be people of standing in this House and people who are able to ensure that progress to a more democratic basis of decision-making and to ensure that the traditions of parliamentary democracy and parliamentary institutions, which after all were cradled in this country, are reflected by those who speak there on our behalf. That is the problem. We have to see what is the best method of solving it. We await with interest what my right hon. and learned Friend suggests as to how it should be solved. The method suggested in the Amendment seems to be a method which, if to some extent novel in the constitutions of overseas representation in this country, is a novel solution, in so far as it is novel, for a very novel situation. There would never have been so important an assignment overseas for representatives of this House as to sit in that Parliament if its powers grow, as well they may.
There is much to be said for doing what is suggested in the Amendment and throwing this thing before the House of Commons so that it is not decided simply on the basis of the selection of hon. Members either because they think they can spare the time or because their con- 1396 stituents are not so exigent as the constituents of others.
§ Sir D. Walker-Smith
Let us put it rather that they are not fired with that parliamentary enthusiasm which would enable them to give a reasonably robust and independent interpretation of the country's needs.
Therefore, to achieve these things it would be reasonable to adopt some such formula as is in the Amendment. Certainly it is very difficult to see what harm could come of it. It is very difficult for the House of Commons to say that there is any great or lurking danger in the House of Commons considering which of its Members should participate in these important duties.
Therefore, I add my voice in support of the Amendment because it is a reasonable approach, unless my right hon. and learned Friend can show cause to the contrary, and I reiterate the plea I made previously that we can, at some more convenient time, canvass at greater length and in more depth the problems which this matter raises for the House of Commons and for the country if we should enter the Community.
§ Mr. George Darling (Sheffield, Hillsborough)
The last occasion on which I took part in a debate on the Bill was on Second Reading. I followed the right hon. and learned Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith) in explaining, as best I could, why I could not support the Bill. One of the reasons was that the Government—we still do not have any indication of their views on this—would not face the problem of how we dealt with the European Parliament, so-called, this consultative, advisory assembly without any powers, and how the Government proposed to arrange for representation from this country to the European Parliament. We still have no views from the Government.
I should like to be a devil's advocate for a moment. I want to assume that the Bill has been passed. I am not supporting it but assuming that it has been passed and that we are now involved in the European set-up, and that the House of Commons must now decide how it makes its representation to the European Parliament. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has spoken about the Vedel Report in which it is proposed that there should be two developments before we go ahead to direct elections to the European Parliament. One is that the European Parliament should have what is called the power of co-decision with the European Commission and the Council of Ministers. In other words, when the Commission and the Ministers go to the European Parliament for a discussion about their directives and regulations and so forth, if the European Parliament does not agree the regulations will be taken back for reconsideration. There is, therefore, a sort of suspended power of veto over the Commission and the Council of Ministers. It is weak, but it is a step towards democratic control.
There is another set of proposals which the right hon. and learned Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith) did not refer to. These were put forward by the Socialist Members of the European Parliament. They go very much further than the Vedel proposals. They would bring the whole of the Commission's and the Council of Ministers' powers under the control of the reorganised European Parliament. If there is to be a reorganised European Parliament it cannot be on the basis of 36 1398 appointed Members from this House. I would agree with anybody who objects to the patronage of the Whips deciding who should go. Admittedly, I am one of those enjoying the patronage of the Whips in the Council of Europe—
§ Mr. Darling
I am trying to do a job of work there, and I think that even my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Arthur Lewis) would not object to my going provided I was properly appointed. But if the proposal is to put the Commission and the Council of Ministers under the democratic control of a properly appointed or elected European Parliament it cannot be done on the basis of 36 people going from the British Parliament to Strasbourg, where, unfortunately, the Parliament is situated. It is a stupid place for it to be, but we will not go into that now.
If there is to be democratic control it will be exercised on the basis of party political conflict. We cannot expect Socialist representatives from the United Kingdom to rubber-stamp a proposal by the Conservative Government purely because they are United Kingdom representatives. These matters must be fought out on a party political basis. To send 36 Members from this country would mean, I imagine, that the United Kingdom delegation would consist of 18 Conservatives, 16 Socialists and a couple of Liberals. We do not want to be nasty to the Liberals and, therefore, we must inflate their representation. But the 16 Socialists must be elected by the Labour Party in this House. They will not be appointed by the Whips.
