§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Snape.]
§ Mr. Speaker
Before I call the hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Sir P. Kirk) I want the House to know that I have an exceptionally long list of hon. Members who wish to take part in the debate today. Hon. Members can help each other. That is the only comment I pass on the matter.
§ 4.10 p.m.
§ Sir Peter Kirk (Saffron Walden)
There can be little doubt of the importance of the proposal that we debated yesterday and are debating today. Whether hon. Members are in favour of or against our membership of the European Economic Community, the proposal before us, arising from Article 138 of the Treaty of Rome, has far-reaching connotations which go beyond the Treaty itself. For many years people who might loosely be called idealists have believed that some kind of international forum to deal with the problems that arise between nation States is of great importance. It is over 100 years, for example, since Tennyson in his poem "Locksley Hall" called forIn the Parliament of man, the Federation of the world.What he envisaged was different from anything that we have now.
Since then the world has made considerable strides in international organisations. We had the League of Nations, which failed, the United Nations, which has been a moderate success, and such bodies as the Council of Europe and NATO which, in their way, have contributed greatly to the relations of member States with each other and with other States in the world.
All those organisations lacked one thing a basis in the suffrage for the people 1120 whom they claimed to represent. They represented Governments, yes. They had consultative parliamentary Assemblies, yes. Many hon. Members have, as I have, served with great interest in organisations such as the Consultative Assembly of the Council of Europe, the Western European Union or the North Atlantic Assembly and many hon. Members have been delegates to the United Nations.
But never before has there been a proposal for elections to an international Assembly or Parliament with power to act in certain cases, however limited that power may be, and I accept the Foreign Secretary's analysis yesterday. We are discussing a new departure and it is right that the House should give time to it and consider the implications that flow from it, whether we are in favour or against it. It is a radical departure from anything that we have known and it must be considered seriously, as it was yester day and as I am sure it will be today. That is true even with the limited powers that the European Parliament or the European Assembly—and I am not wedded to either term—possesses at the moment.
I have frequently said that the European Parliament, as it is at present, does not use to the full the powers that it possesses. It is capable of developing more in the way of control over the Executive, by putting forward the views of constituents and Members in the nine member States. If it did so it might gain a greater echo in the media and the public opinion of the nine member countries. For example, Mr. Tindemans, in his recent Report, proposed that the European Parliament should be given power of initiative. There is no need for that because it possesses that power already. It can put forward Reports on its own initiative and stimulate the Commission into action, and it frequently does that. Mr. Tindemans proposed a formalisation of what already exists, if the Members of the Parliament were prepared to grasp it.
Yesterday we discussed accountability on budgetary matters. The hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) regretted that the proposal for a Public Accounts Committee on Westminster lines had not made greater progress. I have a particular interest because that proposal was first made by my right hon. 1121 Friend the Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) when he was still Prime Minister, and when I first went to Strasbourg in January 1973 he recommended that I should put it forward in my first speech.
We have reached the stage where a sub-committee of the Budgetary Committee of the European Parliament is being set up to deal with public accountability. The draft which was laid before the House last year and which I think has been ratified under the Ponsonby Rules—or will be soon—accepts that the new Court of Audit will have to act in conjunction with the European Parliament. It is no great tragedy that this is merely a sub-committee of the Budgetary Committee or that it does not possess the powers to send for persons and papers which the Committee of this House has. For heaven's sake, it has made a start and it is the first step that counts.
I am glad that two Members of the House are leading Vice-Chairmen of that Committee—my hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough (Mr. Shaw) and the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell). We shall therefore be able to bring to the European Parliament a valuable element of Westminster experience. It is all part of the process of cross-fertilisation. From the one part of the Budgetary Treaty which was accepted by Governments last year and which it is hoped will be ratified this year we can build a system of public accountability which can, in the long run—or perhaps even in the short run—be as effective as anything we have in this country. It depends upon the will, upon the need to do it and upon the differences in nine different parliamentary traditions and approaches to the questions of public accountability and budgetary matters. That it can be done I am sure. That it will be done I am confident.
