§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Stallard.]
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. As this is the commencement of a two-day debate, the first day of which is taking place upon the motion which has just been made, would it be convenient for you, or someone of behalf of the Government, to indicate what will be the motion on which the second day's debate will take place? If it is on the Adjournment, it will be impossible for the House to indicate its view either on the subject generally or upon particular issues, such as the desirability or otherwise of the establishment of a Select Committee.
§ The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Edward Short)
Tomorrow is a Supply Day, but the intention is to have a debate on a motion for the Adjournment of the House tomorrow as well as today.
§ Mr. Douglas Jay (Battersea, North)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Would it be in order for the Government to put down a different motion for tomorrow's debate which would enable the House, if it wished, to put down an amendment?
§ 3.39 p.m.
The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. James Callaghan)
Tomorrow is a Supply Day and is, therefore, a day for the Opposition.
The Government regard the way in which British delegates are chosen for the European Assembly as very much a matter for Parliament. From the beginning of the discussions I have tried to get an agreed procedure which will carry hon. Members with us so that the House will not feel that it is being taken along a course about which it knows little or nothing. Earlier this year I offered consultations with all parties as a first step, and I have personally had such discussions with the two parties which asked for 901 them—the Liberal Party and the Parliamentary Labour Party.
The Government published last month a Green Paper, Cmnd. No. 6399, setting out the issues and giving our provisional views on the matters which will have to be decided in the Community. The Green Paper makes a clear distinction between these questions, set out in Part II, and the many detailed arrangements, including the key question of the electoral system, which are to be left for national decision.
The European Assembly is now, as it has been since the beginning of the Community, a body made up of delegates nominated by the Parliaments of the member States from among their own Members. By and large, they represent the party balance as it results from national elections. The Assembly includes 36 Members from the United Kingdom from both Houses, led by my right hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. Stewart), who, I was sorry to see, is proposing not to be with us in the next Parliament, and the hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Sir P. Kirk), together with one Liberal Member and one Scottish National Party Member. There are 11 Peers, and the delegation has represented the United Kingdom since we began in the European Assembly.
It was always intended that sooner or later—now, obviously, later—the Community should change to a system of direct elections to the European Assembly. However, for the first 18 years of the Community's existence there was no general agreement. It was a change of policy by the French Government in 1974 that made the prospect seem attainable.
A widespread view developed in the Community that the time was ripe to make a move to introduce direct elections. In December 1974 the Heads of Government decided thatthe election of the European Assembly by universal suffrage, one of the objectives laid down in the Treaty, should be achieved as soon as possibleThey went on to say that elections could take place at any time in or after 1978.
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister explained that the Government did not wish to prevent the Governments of the other eight member States from mak- 902 ing progress with direct elections but that we could not take up a position ourselves before the process of renegotiation had been completed and the results had been submitted to the British people.
Since then, there has been a great deal of consideration of these matters. The referendum has been decided and there has been a working party which has considered how the December 1974 statement by the Heads of Government could be translated into actuality. I have authorised our representatives to take part in all the discussions in a constructive way and to work with our partners to see that the best system is achieved, while reserving the position of this Parliament and Government in the light of the derogation made in 1974.
At the European Council later this week, the Heads of Government will have several papers before them. There will be a report by the Luxembourg Prime Minister, M. Thorn, on behalf of the Presidency, drawing attention to key problems requiring decision at the political level. Of these, the most important is the question of the size of the Assembly and the distribution of seats between member States.
Another important question for decision is the exact date of the first election in 1978, if it takes place then. Another point on which the Council is asked to rule is whether the draft Convention should refer to the institution as the European Assembly or the European Parliament.
There are also one or two other points on which M. Thorn is asking the Heads of Government to concentrate. He has selected the points on which he believes that he should try to get some views this week. Ministers will also have before them a much more detailed report of a working group from the Council which has been examining the question. This is a draft which still contains a number of disagreed points.
I circulated a summary of that document in the Official Report on 10th March. I would have liked to circulate the document as it stood, but some objection was taken by other member States and, as it is the negotiating document, it would not have been proper for me to circulate it. However, hon. Members will find that the summary contained at cols. 274–277 of the Official Report for 903 10th March is a complete statement ot the position as it stands, though it is not the document itself.
§ Mr. John Mendelson (Penistone)
I apologise for interrupting my right hon. Friend so early in his speech, but at the beginning of his remarks he said that it had always been intended that there should be direct elections. Can he clarify whether that original intention was to go hand in hand with other developments in the Market—for instance, a growing together in other fields and the EEC becoming more of a political and economic entity—or whether the elections were to be merely a prong which would happen anyway whether or not there was this other development?
It is difficult to answer my hon. Friend's question because we do not know what was the intention. However, Article 138 stands on its own and, although this is only my opinion, I would have thought the intention of the founders of the Treaty was that the direct elections should take place anyway, whatever the level or nature of the development of the Community. That is a matter for speculation, but we know that Article 138, paragraphs (1), (2) and (3), stands on its own.
We have to ask how far it is realistic to expect the European Council to get this week. At its last meeting in December 1975, the Council expressed the intention of finalising the text of a draft Convention in April. This is a yet further example of the tendency, to which I have referred many times in this House and which I do not share, to be over-optimistic about the length of time each stage of this complicated process will take.
I am not surprised that we have not got as far as a draft Convention. Given the number of points, both large and small, still remaining to be settled, there seems to be no prospect of finalising the Convention at this week's meeting, but the Council will wish to make what progress it can and some issues will certainly come up for discussion and, if possible, agreement. The Prime Minister and I will therefore listen to the debate over the next couple of days and will be grateful to know how the minds of hon. Members are moving on this matter.
I should now like to deal briefly with some of the issues as I see them and as 904 they will come out at the meeting. An assembly of 198 Members is very small to represent a Community of 250 million people, and I think it is generally accepted that when the Assembly is directly elected it should be considerably enlarged. We do not dissent from that view.
Our provisional view is that an Assembly of the order of 350 Members, or somewhat larger, would be appropriate. I do not think that it should be too large, but I should like to hear the views of hon. Members who currently attend it. I am not sure that the work is there, and we have to take into account the possibility that there will be additional Members. This would make for greater pressure on the size of the Assembly and it might become unwieldy. Our view is that about 350 Members, or perhaps rather more, might be the appropriate size.
A much more difficult question is one which depends upon the size of the Assembly, and that is the distribution of seats between member States. This has been, and, no doubt, will be, the subject of intense and detailed negotiation. The French Government have put forward a proposal which would go a long way towards relating the number of Members to the population of member States and would cut drastically the representation of smaller States. Perhaps Scottish and Welsh nationalists will take note of that.
The Irish Government, at the other extreme from the French Government, have put forward a proposal designed to safeguard, as far as possible, the very favourable share of seats they secured in the Treaty of Accession. If there is to be any agreement, there will have to be some compromise. If representation were to be strictly proportionate to the population of the member States, an Assembly of about the size I have mentioned would clearly not allow any seats at all for Luxembourg. It seems clear that there should be, at the Community's present stage of development, a minimum number of seats for member States, however small.
I hope that hon. Members will not jump too quickly to conclusions about this. One seat for Luxembourg would mean that not all the major 905 parties in Luxembourg could be represented. The Liberals, if I may say so, may have a special interest in this and should not pour scorn on it. I do not think we should jump to the conclusion, therefore, that one seat would be appropriate, even though Luxembourg is a very tiny State. Luxembourg provides us with a very good President, if I may say so, even though he does not happen to belong to a party similar to mine.
Concerning the United Kingdom, we clearly need enough seats for adequate representation of the constituent parts of the United Kingdom. The importance of a fair share for Wales and Scotland in particular is something I have had in mind from the beginning, perhaps not surprisingly, Mr. Speaker, as I am sure you would agree—if you were listening. I was not being discourteous, Mr. Speaker. What I said was that I knew it would command your full support, if you were not sitting in the Chair, when you knew that I had paid particular attention to the needs of Wales and Scotland in deciding the distribution of seats. But, of course, you now have no interest in these matters at all.
The figures proposed by the European Parliament are simply not good enough from the point of view I have stated. I do not think that there is any particular number of seats that we can claim as being self-evidently right for the United Kingdom, but we shall try to avoid an unreasonable discrepancy between the ratio of seats to electors in the smaller member States and in the larger ones such as the United Kingdom. This means that we shall seek a solution which tends further towards relating the number of seats allotted to each country to the size of its population.
I repeat now what I have said before. I mean it when I say it, and I say it particularly to the Scottish and the Welsh nationalists. The very fact—I hope that this point is taken seriously—that the smaller States feel the need of more than proportionate representation in the Assembly points out the real advantage of being part of a bigger member State. I want to put on record my firm judgment that Scottish and Welsh interests are more powerfully represented in the Community as part of the United Kingdom than they could ever be separately.
§ Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarvon) rose—
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will have the opportunity later of catching Mr. Speaker's eye. I have a lot of detail to get through, and on almost every point I am sure hon. Members will wish to ask me questions.
Concerning the date of the election, apart from the Danes there is a wide consensus among the other member States in favour of holding elections at approximately the same time throughout the Community. Indeed, when they met in Rome in December last year the Heads of Government agreed that elections to the European Assembly should take place on a single date in May or June 1978, though there were to be special derogations to meet the position of Denmark and the United Kingdom.
There is a genuine need for the peoples in the member States to be identified with the Community in some way. The Community is often accused—I think with justification—of being bureaucratic and remote. The electors should have an opportunity to express their views on the questions concerning the Community as a whole, separately from national elections. A Community-wide election day would give such an opportunity.
There is the added point that, from the point of view of an efficiently-run Assembly, it is obviously better not to have membership disrupted by the nine separate sets of elections in relation to chairmanship of committees and that sort of thing. Hon. Members with experience of this will be able to tell us what they think of it. If we were to link the European Assembly elections with national elections, it could mean, taking 1974 as an example, that there would be two changes in the course of 12 months. I do not want to dogmatise. We wish to seek the opinion of Parliament on this.
The other obvious question that occurred to me, when I heard of the desire of other members to hold the election in May and June, was whether we could link it with local authority elections. I am not sure how far these European elections will command widespread interest. They may or may not do so. If they were linked with local authority 907 elections, there would at least be a linkage between the two.
There is another point that hon. Members ought to bear in mind on this. It is all very well for us sitting here—this applies even more to people sitting remotely in Brussels or in Luxembourg—to decide that we are to have European Assembly elections in May or June. But, if they follow our local elections, who will do the canvassing? Who will go out on to the doorsteps? We should have to get our people out for two elections in three weeks, with Whitsun in between. These are practical issues, and as practical politicians we have to face them. I have been pointing out the advantages and the difficulties, and we look forward very much to hearing the reactions of hon. Members during the course of the debate.
Consideration was given at the European Council to the date in 1978. Given the timing of Whitsun and other holidays in the various member States, a date in the second half of May seemed most likely to be generally acceptable. If it is decided that it is feasible to organise elections in the United Kingdom in 1978, and in the month of May, we shall need to look at this very carefully to ensure that there is enough flexibility for us to have a day in the week and a time that suits us.
With regard to the derogations, there will be a provision in the agreement enabling the United Kingdom to continue for a period to send representatives from Parliament here at Westminster should we decide that we cannot complete the process as early as 1978.
There is also to be a derogation to take account of the somewhat different position of Denmark. We have secured these arrangements as a precaution, but again I point out a difficulty. Let us assume that there is agreement to increase the size of the Assembly to 350 to 400 and that this country has 70 Members. Chief Whips will be in some difficulty if the House is asked to nominate some 60 to 70 Members, or perhaps even more, to send to the Assembly, because we shall not have been able to complete the preparations on elections. Therefore, I hope that this factor will be taken into account too in the course of our discussions.
On the whole, I think it would be as well if we were in a position to hold 908 elections in this country when the other countries are in a position to do so rather than prolong the existing system, which is a heavy burden on the individual Members of Parliament concerned and adds to our problems in conducting parliamentary business here at Westminster. But we do not have definitely to commit ourselves at the stage of signing the draft Convention on this matter.
With regard to dual membership and its impact on Westminster, a very important question that will arise is the relationship between the elected Members of a European Assembly and of Parliament here. I know some hon. Members think that the right solution would be to have what is called a compulsory dual mandate. This is the Danish view. The Danes say that only Members of Parliament should be eligible for election to the European Assembly. The majority of member States, however, do not favour this, and the preliminary view of the Government is that we do not favour it either.
The draft Convention as it stands would leave it that Members of national Parliaments would be free to stand for the European Assembly but that our candidates would not necessarily have to be Members of the Westminster Parliament. We do not know whether hon. Members could get themselves nominated anyway. Presumably they would have to go through a selection procedure in any case. We think at present, however, that it would be better to leave the position open for Members themselves to decide what they would like to do. Given the heavy burdens of the existing system of dual membership, this is probably a sensible solution, but we shall need to give careful consideration to these matters.
As I have said, I do not see any prospect of the European Council being able to settle all the outstanding matters at this week's meeting, but it will try to make progress at least on those that I have mentioned. After that, it is likely to refer the matter back to Foreign Ministers to take matters further. It is possible that the matter will come back to the European Council in a final form for the July meeting. We therefore have from now until July.
This is, of course, a process of negotiation in which we are involved, and that makes it difficult for Parliament to 909 control what is going on. We should acknowledge that. But we shall do our best as a Government to get terms which suit this country, and we shall bear in mind whatever may be said in the House today and tomorrow, but recognising that we cannot hope to get our way on everything.
I should add that the Convention, when it comes, which might be after July, will be subject to ratification. Let me go over the ground carefully. Ratification is the prerogative of the Crown rather than of Parliament, although under the Ponsonby Rules the Convention would be laid before Parliament and within 21 days a negative motion could be moved. The Convention will be laid before Parliament, therefore, after signature in the usual way under the normal ratification procedures. But there is Section 1(3) of the European Communities Act. In addition, therefore, the Government would intend to seek Parliament's approval of a draft Order in Council—unamended, of course; it is a negotiating instrument—by affirmative resolution of both Houses. That would be done after signature and before ratification. If the Order in Council were not carried, clearly it could not become part of United Kingdom law and the Government would not be able to proceed to ratification. I think I have set out the procedure fairly so that the House knows where it stands on the matter, and it will be for the House to take a decision in due course. It will have to consider these matters on more than one occasion before the Convention is ratified.
§ Sir Anthony Royle (Richmond, Surrey)
I have been following the right hon. Gentleman's programme with interest. If it is concluded on the time scale which he mentioned, and agreement is reached at the July European Council meeting, will this mean that the right hon. Gentleman anticipates that the 1978 deadline can be met?
I prefer not to give an opinion about that. It depends on the degree of priority that it is given as a matter of legislation. I do not know whether such an Order in Council could be introduced before the end of the present Session. After all, July is getting very late in the parliamentary year. What is more, there are all the other domestic preoccupations which have to be ful- 910 filled. I cannot give an answer to that question except to repeat what I said before. I have discovered that this House can do anything that it wants to if it sets its mind to doing it. I think we had better leave it for the moment.
§ Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)
My right hon. Friend was kind enough to lay out the summary of the draft Convention in answer to me on 10th March. Paragraph 10 makes clear that the choice of our own electoral procedure is pending the entry into force of a uniform electoral procedure. When my right hon. Friend talks about a Convention, let us suppose that the Convention which the Government agreed included that phrase which is in the draft. Presumably this House would have to decide on one vote, and one vote alone, whether to commit itself to uniform electoral procedures in the future.
That is really a hobgoblin. I cannot think that any phrase of that kind could have any binding impact on Parliament—
I know that it is in the document, and if my hon. Friend will contain himself I shall explain what has to happen. It has taken 18 years or so to reach the present stage. I do not know, but I am willing to have a modest bet with my hon. Friend that he will be retired before we reach the second stage about which he is so worried, because it will demand the unanimous agreement of all the member States before they ever get there.
Perhaps I might deal with the real matters which affect us now rather than with fears about next century—[Interruption.] It is no good my hon. Friend scoffing. That is the real position. The important questions which will then remain for national decision are set out in Part III of the Green Paper. Legislation on these matters—on the domestic issues—will clearly be required. It is at that stage that such matters as the franchise and the constituencies will be decided, and I have no doubt that my 911 nght hon. Friend the Home Secretary will have something to say about them tomorrow.
There is also the question of finance for these elections. A decision will have to be reached in the Community, although the matter is not touched on in the present draft Convention, about the remuneration of Members of the Assembly. We shall also need to go into the important question of how compaign expenses should be financed. This is obviously relevant to the work being done already by the Houghton Committee.
As I have said from the start, the Government regard it as of the utmost importance to involve Parliament as closely as possible during the present period. There is clearly a great deal of interest in Parliament, if not outside this House. I have taken note of the support for the various motions which are on the Order Paper—one by my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved) and another by the right hon. Member for Knutsford (Mr. Davies). When I met the Parliamentary Labour Party for consultations, I told my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. Gould) when he raised the matter that I was sympathetic with his point about the need to give Parliament the fullest opportunities to discuss this, and I have considered this since my hon. Friend raised the matter.
Accordingly, the Government are prepared to set up a Select Committee, if that is desired by the House. I do not wish to come forward with terms of reference at the beginning of this debate. I think that it would be more sensible to listen to the debate and then, perhaps, after discussions, to discuss the terms of reference and to bring forward a motion at that stage setting up the Committee.
As for the Government, the Select Committee could cover every issue that I have raised, with the obvious exception of the Treaty obligation to hold such elections. The Committee cannot go back over the principle again. But every other matter is clearly open to it.
I make one other point, and I ask the House to consider it favourably. As the Government will be working in parallel with the Select Committee, it seems to me that it would be sensible and helpful to the Government and, I hope, to the Select 912 Committee if a Government Minister or Ministers concerned with the affairs as they are being negotiated were part of the Select Committee so that there could be a cross-fertilisation in which the Committee was told what was going on and at the same time the Ministers could hear the way that the Committee's mind was working.
We have a fair amount of time in hand, in view of the fact that the programme has dropped behind. But the Government would have to ask the Select Committee to work at reasonable speed. We have on a number of occasions told the other member States that we do not wish to hold them up on the introduction of direct elections. We shall therefore have to ask the Committee to gear its work to the timetable on which the issues seem likely to come to a conclusion in the Community. I hope that, if the Select Committee gets to work pretty quickly, there will probably be three months in which it can take a firm view about what it believes to be the position within the period in which Governments will be working in parallel on those issues.
The Select Committee will, of course, take its own decisions on procedure, but, like the Green Paper, I suggest that it might think it convenient to split the subject into two parts and deal first with those matters which need to be decided in the Community. The most urgent matters are set out in Part II of the Green Paper. Then it might at greater leisure consider the many important decisions which will be left for national decision. But that is a matter for the Committee.
My conclusion on this part is that, subject to carrying Parliament with them—and I hope the House will agree that I have done my best to carry Parliament with me on all stages of this matter so far—it is the Government's policy to prepare so that we are ready to go ahead with elections when the other member States are also ready. It is on that basis that we start.
There are many different ways of looking at the purpose of the debate. Some people may merely regard it as a discussion of a simple piece of democratic electoral machinery and of how we are going to improve on the present system of nomination. I am sure that it is more than that. The debate must be concerned 913 with the Community's likely development and the powers of its various institutions. It is this constitutional element that I should like to deal with for a moment or two.
Let me consider first the rôle of the Assembly. The existing powers of the Assembly are largely of a consultative nature. It is not a legislative body in the sense that we usually understand when we use the word "Parliament". The Council of Ministers is obliged to consult the Assembly on draft legislation in a number of spheres, but it is not obliged to abide by the Assembly's opinion. Although the Council has undertaken, where major financial implications are involved, to consult with the Assembly where the views of the two institutions diverge, the formal and true position is that the last word remains with the Council. In addition, the Assembly has certain budgetary powers of which the main one is the right to vary the non-obligatory element in the Community's expenditure, which is at present some 15 per cent. of the total. But the Council retains the last word on all other expenditure.
Apart from this rôle in the legislative and budgetary spheres, the Assembly's only other power is the right to dismiss the whole Commission, but not individual Commissioners—a power it has not so far used. In addition, the Assembly has the right to put written and oral questions to the Council and the Commission about the issues arising in their respective fields of responsibility. I do not wish to belittle the rôle of the Assembly. It has a useful part to play. There is one area in which we would like to see it play a more active part.
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, who was once Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, was horrified at the lack of Assembly control over that part of the total Community budget which is within the control of the Assembly. He made a most valuable initiative in proposing processes of financial control. I understand that the Assembly has now decided to set up a sub-committee to perform functions similar to those carried out in this country by the Public Accounts Committee. It will work on the basis of the reports first of the Audit Board and later of the new Audit Court which is to be 914 set up under the Treaty of 22nd July 1975. That gives the Assembly a real job of work in an area of considerable importance.
§ Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, Central)
I hope that my right hon. Friend will press this matter very hard if and when he goes to Luxembourg. The proposals are a completely inadequate substitute for the kind of Public Accounts Committee that we have here. Some of us in the Assembly are determined to have the nearest thing we can to our own Public Accounts Committee rather than anything remotely like what has been suggested in the Assembly.
I note and accept what my hon. Friend has said. Perhaps he will be able to make more of that during the debate.
I now come to the future for direct elections. There is a view, which I share, that when people have been directly elected they have rather more legitimacy than those who are nominated by this House. I do not wish, of course, to derogate from those who are nominated by the House. It is suggested that Members who are directly elected will call for greater powers. Indeed, the present nominated Members—some of them are present here today—are already doing so. I repeat the statement that I made before. What powers they get will depend upon unanimous agreement of the member States and their national Parliaments.
I do not think we should rule out the prospect of the Assembly getting additional powers. It would be absurd to do so. There may well be tasks which can be done better on a European than on a national basis. This will have to be decided on the facts of the case as they come before us, but it would be a very foolish Government who committed themselves never to pass over powers or to say that they will let them go through irrespective of their impact on the country in question. These powers will be subjected to the process of discussion, and when public opinion or opinion in this House decides that a power is worth transferring it will be transferred, but not before then. This Government have no plans for giving the Assembly further powers. If a case was made, we would look at it and come to the House about it, but at present we have no plans for 915 doing so. The Assembly has recently acquired powers in budgetary matters which are not as great as they might be but which provide a new basis for relations with the Council and which should be allowed to prove themselves.
In the early days of the Community's existence, many people saw the Commission as the embryo of a future federal European Government. Very few people subscribe to that idea today. The Commission's role has developed ever the years in a rather different direction. It makes political proposals on which the Council of Ministers takes its decisions and in doing so follows the general ideas which are often hammered out in the first place among Ministers and, on occasion, by the Heads of Government. Above all, it provides executive machinery to the Community.
It is in the Council of Ministers that the important decisions are taken. I see no prospect of this changing in the foreseeable future, and nor should it. These are areas in which I as a Foreign Minister regard myself as being responsible to the national Parliament. It is only by virtue of the backing of Government supporters that I stand at this Box today, and it is to them and to Parliament as a whole that I am accountable. That is the position and that is how I see it continuing.
The most significant change in the Community's structure over the last few years has been the establishment of the European Council, the regular forum in which Heads of Government now meet. There is no doubt that these meetings have emphasised the extent to which national Governments have the final say. Arguments about the best organisation of Europe and how the States can best work together, which I desire to see, will certainly continue to occupy us for many years ahead. The focus on such discussion in the immediate future will be the Report produced by Mr. Tindemans, the Belgian Prime Minister, on European union. I hope that this Report, with its relatively modest and certainly pragmatic approach, will reassure those who are concerned that Europe is irrevocably set on a federalist course. The truth is that the federalist dream has faded, and those who hold it up as a nightmare should 916 acquaint themselves with the reality of what is happening.
§ Mr. Neil Marten (Banbury)
On the assumption that the Commission takes this seriously, what does the Foreign Secretary then think about its own document which was put to Mr. Tindemans and which went even further and recommended a European Government and bicameral legislative assemblies?
The Commission has its own view about its place in the scheme of things, but the Commission is not the deciding body. The hon. Member is intelligent enough to follow what I am saying. It is for the Council of Ministers to discuss and decide on the matter.
I come back to the question on which I started. Will the European Assembly be a rival to this House as some people fear? I see no danger of this in reality, and those who fear it are underrating the traditions which lie so deeply rooted in Westminster. The powers will move as it is thought fit and as Westminster thinks they should move.
I know that some people are concerned that the introduction of direct elections to the European Assembly is likely to coincide with the setting up of a Scottish Assembly and possibly a Welsh Assembly. They see the danger that the powers at Westminster may be eroded from two directions at once. That raises a range of constitutional matters which should be seriously considered.
I think that I speak for many people. As I have said on earlier occasions, I am in favour of devolution—but not of separation—of the constituent parts of the United Kingdom. We should not weaken Westminster in a way which would result in that situation. Parliament at Westminster must remain the ultimate source of constitutional authority for the United Kingdom as a whole. By deciding on direct elections in Europe, Westminster will not be handing over new powers in that direction.
§ Mr. Powell rose—917
I have already given way once to the right hon. Gentleman, have I not? [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] The right hon. Gentleman was sitting there looking so interested that I felt sure I had given way to him earlier.
§ Mr. Powell
I have been following with great interest what the right hon. Gentleman said. At one stage he referred to matters which he said ought to be considered. I only wanted to inquire whether he thought it legitimate that such matters should be within the scope of the Select Committee to which he referred.
The Select Committee will be free to consider any of those matters, except the principle of direct elections. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] I referred to this matter earlier, so there is no reason for hon. Members to affect surprise as if hearing it for the first time. The Select Committee may consider anything that it wishes. I think that it would be most helpful if it considered some of the practical issues which will arise and on which the Government will need to know the view of the House before entering into any commitments so that, when we bring a Convention back, it is likely to be acceptable to the House. As I said, the Select Committee will be able to consider anything it wishes.