§ Mr. Darling
There is another factor to be taken into account. If we are to have party political conflict it is impossible for 16 Labour Members to cover all the activities of the European Economic Community.
The situation is even worse for the smaller countries. I have discussed this with representatives of the Irish Republican Labour Party. They will have one or two members among the 10 Irish representatives in the European Parliament. I could be rude at this point but I will 1399 not; I will only ask how the dickens one or two Irish Labour representatives can cover all the activities of the EEC Commission, the Parliament and everything else. It is impossible.
Willy Brandt has come up with the idea that the number of representatives should be doubled, giving us 72. That would make it much easier for us to have representation not in the Parliament itself but in the committees of the European Parliament where the democratic control will actually be exercised. The figure of 72 would allow 33 representatives from the Labour Party. They would find it far easier to play their part and they would be far more effective in the committees of the European Parliament, where the co-decision principles of the Vedel Commission would be exercised, than would 16. We would be able to man the committees far more effectively than we could in the way proposed.
But the 33 representatives must be elected by the Labour Members of this House. They cannot be appointed by the Whips. Such an election would help enormously to bring about democratic control over the European Parliament. The most important thing is to make sure either that the Vedel proposals are accepted, to get the Commission and the Council of Ministers properly under democratic control by the European Parliament, or to have accepted and put into operation the Socialist proposals for far greater democratic control. That would be far better, but it is not reasonable at present.
Unless we receive reasonable answers to our points about how we bring about democratic control over the EEC, we should delay the Bill as much as we can. The Amendment is far too weak and ineffective, but I support it because at least it is a step in the right direction.
§ [Sir ROBERT GRANT-FERRIS in the Chair]
§ Mr. Rippon
The right hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Darling) has indicated how widely the debate might range. It would be no good our hoping that we could settle all the maters he raised before we were in the Com- 1400 munity. The questions that will be raised, for example, in debates on the implementation of various proposals of the Vedel Committee will take a great deal of time and we want to participate in them. Important as these matters are, they are not matters to be dealt with in the Bill, which is concerned with the need for changes in the provisions in our domestic law to comply with our treaty obligations.
The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) emphasised the need for Parliament to control the constitution and the selection of the United Kingdom delegation to the European Assembly, which he said was the Amendment's purpose. The hon. Gentleman referred to the Kitchen Committee and the other Committees and delegations which the House appoints. But Parliament retains control over these matters. We can debate the constitution and selection of the Committee dealing with our kitchen affairs if we wish. We can throw it out at any time we like, and it may be that many of us would wish to do so from time to time. I had a particularly bad sausage this evening. But it is absurd to think that these are matters which can be regulated by an Act of Parliament.
As the hon. Gentleman himself demonstrated, each national Parliament makes its own provisions about the selection of its representatives to the European Parliament. He was concerned about non-elected Members, about the position of Members of the House of Lords. All these are matters that can be discussed by the House without any need for statutory provisions which would bind our successors as well as ourselves. After all, there are representatives from the Belgian Senate, which is composed of a number of people not directly elected. There are plenty of variations in the methods of appointment and selection adopted by the various national Parliaments.
This is one of the illustrations of the way in which we retain our parliamentary sovereignty. There is no need to fetter ourselves in any way. There is no need to make any provisionin the Bill. As far as the future is concerned, the present Government have reaffirmed the Labour Government's endorsement of the 1401 Saragat declaration, and presumably the former members of the Labour Government still adhere to it. It looked forward to the time when there would be the development of the institutions and provisions for direct election in accordance, as the Labour Government said, with the provisions of the Rome Treaty.
