HC Deb 04 May 1972 vol 836 cc589-93
Q6. Sir Gilbert Longden

asked the Prime Minister if he discussed with the German Chancellor the future of the European Parliament.

Q11. Miss Joan Hall

asked the Prime Minister if he will make a statement about the recent official visit of Chancellor Brandt.

Q12. Mr. St. John-Stevas

asked the Prime Minister whether he will make a statement on his official talks with Herr Brandt.

The Prime Minister

I would refer my hon. Friends to the answer I gave to a Question from my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Blaker) on 27th April. Details of our discussion on the future of the European Parliament must remain confidential.—[Vol. 835, c. 1769–72.]

Sir Gilbert Longden

When my right lion. Friend discusses the future of European institutions with the leaders of the Six will he make it clear to them that, whatever the position may be in their own national Parliaments, it will not be possible for 36 hon. Members of this House to spend about one-third of the year in the European Parliament—

Mr. Arthur Lewis

They are doing it now.

Sir Gilbert Longden

—and that therefore some new arrangements will have to be devised whereby the British Members of the European Parliament are also responsible to this House?

The Prime Minister

Under present arrangements we would have 36 Members representing our Parliament in the European Parliament and they would come from either House of Parliament. In discussions which I have had with President Pompidou, Chancellor Brandt and on Tuesday with the Belgian Prime Minister I have put to them the difficulties of the nature my hon. Friend has described, which I know right hon. and hon. Gentlemen have foreseen. We do not have experience of the actual working of the European Parliament, and I hope it will be possible for some hon. Members to study it before 1st January, 1973. At the summit I have no doubt that arrangements will be discussed relevant to the future development of the European Parliament.

Mr. Rose

Is the Prime Minister aware that there is wide concern among both supporters and opponents of entering the Community about the powers of officials at Brussels who are not responsible to democratic control? Will he ensure that there will be direct and democratic elections to a European Parliament and will he also agree that there ought to be a more widespread control over decision-making in the Community by that Parliament than exists at present?

The Prime Minister

Provision is made in the Treaty of Rome for direct election to the European Parliament. Arrangements for that or any movement towards that would have to be agreed unanimously by the Council of Ministers, There is the question of the responsibility of the Commission to the Council of Ministers, and of individual Ministers being responsible to their Parliaments. There is the separate question of the powers of the European Parliament over the Community as a whole. As I have mentioned before in debates in the House, I do not think that the powers and influence of the European Parliament necessarily depend on direct election. I believe that they can be built on a basis of representation from existing Parliaments.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Did my right hon. Friend discuss with Herr Brandt or the Belgian Prime Minister the proposals which he himself put forward in his Godkin lectures at Harvard for partial elections to the European Parliament?

The Prime Minister

Informally on these occasions I have discussed various ways in which the European Parliament might develop its power and influence, and various ways in which Members of Parliament could carry out their duties there and how those duties could be reconciled with their duties to national Parliaments. The purpose of these discussions was to talk over the problem in as wide a context as possible. I hope that by the time we get to the summit talks in October we shall be able to crystallise our ideas and put forward specific proposals.

Mr. Michael Foot

Does not the Prime Minister agree that the question of the composition of a delegation to any European Parliament from this House or from the country should be submitted for discussion to the House of Commons—which is the proper place to deal with it —and that that could most properly be done by way of an Amendment to the Bill now before the House?

The Prime Minister

I do not think that the long-term development of the European Parliament can be dealt with by an Amendment to the Bill. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is quite right that there should be discussions with all parties in this House about the way in which Members should be elected to go to the European Parliament. After discussions through the usual channels—[HON. MEMBERS:" No."]—it is of course open to the House to debate the matter.

Mr. Foot

Will the right hon. Gentleman reconsider whether it is not better for this matter to be dealt with in the open by an Amendment to the Bill which is now before Parliament and which deals with the precise question of the enlargement of the Community? Will he not undertake that the Government will themselves propose an Amendment to the Bill?

The Prime Minister

Certainly not. I do not think the hon. Gentleman really knows or understands the point he is making. The structure and the powers of the European Parliament are laid down in the Treaty of Rome and representation from this House is specifically a matter for this House. That is not in doubt. Representation at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg has always been dealt with in the open. It has been dealt with by discussions through the usual channels and when the House has wished to debate it, it has done so. As a result, party leaders have invited their Members to serve on the Council of Europe. I see no reason why represen- tation at the European Parliament should not be dealt with fully in the open.

Mr. Harold Wilson

In view of the offensive and arrogant way in which the Prime Minister addressed my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot), will he undertake to look at this question more coolly? I am not pressing him for an answer today. Is he not aware that there was no Statute before the House to deal with Britain's joining the Council of Europe, and that there has been no transfer of important functions from this House to the Council of Europe? Since the Bill presently before the House covers a wide range of consequential provisions relating to the Government's signature to the Treaty of Rome, and as the House is still debating the Bill, would it not be right for the House as a whole to be free to debate the relations between the Members of this House and the European Parliament by way of an official Government Amendment to the European Communities Bill —this is not a laughing matter; the right hon. Gentleman should take it seriously —and not, as was appropriate with the Council of Europe, by talks through the usual channels which are not available publicly to hon. Members of the House or the country?

The Prime Minister

There has been ample opportunity over the last decade to discuss the relations between the European Parliament and this Parliament if Britain were to become a member. There has been ample time to debate it since the negotiations were concluded. The powers of the European Parliament are laid down in the Treaty of Rome, which the right hon. Gentleman accepted and which the present Government accept. The question of representation and the choice of the 36 Members surely is not a matter to put into a Bill. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] First, it is not possible to nominate Members in a Bill. Secondly, these matters are always dealt with in this House through the usual channels and then, if the House so wishes, by a debate in the House.

Mr. Foot

Is the Prime Minister really suggesting that the form of representation of the British Parliament in a European Parliament is not a matter to be decided by this House? For example, there is the question whether Members of the other place are to be included. I repeat the question. Will the Prime Minister give a guarantee that the Government's proposals on the form of representation will be submitted by way of an Amendment to the Bill which we can debate?

The Prime Minister

The answer again is" No, Sir, certainly not." The House can discuss and debate the proposals, and I have already offered that to the Leader of the Opposition. This is not a matter to be laid down in the Bill.