I have been considering the machinery this afternoon, but apart from the machinery our aim must be to pursue greater unity in Europe without sacrificing nationhood. I use the term "nationhood", not "nationalism". The two words are not synonymous. I want to see the Community, which is constantly evolving, concentrating on some of the real issues of importance. I press it, apart from this matter, to consider the problem of unemployment in its European context. We know what the future is likely to bring. We know what the situation will be. How can the European Community help to overcome the problem of unemployment? Ought it not to be looking at the nature of unemployment in the Community, whether it is cyclical or structural; to what extent it is structural; to what extent trading policy should be modified; to what extent industrial restructuring should take place to stimulate investment; and how competition policy affects declining industries?
918 That is the way in which the Community can begin to take root as something about which people in this country will care and feel is an institution to which they wish to belong.
The market economy is written into the Treaty. We know that competition policy as set out in the Treaty is a little flyblown. We have gone beyond that stage, but I do not think that the Treaty will ever be rewritten.
These are the issues with which we must concern ourselves, apart from the machinery aspect which I have put before the House today. I regard the machinery aspect as one of the ways in which a directly-elected Assembly could focus the attention of the Council of Ministers, the Commission and the other bodies concerned with the development of Europe on these matters. This is the objective which I shall bear in mind in my approach to the question of direct elections to the European Assembly and to the wider questions concerning the Community's developments.
§ Sir John Rodgers (Sevenoaks)
Throughout his speech the right hon. Gentleman has referred to the European Council. Does he realise the confusion and distress that the use of that phrase causes among many nations of Europe? They resent the use of the phrase "European Council" when there is already a Council of Europe and a Council of Ministers. Will he allow the Select Committee to reconsider the nomenclature, which is causing great confusion?
I do not think that there is any prospect of changing that title. It was gone over at great length by the Heads of Government when they met. Therefore, I do not think that there is any likelihood of a change in that respect.
§ 4.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Reginald Maudling (Chipping Barnet)
This is a two-day debate on a series of matters of fundamental importance. Listening to the Foreign Secretary, I was a little disappointed at his reference to the forthcoming meeting this week. The right hon. Gentleman said that he must not be optimistic. At the moment he may have reason not to be optimistic. However, he was lacking not only in optimism but in enthusiasm.
919 The difficulties, problems and complications are great, but the ideal is still great. This Parliament has committed this nation to the development of Europe as a community with all that that means in economic and political terms. I am sure that in the course of this debate we shall dwell mainly on the particular problem of direct elections and all that goes with it, but we must not lose sight of the great fact of what Europe means and will mean to us in what we are doing. Was it not Winston Churchill who said "Let the difficulties argue for themselves"? We in this House must argue the practical difficulties, but we must not lose sight of the great objectives to which we are committed.
I welcome what the right hon. Gentleman said about the appointment of the Select Committee. As he knows, I have informed him that the Opposition welcome the appointment of the Select Committee. Indeed many of my hon. Friends have for some time been pressing it as a good idea. We are glad that the Government have decided to set up the Committee, and we shall play our full part in its deliberations. We welcome the fact that the right hon. Gentleman has asked that the Committee should proceed with all expedition. The appointment of Committees has occasionally been known to be delayed. I hope that on this occasion unnecessary delay will be avoided.
The debate will clearly cut across party lines, as most European debates in this House do. With the referendum less than a year old, it would be surprising if many hon. Members on either side of the House had changed their views on the fundamental principle of membership of the European Community. Those who were anti-Marketeers are likely to oppose direct elections because, in their view, presumably, they will be a further step down the road that they dislike. If rejection of direct elections at this stage were to weaken the cohesion of the Community, I am sure that the anti-Marketeers would welcome it, because they do not like the Community. But I should point out to them that if the Community is to continue—as it will—they should welcome more effective parliamentary control of the Brussels bureaucracy which they dislike so much.
920 Those of us who have been in favour of membership of the Community—certainly the most enthusiastic pro-Marketeers—will support without question the idea of direct elections as a further strengthening and addition to the cohesion of the Community.
It is only right to recognise that a number of hon. Members who were and are in principle for membership of the Community are concerned about many of the problems which will arise in practice from direct elections. They are concerned about the possibility of undue haste. They feel that the practical difficulties have been under-estimated. Above all, they are concerned about the implications regarding the powers of the European Parliament in relation to national Parliaments. I believe that there are good, sound answers to all these concerns, but it would be wrong to fail to recognise that concern is felt fairly widely in the House on the details of the proposals.
I agree that Article 138 implies a commitment of principle to direct elections. We should not ask people to put forward proposals for a course of action which we do not intend to follow. I am sure that there is a commitment, as the Foreign Secretary said, to the principle of direct elections, but there is no commitment to detailed proposals unless they are satisfactory to this House, and there is no commitment to an actual date. What is a commitment of honour for this country is to work actively and sincerely to find a set of proposals which will be acceptable to our colleagues in an agreed time scale.
Apart from the general problems, there are special United Kingdom problems arising from our electoral system and from other sources. The Minister of State was right the other day when in answer to my question about whether the Government wanted direct elections as soon as possible or as late as possible, he said, "As soon as sensible". I could not put it better myself. To obstruct progress toward direct elections would be dishonest and damaging to the whole position of the United Kingdom in Western Europe. A reversal of policy in principle would be damaging to the whole concept of European unity.
These are difficult times for the Community, as the Tindemans Report made 921 clear, and in the economic context of the moment it was obvious that strains for the still young Community were bound to arise. There have been few signs of practical progress in economic matters, but there have been most encouraging signs of progress towards unity and cooperation in political terms, and it would be a profound shock to that progress if a major country were to perform a U-turn on the principle of direct elections.
If the European Parliament is to be effective in its allotted sphere it needs the authority which can come only from direct contact with the electorate, and this will be provided by the direct system. It is increasingly clear that the dual mandate places great handicaps on hon. Members of this House, and therefore on Members of the European Parliament. In principle, it would be a good thing if Members could be Members of both Parliaments, but in practice, I have heard from those who have experience of these matters, it has become impossible to conduct the dual mandate.
The next point on the major matter of principle is that what is at issue is not an extension of the powers of the European Parliament, but only a change in its composition and the way in which its Members are elected.
§ Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe)
If we are talking about extending the powers of the European Assembly, and if we have agreed that it is in many ways a rather ineffectual body, what difference does the right hon. Gentleman think direct elections will make?
§ Mr. Maudling
I have tried to explain that the Parliament will be able to conduct its business and to carry out its existing duties more effectively if it is directly elected because the authority of the Members of that Parliament, when directly elected in accordance with the principles of the Treaty of Rome, will be enhanced and they will become more effective members.
It is argued that a transition to direct elections will lead to an extension of the powers of the European Parliament. I do not accept that that will be an automatic consequence, because any extension of the powers of the Parliament will have to be of a kind acceptable to Governments and to national Parliaments 922 throughout the Community. In a way, the name "Parliament" is a little confusing. The Foreign Secretary used both phrases, Parliament and Assembly. I have seen many occasions in Europe when the use of words in English or French has led to confusion. The European Parliament or Assembly is different from our concept of Parliament. Our concept of Parliament is a body that is omnicompetent, that derives its authority from its own existence and exercises—[Interruption.] I was worried about that word because I thought I had got it wrong.
§ Mr. Powell
Where the right hon. Gentleman is wrong is in thinking that Parliament is still omnicompetent after the 1972 Act to which he was a party in forcing it through the House.
§ Mr. Maudling
I always like referring to the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) to correct my Latin—I think it is Latin—but not to correct my knowledge of political history. This Parliament is omnicompetent. It derives its authority from its own existence, and in theory it exercises total control over the Executive. Its powers can be reduced only with its own consent—which can happen.
The concept of the European Parliament or Assembly is totally different. It has limited competence derived entirely from the Treaty of Rome, and it has no control over any Government and only limited control over the Commission. It cannot extend its powers by its own authority. They can be extended or reduced only by the unanimous agreement of Governments responsible to national Parliaments. Clearly they are very different animals, but there is no reason why they should not co-exist.
A Parliament or Assembly of this kind is suitable to the present stage of the evolution of the Community. Both are unique experiments in political organisation, and there is no real precedent for either. The European Parliament, or Assembly, reflects the status of the Community itself, which is neither a loose alliance of States nor a single unitary State. It is more in the nature of a partnership in which people voluntarily join together for a common purpose in a joint organisation where there is a common interest but where individual interests have not been submerged and 923 where the Community must respect the common rights and interests of the partnership, just as the partnership must respect the rights and interests of the individual member.
That is the EEC at its present stage of development, and obviously it needs something with more authority than the advisory Assemblies of parliamentarians appropriate to alliances such as NATO, Western European Union, and so on, but with less power of decision than the national Parliaments of unitary States. The European Parliament is a unique creation appropriate to the present stage of development of a unique European Community.
The functions of the European Parliament are, broadly speaking: first, to contribute to the formulation of a European view on important matters of policy; secondly, to provide democratic guidance to and criticism of the Commission and the Council; and, thirdly, to exercise effective, we hope, parliamentary sanction over the expenditure budget of the Community. I wish that in referring to this the Foreign Secretary had not ignored the contribution made by my hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Sir P. Kirk) when he referred to what the Prime Minister is supposed to have done.
It is essential to draw a clear and firm line between the competence of the European Parliament and of national Parliaments. They may often discuss similar or, indeed, identical matters, though in different dimensions—European or national—but it would be disastrous if these two separate Parliaments sought to wield similar and therefore overlapping powers of decision. That would lead to chaos.
The introduction of direct elections in no way brings that about. Introducing direct elections on the present framework and practice of the Community, both collectively and within national Governments, does not blur the distinction between the proper competence and authority of the two institutions. That is the theme that I want to put to the House about the broad background of the European Parliament or Assembly and its relationship with our national Parliament and other national Parliaments.
I come next to the issues raised in the Green Paper and on which the Foreign 924 Secretary commented this afternoon. I come first to the size of the Parliament. There are a large number of choices, and one might almost say that a computer is needed to work out the relative merits of the various suggestions. The Foreign Secretary is right in saying that the two things to balance are adequate representation for the smaller members without creating an Assembly that is far too large.
I share the view of some hon. Members that the suggestions about the representation of smaller countries are weighted too much on their side. There must, however, be some weighting for the smaller countries at the current stage of the development of the Community, but this means that if they get more, other countries get less. The larger countries must, in those circumstances, accept that they get rather less proportionately of their share of the total membership.
That means that what goes for the countries as a whole goes for their constituent parts—Scotland, London, the West Country, and the regions of France, Italy or Germany. This must be accepted as a simple matter of principle. If we give more as a matter of policy than is proportionately equitable to the smaller countries, we give less to the larger ones.
On the general question of the size of the Assembly, we feel that we can go with the Government in saying that the Assembly's proposals are probably the best way of dealing with it if one can ensure a proper balance between the claims of the minor countries and proper representation of the major ones.
We would broadly agree with the Green Paper that the elections should be held every four years, or perhaps five years. There is not a great deal of difference between the two. A common date for the elections is certainly desirable if it possibly can be arranged. The sheer disruption of having a whole series of elections at different times during the year is a very important factor. My own concern, like that of the Foreign Secretary, is that the first poll in a European election might be derisory, however hard the party organisations work. It is very important to bear in mind the importance of having it at a time and in circumstances which enable the political battle to be argued out in this country and to allow a substantial time for the presentation of views of the European issues to the electorate.
925 It seems impracticable to continue the dual mandate as a general rule, but we see no reason why anyone who believes that he can do both jobs should not stand as a candidate and, if necessary, be elected to do so. There should be no disagreement on that simple principle of freedom of action.
As far as the United Kingdom issue is concerned, there are many minor but important points for discussion in the course of legislation which will be forthcoming and no doubt by the Select Committee. Many serious problems will arise for the party organisations—for example, finance, candidates and the organisation of elections. I do not think that it will be all that easy to get enough candidates of adequate calibre to come forward for this job. I suspect that if the people who come forward are attracted by the level of salary they will not be the sort of candidate we want to have.
The two important points for Parliament to decide are the drawing of the boundaries of the constituencies and the electoral system. On the first point, the Green Paper has a fair amount to say. We feel very strongly that the drawing of the boundaries will be important. It must be impartial and it must be seen to be impartial. We emphasise as strongly as we can the need for this to be undertaken by the Boundary Commission. There will be so many opportunities for people to allege that it has not been fairly done that the one protection and guarantee of fairness is that it should be done, and must be done, by the impartial Boundary Commission.
§ Mrs. Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)
Would my right hon. Friend agree that it will be absolutely vital for the Government not to overrule the Boundary Commission's recommendations, as recently happened in my constituency on another matter?
§ Mr. Maudling
I hope that it was not when I was Home Secretary. I agree; the point of having an independent Boundary Commission is that it should be independent and that its independent judgment is respected. That is an important principle.
The Green Paper is surprisingly coy about the second point—the electoral system. I can probably leave that argument to be thrashed out between repre- 926 sentatives of the Liberal Party and the Government. I get the impression that the Government's view is that our present system—first past the post—is likely to continue for some time.
There is some danger of confusion about the relationship between the European Parliament and Westminster and between Members of the two bodies. There must clearly be a full exchange of appropriate documents and details and there must be every arrangement for personal contact between individual Members of the two Parliaments. Clearly, the main parties will have a great task in ensuring that their point of view is consistently portrayed both in Europe and in Westminster. However, I am not at all convinced that there is any need for an institutional link between the two Parliaments any more than there is an institutional link between Westminster and the Greater London Council or between State and Federal Governments in federations.
The proposals for joint discussions through a committee or some other means are dangerous—first, because there would be no common Executive to respond to such discussion, and second and more important, because there are no common decisions for the two Parliaments to take. To imply common decisions for the two Parliaments is to create just that confusion between their respective spheres of competence which could do immense damage to the relationship between the two.
Although I hope that there will be the maximum arrangements made for the interchange of information between the two bodies, and although the parties themselves will have to ensure that the presentation of their arguments is consistent in both places, I should be nervous of any institutional arrangements which blurred the clear lines of demarcation between the two Parliaments or which suggested that their competence and authority overlapped. If we did that, we might be preparing the way for considerable difficulties.
All these things will no doubt be discussed by the Select Committee. We are grateful for what the Foreign Secretary has said. We on this side of the House believe fundamentally that our position as a country in the European Community is of great importance to our 927 future, to Europe's future and to the world's future. We should tackle these difficulties without minimising them, but in that spirit we want to overcome them.
§ 4.47 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Stewart (Fulham)
I must begin by apologising to hon. Members who will speak tomorrow and to those who will wind up the debate for the fact that I shall not be able to listen to them because I shall be carrying out duties connected with the European Parliament in Brussels. That very fact illustrates one of the problems we have to face while the present situation lasts. With the best will in the world, it is impossible for the Leader of the House always to arrange for European matters to be discussed when all of us dealing with the European Parliament can manage to be here.
I agree with what the right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Maudling) has just said about the dual mandate—that there is no objection if, when we have direct elections, somebody wants to stand for both Parliaments, and, more important, if he can get the electorate to elect him to them, although the electorate may not be willing to do so. But I see this happening very rarely indeed.
It follows that the one thing we must avoid is a lengthy period during which other nations of the Community have gone over to direct elections and we as yet have not done so. If agreement is reached in June 1978 and the new larger Parliament is created then, as has been pointed out, either we should have to leave British seats unfilled, which would be deplorable, or we should have to find 67 or so Members of Parliament to go along instead of the 36 who now go. That would be an extremely difficult thing to bring about.
I listened to what my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said about the possible results of the forthcoming Summit. We gather that the real crunch will come in July, but whether the date for bringing in the new and larger Parliament-to-be is June 1978 or some later date, we must see to it that Britain holds these direct elections at that time so that we are not left in a period when the others are having direct elections and we are still 928 trying to do it by delegation. I think the British electorate might rather resent being denied the opportunity, which would then be open to the citizens of every other EEC country, of electing their Members.
I do not wish to say very much about what one may call the mechanics of this matter. I still remain of the opinion that the draft prepared by Mr. Scelto Patijn and subsequently approved by the European Parliament, as regards numbers, proportions and so on, is a good draft. I do not think that what is agreed in the end will travel very far away from it. I see the point of arguing that perhaps one ought to get busy now on proportionate representation, proportionate to populations. However, I think it is fair to say that whether we have 67, 68 or 69 Members does not matter to us anything like as much as it matters to Luxembourg whether she has three Members or six. There is a case, therefore, for some generosity towards the smaller nations, and a generosity that would cost the larger nations remarkably little.
I understand that we are to have a Select Committee to examine the mechanics of the matter as far as it concerns this country. I am sure that my right hon. Friend is right to see that one thing is not within the terms of reference of that Select Committee, and that is the question of holding direct elections itself. I venture to repeat what I have said about this in an earlier debate. Granted that under the terms of Article 138 we are not committed to agree to the first plan for direct elections that anyone puts forward and that we have a right to argue it very carefully with our own interests in mind, it is perfectly clear that we are under an obligation, if we are a member of the Community at all, to work in good faith for the bringing about of an agreed scheme of direct elections. That cannot be disputed. That issue was decided in the referendum.
§ Mr. Spearing
This is a point of considerable constitutional significance. Despite what my right hon. Friend has said, does he agree that prior to 5th June and in the documents presented to the public by the Government in the referendum, no mention was made of such an obligation, which was, prior to that date, confined to the hobgoblin category?
§ Mr. Stewart
No, I think that my hon. Friend is wrong about that. He is certainly wrong in suggesting that those of us who worked for a "Yes" vote in the referendum did not mention the matter.
§ Mr. Stewart
I know that my hon. Friend did not say that just now, but that is an accusation that is repeatedly made, and it is untrue.
§ Mr. Stewart
I think that my hon. Friend is mistaken about that, too. However, in any case, whatever is the answer to that question, there can be no doubt at all that membership of the Community involves an obligation to work in good faith for an agreed system of direct elections and that we cannot continue to find this difficulty after that difficulty. I can see that there may have been a case for not going into the Community. That was not a case that convinced me. I certainly have believed and still believe that there is a strong case for membership of the Community. There can be no conceivable case for being in the Community and sulking inside it and trying to obstruct everything that the other members want to do. That would be a most mischievous course for Britain. I hope that those who have regretted our entry into the Community will recognise that there is no sort of future in that attitude.
I have said that I shall not develop arguments about the mechanics of direct elections. I do not deny that they are important, but I believe that the matter will not stand or fall by them, and that if we want direct elections we shall find agreed answers on those matters. I do not feel tremendously strongly about the various matters that have been raised about exactly how one draws the constituencies, and so on. I accept the idea that it is a job for the Boundary Commission, but if we apply ordinary principles of good sense and belief in democratic standards, such as those we apply to arranging for the election of this House, I do not think that we shall find any insuperable difficulties in that respect.
§ Mr. Hugh Dykes (Harrow, East)
Will the right hon. Gentleman agree, though, 930 that in accepting that the Boundary Commission should do this work, in so far as it is bound to create some geographical anomalies in drawing up boundaries for 635 seats, if it is doing it for a smaller number, about one-tenth, or 67 or a little more, the anomalies could be greater in certain geographical circumstances at the margin? Is it not much more important, therefore, that Parliament accepts the views of the Boundary Commission?
§ Mr. Stewart
We should be clear about one thing. This Parliament, in its nature, cannot bind itself in advance to accepting the findings of the Commission or any other body, and it never has done that. What is appropriate is that if a Government propose to recommend to Parliament any disagreement with the recommendations of the Commission, the burden of proof will be very heavily on the Government to show that they are justified in doing so. The recommendations of the Commission have to be treated with great respect, but we cannot, in our nature as a Parliament, simply say in advance that we shall be bound by them.
A directly elected Assembly is bound to become a more powerful Assembly. That may occur to some extent by actual increases of powers, of which some have been suggested. Although I accept the comment of my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) about the handling of the matter of the Public Accounts Committee, I am quite sure that we have not heard the last of this, that this will be raised again in the European Parliament and that that Parliament's powers in that direction will be increased. There are certain other matters as well, but beyond that, beyond a precise increase of powers, it will become a more powerful body, because it will be able to do its work with more efficiency.
One result of the present arrangements under which we try to be Members of both Parliaments is that if ever the European Assembly has to make an extra effort about something—if it is suggested for example, that a committee should hold an extra meeting—immediately the diaries have to be produced and heads have to be scratched, and one wonders whether one can make it consistent with one's commitments to this House and one's constituents, and so on. I do not believe that we can continue all the time 931 in that way. A directly elected Assembly will mean that Members will make membership of that Assembly a least as much a major part of their lives as Members of this House make that membership a major part of their lives. That will mean that they will be able to exercise an influence on the Council and the Commission beyond what they can do now.
One of our troubles at present is the mere passage of time. The Parliament meets for one week every month. If one hears in one month that the admirable ideas that one put up to the Commission or the Council a little while ago have not yet been attended to, one is not able to handle them until the next month. If a matter is dealt with and an admirable report is drawn up in committee but for some reason it cannot be dealt with at the next plenary session of the Parliament, another month goes by.
A body of directly elected members would, I hope, hold longer sittings, and there would not be the loss of time that I think there always is now. I hope that the European Parliament will in future create a committee of what I shall call progress chasers, a small, influential group of this nature of members who could be in close contact with the Council, certainly, and I suppose with the Commission, asking them repeatedly the question "When will you pay attention to what Parliament recently said?", because the powers of the Council and of the Commission not so much to do things as to refrain from doing them are quite impressive.
One needs this impetus from the Assembly, because although the Assembly is not and in the foreseeable future will not be a legislature in the real sense of that word, it is certainly a body that provokes and encourages legislation, that looks ahead and sees what problems have to be met. However, in order to get anywhere, a body of that kind must have the power of follow through.
Mr. Tindemans in his Report speaks of greater powers of initiative for the Parliament. It is follow-through, rather than initiative, that it wants. I do not believe that we can have a progress-chasing group like that working efficiently as long as the Assembly is composed of Members who have also a 932 duty to their national Parliaments and, indeed, a duty to their constituents.
Therefore, I see the growth in influence of the Assembly, when it is directly elected, as being not at the expense of national Parliaments but at the expense—if that is the right phrase—of the Council. Perhaps "at the expense" is not the right phrase. I believe that it would be a spur to make the Council itself act more efficiently and in greater awareness of European public opinion. In the last resort, national Parliaments can control the doings of the Council because if the national Parliament gets sufficiently infuriated with a Minister he ceases to become a Minister. I suppose Ministers are more or less aware of that when they go to the meetings of the Council. This in terms of sovereignty is an extremely important point, but it is a point that can operate only occasionally and at long term.
A directly elected European Assembly could operate at short term, not with the same ultimate power but with the power to argue on the spot, to be at the elbow of the Council and the Commission in the way that national Parliaments cannot. This would be a healthy development because the Council and still more the Commission are always in danger of taking decisions without sufficient awareness of public opinion. The Council meets with a large agenda before it. It hopes to reach agreement. From time to time Ministers in effect have to chance their arm, saying "I will agree to this in the hope that it is the best package available and I hope that Parliament does not turn me down when I get back." A permanent contact with directly elected European representatives would give more life to their discussions and more awareness of what public opinion, in fact, wanted and what it would or would not stand.
I see a directly elected Assembly, therefore, making the working of the Community more democratic and I believe that this is true whether the Community becomes more cohesive or not. That is on related but separate questions. Some people want it to be very much more cohesive and united. Others are sceptical and anxious about that. But whatever happens in that respect, I believe it is true that direct elections can produce an Assembly which can have a 933 beneficial effect on the workings of the Council and the Commission.
The question has been raised about the link between Members of the directly-elected European Assembly and Members of their national Parliaments. I listened with interest to what the right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet said about whether one wants an institutional link at all. Whether he is right or not, I am quite sure that an important part of the link ought to be forged by the political parties because it is extremely important that the directly elected Assembly should be real. It should not be composed of people who may have written admirable essays and learned papers about Europe but who have no real feel of politics.
A Member of the directly elected European Assembly, even if he is doing his work conscientiously, will not have as heavy a programme of work as a conscientious Member of this House or any national Parliament. The work will be considerable, but it will not be at that level. That will mean that he can and ought to spend a great deal of time in his constituency, and his political party ought to see to it that he is there at meetings on the same platform with Members of this House and with members of local authorities, and that he is knit into the real political life of the country. That, I think, is the most important link which we can have between Members of this House and Members of the directly-elected European Assembly. There may be a case for other links, but that link. I believe, is vital.
Nor should we talk as if direct elections are a kind of unpleasant medicine that we have got to take because we are in the Community. They are very much more; they are a considerable opportunity and the discovery of a new dimension in our politics. I think we have all noticed when we have fought elections that it is very difficult to get the electorate tremendously interested in international affairs. That is not because the electorate are stupid or selfish. It is because the number of home issues now are so considerable, and those home issues affect their lives on so many points that they feel that they must take the opportunity of a General Election to let candidates know what they feel about those issues. They are not at all sure whether, if they 934 press a candidate on international issues, any definite result will follow from that.
When we have direct elections to the European Assembly, we shall be having elections at which the candidates are positively expected to talk about international affairs. I think people will find this stimulating and I believe they will take a good deal more interest in it than some hon. Members have suggested.
I was very doubtful about what sort of turn-out we would get for the referendum. We know now. I believe the real situation is this: the members of the public at large have become aware that there is this European dimension in politics, not in terms of institutions, but in terms of practical problems to be solved. They are recognising that none of the nine countries can work out an effective policy on problems as diverse as the prevention of pollution of rivers and the air, or the promotion of full employment, or the protection of migrant birds, or aid to the developing countries, except in consultation with its partners in the Community.