§ 10.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Foot
The right hon. and learned Gentleman says that we have control here. Will he take into account that the Patronage Secretary made proposals to the Opposition that the matter should be settled through the usual channels, in which case the House of Commons would not have had control and the matter would have gone through without any final say whatever by the House? Our response was to say "No". We thought that the matter should be dealt with in the Bill. The Government could have put down an Amendment but they did not. That is why this Amendment was put down. We think that the matter should not be settled through the usual channels but that the House should retain its final authority.
§ Mr. Rippon
We have all known about the existence of the usual channels for many years. They deal with many matters. No doubt the hon. Gentleman now regards himself as part of them. The usual channels may reach provisional agreement amongst themselves which they may find convenient, but they do not bind the House. There are many occasions on which they have come to an agreement but have not received the support of, for example, the hon. Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Arthur Lewis) or, indeed, from time to time, the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale. They and others have consistently got up in the House and have said that the mere fact that the usual channels have reached an agreement does not mean that the House is bound by it. I am sure the hon. Gentleman accepts that that is so.
§ Mr. Foot
I hope the right hon. and learned Gentleman is not deliberately seeking to misunderstand the situation. In previous times I have sought to complain but have not had a chance to do so very often because the usual channels had thought this was an appropriate matter for them to settle and there was no provision for the matter to be brought before the House. That would have been the 1402 situation about representation of the House. We are attempting by the Amendment to secure that the matter of representation shall be brought before the House. If the Government reject it, it will still be open to them to try to settle it that way, but we say that the House must retain its final authority to deal with the question.
§ Mr. Rippon
And I am saying that that is what it does. I am concerned with provisions which need to be put into the Bill in order to comply with our treaty obligations.
I cannot answer for all the activities of the usual channels or for what discussions may take place between them. There has never been any attempt by a British Government to establish the composition of a British delegation by regulation. It has always been recognised that the composition of our delegations to international bodies like the assemblies of the Council of Europe and WEU is a subject for the House itself to decide. No statutory authority is required for the decision and in my submission the use of regulations to implement it would be entirely inappropriate. In my submission, exactly the same considerations apply to the composition of our delegation to the European Parliament.
§ Mr. Rippon
I think it is bad for the House to try to complicate the issue by making provision in an Act of Parliament for matters that are settled by the House from time to time. After all, it may be that originally hon. Members may be nominated, as in previous cases, through the usual channels, but the composition of the delegation, which is obviously a matter which interests hon. Members on both sides, can be debated in the same way as representation at the Council of Europe or WEU can be debated. It may be that the House has not chosen to debate it and that there are hon. Members, like my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith), who think it would be beneath their status to attend an assembly where they could not feel that they had appropriate powers.
1403 I think that is relevant to the general debate about the powers which the European Parliament might have. These Amendments do not cover the matters raised by the right hon. and learned Member for Hertfordshire, East or by the right hon. Member for Hills-borough. These are matters for discussion in the light of the Vedel Report and a number of suggestions made by hon. Members on both sides.
It is a process which will take a good many years. I have a great deal of sympathy with my right hon. and learned Friend when he says that he wants to look at these matters of powers. I would like to ensure that he and others of our colleagues might feel it more worth while attending the assembly than at present because its powers have been extended—although the Vedel Report does not propose extending those powers, except in certain clearly defined ways.
§ Sir D. Walker-Smith
What I was saying was that the evidence of the Vedel Report is that in the European Parliament there is the difficulty of getting people who have a considerable contribution to make in their own Parliament in view of the lack of power and purpose in the European Parliament. If we are to personalise the argument, I am sure my right hon. and learned Friend would agree that he would be the last person who would go on such a vestigial assignment.
§ Mr. Rippon
Having had the honour, which I much appreciated, of leading the Conservative Party delegation to the Council of Europe over a number of years, I must say that I found it worth while and I am glad to have had that experience. It is wrong to under-value the contributions which these assemblies have made to promoting the European idea and in putting forward policies which national Governments have subsequently adopted.
§ Mr. David Steel (Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles)
Would the right hon. and learned Gentleman accept that there is an important distinction between the way in which the delegates to the Council of Europe and Western European Union are announced and the methods by which Select Committees are appointed? Is 1404 he aware that when Select Committees are appointed the names appear on the Order Paper and they can be and sometimes are debated? These delegations are announced in a Written Answer by the Prime Minister after consultations with the usual channels and there is no opportunity to debate them. Although I understand that he is resisting the Amendment, I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will give an indication on how the Government intend to proceed on this.