Nobody who has served in the European Parliament could not but wish to see its powers extended. I would like to see strengthened the power of co-determination or the right of Parliament to legislate alongside the Council of Ministers. The European Conservative Group has frequently put forward such proposals. If that is impossible, I should like to see at least the process of consultation or conciliation between the Parliament and the Council of Ministers, which at present prevails in budgetary 1122 matters and which is successful, extended to deal with general matters. The powers are there. It is the one international parliamentary body that possesses this modest element of power and therefore it must have responsibility. That responsibility can be given to it only by a directly elected Parliament.
In his almost clinical analysis of the European Parliament yesterday, the Foreign Secretary described the powers which the European Parliament possesses, and I cannot disagree with a word he said. I have to admit that, compared with the powers of this House, the powers of the European Parliament are minimal. But it has been going for only 25 years. If we accept the Prime Minister's assertion that this Parliament began in 1265, I do not imagine that the Parliament of 1290 showed an immense leap forward in that time.
In a recent discussion I had about the regional fund, the then Chairman of the Council of Ministers, Dr. Fitzgerald, asked me how far I thought we had progressed in developing parliamentary powers. He said, "Do you think we have reached the Reformation?" I replied that I thought we were getting into the 17th century and he said that we would soon have to decide whose head we should cut off. Whatever the Foreign Secretary's future is, he may like to ponder whether he wishes to expose himself in this way.
Seriously, the progress which has been made, although undoubtedly frustrating to those of us who are there, and although minimal in terms of Parliaments such as ours, which have been in existence for 700 years or more, has been considerable and should not be under-estimated.
It is in the light of those achievements over the past quarter of a century, since the first Assembly was set up under the Coal and Steel Treaty, that we must examine the proposal being made today. For the only justification for direct elections is that there is something there which it is worth the time and effort of Members to attend and to discuss, something which will develop further along the lines that we have in mind.
It is essential that in the first instance we get the decision right. I shall not argue today for this or that method of electing Members. The Foreign and 1123 Commonwealth Secretary and the Government have been very wise in their decision to set up a Select Committee. They have been equally wise to exclude the question of principle from it, because that means that with luck we shall have a fairly quick answer from the Select Committee——
§ Mr. George Cunningham (Islington, South and Finsbury)
And the answer that the hon. Gentleman wants.
§ Sir P. Kirk
I did not propose the setting up of the Select Committee, so I have no ultimate result in mind. It was the Government's decision.
I hope that the short delay which will result from the Select Committee's deliberations will be made up for by its proposals being acceptable over a much wider area than would have been the case if the proposals had merely been those of the Government. That is a matter to be considered in a question of this importance.
The Select Committee will not discuss principle, but I hope that it will discuss virtually everything else, not only those matters in Part III of the Green Paper,Matters for decision by the British Parliament",but also those in Part II,Matters for Community decision".If the right hon. Gentleman is correct in his forecast that a final decision can be expected at the European Council Meeting in July, he will be able to go to that meeting—if he goes, and in whatever capacity—armed with the results of the Select Committee's deliberations and, I hope, supported by a debate and vote in this House.
Therefore, although we have discussed these matters at considerable length, it is right that we should once again look at the most important matters to be decided by the Select Committee. I deal first with the date. Considerable doubt has been cast on the possibility of our having direct elections in the spring of 1978. Obviously, there will be considerable difficulties in reaching such a date, and the complications are growing. Nevertheless, I believe that, as the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary said on a previous occasion, if the will is there, it can be done, and if the will 1124 can be manifested by the Select Committee, it is possible to do it.
But we should not be unaware of the history behind the date. The idea is getting around that 1978 is in a curious way a date put forward by fanatical Members of the European Parliament, only too anxious to see themselves directly elected and thus vested in some kind of cloak of legality. I should like to remind the House of what happened.
Article 138 of the Treaty of Rome provided for the Assembly to make representations to the Council of Ministers. It first did that as long ago as 1960 in a Report put forward by the distinguished Belgian Socialist Senator, Professor Dehousse. That Report was not adopted by the Council of Ministers and no further progress was made. Towards the end of 1974 it occurred to some of us in the European Parliament that it might be a good idea if we revived the proposals for direct elections, and Dr. Schelto Patijn of the Netherlands, another distinguished Socialist, was nominated Rapporteur to draw up the Draft Convention, which he did.