In general terms, I believe that this is already well understood. Where I think the public stop at the moment is when they say "Yes, granted that that is so, but how is it done? What is the mechanism through which our own genuine desire to see good and civilised decisions reached on these problems can be turned into actual workable policy?" At a direct election to the European Asembly they will be faced with the candidates who are saying in effect, "I am the man who is going to try to do this. This is the way in which I think it can best be done, and I invite your support." We may find that there is a good deal more public interest than we had supposed. This, it seems to me, is the spirit in which we should approach this problem.
While I know very well, having held ministerial office and piloted legislation through the House, or in years of Opposition tried to prevent legislation being piloted through the House, how important the exact details of any proposals are, none the less we must keep them in proportion to the great major thing which we are trying to do. I repeat, I am convinced that the details can be solved, but it is essential that we get the direct elections and that we get them no later than our partners in Europe, and that we and 935 our partners try to get them, as has been said, as soon as is sensible. If we do that, we may well be surprised at the degree of public interest and gratitude for what we shall have done.
§ 5.10 p.m.
§ Sir Derek Walker-Smith (Hertfordshire, East)
I start by respectfully associating myself, as an old friend of the right hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. Stewart), with what the Foreign Secretary said as to our regret at the news that our next Parliament will not have the benefit of the right hon. Gentleman's eminent experience and stimulating contributions. That will certainly be a great loss to the House.
Like the right hon. Gentleman, to whom I listened with attention and interest, as always, I, too, am a Member of the European Parliament. I have been a Member for rather more than three years, but I have been a Member of this House 10 times as long, and in several speeches at the European Parliament I have emphasised the position, the rights and the powers of national Parliaments and the need for the Community to respect those rights and powers. I have drawn attention to the limitations imposed by the Treaties, and the fact that any amendment of the Treaties requires ratification by the the member States in accordance with their constitutional requirements. Indeed, in the specific context of the last debate at the European Parliament on the subject of direct elections, I pointed out that no scheme for direct elections can take effect without the assent and good will of national Parliaments.
I shall say a brief word now about the legal and constitutional position in this matter. References to a treaty commitment are sometimes expressed in a rather general and imprecise way. However, I think that the position is clear, and in substance it is this. The Treaty contemplates and envisages a progress to direct elections after a period of membership by designation, and it contemplates that, in acceding to the Community, the member State associates itself with and accepts that concept. It is equally clear that the Treaty imposes no binding commitment to accept any particular form of direct elections or at any particular time.
There is a clearly expressed mandatory duty on the Assembly to make proposals 936 for direct elections, and on the Council to consider those proposals in good faith. There is a mandatory duty, too, on the Council to prescribe a method, if agreement can be found, and to recommend it for adoption. At that stage, it is open to a national Parliament to reject the recommendation, just as it is open to a national Parliament to reject any amendment of the Treaties, but in fulfilling its duty a national Parliament has to bear in mind the fact of accession to a Community, in which direct elections are envisaged as a correct constitutional arrangement after an initial period of designation.
These duties—of the Assembly to propose and of the Council to consider—are continuing duties. No cut-off is provided for. They continue until an acceptable form is achieved and adopted. Moreover, member States in their national Parliaments have a corresponding continuing duty to consider proposals until an acceptable form is achieved—to consider, of course, in a constructive way and not with a view to frustrating the intention of the Treaties.
I think that the position was fairly summarised by an eminent constitutional expert, Professor Mitchell, in a letter to The Times of 14th January in which he said:Against the whole background it is clear (a) that the adhering States accepted the objectives, and that is reinforced by the referendum result for the United Kingdom; (b) that there exist obligations for the Parliament to propose and for the Council to determine in appropriate conditions; (c) that there exist obligations for the member States to set in motion their own appropriate constitutional mechanisms to implement what they have determined in the Council. How each set of mechanisms will respond could not, of course, be controlled by the Treaty.In my view, the contemplation of the Treaty reflects the basic principle of any elected Assembly. The principle of direct elections is rooted in the philosophy of representative institutions in a democratic society. The more direct the link between the represented and those who represent them, the broader the base on which the representative character and the democratic accountability of the Assembly rests.
In a democratic and politically sophisticated society, designation or delegated authority cannot in principle be an effective substitute for those closer and 937 more intimate links between electors and the elected, between Parliament and people. This principle applies, I believe, even where an Assembly does not have a direct legislative function. It applies less strongly and less imperatively, no doubt, but it applies none the less as a matter of principle. We can pray in aid here the position of local authorities in this country. They do not have an independent legislative function. They are not sovereign bodies. They are creatures of statute. Nevertheless, they have important functions to perform affecting the rights and fortunes of the people they represent, and it is therefore thought appropriate that they should be directly elected and directly accountable to those in respect of whom they act and to those whom they purport to represent.
The position, therefore, is this. Both because of the contemplation of the Treaty and on the general principle of democratic assemblies, effect should be given to the principle of direct elections unless there is some overriding reason to the contrary. The main reason put forward is that the institution of direct elections would have as a necessary concomitant and consequence an undesirable extension of powers, and would involve a lurch to what is called federalism. Those apprehensions, sincerely held, should certainly be sympathetically considered, but I believe that they are not well founded.
There are, of course, pressures for an extension of the powers of the European Parliament, but such pressures would exist in any event, either under direct elections or under the existing system. There should, of course, be efforts also to improve the exercise of powers by the Assembly and to make them more meaningful and more efficient. Again, it is right that such efforts should continue, but this is a far cry from saying that direct elections are a blueprint for a federal Europe.
Nor is there anything in the concept of direct elections which will change the legislative pattern of the Community, although it should, I hope, cause some improvement in its workings. In the Community the legislative function, like other functions, is defined by Treaty. The pattern can be changed only by an amendment of the Treaty, and amendment of the Treaty requires ratification by all member States. That would involve 938 amendments distinct from, additional to and more far-reaching than amendments to Article 138, with which we are concerned in the context of the composition of a directly elected Assembly.
The safeguards, therefore, are there, built into the institutional structure of the Community. Whatever hon. Members may like or dislike about a written constitution, it has the advantage in this context of putting clear constraints upon the action of a Parliament, whether directly elected or not. It means that there is no sovereignty of Parliament in the sense that we here understand it, and a directly elected European Parliament could not arrogate to itself further powers without the express consent of the member States. Any extension of powers, if and when it comes—it is not to be ruled out in perpetuity, whatever the circumstances; I agree with the Foreign Secretary in that—can come about only with that consent.
In particular, the case for direct elections should not, as I told the European Parliament, be presented as a means of achieving and expediting what is called a political federation. Some within the Community want that but others do not. It is clear that federalism is not part of the Treaties either expressly or by necessary implication it would need new Treaties which would, in turn, require new ratification. Without amendment one cannot extend the existing Treaties beyond their prescribed and proper compass. If that were done it would be open to member States to say "non haec in Foedera venti"—"these are not the Treaties into which we entered." There is a court of justice to control that written constitution and the observance of the Treaties.
The term "federalism", in the way in which we use it, is convenient shorthand. Apprehension is caused not so much by federalism in strict terminology as the creation of a centralised, unitary, supra-national Government within the Community. The term "federalism" in its strict sense is viewed differently depending on the position from which one views it. Those who live in a unitary State see federalism as a form of government tending to deprive it of its rights and powers, but those who live in a federal State see it as a guarantor of the rights and powers of the constituent 939 elements vis-à-vis the central authority—the German Lander, for example, in relation to the main German State. In the sense in which we normally use the term here, the creation of a centralised, unitary form of government, there is no necessary nexus between direct elections and federalism. In that sense it will require an extensive amendment of the Treaties, or, more probably, an entirely new Treaty to bring that about.
Direct elections may have the opposite effect to that which is apprehended. Direct elections should bring a greater degree of realism and should result in a more percipient reflection of public opinion.
If it is right—and I think it is right in this country—that public opinion is against the federalistic concept, then directly elected Members of the European Parliament, directly dependent on and responsible to the electors they represent, are more likely to reflect that view than nominated Members who may become enthusiasts for esoteric concepts in the more hothouse atmosphere of an Assembly which is not ventilated by the breezes of public opinion. It is unlikely that people in this country or in some others want to progress fast or far along the federal path. I do not want to prophesy what future generations will want. There is no doubt that there will be a greater development of political co-operation in any case and it is right that it should be so, from the point of view of defence and the survival of the West. That is part of the broad evolution of world politics and imposed by the attitude of the Soviet. It will not have an immediate impact on the institutional structure of the Community, because the European Council is already in existence.
We should not be unduly concerned or made anxious by what Professor Dagtoglou called the "windy superlatives of the federalists". I have criticised the formulation of abstract concepts in these matters. A more pragmatic approach is required. Progress in a practical world is not achieved by the reiteration of generalised aspirations which mean different things to different people.
We need to bring that pragmatic approach to the problems of the European Parliament and the improvement of 940 its powers. I would like to see a fair and effective form of direct elections, not to expand the powers of the European Parliament in a federalistic sense or without regard to Treaty procedures, but to equip it better for the exercise of the powers that it already has. Those powers are defined in the Treaty in Article 137, and, albeit on a supervisory, consultative and advisory basis, they are more real and can be more valuable in the democratic processes than is sometimes realised.
I tried to illustrate that in our procedure debate on 2nd February in terms of the influence which the committees of that Parliament can bring to bear in the formative stages of legislation within the Treaty functions. I gave the example of the Fifth Directive on company structure which the Commission withdrew following criticism by the Legal Affairs Committee. It submitted a Green Paper on which our views have been sought. The Commissioner said that this committee is the catalyst from which he would extract opinions.
There are useful and valuable functions within the ambit and framework of the Treaty but those functions should be performed better and more efficiently than they are at present. There is therefore a useful and important function for the European Parliament to play within its existing powers, but it needs the best structure in order to succeed.
It is important because a large range of economic and social life is subject to the regulations and directives of the Community. Those regulations and directives should be subject to the full democratic processes, with the object that every area of executive activity and decision gets the maximum, appropriate, democratic supervision of both national Parliaments and the European Parliament.
§ Sir D. Walker-Smith
If democratic accountability is not working well, the case for improvement is reinforced.
If one reads the Treaties properly and has regard to the functions, direct elections will not bring the Assembly into conflict with this House. It should bring out the best in both working within their proper spheres, in bringing to bear the criticism, the interrogation and the 941 examination of the Executive, which it is the duty of a democratic Assembly to do.
I turn to the form which direct elections should take. I can be brief on this matter because there will be examination by the Select Committee. The Council will evolve the best scheme that it can. It may be identical with the European Parliament's proposal or it may be varied in the interests of practicality, parity of representation or optimum distribution. In doing that the Council will take into account the views expressed by national Parliaments. But there is no commitment on time or form. The only commitment is to consider and to adopt, if suitable.
Ideally, elections should not only be free, equal, secret and direct, but they should result in parity of representation, or as near to it as possible. Parity is not easy to achieve in practice, as we know from our experiences in the United Kingdom. But the proposed pattern does not purport to achieve it. It is heavily weighted in favour of the smaller States.
It is possible for citizens in one part of the Community to say that they command perhaps only one-tenth of the representation of others elsewhere. That may be an extreme case, but there is no doubt that, in practice, the citizens of Northern Ireland, for example, on representation based on the United Kingdom formula, will have a considerably lower representation than is given for Eire, next door. There is a case for generosity, as has been said, but generosity should not be pushed to a fault.
Indeed, such a formula might give added support to separatist movements on the grounds that higher representation in the European Parliament might be attainable. It would be an ironical situation and a paradoxical consequence if procedures which are designed to draw nations closer together were to promote and encourage fissiparous tendencies within States.
The other basic matter I should like briefly to mention is the proposed link between the British representatives in a directly-elected Assembly and our Parliament here. Of course, this is very important now, but close co-operation will become increasingly important in the context of direct elections. Although dual membership will not be prohibited in law, 942 I think that it will be increasingly inhibited in practice. Indeed, it is the competing and often conflicting claims of the dual mandate which contribute so much to the practical difficulties and consequent shortcomings of the European Parliament at present.
It is, therefore, vitally important to evolve and apply an appropriate mechanism for liaison. The form of such arrangements is, of course, exclusively a matter for us in this House, provided always that we make no attempt to mandate Members—but that we would not do in any event because it would be contrary to our constitutional principles and a breach of parliamentary Privilege Here again, I say no more on this aspect because it can be examined by the Select Committee, as can these other matters of form.
For the reasons I have sought to give, I believe that the House should accept the duty imposed upon it to consider the adoption of whatever recommendation is finally made to it. We should discharge that duty against the background that direct elections in an appropriate form and at an appropriate time constitute an appropriate constitutional framework. Against that background, we should seek constructively and carefully the best solutions to the many practical problems that surround us.
§ 5.23 p.m.
§ Dr. J. Dickson Mabon (Greenock)
I congratulate the right hon. and learned Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith) on a splendid speech. Those of us who have known him for a long time know that he has an impeccable record of opposition to the EEC but has nevertheless served faithfully in the European Parliament and tries his best to improve what he, from the beginning, has regarded as an undesirable institution. He has never pretended to be other than an opponent of federalism. Nevertheless, he proved, from his anti-Common Market and anti-federalist position, that to have direct elections is still the right thing to do, and that he should do so makes me believe that the walls of Jericho have indeed collapsed.
One of the strongest cards in the campaign of the opponents of British membership of the EEC during the referendum was that it was a bureaucratic system 943 without democratic control. The British people decisively, and, I hope, permanently, made up their minds. We are in the EEC, and therefore it is surely logical and sensible to accept the Treaty obligations which, in practice, ought to be for the benefit of all our constituents.
I was slightly apprehensive of what my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary was going to tell us in view of reports in the weekend Press of what was decided last Friday. I am delighted that he said what in fact he said. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister reminded the European Movement, in a letter to me as chairman on 12th January, that the Government hoped that, by 1978, we would see direct elections being supported by the Government and instituted in this country. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has said that he still sees no reason why we cannot match that timetable.
Of course, it would be extraordinary and unfortunate for the House if we failed to do that and therefore had to provide 67 Members of the European Parliament instead of the 36 who go at present. All the party battles and strengths in the House if we had to send another 30 Members to the European Parliament would be straining the Whips' offices very considerably.
I hope that we shall have direct elections in 1978. If there is a conflict between Scottish and Welsh Assembly elections, assuming that the devolution Bills are on the statute book by October 1977, I see no reason why the European Assembly elections should not take place in a month other than May. It is a red herring to argue that, because the Scottish and Welsh Assembly elections could be taking place then, we could not have European Assembly elections in 1978, or that because we were having European Assembly elections in 1978 we should not have elections for the Scottish and Welsh Assemblies. One might as well argue that we should not have local government elections that year. That would be absurd.
It has been questioned whether we should have all the elections for a European Parliament on one day, but I believe that people understand these things. Many campaigners thought that there would be a low poll in the referendum, but there was on 5th June 1975 an excel- 944 lent turn-out even though the party machines were not out in full force trying to get people to vote in favour of particular candidates.
I welcome what my right hon. Friend said about the Select Committee. The Early Day Motion which appeared on the Order Paper had some old familiar names attached to it of hon. Members who were against EEC membership—an unholy alliance even more unholy. I thought at first that the proposal for a Select Committee was a manoeuvre designed to stop us from getting set for elections in 1978. But, as proposed by my right hon. Friend, it will gear its work to the timetable and proceed with reasonable speed to come up with answers for many of the problems we are discussing.
My right hon. Friend conceives the Committee as dividing its work into two parts—those matters affecting the EEC which should be taken first and decided within the Community, and those affecting ourselves at home in seeking to apply what our Community partners and ourselves have decided. I go along with that. The European Movement, although slightly worried by the Green Paper following the Prime Minister's letter of 12th January, will be comforted by what my right hon. Friend has said.
Then there is the chicken and the egg argument about the powers of the European Parliament. It does not matter to me whether it is given more powers before it is directly elected or given more powers after being directly elected. I do not think it matters. It is a red herring argument. The important thing is to get direct elections. I cannot understand those who have an anarchic view, who want the Community to fail and therefore want to do nothing to improve it, and certainly not to have direct elections. I do not understand those rather curious colleagues of mine who take that view. It is a dog-in-the-manger, anti-democratic view considering what the British people said loudly and clearly last June in every part of the country.
I hope that the European Parliament will consider some means of assisting the parties financially. I hope also that the Tories will take a not-too-partisan view of the Houghton Report whereby we may get money to assist candidates for elections. For European elections they will 945 be fighting constituencies many times the size of ours, with a budget not of £1,000 but more like £10,000.
We also have the problem of popularising these elections. All the party activity at election time will popularise them, but during the preliminary period, in an all-party effort or through the European Movement, I hope that the Government will argue the case for the usefulness of the Parliament and of directly elected Members, seeking to explain not only the good of what the Community institutions do but what the Parliament ought to be doing in relation to the Commission and the Council of Ministers. I am arguing for a budget of perhaps half a million pounds, to enable the European Movement, some other body or the Government to get over the concept of what the elections are about.
§ Mr. Marten
The hon. Gentleman has overrun the point on which I wanted to intervene, which is on the question of money for the elections. Is he suggesting that money should come from overseas for candidates to fight an election in this country?
§ Dr. Mabon
The hon. Gentleman must know that in Germany, the United States of America and many other countries the State provides election support money for candidates in proportion to the votes recorded for them at the previous election. This system now operates throughout a great deal of the democratic Western world. Of the 160 nation States in the world barely two dozen are parliamentary democracies and it is the system which they operate to which I am referring. Such a system may come here. It may be possible for the European Parliament to vote money to be distributed in support of the parties represented in strength in the European Parliament. I am offering that as a suggestion, not arguing it as a positive proposal.
§ Mr. Dykes
Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that there is a considerable amount of unease in the country about State hand-outs to candidates of political parties? Is not there a world of difference between legitimate amounts of public money devoted, on the one hand, to constitutional expenditure and infrastructural expenditure on an election or on 946 constituencies and, on the other hand, to political parties or candidates?
§ Dr. Mabon
I beg the House to consider the state of the treasuries of our political parties for fighting United Kingdom elections. None of the parties is well off and some are bust. That may not be true of the Scottish National Party which gets its money I am told from, among others, rich aristocrats. I am talking about the larger parties which have to put up candidates for 635 constituencies.
There is a Committee which is actively discussing the provision of support money for United Kingdom elections and the matter will be referred to the House for further discussion. It is conceivable (hat the Houghton Committee may recommend that moneys should be provided for United Kingdom political parties, and the House may endorse that recommendation. If so, it is logical to have similar support also for European parliamentary candidatures. The cost of running a European campaign would be about £10,000 if it were done on a comparable scale to the campaigns for election to the House.
As a Scotsman, I regret that according to the views of the European Parliament there will be no attempt to move towards proportionate representation, as has been suggested by the French, among others. It is perfectly proper that the peoples of Europe, irrespective of the form of their nation State, should be fairly represented in the European Parliament. It is wrong that Scotland should have seven Members in the European Parliament whereas it would have 17 if it were an independent State. That is totally unjustifiable. It could be a good argument for Scotland deliberately going independent to make sure that it gets a larger number of Members.
My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary argued that if all the United Kingdom Members were fighting for Scotland's interests there would be 67 and not 17 or seven votes for Scotland. That is an argument of the kind one would expect from a practised politician interested in exercising power in a Parliament. I appreciate the argument but, in justice, apart from political practice, it is wrong.
Let us take Luxembourg, which bedevils everything. Because of the historical accident of Luxembourg, with 947 its 300,000 people who do not even qualify for one Member under the system proposed by present European Parliament, I would be prepared to give Luxembourg two or even three Members, but that is the only exception to the rule. The representation of the other countries should be absolutely proportionate, irrespective of their importance, whether they be the Republic of Ireland or the Kingdom of Denmark. Northern Ireland is in juxtaposition to Southern Ireland which is to have 13 Members, Northern Ireland having only two. For our country which is a nation State of four recognisable, identifiable old nations, we surely cannot accept this carve-up of 67 out of 355.
I am not arguing the case for proportional representation. I have some experience of chairing discussions in the European Movement where the three major parties have been present, with some others. The Liberals tried to argue proportional representation and, to the chagrin of some Members, they managed to get through a resolution which stated among other aims of:direct elections to the European Parliament being held at the same time throughout the Community in 1978 and from the United Kingdom the representation of political parties in the European Parliament being related to their electoral strength.By that ambiguous phrase it could be inferred on the one hand that the election should be by proportional representation and on the other that it should be first past the post.
The Liberals may want to argue about that in the Select Committee, but they would have to choose between delaying the election beyond 1978 and getting the perfect form of election as they saw it. It is surely much more desirable to have 1978 elections than to get them perfectly organised in the way which the Liberals think is of advantage to their party.
There is a confusion of argument about dual membership. I do not go along with the Danish proposition of compulsory dual mandates. It is perfectly proper that there should be voluntary dual mandates. If a Member wants to do both jobs, if the electorate wants him to do both jobs, he should be entitled to do so. He should not be barred by law from so doing.
948 I am sorry that the right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Maudling) is not here because he brought a completely new idea into the discussion. He said that we do not want to institutionalise, we do not want relationships between European Members and Members of the House of Commons. He said that we wanted clarity in the respective spheres of competence.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. Stewart) thought that the most important link between a European Member and a House of Commons Member is his link with his very large European constituency. We have only to think of the amount of work we have to do in our constituencies to realise how much work a European Member would have to do for a constituency equal to 10 of our constituencies. Think of the strain on a Member in the North of Scotland trying to be able to serve intensely a constituency of that size. My right hon. Friend also thought that the most important link for a European Member would be with his constituency or his party. I shall no argue the latter point, but I do argue that it is important that the European Member should have a part to play in some way or other in the legislating House of Commons.
The House of Lords—which many of my colleagues despise in theory but I hope not always in practice—produced an excellent Report which is Paper 119, the Twenty-Second Report from the Select Committee of the House of Lords on the European Communities. The four possibilities so far suggested are set out on pages 11 and 12. First is the suggestion of my right hon. Friend the Member for Fulham that Members of the Assembly should be co-opted automatically as non-voting members of the House of Commons, able to speak in Committees and debates.
Another suggestion is that the Members should become temporary Peers. I oppose this suggestion although it would at least give us an active relationship. I do not know what my hon. Friends are laughing about. They obviously do not understand the work of the Scrutiny Committee or understand the meaning of directives, regulations and all the other things about which they complain. At least the suggestion is an attempt to get a satisfactory link.
949 The third suggestion from Lord Chelwood relates to suppléants. We have never had a tradition of this in Great Britain, but it works well in France, and perhaps I should remind the little Englanders in this House that foreigners sometimes do things better than we do.
The last suggestion proposes a more direct route to a solution and, perhaps, a system of proportional representation in lime. The scheme being considered by the Federal German Parliament is that 20 of its 71 Assembly Members should also be Members of the Bundestag.
There may be other ways. I think I am given credit for being a good European, but I do not believe that European-ism should always be at the expense of the House of Commons. I wish some of my hon. Friends had the same affection for Europe as they have for the House. We should try to ensure that Members of the Assembly are here to help us with legislation and with regulations, directives, draft discussion documents and other matters. Many interests, including industries and trade unions, are legitimately represented in this House and should be part of the consultative process which will increasingly affect us in Europe.
Members of the European Assembly should have a functional connection with this House. Though this may not be part of the remit of the Select Committee at this stage, I hope that when it is reconstituted it can think through other matters which must develop through the European Parliament.
§ 5.53 p.m.
§ Mrs. Winifred Ewing (Moray and Nairn)
I congratulate the Foreign Secretary on the view he has expressed outside the House that the question of direct elections requires the consent of all political parties. This a fair way to approach this important matter. On behalf of my party, I give approval to the principle of direct elections. I agree with the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Mabon) that it is difficult to see how many people could disagree with a step towards greater democracy.
I am one of the 36 United Kingdom Members of the European Parliament. There are frustrations in the feeling that it is a distinctly less democratic forum than the one which sent us. One of the 950 judges of the EEC Court said recently that the European Parliament was more like a sixteenth century English Parliament than the modern Parliaments to which we have become accustomed.
The problem in any Parliament is how to control the Executive's actions and the problem in the undemocratic European Parliament is doubled by the fact that the Executive is a twin-headed creature with both heads—the Commission and the Council of Ministers—very effective in their own way.
The Commission is able to dazzle us with statistics and, to some extent, it selects our agenda so that we can be rather like Nero when Rome was burning. We discuss mayonnaise when there are problems of inflation and unemployment and huge regional problems. On the aeroplane home, we read in the heavy Press that things have been decided by the EEC. They were not on our agenda because we were discussing mayonnaise or the harmonisation of something that happens to move.
Direct elections would increase the status of Members of the Assembly. It is pleasing to think that the Prime Minister or someone has chosen me, but it would be nicer to be chosen by 830,000 people. Direct elections could not but give us more status.
If there were direct elections, I presume that the Assembly would not continue to meet in plenary session from Monday to Friday once a month. I presume that we have a full-time legislature in mind. That would solve the present impossibility of scrutinising the immense amount of stuff pouring out of the two-headed monster. It is difficult even in this House to scrutinise EEC legislation, and the forces of law and order admit that they cannot enforce the legislation because there is so much of it. If we were full-time Members, we would have a much better opportunity of scrutinising the action of the Executive.
The committees in the European Assembly work well. The right hon. and learned Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith) is Chairman of the Legal Committee, on which I serve. We rely on our committees almost entirely for our effectiveness. Being full-time Members would at least give us much more time for our work.
951 In practical terms, I think dual membership would become impossible. Whatever the theory, I do not see how more burdens can be placed on hon. Members than they bear at present. We do our best, but we would do a lot better if we were full-time Members of the Assembly and abandoned any attempt to be Members of two Parliaments. Duality will come to a natural demise.