§ Mr. Rippon
These delegations and their composition can be debated. I am not saying that it is wrong to make provision for this; I am saying that it is wrong to make provision in this Bill. It is likely to take a good many years and there may be a change of view. We may start off in the European Assembly with a balance of Members who have been involved in the Council of Europe or Western European Union. As matters develop, as powers increase, it may be that there will be a change. There undoubtedly will be a discussion about the balance. All I am saying is that this is a prerogative which is already in the hands of the House and it is unnecessary for it to be included in the law.
If the House wishes to change the manner in which its representatives are chosen for the European Assembly or any other international assembly it can do so but these matters have never been prescribed in Statute and for good reason. It is not merely that it is unnecessary to prescribe these matters in a Statute but it would be restrictive to do so.
§ Mr. Michael English (Nottingham, West)
I am beginning to wonder whether the right hon. and learned Gentleman understands his own Bill. The Bill, when it is an Act, makes Community law part of the law of the United Kingdom. One article of the Treaty of Rome says that its representatives must be Members of Parliament, of either House, and they must be appointed in a manner determined by the member State. What presumably has to be done—it may not be laid down by Statute—is to issue a regulation under Clause 2(2) stating the method of appointment. The treaty will be part of the law of the land and if we do not state the method of appointment we will not be appointing our representatives legally because we 1405 will not have stated the legal means being used, as required in the Treaty. If this is the case, will the right hon. and learned Gentleman stop arguing about whether it is statutory? It may not be statutory, but presumably a Statutory Instrument will determine the method.
§ Mr. Rippon
There is no need for change of our domestic law in this matter. We can continue to proceed by whatever methods we feel appropriate. I assure the hon. Gentleman that our delegation will be seated accordingly.
Suppose that the arrangements which we make in the first instance do not turn out to be satisfactory to a subsequent House of Commons. The arrangements can be altered at any time without the necessity of changing a Statute or a regulation. We have never dealt with these matters by regulation. My assertion is that it is not necessary. As M. Maurice Schumann said the other day, quoting Spinoza, "If something is unnecessary, it is useless."
Therefore, there is no need to change our Bill to do something we already have the power to do without any change in the law. It is much better that we should be able to proceed by way of procedures which could be changed at any time by any House of Commons, the present or subsequent ones; rather than for the matter to be dealt with by substantive legislation.
§ Mr. Darling
As a former leader of the United Kingdom delegation to the Council of Europe, I found the method of appointment unsatisfactory. Is it not a fact that the member countries of the Six in their own Parliaments have laid down by Statute, as it were, the method of selection or election of their representatives of the European Parliament? Surely we should follow the same example if we go in.
§ Mr. Rippon
What they have done in defence of their national sovereignties and parliamentary procedures is to proceed in their own way. That is all that we are suggesting in the Bill, that we should continue to proceed in the way we have always proceeded. Those countries did not need to make any provision in the Statutes ratifying or laying the path for ratifying the treaty for a matter of this kind.
1406 I have intervened early in this debate, which has ranged rather widely, as I believe it is the wish of some right hon. and hon. Members on the Opposition side that we should leave time for a substantive debate on Clause 2. Although I have some sympathy with what my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, East said about that, a number of matters which have been raised in this debate go far outside the scope of the Bill and are matters of general interest.
A number of eminent Members have already made various proposals about ways in which we might relieve the burdens of hon. Members who are likely to have to serve both in this House and at the Assembly. The right hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. Michael Stewart), my right hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys) and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Lewes (Sir T. Beamish) have all put forward various proposals which will be part of the general debate which will take place some time on the whole question of how we shall ensure in the years ahead that not only do we have a suitably strong and well constituted delegation serving in the Assembly but also that we make our contribution first to the whole question of the development of the powers of the Assembly and then move forward to direct elections.
