HC Deb 10 March 1976 vol 907 cc412-8
37. Mr. Wigley

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs how many seats Wales is likely to have in the European Assembly after direct elections; and how this compares with the number of seats that will be held by Denmark and Ireland.

Mr. James Callaghan

The size of the directly-elected Assembly and the allocation of seats between member States will be the subject of negotiations still to take place. The distribution of the seats within the United Kingdom will be a matter for national decision at a later date.

Mr. Wigley

Many people will see that answer as a continued evasion of facing up to this matter. Does the Foreign Secretary realise that under the recently announced provisions of the Green Paper Wales will be lucky to get three or four seats in such a Parliament, whereas, as a country in its own right, it could expect 12? The people of Wales will see themselves as being grossly unrepresented in the EEC Parliament unless they obtain representation as a nation in their own right.

Mr. Callaghan

It is our view that the relationship between the number of seats in the Assembly and the size of a country should be more proportional than it is at present, but the hon. Member is drawing an entirely false conclusion. Along with the members of the Scottish National Party he should reflect on the fact that the reason why the smaller countries are demanding more seats, out of proportion to their population, is that they feel their interests will otherwise be overlooked. The interests of those who are members of a large group like the United Kingdom, France or Germany will be best safeguarded. The whole argument that is going on now between the very smallest countries and the rest is precisely on this basis. The people of Wales—and, I hope, the people of Scotland, but I certainly speak for the people of Wales—simply have no desire for separate representation in this matter.

Mr. Ioan Evans

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the issue of separatism has been put repeatedly to the people of Wales and that they have repeatedly rejected it? Will he point out to the hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley) that Southern Ireland may be represented in the EEC but it is not represented in this House, and that the people of Wales would not be represented here unless the unity of these islands was maintained?

Mr. Callaghan

What we must keep rubbing the noses of the Nationalists in is the fact that the constituent parts of the larger States are much better represented precisely because they are larger than are the smaller groups who are now struggling for extra seats——

Mr. Wigley

That is absolute rubbish.

Mr. Callaghan

—and when this sinks in in Wales and Scotland we shall hear less from the nationalist Bench about this matter.

39. Mr. George Gardiner

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what further submissions he has received on the subject of direct elections to the European Parliament.

Mr. James Callaghan

I have been in touch with all the parliamentary parties. I have received written views from some and had consultations with those that asked for them.

Mr. Gardiner

When the Foreign Secretary receives representations, as he will, from some groups suggesting that the power and authority of this House will in some way be undermined by our acceptance of a system of direct elections, will he challenge them to name one power at present exercised by this House which will be either removed or diluted by our transition from a system of nomination to a system of direct elections?

Mr. Callaghan

As is set out in paragraph 12 of the Green Paper, the elections will take place on the basis of such powers as the European Parliament now has. Whether there will be any later transfers of powers depends upon unanimous agreement by all the nine member States, and therefore this House, like Parliaments elsewhere in Europe, will have the opportunity of saying "Yea" or "Nay".

Mr. Atkinson

Are we not in great danger of carrying out this whole exercise the wrong way round? It seems that the House is now discussing devolved powers with the United Kingdom without coming to agreement about the authority to be created within the new Assembly or Parliament in Europe. Therefore, ought we not to be discussing Europe and its powers before we discuss the kind of governmental structures that would be necessary for a devolved system in this country?

Mr. Callaghan

There is some force in what my hon. Friend says, but the plain truth is that there is no agreement in Europe about which way this should go. Over the forthcoming period this House has the opportunity of giving a lead in trying to indicate to European opinion the way in which it should go. Mr. Tindemans has made a report on it, but we have seen from the reaction that it does not command unanimous agreement. In spite of that, it is the view of the nine members that they wish to go ahead with direct elections on the basis of the existing powers without regard to the future or to changes which might conceivably take place.

Mr. Crawford

In view of what the Foreign Secretary said to the hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley) about direct elections, does he not think it is shocking to regard Scotland and Wales as regions? They are nations, and they deserve nation status in this context.

Mr. Callaghan

I do not know that I said anything different from that.

Mr. Skinner

Will my right hon. Friend consider how much it will cost to finance this further level of administration, and whether that comes under the heading of those items of public expenditure that must be levelled off or phased out after 1977 in view of the need to strengthen our manufacturing base at home? Or are there different rules for the Common Market?

Mr. Callaghan

No. As my hon. Friend will remember, these elections are due to start in 1978.

Mr. Marten

On the assumption that the Foreign Secretary has considered the implications of direct elections to the European Parliament, will he do the House the favour of giving his most considered view of where this will all lead, particularly in the light of remarks by Mr. Ortoli and Mr. Tindemans that it will succeed only if there is a federal State?