However, before that Convention had been drawn up and discussed in the Political Committee of the European Parliament, the Heads of Government, meeting in Paris in December 1974, laid down the spring of 1978 as the date on which they wanted to see direct elections. It was not our date. It was the date of the Council of Ministers and the Heads of Government. We had much more modestly put forward 1980 as a possible date and had to amend the Draft Convention accordingly, because we could hardly seem less enthusiastic than the Council of Ministers. Whether or not we prove to be right is another matter, but it was at the bidding of the Council of Ministers—admittedly with the British and Danish Governments reserving their position—that the date was brought forward.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary said yesterday that he regarded this as one example of the danger of laying down timetables. I agree with him to a certain extent, because there is a good chance that this timetable, like so many others under the Treaty of Rome or outside it, will not be met. But it may also be said that if one does not lay 1125 down timetables, nothing ever happens. At least with a timetable people wake up to the idea that they had better do something. Even if they will not meet the date the get some action going. It was right that a date was laid down by the Heads of Government. If they do not meet it, the responsibility will rest upon them, not upon us. We have discharged our duties as laid down under the Treaty. It is now for the European Council and the Council of Ministers to make their recommendations to Member Governments, and it will then be up to member Governments and Parliaments to act.
The second matter which the Select Committee may wish to consider, although it is not strictly necessary in connection with direct elections, is the question of the place where the European Parliament should meet. I have never concealed my view that the present situation of the European Parliament is a nonsense and should be cleared up as soon as possible. Unfortunately, it is not a matter that rests in our hands. Although the European Parliament retains control over the administrative budget of the Community, it does so subject to two qualifications, one concerning salaries and the other concerning the vote of any funds in connection with the selection of a site for the Parliament. Therefore, even if we put forward proposals, it is impossible for us to put them into effect, although many Members of the Parliament have had enough of the present situation and wish that we could meet in Brussels from now on. If we voted funds towards doing that the European Court would almost certainly hold us to be ultra vires.
My hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten), who was good enough to tell me that he could not be here at this stage of the debate, I am sure was trying to be helpful yesterday when he suggested that no decisions should be taken on elections until the site of the Parliament had been decided. I prefer to put the matter the other way round and say that no decisions will be taken about the site until the decisions on the elections have been taken. It would be helpful if the Select Committee could put forward ideas, as the Committee in another place has done in a document which the other place debated yesterday.
1126 Although the site is a matter of considerable importance to the proper running of any future European Parliament, as it is to the running of the present Parliament, it cannot be regarded as a sine qua non. We can continue to go on with the present travelling circus, though we would all much rather not. I think that I speak for every Member of the European Parliament in saying that we would all much rather move to Brussels as soon as possible. But I imagine that those who are directly elected—and it will be a matter for someone other than this House to decide who they are—will be able to put up with it for a short time yet.
The third major question that the Select committee should consider is that of numbers—the total number of seats to begin with and the division between the various member States. Here again, it is worth looking into the history.
The original proposal put forward by the Committee of the European Parliament was for a Parliament much larger than the one now proposed, a Parliament of about 550 members. It was felt that a Parliament of that size would be much better able to overcome the various difficulties that arose partly from the sovereignty of small nations, partly from the difficulties of regions within large nations and so on. We in the Conservative Party at that time believed that that was too large, for one overriding reason—that while a Parliament of 550 or so might be manageable if it were to remain a Parliament of 550, it was unlikely to be manageable in the event of other countries joining the European Economic Community. The more that came in, the larger this body would become and the more unwieldy it would be. We have 635 Members of this House and I believe that that is far too many. This is purely a personal view. Provided that I am not one of those who goes out, I am prepared to support that view even more strongly.