Article 138 of the Treaty talks about a uniform procedure. From talks I have had with other Members of the Assembly it seems likely that there will be no duality in other member States and that the only duality will be in the run-up period which will be granted to allow member Stales to get used to the system.
I know some hon. Members on the Government side take a contrary view which is worth mentioning. They suggest that direct elections will lead to less power rather than more. They say that Members of the Assembly will be stuck out in limbo and that the real power is the ability to come back to the House and influence Ministers.
The Irish have a solution to this. They suggest that the Members sent to Europe should, when they return to their national Parliaments, have a right of audience at fixed regular times at which they could put their case and, perhaps, enter into a question period. This is not such a novel idea. We had something similar in the days of the Scottish Parliament, though there was not then universal suffrage. It is used in some democratic Parliaments in the world.
I think there will be a uniform system of elections. Certainly all the pressure will be directed towards that end. It is very important, for two reasons. I should like us to start as we mean to go on. It will be confusing enough to the general public to add a tier of elections, but to have one system for a couple of years and then change to yet another system would be very disturbing. Whatever system this House thinks is best, we should get our view in now, while the question is in the melting pot, instead of waiting until the views of all the other States have hardened, possibly into something different from what this House would welcome.
952 I would rule out, first, the PR single transferable vote system in a multi-Member constituency as being unwieldy with an electorate of 830,000. Secondly, I would eliminate simple plurality, because we know that this often has a minority result. The argument in favour of it is that it leads to stable government, but we are not electing a Government; we are electing Members to send to a multi-Government Assembly.
I suggest that in the end we really come down to, first, the list system, commonly adopted in Europe, and, second, the alternative vote in a single-Member constituency. I plump very much for the second of these. If the House is with me, I think that we should plump for it hard and strong now, before the list system becomes the one that will almost certainly be imposed on us.
Under the list system, everyone has one vote only—even if he is resident in two countries—and chooses the candidate on a particular list. The total the party collects determines the number of seats. By-elections are avoided by going to the next in the list. If it is an Independent, one goes to the next highest. It has certain smooth-running advantages. Perhaps that is why the Europeans like it.
But if we choose my preference—the alternative vote in a single-Member constituency—we retain, I suggest, the geographical link. I am in agreement with the right hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. Stewart) on this matter. I believe in a geographical link. Perhaps it is the conservative in me—I emphasise the small "c"—because I am used to it, but I certainly believe it is better. It is better for the Member, because he keeps his feet very solidly on some piece of ground, at least. He is reminded, by the need to go to Europe and be held accountable, of the problems of quite a large chunk of Europe. Also, from the voter's point of view, the voter will be able to hold some man or woman accountable. The voter will have a greater interest in the elections.
There was some talk of a fear of lack in interest. I think the fear will be that much greater if the voter has to choose a person on a list. If the voter is electing a person who is to go directly to a forum, the voter will have more interest if that person has a geographical connection. 953 The fears of those who think we might disappear into limbo would be much more more likely to be justified by the list system.
We ought to do some hard lobbying on this now, before it becomes a fixed matter, because I think that seven of the nine member States have already indicated a general preference for the list system.
§ Mr. Malcolm Rifkind (Edinburgh, Pentlands)
Concerning the alternative vote system, does the hon. Lady know that the Electoral Reform Society believes that this is even more undemocratic than our present electoral system? On that basis, will the hon. Lady say why she prefers the alternative vote system to the system of plurality?
§ Mrs. Ewing
I do not agree with the Electoral Reform Society. A man from the Society came to see us and put his point to my party. I think the alternative vote system produces a consensus type of candidate, and I think that is a very acceptable kind of candidate when such a large chunk is involved. To some extent it is slightly different from party politics as we know it. This may be the age of the independent, by which I mean people outside the discipline of a party like mine. The kind of person to be chosen may be the one who is well known in some sphere of life. It may be, therefore, that there will be a different concept altogether from the one to which we are accustomed. It is for that reason that I would rather have the consensus type of candidate, though I take the point that it is different when applied to the internal arrangements of this country.
My Scottish reservation has been voiced well already by the Foreign Secretary, to my surprise, without any prodding, and also by the hon. Member for Greenock, and Port Glasgow. It is obvious to me that Scotland will have a very just grievance. When Scotland has a just grievance the support keeps flowing in for my party; therefore I am perhaps arguing against my own interest here. Nevertheless, it would be a justified grievance if Scotland, as an ancient nation, were not dealt with fairly in this regard. My hon. Friends who speak for Wales will no doubt hope to be able to make their points later.
954 But with 5 million people, the same as Denmark, we in Scotland will have a grievance if we do not have parity, or something like it. I do not object to Ireland having 12 seats, and I know that Ireland would like to have 18 seats. I am not objecting to Luxembourg having six. As a Member of the European Assembly, I do not see how any country could manage with only two or three seats. There are too many committees and vital spheres of interest to expect any country to operate with just two or three. I would not object to Luxembourg, therefore, having six, but I object to Scotland having seven, if the House sees my point.
I know it is a very difficult matter, and for my part I would not want to hold it up, because I think there is good will in the European Parliament towards Scotland, and I do not think that any decision on the numbers is irrefutable. The Parliament is small enough with 355 members, and that should make it quite possible to expand it. The idea is that the other member States will come in later. This is almost like leaving room at the table. I hope that room will be left for Scotland and for Wales.
In Britain we are accustomed to a fairly efficient Parliament, with over 600 Members. Despite all the importance placed on committees in the European Assembly, the figure of 355 is still large enough to bear out my argument that there is room for more than seven seats, even in the present period, for Scotland and for Wales.
If the establishment of the Scottish Assembly precedes the direct elections to the European Parliament—or even if it does not—I suggest that the minimum relationship we need is to continue having one judge and one commissioner. I am told that Commissioner Thomson sits, by accident, as a Scot. Nevertheless, we like that accident and want the arrangement to stay as it is. We in Scotland wish to continue to have a commissioner. In a sense we have one already, but we want the arrangement to continue. We need in the Assembly a Minister responsible for the connection with the EEC, if only to deal with the fantastic degree of legislation that has to be overlooked.
955 We have already had evidence that Scotland is a special place, because Scottish Ministers have gone to the EEC in their own right, and have on occasions spoken for British interests. We know that the Lord Advocate goes particularly with his special interests to protect our separate system of law.
If these elections come about, as is likely, I suggest that Scotland, with an Assembly as well, really will be over-governed. The only issue which unites the Scots more than the desire to have greater control of their own affairs is a burning dislike for local government reform. That dislike unites every party and constituency in which I have spoken recently. We have only to say that we want to abolish one tier and we get immediate applause. I believe that one tier will have to go. Perhaps the prospect of having yet another tier of elections strengthens the argument that one tier will have to go.
I gave warning recently to the European Parliament that we in Scotland hope to have a mandate for independence at the next election. We are not alone in this hope. There is a lot of good will for us round the world. It is the view held by the serious newspapers in Britain, in Europe and, indeed, beyond Europe. It is a view held by many of my colleagues from other countries in the European Parliament. When some of my colleagues, who are very much in opposition to my party, speak off the record, it is also apparently their view that Scottish independence is likely in the next few years.
At a meeting with our party in Edinburgh, Mr. Tindemans conceded that, given a mandate for independence, Scotland's parity with Denmark would speak for itself.
§ Mr. Nicholas Scott (Chelsea)
Will the hon. Lady give us an idea of her benchmark for a mandate? Is it a majority of seats?
§ Mrs. Ewing
My view has always been, quite simply, that it is in accordance with the United Nations Charter. It is quite clear that if in a democratic system a majority vote for self-determination, there is a mandate. The mandate would be either way. That has always been my 956 position, and it is perhaps a legal one. However, I am a lawyer, and that is often said to be a great disadvantage in this House.
In regard to the mandate, the Scottish National Party takes the view that it would be a decision for the Scots whether or not to stay under the umbrella of Europe. There have been certain events in Europe which suggest that it might not be good for Scotland even in Europe's present form. It is a developing mechanism, though, and it might be different in a few years. Certainly the snake seems to be disintegrating, and the common agriculture policy is generally held in very low esteem as it has created absurd mountains of beef and butter in a world where thousands of people are starving, and its continuation in this way cannot be tolerated.
Our adverse balance of trade might change the general feeling of good will which followed the referendum. However, that would be a decision for the Scots and, as I warned the European Parliament in a speech on direct elections, this would depend on the bargain forced on them, and I think that it would be well fought on the two big areas of natural resource—the fish and the oil—where it looks as though our interests are not being safeguarded in regard to a proper coastal preference in accord with what the whole world will agree is the due of maritime States.
I do not hear the French offering us a chunk of the wine crop, which is one of their natural resources. But we are expected to allow the Europeans to take fish from our pond even though it is conceded that round the coasts of Britain and Ireland we have hundreds of communities which are totally dependent on fish. It is no joking matter for them and for 80,000 jobs in Scotland, and it is not treated as a joke by my colleagues in the European Parliament.
It is no wonder then, that the Foreign Secretary took a stand from the point of view that it is British oil—which is presumably his opinion—in connection with the EEC when he wanted a separate seat at the energy conference. But when some of my colleagues in the United Kingdom delegation made a similar attempt to argue for this, they were labelled "narrow British chauvinist nationalists". For me that was an amusing moment, 957 because Members of my party have always been accused of it. But, if there is an independent Scotland, it is just an extension of the stand which was rightly taken by the Foreign Secretary and which I appreciated at the time.
With regard to the time scale, I feel that it can be done by 1978 if there is a will to do it. I do not think that the excuses about the date or the timing of the election matter. I have not much sympathy with the problems of canvassing or with those who say that there is a lack of interest. If there is a lack of interest, that is an indictment of the whole system. If we are so worried that we have to fix it so that the election is held on the same day as we vote for some other matter in which we are interested, perhaps that is the best argument for direct elections that could exist to make them more interesting for people.
Frankly, people are not particularly interested at the moment. The average man in the street is not interested. It is a matter like a far-away world which does not concern him. Unfortunately, however, it concerns him a great deal, because a great many major decisions affecting his way of life are taken in the European Parliament.
If the real reason for dilly-dallying is that we want to keep this as a bargaining counter in order to get a seat at the energy conference, or if it is feared that we are giving some sort of seal of approval to something which we did not bargain for—in other words, political integration—I remind the House of the exchanges which occurred on 16th July 1975 during which the Government were asked whether, when we voted, we should be voting for political integration. The answer was "Assuredly, no." Then they were asked whether we should be voting for federation. Again, the answer was "No." We were told that we should be voting for Britain to get a great deal by co-operating. That being so, I see this as a framework for co-operation, but I do not see it as saying that my party gives its seal of approval to the political integration of Europe.
The EEC exists as a fact of life. It is a decision-making forum. The Scottish National Party opposed entry, but we have to accept it. We are opposed to coming here, but we are here. We have 958 to come here because decisions about us are made here and, if we are not here, we cannot even have a say in those decisions. We are expected by the people who sent us here to come here to state our case, and other hon. Members are expected to listen to it. Whether they agree with it is another matter. In the same way, as long as the European institution is there, it is better that it should be a more democratic institution than a less democratic one.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Edward du Cann (Taunton)
All those right hon. and hon. Members who have spoken in this debate so far have spoken in favour of direct elections. So do I. They are an inevitable and natural consequence of what has happened before and, beyond that, they are undoubtedly essential.
The hon. Member for Moray and Nairn (Mrs. Ewing) spoke in her usual charming and somewhat eccentric manner. I am glad that she is here in this House, and long may she remain here to amuse us and sometimes to enlighten us. I agree with her when she says that there is a need for great speed in these matters, and that it is appropriate to have geographical representation. I am sure that both those statements are right. But when she makes her complaint about Scottish fish, I am sure that she will allow me to say, as a West Country Member, that I hope Scottish fishermen will keep out of West Country waters.
If we are to have these direct elections, it seems to me that they make the cause of devolution in Scotland and Wales even more irrelevant than it is already.
As right hon. and hon. Members and my constituents know, I have had a consistent view of the Common Market. I know that that has not always pleased my right hon. and hon. Friends, but at least it has been sincerely and honourably held. I can sum it up in a few sentences. It may or may not have been right for the original signatories to accept the provisions of the Treaty of Rome. I have never had any doubt that it was wrong for the United Kingdom. I feel that all our history beckons us towards, if it does not demand, our eager involvement in the great world beyond what are the very narrow confines of Europe. At a time when power in the world is shifting from the developed countries to the undeveloped 959 countries, that seems to be of especial relevance.
In parenthesis, perhaps I may say that if one consequence of direct elections is that the European nations will use their authority in the world more effectively, I must record my bitter disappointment that we have not used that authority more decisively in Africa to counter terrorism and the Soviet advance in recent months and years.
We have exchanged a situation and old ties that we knew for no one knows quite what. I said that I would not sign a blank cheque then, and my anxiety is to see that this House should not ask its Members to support the signing of a blank cheque now.
Parliament made its historic decision, and we are signatories to the Treaty of Rome. That signature has been confirmed by the nation in the referendum. So be it. As the right hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. Stewart) said, as democrats we must all accept this judgment. I have accepted it and, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Maudling) so correctly emphasised—and I thought that the emphasis was necessary, especially after the speech of the Foreign Secretary, to which we all listened with great interest—the task of us all is to work with diligence for the success of this adventure. That is my mood and my intention. However, there are things which need saying in the common interest, because, even after this Green Paper, we do not know what it is upon which we are engaged.
With his usual courtesy, the Foreign Secretary has been careful throughout to see that this House had the fullest possible information, and he continued in that vein today. Even so, I feel bound to say that it is essential that this House should have a better definition of what is involved. It is my simple intention in this speech to ask for it.
The debate is about one thing only—the pace at which we agree to alter fundamentally, perhaps irrevocably, the status and function of the British Parliament. Whatever is said about our national rights, and the rest, that is what is happening.
This Parliament is no perfect instrument. Those of us who love it best 960 perhaps see most clearly its sundry imperfections. Yet what it represents and what it is require recollection and emphasis if we are proposing to replace it in greater or less degree by some other Government that at the moment we know not quite what.
What is this place? It is the chief instrument of our democracy in this country. It is the only national forum by which the British people, through their elected representatives, have the power to control the Executive. Never mind that we do not always use that power too well. Never mind that we do not use it too certainly. I am one who asks that we should most assuredly use it with far greater vigour and authority in the control of public expenditure. But how we use it, and whether we use it well is not the point. The point is that the opportunity is ever there, ever ready. Apart from a tiny minority in this House we believe passionately in democracy.
If we are to have a European Parliament—I use "Parliament" advisedly, rather than "Assembly"—I say let it be an outstanding example of democracy to the world, and let it be a Parliament.
In that context, what are the questions that the Green Paper sees fit to draw to our attention as being the most significant? They are concerned with questions such as how large the Parliament should be, when the elections should be, what the constituencies should be, whether there should be dual representation, who is eligible to vote and what should be the links with Westminster. It is admirable that the Foreign Secretary should have suggested that matters of this detail should be referred to a Select Committee. He was right, also, to suggest that a Minister should be a member of that Committee. All these matters could be quite easily settled in one way or another. Of course, there is a great deal to consider. There are many important points, but in the end they will not be difficult to settle.
The House should note the scope of these questions. They are all concerned with the machinery of elections and not at all with the purpose of the European Parliament, its constitution and its working. That is extraordinary and wrong.
961 To be fair, the subject is mentioned in paragraph 12—that is, in one paragraph out of the 42 in the document. It says:There are at present no specific proposals before the Council for granting increased powers to the European Assembly.It goes on to say that such powers as there are—and we are all well aware that they are quite trivial, though my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith) did the House a service by reminding us that they have some strength in them—will be what will remain at the time that the first elections are held. That was all the reference there was to them.
The Foreign Secretary did the House a great service by deliberately raising this subject this afternoon. He said some wise words about it. I was particularly glad when he referred to the Public Accounts Committee. I have been in correspondence with my distinguished predecessor, the Prime Minister, about these matters, suggesting how we might begin to introduce the Westminster pattern to the European Assembly. I am glad to hear that that is being followed up.
What we have so far heard and discussed and what has so far been revealed is inadequate, and I find the Green Paper extremely disappointing. If our first response is the care for democracy, the assumption that British Members of Parliament are concerned only with the minutiae of political affairs, like the "tadpoles and tapers" of which Mr. Disraeli used to write, and hardly with the powers of the Assembly is, frankly, intolerable.
The status of an elected Parliament is vastly more important than its method of election. Few issues can be more important in the development of the EEC in the long term than the constitution of its Parliament, and that is the matter we should be chiefly discussing and debating now. As The Times pointed out in its leading article this morning, progress in the political growth of the Community will be stuntedUntil there is an effective European parliament legitimised by a direct mandate from the people of Europe.The key word is surely "effective".
To summarise my case, I am impatient for direct elections. They are of the greatest important. What surprises and worries me is the lack of dynamism in our national approach to this debate and 962 the confusion which exists both here and in Europe on what we are attempting to achieve. I do not regard the laissez-faire view of the European Parliament or the Tindemans Report as acceptable in the circumstances—the idea that it will all happen, but at some time in the future, does not appeal to me.
It is not practical or wise to rely upon the European Parliament creating its own power base in time. Any elected Parliament deserves respect which derives always, as it must, from power ab initio. Without power any Parliament is a mockery, a mere talking shop. It is surprising to me that so far we have had no proposals or definitions from the Council of Ministers. Perhaps the reason is that it does not want to be controlled, but if that is so what more reason do we need to set out to control it? Its silence on this subject is deafening. Now we are to have a Summit, which I believe will provide a real opportunity, which I hope will be taken. I hope that our own representatives there—our Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister—will exercise substantial leadership.
The matter is very much easier than most people imagine. I should like to suggest to the Foreign Secretary the one area of contention which I hope will be of interest to him.
He is a former Chancellor of the Exchequer, with a remarkable record during an extremely difficult period. He, probably as much as anyone in the House, is familiar with the control of expenditure. I do not believe that it is necessary to discuss a vast apparatus cataloguing all the different ways in which the European Parliament could exercise control of Ministers. All that is needed is merely to provide methods whereby the Community's budget is strictly controlled—more strictly than at present, because present control is merely cursory.
The Public Accounts Committee would be one step forward in this respect. I suggest an Expenditure Committee also, or possibly an amalgam of the two. If that were done, and the European Parliament were to be given a formalised and real control of the finances of the Community, I think that we should find that all else would follow.
These direct elections are a rubicon for us and for the other nations in the EEC 963 to cross. They are a long stride, however we express the matter, in the direction of supranationality. It seems to me that when the voters cast their votes in 1978, they will have every right to know not only what kind of animal they are asked to elect—the animal who actually solicits their votes—but what kind of animal the Parliament will be. We must before that time have an answer to the question: who will have more power—the Council of Ministers or the Members of the European Parliament? Either the European Parliament controls the Executive, or it is no Parliament at all. We must insist upon that.
There is much debate in the United Kingdom, academically and among us all, over the quality of our domestic Members of Parliament. Obviously if the European Parliament is inconsequential, those elected will be inconsequential, too. There is a need, is there not, for our most senior and experienced people to be elected to that Parliament? I believe that we should send our best.
I do not think it right to say behind people's backs the nice and complimentary comments which occasionally one has the opportunity to say to their faces. I believe that my hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Sir P. Kirk) and his team have done this country an outstanding service in what they have so far done in the European Parliament. I hope that my hon. Friend will continue that work for many years.
Perhaps I am far more radical or realistic than more committed supporters of the EEC. I do not know about that. I recall seeing my elder daughter—then a very small girl—when she was learning to swim, not just standing by the edge of the swimming pool but, in cold weather, jumping straight in. I thought that was very brave and said so to her. She said, "You do not become a strong swimmer if you only put your toe in the bath." I believe that to be profoundly true. We shall not have a strong European situation unless we are prepared to face and take some of the decisions which need to be taken promptly and early. If we do not take a bold step now, I think that we run great risks. I think that we run even the risk of failure. The blame then should go not on those who have expressed honest doubt about this adventure from 964 the beginning, but rather on those who have not had the courage of their convictions.
The potential veto of national Parliaments over fundamental matters constantly being used will create an atmosphere of quarrelling, niggardliness, ill-will and mistrust which must certainly delay, if not prevent altogether, the idealism which was the motive for this European adventure when it began.
I do not know how many right hon. and hon. Members have had the time or, indeed, the opportunity to read the report by Mr. Tindemans, the Prime Minister of Belgium, to the European Council on the subject of European Union. Some of what he writes is most striking. I will, if I may, weary the House with these short extracts. He writes:the Community, in its present state, is unbalanced: in some fields it has been given far-reaching powers, in others nothing, or practically nothing, has been done.".He warns against "too many fruitless discussions" whichcast doubt on the credibility and topicality of our joint endeavour: to this extent the European idea is also a victim of its failures.Mr. Tindemans writes:Europe today is part of the general run of things; it seems to have lost its air of adventure.That is what was said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet.
In the preface, Mr. Tindemans writes:Public opinion is extremely sceptical on the will to establish a genuine European Union and solve the real problems of the day at European level. It wants results and questions the lack of political will on the part of its leaders.It is a sadness that the European Parliament is publicly neglected, with the possible exception of this country, in some nine countries. We cannot or should not allow that situation to continue. That is why I seek a better definition of its powers. That is why I say that if we are to elect a Parliament in Europe, let it, in the modern jargon, be a viable affair, let it be effective, let it have a status, and not simply be the equivalent of a university debating chamber.
I recognise the problems about getting agreement, but I do not regard them as insuperable. I echo the phrase used some time ago, and appropriately, by the Foreign Secretary when he said that he 965 did not want to see our country in any sense a "laggard".
When Mr. Tindemans held his Press conference to announce this document in January 1976, he quoted the device of Charles the Bold in the old French, which I will not quote. I will quote the English translation:I have undertaken it,May good come out of it.I echo that prayer. I put it in French and say "Nous avons commencé. Faut en finir." Or, if it must be in English, having begun this adventure, for heaven's sake let us get a move on with it.
§ 6.36 p.m.
§ Mr. Julius Silverman (Birmingham, Erdington)
As has already been said, we have decided in principle upon direct elections, but not the form or the time. The time is certainly not now, even if direct elections are advisable at any time.
What will be the position of a Member elected in these direct elections? The right hon. and learned Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith) said that direct elections give a direct connection between the people who elect and the person who is elected. It is therefore the highest form of democracy.
What form of meaningful contact or representation can there be between a Member and his voting constituents—numbering about 600,000—and a population of nearly I million? In representative terms, this is comparatively meaningless. How will constituents get in touch with their Member? How will the Member find out what his constituents think? In representative terms, it is a piece of democratic nonsense.
I turn now to consider other matters. What will the Member do if he gets there? There will be an erosion of the powers of this Parliament. I do not suggest that it will be a serious erosion. Indeed, it is not a serious erosion because at present the European Parliament has comparatively restricted powers. But it is an erosion.
I have never been a complete stickler for the principle of parliamentary sovereignty, but, if we are giving anything away in that respect, I should like to know what I am giving it away for and what corresponding advantages we may get.
966 What will be the position of the Member who is elected to the European Parliament? He has no institutional and very little other contact with this Parliament unless he has a dual mandate. He is not responsible to this Parliament and this Parliament is not responsible to him.
What is important about our Parliament is that there is co-operation between the Legislature and the Executive. There is also confrontation with the Executive in this House. In addition, a Member of Parliament can communicate with the Executive by letter or by interview, in the knowledge that if the result is not satisfactory he can raise the matter in a confrontation in the House—so one gets both co-operation from and confrontation with the Executive. Moreover, the Executive is not only responsible to this House but is, in a sense, appointed by a nominee of the House. Let us bear that in mind when we talk about the Executive.
I believe that the Common Market could exercise considerably more control over its funds, but this is only a small part of its function. The greater part of its executive functions are still carried out by national Governments. The legislation that we supervise in the Scrutiny Committee is carried out by the Executive in this country or, alternatively, is brought into operation by the regulations or legislative measures passed in this country, which, again, are carried out by the Executive here.
A Member of the Assembly elected by direct elections will have no contact with the Executive. He will, in a sense, be in limbo. There will be but tenuous contact with his constituents and no contact with the Executive that carries out the legislation, even assuming that the powers of the Assembly are increased. Therefore, I do not believe that the elected Member will be an effective instrument. I do not believe that direct elections will produce the sort of Member of Parliament that the proposers of this scheme think it will. This is not the time for a proposal such as this to be put into operation. We ought to wait until we have been in the Common Market for a longer period.
What is the object of this exercise? I agree that one cannot separate the powers of the Assembly from the method of election; the two will go together. I have not the slightest doubt that the wish 967 of those who have been hankering after direct elections is that it will strengthen the powers of the European Parliament and strengthen the power of Brussels against that of national Parliaments.
I went with members of the Scrutiny Committee to visit Denmark, Brussels and Bonn. The people who want to move towards federalism are the most enthusiastic supporters of direct elections. It will be noticed that Denmark, anxious to retain what sovereignty it has left, is insisting on the dual mandate as compulsory. The reason for that is that the Danish Parliament will have some control over its representatives in the Common Market.
The Foreign Secretary said that the idea of federalism had faded away. I do not think so. It is still there. It is still obvious, as one sees if one examines the deliberations of the Commission. If one examines the sort of legislation that is coming to us one sees that the idea of a federal Europe is still there. It is implicit in the Tindemans Report. The Tindemans Report was described by the Foreign Secretary as a modest attempt. I notice the document called "Fact" regards the Tindeman proposals as much too modest for the impassioned believers who are hell-bent on attaining a federal Europe, but Tindemans proposes the first steps in that direction and marks out the future objectives fairly clearly.