Mr. Callaghan

If I thought I had the slightest influence on the hon. Gentleman I should be glad to do so, but this is a matter that will be the subject of debate on 1st and 2nd April at the European Council.

Mr. William Hamilton

Will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that both he and the Prime Minister will continue to press on the European Assembly the need to establish a Public Accounts Committee? Unless and until the European Parliament gets that additional power, the response of the British people is likely to be lukewarm to these matters.

Mr. Callaghan

I think that my hon. Friend is right. Indeed, it was my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, because of his experience as Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, who raised this matter. It was my right hon. Friend who put forward the detailed proposals. I hope that we shall see them accepted shortly so that there can be proper control by the European Assembly over expenditure, and the investigation of expenditure.

Mr. Hurd

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that one of several gaps in the Green Paper is the failure to discuss the links that will be needed between the European Parliament and this House? Will he give an undertaking that when we debate this vitally important matter we shall have a clear indication from the Government of their views?

Mr. Callaghan

I agree that it is important, but I cannot give that indication. I have already said in public speeches that this matter will need to be considered and that we shall welcome opinions in due course. However, this is a few years away yet.

40. Mr. Jay

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what consideration the Government have given to the constitutional implications for the United Kingdom of direct elections to the EEC Assembly.

44. Mr. Gould

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he took into account in producing the Green Paper the constitutional implications of direct elections to the European Assembly.

Mr. James Callaghan

The Government are conscious of the importance of this question, but the introduction of direct elections on the basis of the Assembly's existing powers will not affect the present role of national Governments and Parliaments in the European Community, nor will it change the balance of the Community institutions.

Mr. Jay

Knowing the great influence that I have over my right hon. Friend, may I ask him whether, as for some reason the Government made no mention of direct elections in their referendum manifesto that was delivered to all voters, he would agree that the proposals have far-reaching constitutional implications that have not yet been fully considered by the House or the country? Should we not at least consider them properly before rushing into irrevocable decisions?

Mr. Callaghan

I think that my right hon. Friend is right. He has considerable influence, but I am bound to say that it is greater in economic matters than in the European sphere. I have always sat at his feet on economic matters. [Interruption.] My right hon. Friend is a very good economist. He was one of the first to concentrate on the need for the dispersal of industries to the regions. He has never had full credit for that.

There is no doubt that the elections could lead to a demand for further powers. It is also true that there was no discussion of this matter in the referendum campaign. It was made clear in the treaty, and before the referendum a statement was made about our attitude. I regret the dereliction of duty in this regard by my right hon. Friend and his colleagues in not bringing the matter to the attention of the British people.

Sir Anthony Royle

Is it the intention of Her Majesty's Government to press for a decision on direct elections at a meeting of the European Council next month?

Mr. Callaghan

We shall play our part at that meeting. I am not sure whether there will be an agreement, as there are substantial differences on this issue. There is the relationship between small countries that feel that their interests are not adequately safeguarded because they are small and want more seats and the larger nations that want greater proportionality. I am not sure whether an agreement will be reached, but we shall do our best to see that the matter marches on and that the position of the United Kingdom as a whole is safeguarded. As one integrated unit throughout the United Kingdom we can best look after the interests of all our people.

Mr. Gould

Will the House, or a Committee of the House, have an opportunity of going beyond the Green Paper which is concerned only with the practical problems? Will there be an opportunity to consider questions of principle, which have implications almost as far-reaching as those on devolution? Should not the House have that opportunity before any commitment is entered into in Brussels?

Mr. Callaghan

No, I cannot give that undertaking. Treaty-making powers are the responsibility of the Government. It will then be for the House to consider whether the Treaty should be ratified. As I think I explained to my hon. Friend in another context, I want to see full publication and full discussion. As I think he knows, we could reject it, but it would be impossible to amend such an Order when laid.

Mr. Powell

Does the right hon. Gentleman believe that in practice it is possible to limit the powers which a directly-elected representative Assembly can claim?

Mr. Callaghan

What I believe is neither here nor there. I am here to answer questions on fact.

Mr. David Steel

Will the right hon. Gentleman acknowledge that not all of us played the referendum campaign on quite as low a key as he did? Some of us raised the question of direct elections to the European Parliament. Those who set their face against direct elections are now arguing for the continuation of a relatively powerless, impotent and part-time appointed Chamber against the weight of the European bureaucracy.

Mr. Callaghan

As regards my low-key playing of the referendum campaign, I had the largest meeting that was held in Edinburgh, when the Usher Hall was filled, when there was a full description of my views. I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman was not there to hear me.