I think that the optimum figure at this moment, when we are faced with the possibility of another four countries joining within the next ten years, is somewhere between 300 and 400. The figure that the European Parliament finally settled for, of 350-odd, was a compromise between the various figures put forward. I think it was a compromise 1127 on the wrong basis. The mistake which they made was to put forward a formula which assisted the smaller countries very much at the expense of the big ones. Accepting that one cannot reduce the representation of Luxembourg below the six that they have at present, it seems to me that until we reach absolute proportionality as we go up the scale, no country should have more than its present entitlement in the indirectly elected Parliament of 198. This was the basis of the proposal put forward by Lord Reay which was not successful. However, we in the Conservative Party in the European Parliament believed and still believe that it offers much greater flexibility and a much fairer division among the various countries.
§ Mr. E. Fernyhough (Jarrow)
If the hon. Gentleman wants the European Parliament to have powers which it does not yet have, how can he say that if that Parliament had those powers, and it felt so disposed, it could not reduce the number of Members which Luxembourg has?
§ Sir P. Kirk
The answer to the right hon. Gentleman is that it is easy to add but it is awfully difficult to subtract. We find this in connection with this House. It would be extremely difficult to reduce the number of Members of this House. I happen to believe, as an English Member, that the Scots and Welsh are grossly over-represented whereas, as a purely dispassionate outsider, I believe that Ulster is under-represented. We may probably have to increase the representation for Ulster but let the right hon. Member try to reduce the numbers for Scotland and Wales and see where it gets him. I doubt if he would get out of this Chamber alive if he tried that. The answer is that what we are now contemplating is a figure which will be an irreducible minimum for the future. In that case, we should start small. We can build up but I very much doubt whether it will be possible to reduce.
One other point which the Select Committee will undoubtedly have to consider, when considering Part II of the Green Paper, is the question of the dual mandate. We had a lot of discussion of this in the course of yesterday's debate. As one of the original Members of the 1128 European Parliament, I might perhaps be allowed to express my view. The hon. Member for Newton (Mr. Evans), who is not able to be here today—I quite understand the reason why—said yesterday that he did not find the dual mandate particularly burdensome.
It is very much easier now that hon. Gentlemen opposite have joined us than it was before they had. Then there were pairing difficulties and we frequently found ourselves occupying the benches at Heathrow Airport in the early hours of the morning on our way back to Strasbourg after coming here to vote. But equally there is no prospect whatsoever of the work of the European Parliament diminishing. On the contrary, it is likely to increase. Therefore, the dual mandate difficulty which obliges hon. Members to spend two and three days a week on average outside this country cannot be tolerated as a compulsory matter for ever.
I stress the words "as a compulsory matter". I would not stop it compulsorily. Nor, like the Danes, would I make it compulsory for everyone. There would be difficulties for electoral law if it were said that only Members of this House could be elected to the European Parliament. Every time there was a General Election and someone lost his seat, presumably we should have to have a by-election for the European Parliament as well, and that would create considerable difficulties. I think there is a case for saying that anyone is welcome to try but I would not like to try myself. Nobody should be compelled to carry out the two.
The hon. Member for Newton also said that possibly the European Parliament spent a lot of its time discussing matters such as the harmonisation of jams, jellies, marmalade and chestnut purée, which we and the hon. Member for West Bromwich, West (Miss Boothroyd) spent a lot of time last week immersed in—[Laughter.] We get up to all sorts of things over there. Then there is the favourite example cited by my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury, that of the harmonisation of mayonnaise. I listened suitably chastened to what my hon. Friend said, then Mr. Speaker called the Orders of the Day and the Rating (Caravan Sites) Bill came before the House, and I wondered whether we were wasting our time as much as hon. Members suggest.
1129 We are dealing with matters of importance to our constituents even though it is jam, jelly, marmalade and chestnut purée. I happen to have one of the largest jam factories in the country in my constituency. In spite of what hon. Gentlemen opposite may feel about it, it is a matter which concerns me and my constituents and one ought to spend a bit of time discussing it. It is quite wrong for hon. Members to pour scorn on these small matters when we in this House discuss something which does not concern 90 per cent. of Members.