I submit to the Committee that these are not matters which are appropriate to amendment of the Bill. If the Amendments were accepted they would have the effect of tying the hands of the House of Commons unnecessarily and causing unnecessary procedural difficulties about future changes.
§ 10.45 p.m.
§ Dr. J. Dickson Mabon (Greenock)
Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman saying that, on the ground that the Members who go to the European Parliament are not directly elected, we, like other Assemblies in Europe, will require to pass a new instrument of election to the European Parliament?
§ Mr. Rippon
When the question of direct election is formulated we shall have to define what procedure would need to be adopted throughout the Community as a whole. That may be many years ahead. I do not know. Some people 1407 want it quickly, others do not. I assure the hon. Gentleman that there is no difficulty about that matter.
I am suggesting that the Amendments ought not to be accepted, first because they are unnecessary, and what is unnecessary is useless in this context, and secondly because they are unduly and unnecessarily restrictive.
§ Mr. English
The right hon. and learned Gentleman seems to have made a specious set of remarks. The Treaty of Rome says that Members of Parliaments must be the representatives in the European Assembly and that the member States must determine how those members are appointed. The member State, in any context, cannot possibly be the House of Commons, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman appeared to suggest. The member State, in the context of foreign affairs or something of that character, is the Government. Whether the right hon. and learned Gentleman does it by regulation under Clause 2(2), as he could, or by some fiat of the Executive—some private little minute through the Foreign Office or something of thatcharacter—in effect he means that the Government will decide who the representatives will be.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Darling) pointed out that there might be occasions when a Government might, on a purely party basis, wish to appoint all the delegation from their own party because the Assembly had grown in power and matters had come before it which were discussed upon a party basis.
I have put down new Clause 8—Election of United Kingdom members of the European Communities' Assembly—which would provide for the direct election of our Members, which is perfectly permissible under the Treaty of Rome. The Amendment at least makes sure that, however they are appointed, their appointment is decided by the House of Commons, but the effect of the Bill and the Treaty of Rome is that such appointment is ultimately decided by the Government.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that he would go through the usual channels. There is no guarantee that a future Government will do that, but there would be a guarantee if the Amend- 1408 ment were accepted. [Interruption.] It is pointed out to me that the right hon. and learned Gentleman did not say that. However, assuming that the present Government would proceed through the usual channels, there is no guarantee that if they appointed in the way that we appoint a Select Committee a future Government would do so. I understand that has never been customary concerning these delegations. They are simply appointed by the Government. That is the implication of the statement in the Treaty of Rome taken with the Bill. Unless there were something in the Bill to cover this matter, there would be no guarantee that we should have the slightest control over the appointment of Members to the European Assembly. That is the difference between us. We need the Amendment to ensure that the House of Commons always retains control over that appointment.
§ Captain Walter Elliot (Carshalton)
I agree entirely with the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr, Michael Foot) on the importance of this matter, and I agree with my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster that the appointment of representatives to the European Assembly, however it is done and however many there are, will become even more important as the Assembly gets increased power.
There is, however, considerable confusion of thought. The hon. Members for Ebbw Vale and for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) argued that the House of Commons should retain control of the appointment of representatives, but the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Hills-borough (Mr. Darling) said that the Labour representatives would be selected by the Labour Party. I imagine they would be, but is he suggesting that that should be written into the Bill?
The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale spoke of the procedure in the Italian and French Parliaments, and no doubt we shall evolve our own procedure as my right hon. and learned Friend said. I hope the Government will give a good deal of thought to this matter, which will become increasingly important, but I cannot see how we can write it into the Bill.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Rhodes (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East)
I intervene briefly to 1409 say that important points of principle are involved here. There is a fear that the executive and the bureaucracy of the EEC have tremendous powers which will not easily be checked by the member Parliaments of the EEC. For that reason there is a strong case for making sure that the European Assembly will have greater powers of checks and balances than it has now. One of the advantages of going into the Community at this stage—although I am not in favour of the Bill as a whole—is that we shall be able to take part in the current discussions aimed at strengthening the power of the parliamentarians vis-à-vis the EEC.