We have to consider not merely what we are doing by direct elections, but where they are leading. Do we want to move towards a federal Europe? We have to make up our minds about this. Where will this take us? What sort of Government will we have? The right hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann) referred to his brave little daughter who put her foot into the cold water. He regarded her as courageous. If we are to embark on the dangerous stormy currents in Europe, I suggest that we ought to have a sense of direction and some idea where we are going. In my view the step proposed in this Green Paper is leading us in dangerous directions. Let us, therefore, beware of where the current may take us.
§ 6.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Neil Marten (Banbury)
It is a pleasure to speak after the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Silver- 968 man) with whom I sit on the Scrutiny Committee, because where he ended his speech is where I shall start mine. I assure the House that there is no collusion on this matter.
I am against direct elections. I always have been. I assure the right hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. Stewart) that I am not, as he said, sulking because we lost the referendum; I was against direct elections before the referendum was held. I hear one of my hon. Friends say that I did not say much about that. I was against direct elections in every speech that I made. More interestingly, in every Press handout that I issued I made that clear. It was one of the things that the Press did not wish to publish. It did not put out that challenge to pro-Marketeers on whether they wanted to move towards a federal Europe.
§ Mr. Marten
I issued one almost every day. They were perhaps not very attractive to some of the gentlemen in Fleet Street who were committed to a certain course. I am against direct elections because they will lead to a federal or unitary State in Europe. Everybody seems to be quoting Mr. Tindemans, and I take as my text that part of his letter forwarding his report to his colleagues when he said thatEurope will only fulfil its destiny if it espouses federalism.I regard that as the best authority for what I am saying, coming as it does from a man who spent an entire year digging into the meaning of political union.
I am not one of those who accept that we are committed to direct elections. I have always argued that Article 138(3) does not commit us to direct elections; it merely commits the Assembly to putting proposals to the Council of Ministers, and the Council of Ministers to considering them. Then the idea is "recommended". That is the word. Article 189 provides specifically that recommendations are not binding. We are, therefore, not bound to have direct elections, and that liberates me from the restriction that has bound so many hon. Members who have taken part in this debate, because they accept that we must have direct elections.
969 I wish to ask two questions. First, is this the right time to take this step towards having direct elections? Is this the right time to become further enmeshed in a Common Market which, I believe, is beginning to disintegrate?
Secondly, is it right to have direct elections before we know something about the powers that the Parliament or Assembly is going to have? My right hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. Du Cann), who has left the Chamber, said he was impatient to get on. I would only advise him to have a little patience and not to be in any hurry about this. There is no hurry, except for those who want to get it over and then get on with the next step to federalism. Before we take this step, I think it is right and sensible to look at the Common Market as it is today. Do not let us funk looking at it, because we have to look it straight in the eyes and see whether it is working or beginning to disintegrate. I hesitate to give the House my own advice; rather would I seek the advice of those who know far better than I. Commissioner Lardinois referred tothe dangers of disintegration caused by the lack of a common economic and monetary policyand added,I must warn you now that we are almost at the point where the strains are becoming unbearable.It is not I who said it was disintegrating—it is Mr. Lardinois.
The Minister of Agriculture's chief adviser, Sir Frederick Kearns, said:If we cannot operate our currencies in a way which makes the CAP possible then it is quite on the cards that the CAP will cease. Without the CAP there can be no promotion policy and no prospect of any common industrial policy. The possibility is that the whole concept of European integration would fail.Those are not my words. In those words, someone who knows much more about it than I is questioning whether the Common Market will survive at all.
This is why I am questioning whether this is the right moment to have these direct elections. Now, of course, the snakes in the tunnel—or the snakes in the snake pit—are creeping out; even the little worms are creeping out. We have a regional policy which is pathetic, judged by the size of the net contribution that we shall receive from it. I used to call 970 it a peanut, but now I call it a withered and shrivelled peanut. This really has been a great failure.
Then one looks at the economic object of joining the Common Market—the great wider home market that we were all told about in 1971 and 1972. I do not want to get too involved in figures, but I remind the House that, according to an answer last week, our trade deficit in 1975 with the Common Market was £2,354 million. It is interesting to note from the same answer that in the three years before we joined the Common Market—1970 to 1972—our trading deficit with those same eight countries was £719 million, yet in the three years since we joined the deficit has reached £5,547 million—eight times greater. These are the sort of factors that the House ought to consider before we go dashing ahead to advocate direct elections.
There is also the question of foreign affairs. The question of Angola came up recently. Here again I would not give the House my own opinion—there are some far better educated about these matters than I, such as The Times newspaper. The Times leading article referred to the failure of the Common Market to take any action at all over Angola and said:The world has been treated to a pathetic display of European disunity.The Guardian, also famous for its support of the Common Market, described the Common Market over Angola asless decisive than a flock of sheep.In foreign affairs, I submit, the European Community has not succeeded.
During the referendum the pro-Marketeers were saying that if we came out terrible things would happen—the implication being that if we stayed in these terrible things would not happen. They said that if we came out the pound would collapse. We stayed in, and what happened to the pound? The pro-Marketeers said that if we came out there would be more unemployment. We stayed in, and what happened to unemployment? They said that we would have continued inflation if we came out, but we stayed in, and what has happened to inflation?
The so-called benefits of the Common Market are almost illusory, but the disadvantages are a harsh reality and the poorer sections of this country are paying 971 the price. Can we rely on the judgment of the people who told us what would happen when we went in, or if we stayed in?
I remember saying, during the referendum, in a debate with someone not very far from me on these Benches, that in 1978 we should be having direct elections. He said, "Nonsense, this chap Marten is exaggerating". They said it would be much later; but a matter of weeks after the referendum the same people were back shouting about direct elections in 1978.
I and those of us who share my view are being subjected to quite a bit of double talk on this subject. We are getting used to it. No longer can we rely upon some of the things that are said about what will happen and what will not happen. I do not believe that a directly elected Parliament will solve any of the problems I have mentioned. We ought to stop and think whether this is the right time for going ahead with direct elections.
Is it right to have direct elections until we know what powers the Assembly will have? This is very much the point made in the excellent and interesting speech by my right hon. Friend the Member for Taunton, which I will read with great interest. I am glad to see that the Foreign Secretary is here, taking an interest in this debate. When I asked him in the House quite recently about the powers that this directly elected Parliament would have, and I said:We must know what these powers will be before we can reasonably discuss whether it is right to have direct electionsthe Foreign Secretary replied:The basis of the direct elections will be the existing powers of the European Assembly"—then those famous words—no more and no less.Of course he is quite right—the powers will not be changed before we have the direct elections. He went on:I prefer not to include a summary of the powers in the … Green Paper, because I want it to focus on issues of mechanics and the decisions that will need to be taken in relation to the elections and not to be side-tracked on to these other matters."—[Official Report, 28th January 1975; Vol. 904, c. 417.]That illustrates what is happening. We are being side-tracked from the most fundamental issue which we should be discussing; we are talking about small 972 things, such as dual mandates. The real question is the question of the powers.
I hope that The Guardian does not mind my quoting its leading articles. On 2nd March this year its leader said—and we must bear in mind that it is a very pro-Market newspaper—In Brussels today the Council of Ministers would be wise to recognise that the French Gaullists are right when they say that direct elections would represent a long stride in the direction of supranationality … they are right to point out that an elected Parliament would be such a step … Power is what an elected Parliament ought to have because without power it would be a mockery and a talking-shop.The Guardian is right. The article continued:Heads of Government …ought to speak their minds because the voters have a right to know what sort of animal they will be asked to elect"—time and again that is being said—The status of an elected European Parliament is more important than the method of its election.For once I agree with the words of The Guardian.
If one asks in this House what those powers are to be, one gets a blank from the Government Benches. The Government say that it is not for discussion now. My own Front Bench does not look at this question at all. My right hon. Friends say that it will come later in the day. We have previously been told "Do not worry about it now". Coming to the next step, direct elections, and once the Parliament is directly elected, the argument will be "The Members are directly elected and they had better have powers, so it would be silly not to give them those powers".
Would the directly-elected Parliament have legislative powers? The general view expressed by responsible people in today's debate has been to brush the question aside and to say "Oh, no, do not worry about that. Of course it will not have legislative powers." However, let me quote the views of other people, who have perhaps studied the matter in greater depth and who know perhaps a little more about it than some of those who have expressed views.
For example, M. Ortoli, the President of the Commission, in its annual report, said,If the elected Parliament is to be true to its calling, it must be given legislative power.973 I also quote from the paper that I see is beside the Dispatch Box, published by the European Parliament Secretariat this year. It said:Parliament's powers are likely to be steadily extended in the future. The summit conference in December 1974 decided, in particular, to increase Parliament's competence in the Community's legislative process.Other people, perhaps more important people still, have referred to that matter. Mr. Tindemans says in his Report thatA consequence of the Parliament's new authority will be an increase in its powers, which will take place gradually in the course of the progressive development of the European Union, notably through a growing exercise of the legislative function.There legislative powers are arising again, and yet somehow people in this country do not seem to be able to see it. They cannot think that far ahead. How is it that those people whom I have quoted can think that far ahead when people here, including the responsible Front Benches, seem to duck out, to put their heads in the sand like ostriches, and say "We shall take it when it comes"?
Much more interesting is what has been said by Sir Christopher Soames. He said to me very recently that he takes the view thatdirect elections will not result in any increase in the power or functions of the Assemblyand thatit is not going to have legislative power.I am sure that he would not mind my quoting him. Although it was not a public occasion, he said it and he must stick by it. Yet one must look at what he signed as a member of the Commission when the Commission put in its paper on European Union—R/1815 of 3rd July. He went much further than that as a member of the Commission, advocating a European Government composed of Ministers from the various countries who would be selected, and so on, and then "denationalised" to become Euro-Ministers, with two legislative Assemblies.
Here again is another example of people saying one thing at one moment and another thing at another moment, depending on the audience to whom they are speaking. Many of us are getting absolutely fed up with this. That is why we question the whole matter of direct elections. These things are adding con- 974 fusion to the matter. That is why I am so glad that the Foreign Secretary has been sensible enough to have this Select Committee, which will have to go into the matter very thoroughly indeed, and more thoroughly than usual, perhaps, simply because of the confusion which has, I believe, wilfully been created by some people over this attitude.
Until we know the powers, we should not agree to direct elections. That is the point on which I started my speech. I believe that this country is deeply suspicious that it is being hoodwinked into this for some other purpose.
§ Mr. John Mendelson
Before the hon. Gentleman welcomes the setting up of the Select Committee, I wonder whether he has noticed that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary was most emphatic this afternoon that the setting up of the Select Committee and its acceptance by the House implies acceptance of the principle of direct elections. I do not accept the principle. Therefore, I do not rejoice in the setting up of the Select Committee.
§ Mr. Marten
I agree that the Foreign Secretary said that, but it is for the House of Commons to decide the remit of the Select Committee. Perhaps we can discuss that on a future occasion. But even if it is ruled out by the House, we are committed to the Select Committee. I would go for all the other things willingly, as a member of that Select Committee, because I have been given a golden chance to get my teeth—verbally—into some of the people who have been saying one thing one minute and another thing at another time. A Select Committee is the only place in the House where one can get one's teeth stuck into someone and not let him go.
I want to touch on a couple of points about direct elections if, regrettably, we have to have them. One ought to question the whole idea that it is democratic. I have never heard such nonsense as to say that the proposals lying before the House—admittedly, they are amendable—are democratic. Luxembourg, with a population of 300,000, is to get six seats under these proposals, while Scotland with a population of 5½ million is to get seven. If there is anything more anti-democratic, it is to unbalance the electorate like that. I am quite appalled that the Community 975 —this shows its mentality—should even propose anything like that.
However, if one gets it right and gives Luxembourg one seat, or perhaps two seats if one is generous, Scotland would have 17, and on that basis one is clocking up nearly 700 Members. This is where we must think deeply. Who will be joining us—Greece, Portugal, Spain or Turkey? If they did, we would then have a Parliament of well-near 1,600 Members coming from all over the Continent to legislate. That is the sort of thing we must consider.
We must look at the cost of this. The Select Committee must go into the costs of constituencies of 600,000 with Members at Brussels. I hope that it will be in Brussels, because I should hate to think that we would vote for an elected Parliament that would jag around from Brussels to Luxembourg and Strasbourg and back again. We should veto all direct elections until we have sorted out that problem. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Sir P. Kirk) will agree with that, if it brought pressure on them to use their common sense about this matter.
With these huge constituencies, what will be the cost of the staff required to service the constituencies? One has only to look at the United States—which has an average of 425,000 per constituency—and to see the vast staffs in Congress to realise the implications of having here 600,000. That is one of the things that have been overlooked.
Finally, I believe that proportional representation will be inevitable if we have direct elections, because, as we know, the second direct elections, if we have them, will be harmonised.
§ The Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Roy Hattersley) indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Marten
The Minister shakes his head. Perhaps he is dissenting from that, but I think that the intention is that the second direct elections will be harmonised. If the Minister of State says that they will not, he obviously differs from what has been said in the Community. There must be a harmonisation of methods of election. Then the majority will rule. There will be proportional representation, which 976 explains straight away the Liberals' enthusiasm for the whole project of a federal Europe—because they see PR being brought into this country. That is what they have been wanting all the time, so that deals with that point.
In conclusion, I congratulate the Foreign Secretary on being so kind as to agree to the setting up of a Select Committee. I hope that I shall have the honour of serving on that Committee. I have already told our Chief Whip that I offer myself for service on it, when I hope that I shall meet the Minister of State on many occasions.
§ 7.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Guy Barnett (Greenwich)
I mean no disrespect, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but there were times earlier in the debate when I thought I was involved in a kind of pro-direct election lobby. It is therefore nice to be called at this stage in the debate after the two previous speakers, who expressed the kind of doubts that I want to express about the principle of direct elections.
I express these doubts as a Member of the European Parliament. It is important that a Member of the European Assembly or Parliament, or whatever we call it, should have the opportunity of doing this.
I want, first, to express agreement with previous speakers who suggested that one of the consequences of direct elections will inevitably be an increase in the authority of the Assembly. It will inevitably be listened to more attentively because it is elected, because the Members of the Assembly will be able to claim the legitimacy of being elected directly by constituencies.
I am not sure whether I agree with the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) that direct elections will necessarily increase the power of the Assembly. It is possible that they will. However, I shall deal later with the question whether the Assembly will have increased power.
When talking about the authority of the Assembly, it is not unreasonable to ask two questions, which have already been asked. First, at whose expense will the Assembly gain that power? Secondly, in whose eyes will it gain that power? I ask the question—in whose eyes will the Assembly gain that power, 977 or who is likely to take notice of what the Assembly says?—because it has been suggested that the Commission will listen more closely to what the Assembly says. The Commission has been in the forefront of favouring direct elections. I am sure that the reason for this—I speak as a Member of the European Assembly who has a certain amount of contact with officials in the Commission—is that the Commission is only too well aware of its democratic illegitimacy, the fact that it has no responsibility to any democratic body. Therefore, its members inevitably find in the Assembly, and in the contacts that they have with the Assembly, a register of approval for the proposals they have put before the Council.
I have no doubt that the Commission needs the kind of legitimacy that a directly-elected Assembly can give it. If direct elections come about, it will be discovered that they will have the effect of increasing the authority of the Commission at the expense of the Council of Ministers. That is a point which has not been mentioned in the debate so far, and one upon which we should dwell for a while.
We in Britain are apt to look upon the House of Commons, rightly so, as a check on the Executive. I suspect that a directly-elected Assembly will become increasingly the ally of the Commission against the Council of Ministers upon which sit representatives of national Governments.
This is an important issue, because it will mean that inevitably the Council will feel bound to give greater weight to the opinions and proposals coming from the Commission and bearing the stamp of approval of the European Assembly.
At whose expense, then, will the increased authority of the European Assembly be gained? The answer I must give is that it will be at the expense of the national Parliaments of the Nine. The reason for this is fairly clear. Let us suppose that the Council is considering a proposal which has come from the Commission and which has received the approval of the directly-elected European Assembly. Let us suppose that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary happens to be sitting on the Council at the time and uses the sort of argument that no doubt he frequently has to use on the 978 Council—that such-and-such a proposal is contrary to our national interests, or "My sole responsibility is to the House of Commons, and it is by the consent of the majority of Members of the House that I am sitting on this Council at all."
If my right hon. Friend uses such arguments as those, perhaps never pressing the matter as far as the veto but using such arguments as those for not going along with a certain proposal, it is acceptable. Indeed, the situation on the Council is not all that different from that of mine as a Member of the European Assembly that is not elected, because my legitimacy as a Member of the Assembly is that I have been chosen, by certain methods, by the Parliamentary Labour Party and by, I think, the Chief Whip. I am not quite sure how I got there, but I think that is why I am there.
Therefore, if I am responsible to anybody I am responsible to the Parliamentary Labour Party, and if it dislikes the way that I behave in the European Assembly, presumably it is open to it to remove me. Just as my right hon. Friend's responsibility is to the Parliamentary Labour Party, so is mine. I have no greater authority than he has.
However, if I am directly elected to the European Assembly I am placed in a quite different situation. I immediately have an authority which an individual United Kingdom Minister sitting on the Council of Ministers lacks when he is pleading national interests. It will then be possible for another member of the Council to say to a British Minister "But this proposal has come up from the Commission and it bears the stamp of approval of the European Assembly, upon which sit directly-elected Members from your country and, whether or not they have voted for the proposal, the fact is that it has the stamp of approval of a democratic assembly." Therefore, inevitably the individual Minister pleading on behalf of his own national Government will be in a weaker position.
When that British Minister gets back to the House of Commons he will face objections, no doubt, to a new proposal being approved by the Council of Ministers. I can imagine that Minister telling the House of Commons "I well understand the hon. Gentleman's objections, but the fact is that this proposal had the approval of the democratically-elected 979 Assembly of Europe, and therefore I felt bound to accept it and thought that I had no possibility of resisting it on the ground that it was contrary to the national interests."
Mr. Tindemans, in his Report, which has been referred to on a number of occasions in this debate, proposes that more Council decisions should be taken by majority voting. However, he did not say—nor, so far as I can see, did he imply—that direct elections would tend, anyway, to have an effect on the procedure of the Council of Ministers. I believe that direct elections will reduce the bargaining position of individual Ministers representing national Governments.
On 3rd December we had another debate on the general question of Britain's membership of the Common Market. On that occasion I said, as the hon. Member for Banbury rightly pointed out, that it was very important that we in this Parliament, and, indeed, people throughout the Nine, should be clear where we are trying to go and what we are trying to achieve. The achievement of federalism, as it were, by default or by a process so gradual that nobody notices that it is happening, would be a most dangerous step to take.
I detect this very strongly in the Tindemans Report. In fact, I do not think that Tindemans has helped very much. He is on record at the beginning of the Report as being an avowed federalist. He admits it, but in the Report he does not define his objectives at all clearly. He wants to see progress made towards some sort of union. Then he says thatThe role of a directly-elected European Parliament will be decisive in the development of the Union.He is clearly in no doubt about the importance of direct elections in his own objectives, yet in that Report, so far as I can make out, he does not give the European Assembly any increased power, in the sense in which we in the House of Commons understand power. On that aspect he says thatA consequence of the Parliament's new authority will be an increase in its powers, which will take place gradually in the course of the progressive development of the European union.980 I emphasise the word "gradually"—as it were, while nobody notices what is happening. It is a contrary view to the view put forward by the right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Maudling). I believe that that, in effect, is the intention—that it should happen gradually, that the development should go on without people realising what is happening.
§ Mr. David Madel (Bedfordshire, South)
How can that be, if national Parliaments have themselves to cede powers to the European Assembly before it can take unto itself new powers? How can the hon. Gentleman substantiate his argument that nobody will notice when Parliament itself has to cede the powers? The hon. Gentleman ought to explain that.
§ Mr. Barnett
I think the hon. Gentleman will recognise that by the European Communities Act this Parliament has already ceded a considerable amount of power to the European institutions. That is the case. Legislation that has already gone through this House has placed in the hands of European institutions a higher status, as it were, in terms of legislation. Of course, that legislative responsibility rests at the moment largely with the Council, but, as the hon. Member for Banbury made clear, there are undoubted proposals that some of these legislative powers should go to the European Assembly, and that changed European Assembly, in my view, would be passing measures into law or would be engaged in the legislative process which would tend inevitably to supersede the legislative process that operates in this country.
§ Mr. William Hamilton
My hon. Friend is insulting the intelligence of the British people. We as a sovereign Parliament passed legislation to gain membership of the EEC. We did it deliberately, knowing that it would involve some sacrifice of the sovereignty of this Parliament and of our people. It was not done secretively. He and I, I presume, as Members of the European Parliament, are engaged jointly in seeking to increase those powers. It will be done gradually but openly.
§ Mr. Barnett
I am sorry. My hon. Friend may have misunderstood or confused the two points that I was making. 981 I never suggested that the European Communities Act was passed secretly or in an underhand fashion; it was debated fully in this House, and all the issues were presented. I am sure that people in general are aware of what my hon. Friend has said—that we have, as a Parliament, ceded certain powers elsewhere. What I am not sure of is whether the ordinary member of the British public, whose intelligence I do not insult, is clear about the likely consequences of direct elections and the sort of developments that are proposed in the Tindemans Report. Therefore, I think it is vitally important that he and I make those consequences abundantly clear. Indeed, it is our responsibility, as Members of this House and Members of the European Assembly. That is what I am trying to do.
§ Mr. Spearing
Would my hon. Friend also make the distinction which the Tindemans Report suggests, that the European Assembly be given powers of initiation, whereas the Council of Ministers does not have those powers? It has to depend upon a proposal of the Commission. In that sense the Assembly, if it got such powers, would be given greater powers than the Council de jure.
§ Mr. Barnett
I am sure these exchanges have been extremely valuable. I agree with the hon. Member for Banbury that it is vitally important that all these matters are brought right out into the open.
We were accused, earlier in the debate, of sulking because we lost the referendum, and all the rest of it. That certainly is not my position. I would not have asked to be a Member of the European Assembly if that had been my attitude. I wish to make it quite clear that my opposition to direct elections is not by any means based upon a desire to see the EEC break up, or anything of that kind. I believe that there is a continued value in the United Kingdom's membership of the EEC, and I am there because I want to see the whole form of that union improved.
I want to give some reasons why this should be so, but before I do so I want to question a point that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary made. He implies—indeed, most spokesmen seem to 982 imply—that we are under some kind of duty to accept direct elections, that there can be no question about it and that we are under some kind of treaty obligation. I had always assumed that this must be the case and that, therefore, I had to fall into line with everybody else, until my right hon. Friend made an extraordinary remark. He suddenly told us apparently—I am not sure about this, but no doubt hon. Members will put me right if I am wrong—that the competition policy is also in the Treaty.
§ Mr. Barnett
In Article 3 of the Treaty. Does my right hon. Friend pour scorn on the competition policy? He seemed to think that it was a little "old hat" now. The expression he used was that it was flea-blown—
§ Mr. Barnett
I beg my right hon. Friend's pardon—fly-blown—and therefore he did not regard it as important as the founding fathers obviously did. I suppose it is still open to me or to any other hon. Members to regard the proposal for direct elections as a bit flyblown or a little irrelevant. It is legitimate to argue that it might not be relevant to our present situation, and to give positive reasons. This is what I propose to do.
My positive reasons for being opposed to direct elections at present are twofold. The first is the general reason that we should not get into a kind of constitutional muddle, as Tindemans is allowing us to do, because it is highly dangerous. Here are the EEC and the individual countries of the EEC facing deeply serious economic problems and high levels of unemployment, and therefore there is in each of the countries and in the EEC as a whole a desperate need for good and effective economic management. It would seem to be the height of folly if we allowed a constitutional muddle to exist so that we did not know who was responsible for this or for that. How can we solve our economic and financial problems unless we are absolutely clear politically and constitutionally about what we are trying to do? I therefore think that direct elections, if they imply a greater degree of union by default, are 983 highly dangerous and damaging. I speak to hon. Members as a converted pro-European.
My second reason for being deeply worried about direct elections is this. We already have an application, a very zealous application, from Greece to become a member of the Community. No doubt, within the next decade or so we shall receive applications from Spain, Portugal and possibly from other European nations.
We must ask ourselves the serious question: Do we want these countries to be part of the EEC? Mr. Tindemans makes one point absolutely clear:New accessions must not slow down the development of the Union, nor jeopardise it.He is quite clear that there is a risk, that there is a danger that the accession of new countries will slow down the development of the kind of federal union which he wants.
If the choice is between a federal union and a wider Europe, I am on the side of a wider Europe. I say that because I believe that there is a whole series of serious economic and political problems likely to arise in the European Mediterranean countries, if I may so call them. Plainly, the situation in Portugal is unstable, and the situation in Spain is likely to be. Greece faces serious economic problems, and so, indeed, does Italy.
That soft under-belly of Europe will be far less safe for us, for France, for Germany, for the northern countries of Europe, if those other countries are outside the EEC than if they are inside. Therefore, I favour a Europe des patries, and I can well foresee that, if we were to move towards some kind of federal union, it would be vastly more difficult for those countries to come in and accept a European union with direct elections, supra-national authorities and the rest which they would have to accept if we moved that far instead of trying to maintain a Europe des patries and allowing other nations to come in.
Therefore, for all sorts of reasons, I regard it as vital that we do not proceed towards a closer federal union and that we should try to extend the Europe Community wider and make it more realistic and relevant to the Continent in which as a whole we live.
984 I wish now to raise one or two small points about the elections and the mechanics of them. It has been said that the Liberal Party will be in grave difficulty. I recognise that, and I am sorry that no Liberal Member is here. I think that it would be difficult for the Liberals because they would gain no seats in the Assembly. I have much sympathy for the Liberal Party in that respect, and I think that it would be a profound mistake if that were to happen—if we were to be so badly represented in the Assembly that we did not have among our number representatives of a significant part of the electorate of this country.