There is a dual role to be pursued by Members in this House and in the European Parliament, and it is a dual role which will become more difficult if they have to have the dual mandate as well. It has been suggested that there should be some link between the Members of the European Parliament and this House. This is more a matter for this House to arrange than for the Community to arrange. I doubt whether it is possible to arrange something on a Community-wide basis, whether or not one goes for my favourite scheme of making all Members of the European Parliament honorary bishops so that they can become temporary members of the House of Lords. A slightly more practical scheme is that Members directly elected should be entitled to use all the facilities of this House, except actually entering the Chamber while the House is sitting and taking part in the debates. These are matters which the Select Committee should look at. They are matters of considerable importance.
The second group of matters which the Select Committee will have to look at are matters which affect this country alone. These are matters which I am sure the Home Secretary will have a lot to say about, such as the delineation of constituencies, the type of electoral system we should pursue for the first election and, if the Foreign Secretary's pessimism is right, also matters concerning the franchise and so on. These matters were fully discussed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Maudling) yesterday and there is no need for me to go into them in any great detail.
There are one or two points on which I hope the Home Secretary will comment, such as the franchise. It seems 1130 a major problem to decide whether all Community citizens will be entitled to vote where they happen to live. This would presumably mean that citizens of France, Germany or Italy who have residential qualifications in this country would be entitled to be included on the electoral roll of this country for the purposes of European elections. If we did not do that, we should be faced with a considerable anomaly in as much as we shall be alone among the countries in the Community in allowing the citizens of one other member country—the Republic of Ireland—to vote for European elections and for domestic elections, while refusing it to all the others. This is the sort of anomalous situation to which the Select Committee can bend its mind and on which I would like the views of the Home Secretary. [An HON. MEMBER: "It is an anomaly already."] It may be an anomaly already, but it will be an even greater anomaly if it is carried on to the European register. I recognise the difficulty that, if it is not done, a new register will have to be compiled, which in itself will create considerable complications.
§ Mr. George Cunningham
Will the hon. Gentleman remember that the nationality test for British domestic electoral purposes is not citizenship of the United Kingdom and Colonies but British subject status, and that if that were to apply in the other countries of the Community, no less than a quarter of the world's population would be entitled to vote somewhere in the European Community—including the entire population of India, Bangladesh, Canada, Australia and so on? So there would certainly be some anomalies we should have to get rid of.
§ Sir P. Kirk
My imagination is not quite as fertile as that of the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham). I cannot see the entire population of the Indian subcontinent moving en masse to France to vote in European elections. That seems an improbable scenario. In any case, I am certain that the immigration laws of the Republic of France would prevent it.
There is a minor point, which may be a particular hobby horse of mine, that we might in these European elections get rid 1131 of the gross discrimination against clergymen of the Church of England—the only people apart from Peers, lunatics and bankrupts who are not allowed to stand for membership of the United Kingdom Parliament—and allow them to stand as well for the European Parliament.
§ Sir P. Kirk
Yes, Church of Scotland clergymen as well.
The question of finance worried a number of hon. Members yesterday—not only paying for elections but financing political parties. On this matter, we are in two minds on this side of the House. We do not like the idea of State subvention, but it seems unlikely that we shall get candidates who can afford to stand unless there is some element of State subvention which, for the first election, would have to be based on the votes gained in the previous national election. I see no other way to do it. I do not know whether it is too late to refer this matter to the Houghton Committee, but if it is, I hope that the Select Committee will have a quick look at it.
These are details, and I come back to where I started—what we are aiming, with this proposal, to do. We are doing it, perhaps, for practical reasons in that the present dual mandate system is not likely to survive much longer without undue strain on Members and that therefore some better system must be found and this is the only one available. We are doing it also for the slightly more theoretical and indeed basic reason that the Community possesses powers, as we know, over the lives of our citizens and that therefore our citizens should be represented directly at the centre of those powers as well as indirectly through the membership of this House.
That has been proved more than anything else by such matters as the question of skimmed milk, which was raised yesterday by the hon. Member for New-ham, South (Mr. Spearing), on which it turns out that there is no parliamentary power to prevent Directives of that kind. It cannot be done here and it certainly cannot be done in the European Parliament. That of course would require 1132 amendment of powers. That is something which will not come immediately and which will certainly not come at all without a directly elected European Parliament.