The representatives of the United Kingdom on the European Assembly will not be effective in fighting to strengthen the power of the legislature vis-à-vis the executive unless the people who select them are members of the legislature who are not themselves part of the usual channels or of the Government but are the directly elected representatives of the people.
If my memory serves me correctly, on a certain Wednesday morning four or five years ago I was asked to be a delegate to Western European Union. By Friday it had been slipped quietly on the Order Paper when everyone had gone away, and on Monday I took a plane to Paris and attended the Assembly. The House of Commons did not debate whether I was a fit and proper person to attend the Assembly. The decision was technically taken by the Prime Minister, through the usual channels.
The Amendment seeks to clarify a little the procedures by which people are selected to go to these assemblies. I think I was sent to the Council of Europe as one of the potential new Europeans. At that time I was a supporter of entry into the Community but after three years' active membership of that Community I became, even before the Labour Government went out of office, one of those who grew increasingly sceptical about joining. I have an awful suspicion that if my state of mind three years on had been translated to my thinking in those days, I might not have gone through the usual channels to that assembly in the first place.
§ Mr. Arthur Lewis
Will my hon. Friend assure the Committee that he has never been back since and, since he has become anti-European, that he will never go again?
§ Mr. Rhodes
I was in the EEC headquarters last week, so that is not strictly true. The fact that one becomes sceptical about the Community does not mean that one should not continue to learn about it. I start from the assumption that we shall join the Community, because there is no point in our discussing this matter unless we are to be part of the Assembly.
I believe there should be no representatives in the Assembly from the other place. What is vital is to have people there who are representatives of the people and not people from an unelected second Chamber.
I accept from the Chancellor of the Duchy that there is a degree of flexibility in the present arrangements and that each member country has its own different system of representation in the European Parliament. The Amendment seeks to define more precisely how our members should be represented. My only regret about the Amendment is that it does not appear to be tight enough to make sure that it will be debated among the different parliamentary parties.
I have examined my diaries for the three years I served on the Council of Europe and find that in one year I was absent from the Chamber for almost 100 parliamentary days. I was in the precise position in which many hon. Members may find themselves when we join the European Parliament. Although this does not mean that we need to neglect our constituency duties, because one can get away at weekends, it must be said that it seriously hinders one's ability to represent one's constituency interests inside the Chamber.
During my two or three years in the Council of Europe I found myself becoming increasingly detached from what was going on. This is a fact. I was commuting by air between Newcastle and Europe continuously, and during one year I was in Europe every alternate week serving on one committee or another, and I was chairman of some. It is quite true that one loses the feel of this place.
1411 This is a serious problem which needs to be given greater discussion before a final decision is reached. I believe something will have to be done to sort out this complex question of how a person can effectively represent his party and his country's interest in a European assembly which takes up probably half a year's parliamentary sitting and also can undertake his constituency work and effectively represent his constituency in the House of Commons.
It is important that all this representation should not be done through the usual channels. It is vitally important that when delegations are appointed to these assemblies they should include European sceptics as well as European fanatics. It will be vital for the House to have on those delegations a number of people who can put to the European Parliament, as I wish to do, problems of regional development.
Although this Amendment does not go far enough, I believe that it seeks to clarify the point and to emphasise the difficulties. I hope that the Committee will support it.
§ Mr. David Steel
This has been a very unsatisfactory debate on the future of our representation in the European Parliament. If nothing else has come out of it, I hope that the Committee will accept the need to debate this subject after we have disposed of the Bill. The Chancellor of the Duchy said that this was not the appropriate occasion on which to debate these matters and that it was not appropriate to have them in the Bill. While I have some sympathy with that viewpoint, I thought that the Amendment would be used as a peg on which to hang a constructive debate in which the right hon. and learned Gentleman would tell us what was in the Government's mind about our representation.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman was not quite right to say that this House could debate our existing dele gations to the Council of Europe—
§ It being Eleven o'clock, The CHAIRMAN left the Chair to report Progress and ask leave to sit again, pursuant to the Order of 2nd May.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again tomorrow.