§ Mr. Barnett
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for reminding me of that. A number of Liberal Members have been present during the debate, and I should not want anyone to imagine otherwise, since they have an interest in a debate of this kind. No doubt, our Liberal colleagues are having dinner, or something—I do not know—and at the moment I am speaking on their behalf during their absence.
I believe that, inevitably, there will be strong pressure from the Liberal Party, and strong pressure also from the electorate in general, for some sort of proportional representation. We have heard talk about the problems likely to arise from the mere size of the constituencies which members of the European Assembly will represent. What a job it will be, with an electorate of 600,000, to have a relationship with a constituency of that kind.
If we have some form of proportional representation, the constituencies will be even larger. I saw the letter written to The Times on 6th February by Miss Enid Lakeman, one of the experts on this subject. She said:The PR constituencies would largely draw themselves, since we could take existing administrative areas, such as Greater London. Scotland and Wales would each be a constituency, thus going some way to meet their demand for separate representation in the EEC.985 If Miss Lakeman believes that that would be so—and I think she must—in order to meet the needs of a proportionally represented delegation to the European Parliament, one has only to stop for a moment to imagine what the constituency of Greater London would be like. I do not know how many Members there would be, but there would be so many Conservative, so many Labour and so many Liberal Members elected. Who will be responsible for whom? If I were a Member for the Greater London constituency at the European Parliament, whom would I represent? How would people know that I was the chap to get in touch with to have their problems dealt with or solved?
I believe that, to an even greater degree, we should tend to move towards a situation in which representation was even more remote and less democratic than the very unsatisfactory proposals which appear in most of the papers written on the "First past the post" system.
Those, then, are my doubts about direct elections at this juncture. I believe that for 1978 they are not merely irrelevant but they are highly dangerous, and, in addition, I believe that they are liable to slow down the development of the wider Europe which I want to see. Moreover, I greatly doubt that they would lead to any greater measure of democracy.
§ 7.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarvon)
I take up the debate after the hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Barnett) with some enthusiasm because I wish at once to latch on to many of the points which he made. I also should describe myself as very much a pro-European but one who would like to see a wider Europe and who would certainly like to know where we are going. The theme of the debate seems to be developing towards the realisation that one should not get on a bus until one knows its destination. The Green Paper describes the shape of the wheels, the number of seats and the colour of the paint, but it does not actually say where it is going, and I regard that as one of its greatest drawbacks.
Last June, my party campaigned against the terms of membership of the Common Market. We feared the growth of a centralised European State. Earlier 986 in today's debate, there was reference to "a more cohesive State". I suspect that that phrase means very much the same as a more centralised State. Our experience in Wales has been one of living within a centralised State, and the fact that we have 36 representatives in the House of Commons does not necessarily mean that we have an effective voice or that we have the sort of representation that we want. Similarly, direct elections to the European Parliament do not necessarily mean that perfect democracy is created at the stroke of a pen.
Not only did we fear the development of a centralised State but we feared the possibility of Europe emerging into a military power bloc, and we also feared the possibility of remote bureaucratic control.
At the referendum the result was clear, and as a party we accepted that result. However, our objective now is to ensure that within the structure we have, Wales has the best possible deal, and I shall now discuss the possibility of direct elections to the European Parliament in that light.
The proposals for direct elections rekindle some of the fears of last May and June. Is it not almost inevitable that a European Parliament with direct elections will have Members who will demand more powers for themselves? Is that not human nature? Members of all parties in this House who argue against devolution to Wales and Scotland use the argument of the slippery slope. If there is a slippery slope in that direction, there is certainly far more danger on a European basis, with power going further and further away, and people having even less chance of keeping in touch with what is happening.
As I say, if there are direct elections there will be a demand for more power. Indeed, the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) spoke of progress towards more power, and he said that it would be followed quite openly. I respect him for that, but I disagree about the amount of power there should be at that level.
The Foreign Secretary told us that there was a safeguard because everything would have to go through the House of Commons, but I have to say that he gave us no reassurance, because we have seen so much affecting Wales go through this Chamber against the majority view of 987 Welsh Members of Parliament, and, indeed, on some occasions, against the unanimous view of Welsh Members. I suspect that that is no safeguard whatever for the interests of Wales.
We fear that a directly elected European Parliament will be a first step towards a European State. We are told that, once a Welsh Assembly or a Scots Assembly has been set up, the process will be irreversible. I suspect that the process towards a European Parliament is equally irreversible—or even more so, if that be possible—than any process towards Welsh or Scots Assemblies.
§ Mr. Douglas Hurd (Mid-Oxon)
I am trying to follow the hon. Gentleman's argument. If he believes that the people of Wales are against any form of federalism in Europe, why does he believe that they will select, elect and re-elect Members to the European Parliament who will push for federalism?
§ Mr. Wigley
I suspect that given four voices out of about 370, the people of Wales will not have much say. I suspect that there will be a trend in the direction of federalism and that is borne out in the Tindemans Report. My party warned about such a development in our evidence to M. Tindemans. Direct elections are, at the very least, a small step towards a sort of Euro-State. If it is a small and irreversible step in the wrong direction it could lead to tragedy. It is such a step which takes a man over the edge of the cliff and there is no going back.
We have been told that the step toward Assemblies in Scotland and Wales is an irreversible constitutional matter and that therefore there should be a referendum on it. But there has been no talk of a second referendum on the direct elections issue. Little reference was made to direct elections during the referendum campaign. The subject was played down.
There needs to be a clearer idea of the role of the Euro-Parliament. It certainly will not be happy just simply firing a few Commissioners or trimming the odd budget. Reference has been made to a federal structure. But that is at least a definitive structure. My party does not agree with a federal structure but at least 988 then we would know what we were talking about. Today we are dealing with a blank cheque. We accept that there are different functions which should be carried out at different levels but we want to know what those functions are to be on a European level.
I shall now take up the comments by the Foreign Secretary when he referred to Wales and Scotland. I have argued that Wales should have more representation than is allowed for in the Green Paper. On the basis of that formula we would have only three or four seats—one for the whole of Gwynedd, Clywd and Powys—the seven old counties of Wales. Luxembourg, which has the same population as Gwent, will have six seats and Ireland 13 seats. The situation would be impossible. We have heard in the debate about the difficulties there would be for Greater London because no one would know who their representative was. If Wales or Scotland were made into one multi-Member constituency it would be a matter of locating the representative. The Foreign Secretary said, referring to me: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."—[Official Report, 10th March, 1976; Vol. 907, c. 413.]The small countries are to have greater representation because of their diversity. But Wales and Scotland have the same diversity within the United Kingdom and they need greater representation. We need it more so because we are part of the United Kingdom and have no opportunities to express our own voice at all. Because we are swallowed within the United Kingdom we have a disproportionately small voice. If the United Kingdom is to have 67 seats, Wales should have 13—the same as Ireland—Scotland should expect 18 and Ulster six. That would still leave 30 seats for England, which is as many as it has at present. That would give us a more effective voice. The fact that Wales and Scotland would then have 31 seats between them is mere coincidence.
989 The relationship between the Assemblies to be set up in Cardiff and Edinburgh and the representation of Scotland and Wales in the European Parliament is touched upon in the Green Paper which reads on page 3, paragraph 4:… the Government have naturally had in mind the relationship between the question of direct elections to the European Assembly and the creation of Scots and Welsh Assemblies. Their preliminary view is that the issues involved can and should be kept separate.I stress the words "preliminary view". It is stupid and stubborn to say that if the Assembly in Scotland is legislating on internal Scottish matter it will have no direct link with the EEC even though the EEC may have a policy on such a subject. Even if there are no legal rights for the Assemblies in Cardiff and Edinburgh, informal links would be set up with the European Members of Parliament. That is inevitable. The interface will develop and Welsh and Scots Assemblies will insist that they eventually have a voice in all the institutions in the EEC, if we remain members of the Community.
Why does everything in the EEC have to have uniformity? Provided that the individual countries are happy with the system of election, why not let them retain the system which suits them best? Circumstances vary from country to country, and should be respected.
There is talk of revision of the electoral system. Like the hon. Member for Moray and Nairn (Mrs. Ewing), I support a single transferable vote system for single-Member constituencies. There is talk of constituency boundaries and the need for those to be co-terminous with local government units and units of the Welsh and Scottish Assemblies.
The question of voting rights for citizens of the Irish Republic living in the community is one which must be faced, fair and square, if there is a move towards direct elections.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith) spoke of the paradox of the EEC leading to the strengthening of the separatist movements within the United Kingdom. The paradox is ironic, but I suspect that in the development of the European Parliament, the old stigma of economic separatism will mean nothing. The old slogans of passports and Customs posts on the border will mean nothing. 990 All the old phobias of the opponents of self-government will disappear and it will be easier for the people of Wales to see the need for their own Parliament and Government.
If there is a development of a European State there will be a breakdown of centralist Jacobin nineteenth century States as there has been in France and to some extent in the United Kingdom. It will be much easier for Wales and Scotland to achieve autonomy.
In a directly elected European Parliament safeguards will be needed to defend the rights of the outer areas of Europe and to ensure that it does not develop into a power bloc. There must be the right of units to opt out. All measures must be ratified by national Parliaments. We may also need a second Chamber on a European basis, as a counterbalance to the population disparities.
Summing up, our fear is not so much of direct elections—after all, there is some semblance of democracy in that. What we fear is the trend towards a monolithic super-State in Europe.
§ 7.49 p.m.
§ Mr. David Price (Eastleigh)
I am conscious that a number of hon. Members wish to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, so I shall be brief. We have had a series of speeches directed against the proposition of direct elections. It was inevitable that the occasion should be seized by the anti-federalists to raise the federalist bogy. An increasing number of hon. Members have used the phrase "European Parliament". We have not got a European Parliament. It is an Assembly. That distinction of nomenclature is important. As the Foreign Secretary rightly pointed out, the European Assembly as constituted is not a rival to this House, although quite a number of hon. Members have spoken as though it were.
I remind those who may think that the Assembly is potentially a rival that it does not make laws, and an Assembly which does not make laws is not a Parliament in the material sense of the word. Furthermore, there is no European Government answerable to a Parliament for their survival. That again is a very important difference between an assembly and Parliament as we understand it. One agrees that there is a commonalty in 991 that the European Assembly has one attribute of a Parliament described by Sir Ivor Jennings in his famous book "Parliament" as follows:The true function of the House—he meant the House of Commons—is to question and debate the policy of the Government.That is clearly the European Assembly's principal task. But the Council of Ministers is not a Government as we understand the term in this House. Yet there can be no doubt that the Council is the supreme decision-making body in the Community.
The task of the Assembly is to try to make the Council of Ministers accountable on a European basis to the people of Europe. At the present, it is held accountable only indirectly through the several and separate accountabilities of the nine Governments through their Parliaments and ultimately to their own electors. I do not believe that this is an entirely satisfactory arrangement, and we must try to improve it.
The Assembly may not be the entire answer, but it is an important part of the answer, and therefore I am anxious to see it improved. I have consistently believed that direct elections would give the Assembly an authority which it currently lacks. In this respect, I found the remarks, analysis and forecast of the right hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. Stewart) totally convincing. For that reason, I am in favour of direct elections by direct universal suffrage at the earliest convenient moment. It is not a new thought of mine. I have been a supporter of direct elections since long before Britain was a member of any of the Communities. It seemed to me that it was the right thing to advocate.
There are a few reasons, which have not yet been sufficiently adduced in the debate, for my belief that direct elections are the best way at arriving at European delegates. First, they would ensure a permanent and continuing relationship between representatives and their electors. It would personalise accountability to a degree unattainable under any form of indirect elections. So if we are to have—as we are—a European Assembly, it should be directly elected. That is also 992 a very strong reason for having single-Member constituencies.
Secondly, the fact that the Assembly is not a Parliament in the full sense that we are is no argument against proceeding to direct elections any more than it is an argument against having direct elections to country councils or, for that matter, to a future Scottish or Welsh Assembly. This House is neither so unique nor so perfect that it alone should have direct elections.
Thirdly, direct elections to the Assembly will bring the workings of the Community nearer to the individual elector, and in so doing it will, I hope, make the Community more meaningful to the ordinary British citizen. The present arrangements are not designed to personalise British representation in the Community, but direct elections on a single-Member constituency basis will ensure that every elector has his own European representative, just as he has his own Member in this House. People come to see us who have not voted for us and never will, but they accept that in many matters we can represent their interests. I believe that exactly the same thing would happen with directly-elected European Members.
Fourthly, there is the matter of our Treaty obligations. Our having adhered to the Treaty of Rome gives a bias in favour of proceeding to direct elections, and there would have to be very convincing reasons for us not to proceed to direct elections according to Article 138.
Finally, there is a very practical reason—the present arrangements by which our representatives to the Assembly are chosen are not entirely satisfactory. The hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Barnett) seemed to have some doubt how he found himself in our delegation. The Members of our delegation from another place have not even been elected to the House of Lords. On the other hand, at least Europeans who go to the Assembly from their own second chambers have been elected there. Our own delegates from the House of Lords are unrepresentative on two scores.
In this House, the dual mandate is too demanding on Members' time and skill. We are asking them to use that time and skill both here and in Europe, I am full of admiration for what our colleagues representing us in Europe have been and are doing. But they clearly put at greater 993 risk their health, their constituencies and their families. The dual mandate is an unsatisfactory arrangement.
The question of the link between elected Members of the European Assembly and of this House and another place is one which the Select Committee could go into with profit. Many of us have suggestions to make, but in view of the time I shall not make mine now. There seems to be no respectable argument against implementing the principle of direct elections to the Assembly. I could go in more detail into some technical points if I had more time, but I shall leave them to the Select Committee. I hope that we shall have an opportunity to put proposals to it.
The sooner we can get round to direct elections the better for the democratic process of Europe. It is only through a direct mandate from the people of Europe that the Assembly will acquire the necessary authority to challenge effectively and responsibly the Council of Ministers—and that to me is a "must".
§ 7.58 p.m.
§ Mr. John Roper (Farnworth)
I agree with a great deal of what the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mr. Price) has said. He presented one of the clearest statements of the reasons for direct elections that we have heard in the debate. I would disagree perhaps on only one point—the question of what the body should be called. I was glad that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said that the Council of Ministers would come to a decision on this matter, because it is confusing when half the people call it an Assembly and the other half a Parliament.
I also hope that we shall shortly debate the whole of the Tindemans Report and the Government's long-term proposals for the development of the Community. That is not the subject of the debate, so I will not follow those hon. Members who have raised these matters.
It is totally ludicrous to suppose that any of us can predict what sort of powers the European Parliament might want or have in 1986, 1996 or 2006. To suggest that one could lay that out in the Green Paper and expect us to be able to see that far into the future before we make these decisions is very foolish.
994 On the general objective of direct elections to the Parliament, there must be detailed consideration and perhaps amendment of the ideas put forward in the Green Paper and, I hope, strong moves to implement direct elections. There can be no question of total rejection. Article 138 of the Treaty of Rome—the Treaty which was endorsed by the British people in the referendum of last June—contains a clear obligation to that aim. With this commitment to direct elections we face the question how we are to put them into effect. The Government in their Green Paper have set out the problems which face us.
Unfortunately, the question of the election date has come to be seen by many as an all-win or all-lose situation. People seem to think that if we cannot have the election in May or June 1978 it will be a grave disaster. I hope that we can have the election in May or June 1978 so long as there is a sound basis for it in all nine countries of the Community. There are problems in this country and elsewhere. We must find what my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs referred to as a sensible basis for going forward. It may mean setting back for a few months or even a year the date of May-June 1978. That would not be a failure but a victory for common sense. It is important that all nine countries move simultaneously. Direct elections in six or seven countries in 1978, followed by direct elections in two more countries in 1979 and by direct elections in another country in the 1980s would do more harm than good.
I completely endorse the idea that the Parliament should have a fixed term and reject the argument that the date for European parliamentary elections should be the date on which United Kingdom parliamentary elections are held. Besides the difficulties that the latter proposal would create in the European Parliament, it would make no more sense than to have all local elections on the same day as the United Kingdom parliamentary election. Each level of operation of government has different areas of responsibility, different types of authority and different issues to present to the electorate, and they should be presented in different contexts at different 995 elections. If the voting turn-out for European elections is low, it reflects on Europe, on the Parliament and on the candidates for the election. No attempt should be made artificially to inflate the turn-out.
Some people, not today, have expressed the worry that while one party is in Government in the United Kingdom another party might have the majority of Members elected to the European Parliament. That is not much more of a problem than having opposing parties controlling county councils and Westminster. It is not a substantial point for two other reasons. Even if the elections for the United Kingdom Parliament and the European Parliament were held on the same day, it is possible, given the different sizes of constituencies, different issues and so on, that one party could win the United Kingdom election while another party won the majority of seats in the European Parliament.
Secondly, even if the United Kingdom and European parliamentary results came out the same, the European Parliament Members from the United Kingdom would still only be a part of the European Parliament playing a part within European parties and would not necessarily find themselves on the majority side in the European Parliament whatever position they happened to occupy in this House.
The second major question is the size of the Parliament. Whatever is done, there will be anomalies between the ratio of Members to population because of the serious disparities in the population of the member States of the Community. The objective must be to reduce these anomalies without creating an unworkably large Parliament. On the whole, I support the plans for a large Parliament. The European Assembly's Draft Convention, the so-called Patijn plan, deals unsatisfactorily with some of the anomalies.
I have submitted to my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary a proposal for a Parliament of 418 Members which I hope is within the range he suggested as being a little bigger than the 355-Member Parliament. That would give the United Kingdom 86 Members rather than the 67 under the Patijn plan, and the average population per seat in the United Kingdom would be 650,000 as opposed 996 to the 833,000 in the Patijn plan. Under these proposals, Scotland would have nine Members, Wales five and Northern Ireland three, rather than the seven, four and two they would be likely to obtain under Patijn. I hope that the Government will consider that proposal in the meetings at the end of this week and in July.
There is nothing sacred about any particular number. Other people have put forward numbers up to 550, and these suggestions also should be considered. When the Government are considering size, I hope that they will not be swayed by the arguments which have been put forward on the Continent that any Parliament of over 400 Members is totally unmanageable. Many adjectives fit this House, but I do not think "totally unmanageable" is one.
§ Mr. Robert Cooke (Bristol, West)
It would be much more effective if we had 400 or 450 Members instead of 600 plus.
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Myer Gaipern)
If the hon. Member had the occupancy of the Chair, he might think differently.
§ Mr. Roper
I shall not comment on your intervention, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but in reply to the comment made by the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Cooke), much depends on the quality of Members as well as on the number. I do not believe that 400 is the limit to the number of Members in a manageable Parliament.
There is no reason why the dual mandate should be prohibited or, alternatively, made mandatory. There is no inherent conflict of interest between serving in this House and serving in the European Parliament, as there would be in serving both the Commission and the Parliament. Because of the strain involved, I suspect that few people would be able to do both jobs.
The issue of the authority of the Parliament is not at the centre of the debate. As my right hon. Friend said, and as the Green Paper makes clear:There are at present no specific proposals before the Council for granting increased powers to the European Assembly.
§ Mr. Spearing
Surely the Tindemans Report constitutes such a proposal, and it is to be debated within a week.
§ Mr. Roper
I quoted with care the Green Paper, which refers to "specific proposals". The Tindemans Report certainly speaks of a general increase in the powers of the Parliament over a period but makes no specific proposals.
It is certain that the directly elected European parliamentarians will agitate for more powers, just as the unelected European parliamentarians are doing now. I should like the proposals in the Vedel Commission's Report on the power of co-decision at some appropriate time to go to the Parliament, but increased authority can be gained only by Treaty amendment, and any Treaty amendment has to come before the House. As elected parliamentarians we should be concerned that at present the unelected representatives, although broadly representative of the people, are gaining some authority through the amendment to the budget procedure and the budget conciliation procedure which was brought into action last year.
Like the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten), I hope that when the directly elected Parliament is in being we shall settle for one site for the European Parliament. It will be totally impossible for it to meet in Luxembourg and there is a great deal to be said for its being based in Brussels rather than Strasbourg in view of the logistic problems.
There are some problems which need to be resolved in a national setting. I will mention them briefly, though no doubt they will be discussed in the Select Committee and in this House again when we deal with detailed legislation.
The first problem—drawing up constituency boundaries—can be exaggerated. It is easier to draw up 67 constituencies when starting with a map which is not already divided into constituencies than it is to revise constituency boundaries. The Boundary Commission has already started its general review, so it may be necessary to appoint a special commission for this job. I see no reason why it should create any difficulties. I agree with the hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley) that, as far as possible, the constituencies should follow local government rather than existing constituency boundaries, particularly as these are on the point of being revised. If not, one would have the complicated situation of three sets of boundaries—for 998 local government, new parliamentary constituencies and European constituencies.
I hope that the constituencies will be much nearer to equal population than our constituencies which range from populations of 20,000 to 100,000, almost as great as the disparity between Luxembourg and other member States of the Community.
The method of election has already been referred to. I think that the present system in the United Kingdom is the best for this Parliament and, to begin with, the best way of electing Members of the European Parliament, especially because of the reasons given by the hon. Member for Eastleigh about personal identification of a Member by constituents. In the long run, it will be necessary for us to look at the matter again in the light of the first or second election results.
I agree with what the right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Maudling) said about links between the European Parliament and this House. I have heard a number of suggestions including automatic membership of another place, honorary bishop status for Members of the European Parliament, automatic second-class membership of this House and the establishment of some kind of committee. But all these are false analogies. None of us claims to be members of a county or district council just because he is a Member of this House. United States' Senators and Representatives do not claim to be members of State legislatures just because they are members of national legislatures. What would be the purpose of such an arrangement? Members of one House could not be held responsible to Members of the other. Members of both Houses are responsible to their electors, and the same will be true of a directly-elected European Parliament.
Once Members were elected to that Parliament, we could not expect to have any direct control over them. If what is desired is a Parliament with Members responsible to national Parliaments, we may need a two-Chamber European Parliament like the early United States Congress with a second Chamber elected by State or, in the case of Europe, national legislatures and the lower House directly elected. I think that is far too complicated and I agree with the right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet that we 999 should not get involved in a complicated linking system.
If the purpose of the special relationship is simply to exchange information, any artificial, formal method will fail. Because of the time constraints placed on European parliamentarians and because of the differing natures of their jobs and the jobs Westminster Members must perform, the informal communications which are so much a part of our political life will surely suffice. The task of national parliamentarians will continue to be influencing Government Ministers who travel to Brussels to the Council of Ministers and to try to get involved in the decisions of the European Parliament.
I repeat my welcome for the Green Paper, this debate and the promise by my right hon. Friend that he will appoint a Select Committee. The Government are approaching this question of direct elections in a clear-headed fashion which deserves commendation. I also welcome the Government commitment in the Green Paper that, whatever the form by which direct elections are adopted,HMG will ensure that the agreement is one which cannot come into force until endorsed by all Member States in accordance with their respective constitutional requirements.
§ 8.16 p.m.
§ Mr. George Gardiner (Reigate)
It is a great pleasure to follow the lucid speech of the hon. Member for Farn-worth (Mr. Roper). He and I would expect to find ourselves in agreement on the principles at stake here. He properly devoted himself to matters of detail, and it is pleasant to be able to say that I find myself in agreement on almost all those that he covered.
The case for direct elections can be simply stated. The peoples of nine Western European States have created for themselves a Community, and our membership of it was endorsed emphatically in the referendum last year. That Community has its own system of checks and balances, and influences, but part of this balancing mechanism is deficient. The European Parliament is deficient because it is not directly elected, and I accept all the arguments put forward in the debate so far that the Parlia- 1000 ment needs the authority that derives from direct election.
It has always been understood that this was part of the package of membership of the Community. I am surprised that there have been suggestions that this aspect has been hushed up or glossed over. I know that the Government did not mention it in their explanatory document, which was circulated at the time of the referendum, but that is a matter for the Government to explain. We on the Opposition side have always been perfectly open in saying that this was part of the whole membership package.
Hon. Members who have addressed meetings on this subject will vouch for the fact that a question that has arisen regularly has been how we would control and check the bureaucracy in Europe. The answer has always been that within a measurable period of time we would be working actively for a directly-elected European Parliament. I have always found that explanation to be accepted by the questioner and the audience.
If we now deny the fulfilment of that pledge, or seek to obstruct it, we are not delivering to the British people what we promised them in the referendum last year and over the years of argument about EEC membership. I have no intention of reneging on that commitment by reversing it or by contributing to any dragging of feet over it. Direct elections to the European Parliament are necessary not only for that Parliament but for this House. I differ substantially from hon. Members who believe that this House will be weakened by the institution of direct elections for the European Parliament.
Although I agree with a number of points made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann), I beg to differ from him when he suggests that our rôle will somehow be irrevocably changed in this House when direct elections are instituted. This House has developed its own processes for scrutinising European legislation, and I am full of admiration for those who, on the Select Committee, have devoted themselves to this task. But we are also aware that this House as a body has great difficulty in finding the time to debate all the matters referred to us by that Committee.
1001 I also note that the quite thorough scrutiny procedure adopted by the House is not reflected in all the other Parliaments of the Community. Indeed, I observe that our scrutiny procedure is really effective only in as much as it enables us to bring pressure on Ministers who are attending the Council of Ministers. Let us never pretend that it is any substitute for democratic scrutiny of Commission proposals within the context of EEC institutions. Furthermore, this House cannot engage in the free legislative process of consultation, as only Members of a European Parliament can do. Their pre-legislative rôle is a very important function.
We delude ourselves if we claim that we can fulfil that kind of scrutiny rôle in this House, especially if we seek to delude our electorate that we can perform that function. If we do, I believe that we, as Members of Parliament, will do ourselves very great damage. It is my belief that this House takes on too much, and that it is too cluttered already; therefore, let us have many of these matters handled by those who are specially elected for this purpose.
