HC Deb 27 November 1974 vol 882 cc429-32
31. Mr. Gould

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether, before the question of Common Market membership is put to the British people, he will seek to amend the European Communities Act 1972 in order to ensure greater parliamentary control over regulations made in Brussels.

Mr. Hattersley

The Scrutiny Committees have been set up to ensure that the views of Parliament on Community legislative proposals can be made known to the Government before decisions are taken.

Mr. Gould

Does my hon. Friend recognise that in voting on Common Market membership the British people will need to know whether they are voting for a Parliament which remains subservient to Brussels or for a Parliament which has reclaimed its sovereignty? Does he further recognise that since the instrument by which we chose to yield that sovereignty is an Act of Parliament—which, like all others, is open to repeal or amendment—the resolution of that issue lies in our own hands?

Mr. Hattersley

My hon. Friend's question involves, as I am sure he intended—I congratulate him upon it—a number of value judgments about the treaty and the Scrutiny Committee. He will understand if I do not endorse and share those judgments. I believe that the scrutiny procedure which the House has examined and put into operation is an adequate method, at the moment, for ensuring that the propert rights of Parliament are observed.

Mr. Ronald Bell

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the scrutiny procedure, although it may be the best that we can devise at the moment, is not only hopelessly overloaded but is frequently outpaced by the movement of these documents, and that the only way of preserving the sovereignty of this Parliament is, therefore, to have restored to us the power to come along after things have been done in Brussels and refuse to implement them, or alter them by our own legislation?

Mr. Hattersley

I do not share that view. I believe that the Scrutiny Committee, by a number of adjustments which, no doubt, it will make to its procedure as a result of other examinations taking place at the moment, can adequately ensure that the proper rights of Parliament are preserved. The implication of the hon. and learned Gentleman's question, namely, that membership of the EEC is automatically exclusive of proper parliamentary rights, is a view that I do not share.

Mrs. Winifred Ewing

Does the Minister accept that among Scottish Members there is growing support, across party boundaries, for the proposition that when the issue is put to the British people, the result of the referendum should be given constituency by constituency? Many of us have a natural curiosity to know the statistics for Scotland.

Mr. Hattersley

I know that the hon. Lady always sees these great issues in rather narrow terms. I am sure that that will be taken into account when we consider the question of a referendum.

Mr. Spearing

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is a question of greater parliamentary control, and not parliamentary control that may or may not exist at the moment? Does he agree also that if the objectives of renegotiation, in respect of parliamentary sovereignty, are to be achieved, an amendment to the European Communities Act will be needed, possibly involving a codification of the so-called Luxembourg Agreement? Is not that logical, even if the hon. Gentleman does not agree with the premise?

Mr. Hattersley

No. I am afraid that I agree with neither the proposition nor the logic. I think that it is possible, through the scrutiny procedure and through many other devices recommended to the House by the Foster Committee—one of which I hope to observe this afternoon—to ensure that Parliament's views and wishes are fully represented. So far as the Luxembourg Agreement is concerned—this is crucial to the questions asked by my hon. Friend—we believe that the outcome of that Luxembourg meeting should be preserved. That is in one sense, essentially the way in which the will of the British Parliament and British Government is preserved within the EEC.

Mr. Kirk

Does the Minister agree that if Government Members are so anxious for greater parliamentary control, the simplest way to get it is for them to take their seats in the European Parliament?

Mr. Hattersley

I answer this question almost every Wednesday, most often when the hon. Gentleman is in Strasbourg, but let me answer it again today. I have never denied that on two occasions at a private meeting I voted for participation in that Parliament by my party. But I now strongly take the view that, involved as we are in a serious renegotiation, were we to change the position we took up a year ago people would put question marks against the seriousness of our renegotiation and our intention to go ahead with that on a real and proper basis. The decision whether the Government side of the House is represented in that Parliament must inevitably and properly await the outcome of renegotiation.

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