I should be very happy if all the little chits of paper arriving in my mail regularly about New York-dressed poultry went to an elected representative who could answer those points more effectively than I could. Indeed, if we establish these directly-elected Members of a European Parliament, perhaps we in this House will stand a chance of subjecting our own Government's actions to more effective scrutiny than we do now.
The Green Paper and the Foreign Secretary, in his speech today, raise a number of questions requiring answer. In my remaining remarks I shall touch on a couple of them. First, there is the fundamental question of timing. I have always been cautious over the target of May or June 1978. I accept the point made just now that if we can achieve this on the basis of thorough and proper preparation, we should by all means do so, but it would be better for us slightly to delay direct elections and have them on a sound basis than to approach them in a great hurry and get it a bit wrong.
I believe—here I echo very strongly the remarks made by the right hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. Stewart)—that it is 1002 very important that all member States of the Community should move together, and not by separate stages, to direct elections. I do not know any of the detail of this; I know only what I read in my newspapers. But I gather that certain other member States may have difficulty in achieving the May-June 1978 goal, too—even those which have committed themselves nationally to that target date.
I urge the Foreign Secretary and the Government, if there is to be any reconsideration of the target date within the European Council, to seek to settle on a later common date, and drop any notion of a special derogation for this country. Many of us would regard that as a very acceptable way to solve the problem.
I noted with great interest the pledge given today by the Foreign Secretary to establish a Select Committee on these questions. In the past when there has been some dispute over the merits of this suggestion, it is because it has tended to come from those whom one would suspect of seeking a delaying mechanism. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) is not here at the moment, but he made it quite clear that if he is fortunate enough to sit on a Select Committee he will seek to fight the referendum battle step by step all over again.
I hope that that does not turn out to be the function and rôle of the Select Committee, and that we can take at their face value the Foreign Secretary's statements that he would require, and the Government would help, the Select Committee to work "at all reasonable speed".
What kind of elections should we have? I believe that it is very important that the form of these direct elections, at least for the first one or two occasions, should be one that is familiar to the British people. I can perfectly understand why the Liberals argue otherwise. I can understand why they argue for a proportional representation system, just as they do in the United Kingdom, but I ask them, with their long commitment to the European ideal, to accept that the effect of going for proportional representation would be to delay the introduction of direct elections in this country way beyond any of the dates that have been mentioned hitherto.
1003 While on the subject, I should like to try to lay the myth that is repeatedly raised—it was expressed again in the leader in The Times this morning—that the adoption of a "first-past-the-post" system, with large constituencies, will necessarily mean that there will be no Liberal representation from this country at the European Parliament. For a start, we know that it is very dangerous to seek to transfer the electoral figures from the last General Election to the canvas of a direct election to the European Parliament. But, more specifically, surely the very reason why the Liberals suffer in our "first-past-the-post" system in seeking to gain election to this Parliament is that most of our people see a General Election as a chance to elect the Government of this country. They can see that the effective choice is between a Labour Government and a Conservative Government. Liberal candidates are therefore at a disadvantage in a "first-past-the-post" system, in an election to produce a Legislature which itself has to produce an Executive.
In any direct election to the European Parliament, we are not electing a Parliament which itself produces an Executive; therefore the argument that tells against the Liberals in national elections to this House need not necessarily tell against them in the elections to the European Parliament.
In theory, it is possible for the Liberals, in a particular seat, to field a particularly impressive candidate, for him to put forward credible arguments, and for him to point out the sort of things that he would do in a European Parliament, working in conjunction with other European Liberals as members of the Liberal Group. I therefore suggest to Liberals and to others that, in direct elections, all the parties in this House would be starting very much more from the same line than they are when going into a General Election for this House, from which will be decided the complexion of the Government of this country. I say "in theory" there is no reason why the Liberals should not gain Members of a directly-elected European Parliament. In practice, I doubt it, but that is a party point. But if that turned out to be the situation, I submit that it would be the fault of the Liberals, and not of the system.
1004 The peoples of nine Western European States have willed the creation of the European Community. This House has willed Britain's membership of it by large majorities on more than one occasion, and the British people endorsed this overwhelmingly last year in a referendum. Having thus willed Britain's membership of the Community, it would be an act of supreme shame for this House or any part of it to seek to delay that Community getting the means by which it can function effectively and by which it can properly reflect the wishes of its peoples. Surely, with our historic traditions, we should be among the first in Europe to argue that the Community's actions should be subject to more democratic influence and control.
As I say, I do not advocate any headlong rush. I have my doubts whether May-June 1978 will prove a realistic target date for a majority of member States—but I implore the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary to make it clear in Europe that we are as enthusiastic as anyone else for direct elections, to be held as soon as possible, on the basis of thorough preparation.
The British people must be represented directly in the European Parliament, preferably at the same time as the peoples of other member States. I am convinced that this will be to the benefit of the Community, to the benefit of this country and, in the process, to the benefit of this House.
§ 8.31 p.m.
§ Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)
I think that many hon. Members will question the final few words of the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Gardiner) because, although we accept and, of course, have to accept the verdict of the people in the referendum, the future shape and purposes of the Community are a matter for debate.
It may be that the hon. Member for Reigate joins his hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Sir P. Kirk) in being an out-and-out federalist. If he does, I accept that he has a good case for direct elections, as has my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton), who may be a federalist, too.
§ Mr. Spearing
People who are federalists have a very good case for direct 1005 elections. But I suggest that those who are not federalists—and in this debate it might be helpful in future for hon. Members to declare themselves clearly on this—there are great dangers in declaring for direct elections, because clearly the future scope and organisation of the European Economic Community is by no means clear.
Some of us feel that, in accepting direct elections, we shall be on a very slippery slope to a federal State. That is something which the majority of right hon. and hon. Members do not want and have never wanted. Indeed, Her Majesty's Government have never wanted it. In a Written Question on 22nd March, I asked my right hon. Friend the Minister of State at the Foreign Office by what means Her Majesty's Government were committed in any way to the development of a federal structure from the present institutions of and foundation Treaties of the EEC. My right hon. Friend replied:Her Majesty's Government are in no way so committed."—[Official Report, 22nd March 1976; Vol. 908, c. 83–4.]It will be important, when the Select Committee looks at this, for it to ask what proposals there are that it has in the end to decide which de facto commit not only this House but the United Kingdom to a federal Europe. I hope to show that that risk is a very great and real one.
We already have a super Executive in Brussels. That is what the European Community is about. It is an Executive which is unlike our own because the Executive there, in the form of the Council and the Commission acting as it were in tandem, is a highly authoritarian Executive. It is deliberately designed to be highly authoritarian.
The point is that, whereas individual Members of this House other than the Government can initiate matters—we have various means by which we can do it—the Council of Ministers cannot formally, by its constitution, initiate legislation. It has to come only from the Commission, and that Commission in power is not sustained by continuous votes, as our Executive is here day after day—or occasionally not, as the case may be. It is there permanently.
Even if there were elected representatives—in the way in which the hon. Member for Reigate claims to be more democratic—it would be unlikely that 1006 it would be a legislative Parliament in quite the same way as this Parliament here, which has to sustain the Executive. It might have redefined functions, as was suggested by Mr. Tindemans, and so it might be neither one thing nor the other. It would want more powers, and it would get them over a period. They would relate not just to New York-dressed poultry, but would extend to such matters as energy policy and perhaps even to future foreign policy for a combined European Community. We would find ourselves if not in a de jure, then in a de facto federal arrangement.
Often in the Community in the past we have found ourselves in a package situation where although the rules do not require us to take certain action, we have to go along with the proposals because they are part of a package. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture found himself in this position over skimmed milk He did not want the provisions, nor did the House. If we go over to a directly elected Assembly how much worse will the situation be in such cases?
My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary earlier today described some of my fears as hobgoblins. But the draft which is now before the Council for next week talks about uniform procedure. My right hon. Friend said that I should not worry on that score because it would never come. The same attitude was adopted before the referendum about direct elections. But if the point was included in the Treaty we would be told that although the provision was not operative yet, we would have to operate it because of the Treaty. The mere fact that something is distant does not mean that it will not loom up much sooner than we expect if the Government of the day or the negotiating position in the Community requires it. That is what happened about direct elections.
I believe that direct elections are based on a recommendation and that if we do not like it we can say "No". I challenge my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister or my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary to say where in any public speech before 5th June they made it clear that this would be an obligation should the British people say "Yes". I have tabled many Questions for Written Answer to my right hon. Friends, but 1007 the gist of the replies has been that no good purpose would be served by listing the details and so on. With the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) I questioned my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister week after week about direct elections. He shoved the matter to one side. That sort of behaviour by my Government is not a very good preliminary to asking the House to approve the principle of direct elections. The issue has been repeatedly side-stepped.
The worst example of that was in the White Paper Cmnd. 6003 at paragraph 131 which said:If British membership is confirmed, any scheme for direct elections to the European Assembly would require an Act of Parliament. Any revision of the powers of the Assembly would also require the specific approval of the United Kingdom Parliament.Anyone reading that might assume that if an Act of Parliament was necessary. Parliament need not say "Yes", and that therefore there would be no obligation. Clearly if there were an obligation it would have been written into the document, but it was not. Thus, even if the Government claim that they have an obligation under the Treaty, we can claim that they have no moral mandate for taking that stand. That is clear from the Prime Minister's refusal to answer my Questions and it is clear, too, from the White Paper. The obligation was not even spelt out in the red, white and blue paper which was shoved through everybody's letter box.
It has often been said that we need this directly elected Parliament to ensure proper democracy. But democracy does not depend only on votes or, indeed, on people going to that place and speaking. It is far more subtle. One has to identify responsibility and to be able to change things. Tonight we cannot put down an amendment to the motion.
§ Mr. William Hamilton
There is nothing to prevent the Opposition putting down an amendment, if they wish.
§ Mr. Spearing
The Opposition can put down an amendment if they wish, but, unless there is a substantive motion on the Order Paper, it is not always possible to put down an amendment.
Democracy depends on many matters other than the vote. If we have direct elections, we shall have a network of institutions—the Commission, the Assembly, the Council, national Governments and national Parliaments—and the crisscrossing wires of information and consultation will be very complex. They will be so complex—they are already difficult enough—that the place where power lies may not be visible. It may disappear. Indeed, that may be the desire of some people who possibly think that they will gain greater power thereby. Any power which is gained by this changed mechanism, this criss-crossing of the chains of accountability, will mean that the place where power lies is less visible and there will be a reduction in the power of this House.
Some years ago my right hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) made a speech in which he referred to democracy being sustained by gossamer threads. If those gossamer threads get crossed, there will be no accountability and, therefore, little democracy anyway. There is the danger of a multiplicity of agencies and organisations in the Community, which may claim greater and greater economic and other powers, getting crossed and accountability disappearing in practical terms.
I should like to refer to other significant matters which have not been mentioned on the relative details of direct elections. On what manifestos will candidates stand? They may stand on major party manifestos in this country. But those manifestos may be part of a larger grouping in the European Assembly composed of minority groupings. In the European Assembly parties play a more significant part than in this House. We know that the usual channels operate here. However, they do not operate in quite the same rigid way as they do in the Assembly where they are built into the structure.
A major British party may find itself in a minority in drawing up its Assembly manifesto. If that Assembly is to have only the power of initiation, not of 1009 decision—which is that of the Council—on what policy will the election be fought? If it is to be fought on a European outlook to the world, that clearly crosses matters which are the proper purview of this House.
§ Mr. Spearing
I suggest that if these are to be meaningful elections, practical issues of that kind will arise during the campaign.
What about other parties? There is no reason why other parties should not arise. We have the Scottish and Welsh national parties. We may find a third national party making a specific effort in the European Assembly elections. These are particular dangers. If this election takes place, it will rightly be seen as opening the door to a federal European system which the majority of people in this country do not want and for which they did not vote on 5th June.
§ Mr. Spearing
Such an election could have what I might call mid-term effects. If we have an election to the European Assembly halfway through a Parliament and the political complexion of those elected to the European Parliament is different from that of those elected to this House, what effect will that have? It may have none but we know that not long ago when there was an election of Northern Ireland Members to this House as distinct from the power-sharing Executive, that had profound repercussions.
We know that the way in which the Government survive and maintain their power in this House is a matter not of votes but of feeling, of confidence, and of the way in which the wind blows. If there is a mid-term election to the European Parliament on issues which may have to be debated in this House, and if it produces a result different from the representation in this House, I suggest that that will have side effects the results of which we shall not know. The hon. Member for Mid-Oxon (Mr. Hurd) laughs, but in practice this is likely to happen, and to happen at a time that could weaken the British Government, weaken the power of the House and weaken the credibility of our democratic institutions.
§ Mr. Spearing
The hon. Gentleman is optimistic. The point is that this House has set up the GLC and if the House so wishes the powers of the GLC can be changed. In fact, the GLC itself can be dissolved. I am sure the hon. Gentleman would be the last to suggest that the EEC can dissolve this House. The simile is not an exact one, though the hon. Gentleman is right in thinking that there is such a thing as municipal law and that the attitude of the EEC to this House is that it is a form of municipal government.
The alternatives are clear and can be carried out literally tomorrow, or be developed after tomorrow, if the Government so wish. If we wish to control the bureaucracy and autocracy of Brussels, as we do, it must be, and ought to be, done on the basis of international cooperation because the federal rôle is supranational. The existing constitution of the Community is international through the Council of Ministers. The Council should be given powers of de jure initiation. It should be able to initiate legislation, which I believe it cannot do at the moment.
Secondly, we must improve our procedures of scrutiny and instructions to Ministers. At the moment these are inadequate, and everybody knows that, but I remind the House that on 3rd November last the Select Committee on Procedure put to the House a series of recommendations about the improvement of procedure but those were turned down by the Government. At that date the Government promised a change in Standing Orders if only we would accept their version of what we should do, but that change has yet to be tabled.
The Government should set about changing the procedures of the House—they need not spend a lot of the time on the Floor of the House doing so—to ensure that we have effective scrutiny and, secondly, that there is effective instruction of our Ministers who go to 1011 international organisations to which the country is committed. By that means we would get a better chain of accountability and not have the criss-crossed wires and confusion that is bound to result from direct elections.
By doing what I suggest we should avoid all those difficulties and possibilities that I have outlined that will have a secondary effect, because whenever one introduces new machinery of this sort it is the unlooked for and unexpected effects that cause damage that one would have avoided if one could. By accepting the referendum result we should, through the machinery of this House, through the Executive that is accountable to the House, and in turn through the Council and the Commission, gain all the things that have been asked for.
§ 8.49 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Cooke (Bristol, West)
The Foreign Secretary spoke of elected delegates to Europe, but I submit that they are to be representatives of the United Kingdom and, by implication, of this House. They will to some extent be our representatives from Parliament and we should endeavour to keep an eye on them. What I am going to suggest may dispel many of the fears that have been put about this evening by what I might describe as the anti-Marketeers.
I am sure there should be close and effective links between this House and those elected from the United Kingdom to serve in Europe—on the big matters, of course. The trivialities can be dealt with by the "Euros" alone.
We must have direct elections, and we must have them when they are planned by seven out of the Nine. We should do the same by mid-summer 1978. We should not drag our feet; we have had enough of that already. I have real sympathy with my right hon. Friend the Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) on this issue. He dragged a somewhat unwilling Britain into Europe. He was rough with the country, but he was right.
We should aim for a full and enthusiastic United Kingdom participation in the elected European Assembly. It would be intolerable to have the United Kingdom represented in the Assembly by persons accountable to nobody but large groups of between 600,000 and 1012 800,000 constituents. I would reject proportional representation, under which system the elected Members would have no contact at all with individual constituents.
The minority party interest can be taken care of by my main proposal, which will give their Members in the United Kingdom Parliament ample opportunity to influence the elected Europeans. I believe that our elected Europeans should be accountable not only to their 600,000 or 800,000 constituents but also to this Parliament and, in the main, to this House. I believe that all those Commoners elected to the European Assembly should, while serving there, also have membership—without the right to vote—of this House of Commons unless they are already Members of the United Kingdom Parliament in which case they would be able to sit and vote.
I see no reason at all why Peers should not stand for Europe, and they already have a seat at Westminster. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Farnworth (Mr. Roper) is not here, because he talked about Members of this Parliament not wishing to be members of a county council. I hope that this House will never be relegated to the status of a county council. That is why I am making my proposals. I hope that the Select Committee will consider the suggestion that I am making, and which has been made elsewhere, and will at least produce reasons for not agreeing with it if it finds that it cannot. I hope that the "anti's" will find the idea constructive, because they will be able to keep track of what our representatives in Europe are doing.
Of course, in the first instance most, if not all, of the successful candidates will probably have had parliamentary experience by being actual Members of one House here, but eventually not many will wish to seek election to both Commons and Europe. That is why I have made my suggestion. We should not rule out the right of people to stand for both Parliaments. Some people may wish to come here with a view to going to Europe—or there may be people in Europe who wish to come here. I believe that the Government have it right.
There has been a proposal that all representatives should become temporary Members of the House of Lords, but that 1013 is hardly a compliment to the Commons, where the seat of power is now. We hope that it will remain here. The elected representatives should have links with this place, and it would be no great strain on the resources of this House. If there is a case for devolution, will 600-plus Members still be elected to the United Kingdom Parliament? We can afford to reduce the House of Commons by a number almost equal, if not equal, to those who will find their way into the European Assembly. It is really indefensible, if we are to have Assemblies in Scotland and Wales, to have a Parliament of 600-plus Members.
We have to end the present tug-of-war by which our Europeans are called back here to vote whenever a public show of strength between Government and Opposition is called for. Tribute has already been paid to the physical feats which they endure at present. We have to end that. We must forge closer and effective links for the future. We should go ahead in 1978 and play our part in an elected European Assembly, closely linked to this elected House of Commons.
§ 8.55 p.m.
§ Mr. John Evans (Newton)
I am grateful for the opportunity of speaking in the debate. I should like to apologise in advance to the House and to the Front Bench spokesman who is to reply to the debate tomorrow evening for the fact that I shall be absent. Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. Stewart), I shall be in Brussels on European parliamentary business tomorrow.
I hope that the House will accept that after nine months' service in the European Parliament and service on two of its committees, I can speak with some small knowledge of how the Assembly works. I do not claim to be an expert on the subject but after nine months' work in that establishment I have acquired some knowledge of it.
I must say at the outset that I fought very hard as an anti-Marketeer in the referendum campaign to prevent Britain's continued membership of the EEC, but I hope that the fact that my colleagues appointed me, three weeks ago, as chairman of the Regional Policy, Transport and Planning Committee will show that I have not adopted a negative attitude in 1014 the European Assembly. I have worked to the best of my ability in a constructive rôle and I have tried to put forward constructive points. However, my views have in no way changed from where they stood last June.
The first point that I should like to mention concerns the question referred to by a number of hon. Members—the killing burden that those of us who bear the dual mandate are supposed to be carrying. In my view, this card has been badly overplayed, and the burden is in no way killing at all. I ask hon. Members to bear in mind that on the occasions when we are in Europe and finishing with our business in Committees and in the Assembly at about 8 p.m., if we were here at Westminster some of us, at any rate, would be stopping until 2 a.m. or 3 a.m. to vote on Government legislation. That does not apply to every hon. Member but certainly to some of us.
For the first nine months of my membership of this House I lived on Tyne-side and travelled almost weekly about 300 miles in driving to my constituency across the Pennines. That burden of living on Tyneside and travelling to Newton was a far greater burden than that which I am supposed to be carrying today. There is no doubt that it is hard work, but the burden is not killing and it is one that we could carry comfortably for some considerable time before deciding that it had become too great.
The other point is the size of constituencies. To attempt to represent more than 600,000 electors would be a great burden. In my case, I have some idea of what it would be like because I have over 100,000 electors. It is not the fact that I have 100,000 electors to deal with that is the problem. My problem, and that of those who have constituencies like mine, is the number of local government organisations involved. In my case there are three county councils—Merseyside, Cheshire and Greater Manchester; four district councils—Warrington, Wigan, Salford and St. Helens—as well as a new town and 10 parish councils. That is for 100,000 electors. If one expands that to a figure over 600,000 and adds probably another eight or nine local authorities, one can appreciate that such a burden would indeed be killing.
However, the issue of direct elections is not about the burden that is or might 1015 be placed on Members. It is the relevance of direct elections to the future of the EEC and its institutions. Like other hon. Members, I welcome the setting up of a Select Committee to consider various procedures. I am not happy about the fact that the Select Committee cannot consider the principle itself. I am sure that if hon. Members of the calibre of the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) are members of the Select Committee, they will certainly raise the principle as well as the practicalities.
Those on the Front Benches should give answers when they reply to some very important questions. The most important question, which has been asked by a number of hon. Members, concerns the extent of the powers which are to be given to an elected European Assembly immediately following direct elections. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said that there were no proposals to give any further powers to the Assembly. If so, the citizens not only of the United Kingdom but also of the other Member States may, legitimately ask, why have direct elections?
Most of those who are Members of the European Assembly will admit that a great deal of the work done in the Assembly comes under the heading of "Rubbish". I see no relevance or importance in dealing with such matters as the harmonisation of fruit jellies or marmalade or chestnut purées, or discussing the problems of silkworm producers and beef producers in the Community.
The work we do in the Assembly is often expanded to fill the available time. Once a committee of the European Assembly has considered something, the matter must eventually come before the Assembly. The Assembly wastes a great deal of time discussing reports which have little relevance to anyone, certainly not to the 300 million who make up the population of the Community.
I accept that much of the work we do in the Assembly is important and relevant. I should not like to give the impression that everything we do is irrelevant or of no great importance, but the issues that we discuss which are important owe nothing in particular to the question whether we are directly elected to the Assembly. Work in combating pollution 1016 or improving the quality of the environment or in promoting regional policies is useful work, but we can do that work adequately as Members sent from our own national Parliaments and the question whether we are directly elected is not critical.
The work is already expanded to fill the time for 198 of us. I shudder to think how the work would be expanded and the documents multiplied to keep 355 of us busy or, as my hon. Friend the Member for Farnworth (Mr. Roper) suggested, 450, or, as somebody else suggested, 600. It is bad enough as it is with 198 serving on the committees and in the Assembly.
Another question which is of considerable importance and which should not be ducked, although it seems to have been overlooked up to the present, concerns the salaries and expenses of those directly elected and of the staff who will serve them. This is relevant to the quality of those who will stand for election to the Assembly. It will certainly be relevant to the ordinary electors of Britain and of the other member States. Anybody who suggests that it will not must have forgotten the cries of outrage which arose from the ratepayers in Britain when it was suggested that councillors should get £10 a day.
If we are to have Members of the Assembly being paid £10,000 or £16,000 a year with salaries and expenses for their staff, the taxpayers and ratepayers in Britain will certainly have something to say about it. Those who will be fighting these elections will go to the people of Britain and ask them to vote for them. I have considerable experience of fighting elections at all levels and I know that the first question that will be asked of candidates for the European Assembly will be "What powers will you have? What will you do for us?" The candidates will say, "We have no powers. We shall not be able to do anything for you. However, we hope that some day somebody will give us powers." I know that the electors will say "You cannot expect us to vote for you until you have acquired some powers".
This will have great relevance to the stature of the Members of the Assembly once they are directly elected. I cannot speak for what happens in other countries, but in Britain whenever people have the opportunity to vote in a non-General 1017 Election situation they invariably take the opportunity to cast their vote against the policies of the Government of the day. If they are faced with this situation they will take the opportunity to express their opinion about the Government of the day, and those who bother to vote will tend to vote against the Government of the day.
Anybody who has studied local government at all is aware that thousands of Labour and Conservative councillors, first-class men and women, have lost office because of the unpopularity of respective Governments. If the European Assembly is full of politicians who are opposed to their national Governments, the Council of Ministers, which at the moment pays little attention to the European Assembly, will pay even less attention to it. Quoting from my experience in the Assembly, Opposition Members—this applies more to the Continentals at the moment—tend to use debates in the Assembly as a means of beating their Governments over the head. I recognise that it is a legitimate political exercise to use every opportunity to beat the Government one dislikes over the head, but if that becomes the practice in the European Assembly, the Council of Ministers will take even less notice of the Assembly than it does at present.
Hon. Members have mentioned the problem of the smaller countries. I accept that the smaller countries have been treated over-generously and that the people of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have a legitimate complaint. Once the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland Assemblies are elected, I am sure they will have something to say about their rôle. They will say that if Luxembourg has six seats and Denmark has 10 seats, then Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will be under-represented, as indeed they would be under the present proposal for 67 Members. This matter will have to be examined. It will not go away, because the people of Scotland and Wales will not allow it to go away. They will make sure that it is continually on the agenda.
Another question which has been raised in the debate is that of a dual mandate in a direct election situation. It has been suggested that such matters should be left to the individual Member con- 1018 cerned but I should like to know, if a Member of this House is directly elected to the European Assembly, which Whip does he obey? When my right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) sends out a three-line Whip, are Members supposed to remain here to vote for the Government, or may they say, "You know what you can do, Bob. We are nipping across to Strasbourg."? With a Government who have a tiny majority such as we have, when we have a three-line Whip in this House and there is an important directive from the Socialist Group in Strasbourg, what do we do?
§ Mr. Evans
I am sure that if an hon. Member followed that advice, his Whip would have a lot to say to him.
I hope that the Select Committee will consider the question of who pays for these elections. The question has to be faced. The Labour Party cannot pay for these elections. It simply has not got the money. I wish my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary had removed his Foreign Secretary's hat and had donned his hat as Treasurer to the Labour Party. Our General Secretary has made it quite clear that we do not have the money. This matter will have to be faced, and we shall have to discuss how we can fight these elections on a party basis if we have not got any money.
I hope that the Select Committee will give serious consideration to many of the points which have been raised in this debate, and I do not believe that the Select Committee should have to report by July. The important questions raised in this two-day debate call for thorough study, and there ought not necessarily to be a deadline at the end of July.
I am not opposed to direct elections simply because I am an anti-Marketeer. I am opposed to direct elections at this juncture because it is my belief—I ask the pro-Marketeers to consider this seriously—that they would seriously weaken the European Assembly and the European institutions. After my nine months' experience—admittedly, not very long—I believe that we have more political muscle in the Assembly and its committees because we are Members of this 1019 House and because we can, if necessary, question Ministers directly in this place. In the European Assembly, on the other hand, we cannot put relevant questions to our Ministers because, quite frankly, they brush us off and push us aside. Here, however, they have to answer in the Chamber when we ask Questions directly or put matters to them by letter or speech on the Floor. If Members of the European Assembly are directly elected and they are not Members of the House of Commons—the case is all the stronger if they are, in effect, members of opposition parties—the Council of Ministers will ignore them entirely.
In my view, the method which we have adopted in this country and which has been adopted elsewhere, is perfectly suitable, and I believe that it should be allowed to continue. The institution of the European Assembly should be allowed to grow at its own pace, in its own time, as the national Parliaments of the nine member States wish it to grow, and certainly as the peoples of the Community wish it to grow.
In my constituency there is no interest whatever in the European Assembly or its works. Moreover, it is significant that those newspapers which used to tell us how important it was that Britain should join the EEC and remain a member now virtually ignore those of us who are doing our best to project our country's image and to explain its needs in the Assembly. It is in our interests, as practical politicians, not to try to move too hastily, for if we build a house not based on solid foundations, in the very near future it will fall.
§ 9.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Russell Fairgrieve (Aberdeenshire, West)
We are concerned here not with "whether" but with "when". One British Government signed the Treaty of Rome. Another put it to a referendum of the British people. Although many of us were unhappy about the principle of introducing referenda into our political institutions, the fact remains that the referendum gave a massive 2 to 1 vote in favour of British membership of the Community.
So far, I have mentioned no political party, and I hope to continue in that vein. It was not a political party that signed the 1020 Treaty of Rome; it was a British Government. It was not a political party that won that referendum; it was the British people.
History shows that it is the normal practice of the British nation to respect the treaties that it signs. We have signed, accepted and put to referendum the Treaty of Rome. Article 138, paragraph 3, states thatThe Assembly shall draw up proposals for elections by direct universal suffrage.I repeat, it is not "whether" but "when". The commitment is clear, irrevocable and binding. I believe also that there is no real problem in holding elections to the European Assembly in May or June 1978, if the will and the want are there.
I turn now to Scotland, with which European nations have had cultural, religious and other links over many hundreds of years. We believe in Europe. Scotland wants to be represented in Europe by men and women elected in Scotland, not selected by Westminster. For Scotland, there is one obvious immediate problem, which I do not intend to duck. By entering Europe within the United Kingdom, Scotland could have less representation in the European Assembly than that of such countries as Denmark or Ireland, which have similar populations.
On the other hand, by being part of the United Kingdom we possess the population "clout" of Germany, France or Italy. For Scotland the answer is simple and true to our international traditions. We want our representation up to nearer that of those whose populations are similar, but sufficiently below that to enable us to use the British "clout" when necessary.
I now turn to the really great issue. I think that it was Clement Attlee who a generation ago said "Europe must unite or perish." What he said is still right. When we see the present might of Russia and America, with China coming up fast in the background, any idea that a medley of small European nations can compete or compare individually in any sphere is incomprehensible. The whole of post-war history in space, in power, in politics, or any other activity, has shown that an umbrella of combining nations routs an anarchy of sovereign 1021 States. I leave aside the 50 million Europeans who were slaughtered this century on behalf of national sovereignty.
Within a united Europe, Germans will be Germans, French will be French, Scots will be Scots and, believe it or not, English will be English. No national pride or characteristics will suffer, but national sovereignty in certain spheres should change. Those spheres are foreign policy, control of armed forces, and currency. Leaving out the two former, which, looking at power in an international context, seem fairly obvious, the latter, by way of monetary union, might have stopped sterling falling continually the way it has throughout the years, and particularly during recent months.
Europe must arise as a world power. Europe possesses the historical, cultural and democratic examples for others to respect. Europe possesses the intellectual freedoms and religious strengths that could bring stabilisation to a troubled world. A democratic Europe is one where those charged with the society and the safety that we must build for our children and grandchildren are elected by the democratic process.
§ 9.18 p.m.
§ Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, Central)
I am glad that I waited to listen to the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. Fairgrieve), because he put the debate on a plane which it had not reached before. Inevitably the debate has been about the nuts and bolts of direct elections. Nobody would seek to underestimate the difficulties involved. The Government are right in deciding to recommend that we set up a Select Committee to deal with the matter. If the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) is on that Committee I hope that I am also on it. The hon. Member is perfectly entitled to his views. As I have, he has been consistent in those views. He is opposed to our membership of the EEC in principle, and he seeks to destroy it by one means or another. He is perfectly entitled to do that, but the country and the House should understand the mischief he is up to.
§ Mr. Marten
All I said in my speech was that the Common Market showed every sign—from the evidence of its spokesmen and Commissioners—of dis- 1022 integrating. The hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) had better realise that.
§ Mr. Hamilton
If that is the case, the hon. Gentleman should sit back and enjoy it. He should not take energetic measures to expedite the process; he should sit back and watch it. For hundreds of years people have said that about this place. Every generation says that the House of Commons is not what it was. To say that is probably a sign of increasing senility.
The terms of reference of the Select Committee will be of very great importance I agree that the relevant article in the treaty is not precise about the holding of direct elections. It is legitimate that the Select Committee should pronounce on the subject and that this House should then take a decision on whether and when we should hold direct elections.
I agree with my lion. Friend the Member for Newton (Mr. Evans) that there is a lot of wasted time in the European Assembly as constituted, but that happens because its Members have no mandate, it meets irregularly—one week in a month—and it has extremely limited powers. The answer to its undemocratic nature and to the undemocratic nature of the other institutions is democratisation, and giving the European Assembly increased powers by giving it a mandate from the electorate.
Which comes first, the mandate or the powers?—is the chicken and egg argument. The same argument has applied to this place. The constitutional history of this country has been the traditional struggle for power by elected representatives of the people, and as the electorate has increased, so the powers of this House over the Executive has increased.
That is my legitimate aim for the European Parliament. Anti-Europeans argued that we were entering an undemocratic, faceless bureaucracy, and it comes ill from them now to argue, because we seek to inject some element of democracy into it "No. We are not having it." They cannot have it both ways. They cannot say that we should not join an institution because it is not democratic, and then, when we seek to inject some democracy into it, say "We do not need it." My hon. Friend the Member for 1023 Newton went in the directly opposite direction. He said that if we have direct elections it will weaken the Assembly. It could not be weaker than it is.
§ Mr. John Evans
I gave a reason for the weakness of the Assembly. The Council of Ministers takes no notice of it now, because it is we in this House who have the political muscle for the United Kingdom. If we have a directly-elected Assembly, whose Members have no relation to this House, the Council of Ministers will take less notice of it than it does now.
§ Mr. Hamilton
My hon. Friend is making assumptions and assertions and assuming that both are true. I reject them completely. I do not believe that the Council of Ministers and the Commission could for long ignore a directly-elected European Parliament. That Parliament would fight for powers.
The hon. Member for Saffron Waldren (Sir P. Kirk) has sought in his own way to increase the powers of the Assembly. He has put forward certain reports. I am chairman of a committee which is repeating that process. We hope, and before very long, to get a Public Accounts Committee. I hope that my hon. Friend will support us. We are going to strengthen the powers of interrogation of Ministers and Commissioners by Members of the Assembly. In other words, we are trying to increase our powers, and as we approach direct elections it will become more and more important for us to have those powers so that we can go to our prospective constituents and answer such questions as "What are you able to do for me?"
Already I can tell my constituents in Fife that we have a European Regional Fund. Already I can tell the constituents of the hon. Member for Moray and Nairn (Mrs. Ewing) that EEC funds have gone to parts of Scotland, England and Wales. All the retraining of the industrially disabled in Scotland is being paid for out of EEC funds. That is the kind of information that we have to get across to our people. I have already told my constituents that the EEC is taking decisions that directly affect the quality of life in my constituency and in the constituencies of many hon. Members.
1024 The difficulties concerning the size of the Parliament, the size of each constituency and the powers of the elected Parliament have been mentioned. I refute the argument put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Newton. I do not believe that the dual mandate is a physical possibility. It might be for a time, but for one person to do the two jobs properly is not possible. I love this House, but I have had to give up Select Committee memberships and to neglect work in this House in which I am greatly interested, because I find it physically and mentally impossible to do both jobs.
There will be a transition period, and we shall need to work out how Members of the European Parliament who are not Members of the House can be made answerable to a political party which has power or is in opposition in this place. The interesting suggestion made by the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Cooke) was that a possible solution might be for a Member who stands for election to the European Parliament to be a co-opted Member of the House and to have speaking rights without voting rights. He must be answerable to the party.
I wish Europe to develop with a party system, not because we have a party system here but because, having studied many constitutions throughout the world, I find that ours has no superior anywhere. Nowhere in America, Europe or Asia is there to be found a better democratic parliamentary system than ours, with all its shortcomings. It has evolved over hundreds of years. No one can say what this place will be like in 10, 20 or 50 years.
The hon. Member for Banbury and others criticise Europe because they say they do not know where Europe is going. We do not know where we are going in the next five years. No one can be certain how our constitution and the balance of forces in Britain will develop over the next generation. The relationship between the Executive and the Legislature is changing gradually. My hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich (Mr. Barnett) said that we were changing surreptitiously. He seemed to imply that we were pulling wool over peoples' eyes. That is not so. We have had a revolution in the standard of living 1025 and the quality of life in my lifetime. It has not crept up on us; it has just happened, and we have not noticed it. So it will be in Europe. I see the institutions of Europe—the Parliament, the Commission and the Council—developing in ways that will increase their democratic content.
We must involve our people and persuade them that our problems, whether economic, social or any other, cannot be solved in isolation. Successive Governments of various political persuasions over the past 30 years have failed to solve our problems, largely because we are part of a much bigger world, in which there are forces over which we have no control.
The present Secretary of State for Energy, in his pro-Market era, said that to protect the small man from the big multinational corporations, we needed big multinational political units. Those words are as true today as they were when he first spoke them.
For good or ill, our future lies in a much bigger unit than is provided by the United Kingdom, or even, perhaps by Europe. That is why I regard the SNP and some other parties with a certain degree of contempt. They are trying to put the clock back, and it cannot be done. Even supposing they got what they wanted, they would have to obey the diktats of Brussels. No matter what happens in Scotland, the country will be in Europe.
The hon. Member for Moray and Nairn forecast that 95 per cent, of the people in Scotland would vote against membership of the Common Market in the referendum. The Scots have a lot more sense than that, and they voted almost identically to the rest of the United Kingdom. They understood that the problems of the United Kingdom and the Scottish economy could not be solved in isolation from the rest of Europe and the rest of the world.
I hope that the Select Committee will be set up in good time and that its terms of reference will be carefully considered. I trust that an opportunity will be given for full debates on its Reports to be held on the Floor of the House. The Committee's terms of reference are of more than usual importance. It is crucial to 1026 get them right and to get the membership balanced.
We shall have these elections, and it will ill-become us to be the odd men out. I know that France has some misgivings about direct elections, and Denmark and some other nations have some doubts. There is an inbuilt, almost innate, conservatism among people striking out into unknown and unexplored territories, but we must take the decision and seek to democratise the institutions of which we have decided to retain membership.
This is a step in that direction. I hope the Government will get on with the job.
§ 9.33 p.m.
§ Sir Anthony Royle (Richmond, Surrey)
I have been in the House with the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) for 17 years and it is only very rarely that I am in the happy position of agreeing with every word of one of his speeches. I am pleased to be in that position today and to have the same feeling about the remarkable speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. Fairgrieve). Both those speeches were indicative of the feeling of the House during this first day of the debate on direct elections.
Anybody who has listened to the debate for any length of time would have noted the amount of support from this side, starting with the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Maudling), in encouraging the Government to move enthusiastically in favour of direct elections as quickly and smoothly as possible. This was confirmed by the powerful speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. Edward du Cann), who made it quite plain that, although he has been opposed for many years to the move of Britain into the European Economic Community, he felt that the time had come to move strongly, boldly and swiftly in favour of having Members directly elected to the European Parliament.
Many of the statements and ideas put forward during the debate have not, perhaps, taken into account the fact that we are not on our own in the ideas we put forward. We have to carry with us our eight friends who are also members of the EEC. Although in an ideal world 1027 there would be certain alterations which we should like to see, and which would suit us particularly in the United Kingdom with our problems, we must also accept that other member countries of the EEC to day might find unacceptable to them ideas which are attractive to people in Scotland, in Wales, in Northern Ireland or in England.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith) and the right hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. Stewart) covered the question of the powers of the Parliament in such a skilful manner that no one has improved on it, before or since. They made it quite clear that the question of powers does not enter into this debate, whether or not we have directly elected Members. The powers can be altered only by the nine Governments. The powers cannot be altered by the European Parliament. As hon. Members on both sides have said, pressures to increase the powers of the Parliament are more likely to come from directly elected Members than from nominated Members, but the final decision can be taken only by the Council of Ministers, and the Council of Ministers is responsible to the various national Parliaments in the nine member States.
I find it difficult to understand how this Parliament, the Mother of Parliaments, could even consider the possibility of continuing to send nominated Members to a directly elected European Parliament. How could we possibly be the only country in the European Economic Community to nominate our Members when the other eight have agreed to direct elections?
Quite apart from that, as the right hon. Member for Fulham has made clear, if we were to send 67 or more nominated Members from this House, that might not include Members of the House of Lords, because the new European Parliament might insist on Members receiving a mandate from the electorate. It could therefore involve sending 67 or more Members from this House. I hardly think that the Patronage Secretary, the Chief Whip of the Opposition, or the Chief Whip of the Scottish National Party, would be very pleased to see that taking place.
1028 Apart from my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten), who I think has certain reservations, every Member who has spoken from this side of the House today has given a clear welcome to the suggestion made by the Foreign Secretary that we should have a Select Committee to work out how to go about electing Members on a direct basis to the European Parliament.
I think that we all hope—this was underlined by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet—that the Select Committee will not only pick the Members with extreme care, as the hon. Member for Fife, Central, urged, but will move swiftly in reaching agreement. It has a large and difficult programme of work in front of it, but with a Minister attached to it the Committee will obviously keep its deliberations closely in parallel with those of the Government. That is something that we all welcome.
There are many major problems which the Select Committee will have to tackle. Some of them have been discussed today. The dual mandate has come up again and again from right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House. Having myself as a Foreign Office Minister represented Her Majesty's Government at the laying of the foundation stone of the Assembly building in Strasbourg, I have some personal experience of the difficulties in travelling to Strasbourg.
I do not know whether this problem has been referred to already by hon. Members who at the moment are Members of the Assembly in Strasbourg, but the difficulties of travelling to Strasbourg and to Luxembourg are becoming increasingly burdensome to our representatives. This affects the British membership of the European Parliament more than any of the other Members, and I hope that Her Majesty's Government will look carefully at the possibility of pressing our friends in the European Community to consider moving the seat of the Parliament. This will avoid the need to go through the performance that we have at the moment of meeting sometimes in Strasbourg and sometimes in Luxembourg, with committees in Brussels. That is a burden which should not be put upon even directly-elected Members, let alone on those nominated Members who suffer it today.
§ Mr. Marten
Will my hon. Friend agree with the proposition which I made and which I thought was thoroughly helpful—that is, that we should not agree to have direct elections until that ridiculous Parliament moves from Strasbourg to Brussels and sits in one place? It was a very good and helpful idea.
§ Sir A. Royle
My hon. Friend is always producing helpful ideas about the European Economic Community, but so far none of them has got off the ground. This one is not a sensible suggestion in that it would be better to have directly elected Members, leaving them to decide for themselves that it would be better to meet in a place more convenient for them than the present meeting places in Strasbourg and Luxembourg.
Another point made by many right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House concerns the links between the two Parliaments. My right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet expressed his reservations about institutional links between the two Parliaments, and the right hon. Member for Fulham made the important point of the constituency aspect and the party aspect. I still take the view, having given this subject some study, that there is a case for having a fairly close link between the two Parliaments, if necessary even an institutional link. This is a matter which should be looked at carefully by the Select Committee. I should not wish to be thought to be dogmatic on the subject. It is a matter at which the Select Committee should look with care.
Then there is the point about synchronising the elections in the United Kingdom with those of the other members of the Community and about the period within which direct elections can take place. This is a European election for a European Parliament. The fact that the United Kingdom electorate do not cast their votes on precisely the same day as other members of the EEC need not matter. However, I think that the election itself should take place during the same week and obviously there would have to be some special arrangement made for the declaration of the count.
Comments have been made on both sides of the House about the size of the Parliament. The Foreign Secretary suggested that the idea of a Parliament 1030 of 355 Members with 67 representing the United Kingdom was about right but that perhaps it could be slightly larger. I think that most right hon. and hon. Members will go along with that. However, I think that the Select Committee should look carefully at Lord Reay's suggestion of a Parliament of 387 Members which would include 80 seats for the United Kingdom. This idea is worth looking at. Certainly it would be in line with the broad sweep of the ideas of the Foreign Secretary about the size of the Parliament.
On the main problems, there is the possibility of the Boundary Commission being instructed to work out the boundaries and the electorates. In my view that is essential. It is a task which I am sure everyone will agree should be carried out by the Boundary Commission and that it should then report to this House.
There are many other details which I have no doubt will be mentioned by the Home Secretary tomorrow. These are matters such as the questions of a free post and of election expenses—whether there is a limit in the nomination put down, whether the amount is £150, which we have for United Kingdom elections, or whether it should be boosted to £1,000, which would be more in line with the increase in inflation. That will have to be decided.
There is also the organisation of election day, the hours of polling, absent voters, selection and adoption of candidates, but all these difficult problems can be solved within the time scale for 1978 elections, given enthusiasm by the Government and determination by the Select Committee.
Over the last 18 months we have seen a dramatic step forward by the Commission and the Community in their economic relations with other parts of the world. Every part of the globe, with the exception of South America, now has external economic agreements with the Community in Brussels. Not many people in this country realise the speed with which this development has occurred. It is surely inevitable that, after these close economic links, the next move must be to increase political links within the Community so that it can benefit from the world-wide economic links. The decision to set up the European Council 1031 with its meetings in April and July will make certain, given pressure, boldness and skill by the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister, whoever they are, that agreement is reached about the timing of direct elections, preferably aiming for the 1978 date.
It is natural that directly electing Members to the European Parliament must be the next step by the Community. One point that I should like to see covered, although I fear that it is farther away than some of us would hope, is a move towards a more common and successful operation of the Community's foreign policy. Many people have been depressed at the slow pace of the development of EEC's political relations with other countries over the last few months. I know that the Foreign Office is working hard on this matter at present. I am certain, as was mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Taunton, that these matters should be speeded up and concentrated upon in the coming months.
The 1978 date is desirable and can be achieved. In this the first day of the debate right hon. and hon. Members have expressed overwhelmingly the opinion that they want to make the 1978 date for direct elections and I hope that the Government will do so.
§ 9.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Evan Luard (Oxford)
This debate is concerned, I suggest, with two main subjects. The first is whether the House approves the general principle that this country, in common with other members of the Community, should institute direct elections to the European Assembly in the near future. Secondly, we are considering what practical arrangements, if the House accepts that principle, should be made to implement these elections. I should like to take each of these in turn.
First, do we need direct elections at all? Were the Government right when they accepted the principle, last December, that we should take part, with other Community Governments, in instituting direct elections in the next two, three or four years?
There are two aspects to that general question. First, there is the purely legal or constitutional question. Is this country 1032 under an obligation, under the Treaty of Rome and our Treaty of Accession, to implement such direct elections? It must be accepted that, given the importance of the question, the terms of the Treaty are not so pellucid and crystal-clear as one might expect and hope a legal document to be. The Treaty does say unambiguously that the Assembly should make proposals for direct elections, and submit them to the Council of Minister, and that the Council of Ministers should, on the basis of these proposals,lay down the appropriate provisionsto that end. But some doubt, which has been widely expressed in certain parts of the House, arises over the wording of Article 138, which states that the Council of Ministers should then recommend to member Governments the provisions made. On those grounds it has been held that this is only a recommendation and that individual members are under no absolute obligation to fulfil that provision.
I suppose it would be open to a particularly ingenious and casuistical lawyer to make out a case for saying that the Article merely laid down that the Council of Ministers should make certain proposals for direct elections for the Community as a whole, but that individual member States were not under an obligation to take part in those elections.
The article clearly lays down that at a certain stage of its development the Community should proceed to instituting direct elections and that any full member at that time is under at least a moral obligation, if it wishes to remain a full member, to take part with other members in organising such elections. There could not be a directly-elected Assembly, functioning in the normal sense, if certain Members of the Community were directly elected and other indirectly elected. Therefore, even on these purely legal grounds, the best opinion would seem to be that there is at least a moral obligation for members to go ahead with such elections.
§ Mr. Marten rose—
§ Mr. Luard
I do not propose to give way to the hon. Gentleman, as I have only a few minutes in which to speak.
But the essential point is that, regardless of any legal obligation of that kind, even 1033 those who uphold that argument must accept that, like if it is only at the discretion of each State whether to go ahead with direct elections, it remains open to this House to exercise that discretion, and to decide by a vote whether we should take part in direct elections at the same time as other members of the Community.
I have little doubt, from the evidence available, that a majority in this House would approve going ahead with instituting direct elections. Indeed, I have little doubt that we shall have the opportunity of proving that by a vote in this House in the not very distant future. So much for the purely legal aspects of this question.
That leads me to the second aspect of the question: whether or not there is a legal obligation, under the treaty, for us to go ahead with direct elections, is it on other grounds desirable that we should institute such elections? Whether or not there are legal reasons why we must hold such elections, are there political reasons why we should hold them?
In seeking to answer that question, I should like to recall the arguments widely used before and during the referendum campaign—above all, by those who were most opposed to our joining the Community, including the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) and some of my hon. Friends—to the effect that the Community was to be avoided because it was a bureaucratic, unrepresentative and undemocratic organisation. On the one hand, it was said to be an organisation in which a powerful bureaucracy—namely, the Commission—exercised a dominant position and was largely uninfluenced by the views of the mass of the population of the Community or by the Assembly as it existed; and, on the other hand, that the ultimate decisions within the Community were reached by the Council of Ministers, which, in general, merely reflected the national interests of the Ministers' own States and was equally uninfluenced by any consideration of popular wishes.
Whether or not those arguments are justified—I think that they are exaggerated, but few would deny that there is some substance in them—I suggest that is all the more reason why we should proceed to instituting direct elections.
1034 If it is true, as the hon. Member for Banbury said, and as others think to be the case, that there are trends within the Community of a centralising, even, the hon. Gentleman would say, of a federalising, nature, and these are unwelcome to many people in this country, that is surely all the more reason for having within the Community an Assembly that is directly representative of the views and wishes of ordinary people in our society which would be better able to express the fears and aspirations which the hon. Gentleman expressed than a body which only indirectly represents those people, where the representatives are elected in different elections, for a different purpose, under a different procedure, and at which European issues are by no means a major consideration.
It is surely the case that nobody can seriously deny that a directly-elected Assembly will far better be able to express and represent the views of most of the population in this and other countries in the Community than an indirectly-elected Assembly could possibly do. In other words, the issue is basically simple: do we want more democracy, or less, within the Community? Do we want a situation in which decisions are reached under the influence of an Assembly that is only marginally representative of ordinary people, or do we want one for which elections are held, where European issues are the dominant issues being discussed?
If there is to be an Assembly at all—I have not heard anybody, not even the hon. Member for Banbury and other opponents of the Common Market, suggest that there should be no Assembly in the Community—should we not prefer it to be democratically elected than to be chosen undemocratically? If we believe in democracy—and I think most of us do—do we not want to see democracy expressed in this important organisation in which we have our being for the foreseeable future, and indeed our continued membership of which was endorsed by an overwhelming majority of our electorate less than a year ago?
That leaves open the question raised by a number of speakers about what the powers of the Assembly should be. That is a different question. It is of course 1035 also relevant to whether we can make the Community a more democratic place. Indeed, I accept that in some ways this is more important than the question of how the Assembly is elected, but it is a separate question, and I put it to the House that if we want the Assembly to be a more powerful and authoritative organ within the Community it is much more likely to be that if it is known to be a directly elected body which can directly and immediately reflect the views of the electorates within our societies.
So much for the first point of general principle: whether we should have direct elections. The second point is how, if we are to have direct elections, these should be instituted. I do not wish to say much about the size of constituencies and the actual methods of election. I suggest that by far the most important issue before us now is when direct elections are to take place.
It was reported in the Press over the weekend—I hope wrongly—that the Cabinet reached a decision last week not to have direct elections in this country in 1978. If so, I regret this. I prefer the view expressed by the Foreign Sec- 1036 retary last December, and which he set out again today, that if this House had the will to institute direct elections by 1978 there were no procedural or practical reasons why that should not be done. I believe that to be the case. After all, if there are problems of practical arrangements they affect every other member of the Community as much as they affect us. We were able to institute a referendum within a few months of the decision to hold one having been made, and I see no practical reason why we should not be able to institute democratic elections for the Assembly in May or June of 1978. The problem is basically one of how those elections should be conducted.
There has been talk of a dual mandate. I have not had practical experience as a Member of the European Assembly, but I cannot see how it can be possible for a Member to perform the difficult and arduous task of being a Member of this House and of the Assembly at the same time—
§ It being Ten o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.