As I have said, I have never disguised my view that it is essential for the Community and the peoples of the Community that there should be a greater element of parliamentary power within the Community. I said that in my first speech in Strasbourg in January 1973 and I have continued to say it ever since. I have said it when I was here, too—[AN HON. MEMBER: "Not lately."] I was a Defence Minister during the last Conservative Government and it was rather difficult to get into these matters. But if the hon. Gentleman will look up my speeches before 1957 as a Back Bencher on this subject he will discover that I said it then, and I have not changed my view during that period.
My hon. Friend the Member for Banbury yesterday advanced the view that there was no point in doing this because the Community was on the verge of breaking up anyway. There was an element of wishful thinking in his thesis. I remember the same remarks being made in 1965, when General de Gaulle brought the whole Community to a grinding halt by refusing to let his representatives attend any of its committees or any meetings of the Council, until the Community found a way around his objection to majority voting in the Council of Ministers. The Community found it and the Community survived. It will survive the grave crisis that it is going through now, as are all individual member countries, arising from the monetary and general economic situation within the Community.
But then, my hon. Friend would ask, "What do you want to do it for? Assuming that the Community survives, this must be a step towards federalism." The hon. Member for Newham, South was kind enough last night to describe me as "an out-and-out federalist", making it sound a little like an obscene disease. But it is a title in which I should be prepared to glory. I am, and I have never disguised the fact, but, equally, I hope that I am a realist. I know, as does any other hon. Member who shares my views, that this will not come overnight and may not come in my lifetime or that of my children.
1133 I will work towards a federal solution for Europe, yes, but Europe will get its own solution in its own time in its own way, as it has always done. The remarkable thing about the Community which comes through again and again if one studies its 15-year history is that it is a natural growth. When times are propitious it grows well; when times are not so propitious, it is a little stunted. But it goes forward at the pace that its citizens and its Governments can bear. I believe that to be the crucial point of this debate.
I cannot tell, any more than my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury or the hon. Member for Newham, South can tell, what the end product will be. All I know is that, in terms of natural growth, in terms of the demands of the situation at the moment, this proposal is one of those which are necessary for the good running of the Community as it stands today, regardless of any proposals for the future. If one adds to that the somewhat idealistic point of view with which I started, that we are trying, for the first time in the history of this world, to create a totally new structure, an international Parliament directly elected by the citizens of a number of different countries who only 30 years ago were at war and giving powers, albeit limited, over the lives of the citizens of those nine countries, one sees that this debate is of paramount importance—one of the most important that we have had in this House for a long time.
§ 4.48 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Roy Jenkins)
The hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Sir P. Kirk) has made a reflective and interesting speech such as I should certainly have expected. I should like to try to comment on some of the points he made as I go along. He has without question played a notable role in the European Assembly and he has considerable authority with which to address us on this important subject.
Including that of the hon. Member for Saffron Walden, we have had 22 speeches so far in this debate. I have heard or read all of them, and according to my calculations 16 were in favour of direct elections, five were against, and one, that of the hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley), was a little indeterminate, 1134 although not decisively against. There were, of course, considerable differences of emphasis on both sides of the question. Among the five who were against, my hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich (Mr. Barnett), who had been against entry, expressed his conversion to sincere pro-Europeanism while deploying a sophisticated case against direct elections.
On the other hand the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten), who I am sorry cannot be here today, clearly wished and wishes to go on fighting the referendum campaign as often as he can, using his familiar arguments—now, perhaps, a little over-familiar—to support his case. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Silverman), my esteemed constituency neighbour, argued that elected representatives could never democratically represent electorates of 600,000-plus or populations of 1 million. That, of course, is an argument against ever having elected assemblies of reasonable size, however constituted, for really large national or international units. But I do not believe it is true.
Senators for New York or California—it should not be assumed from this that I think Europe will develop like the United States; I am dealing merely with the large electorate argument—and for the biggest cities of the United States represent 20 million inhabitants. Those for small to medium-sized States cover up to several million inhabitants. I do not think that they are necessarily out of touch with the democratic process, provided they are not the sole form of representation, or that the process is rendered in any way meaningless as a result. Indeed, it is almost certainly the case that it is more possible to judge from the provenance of a United States senator how he will speak and vote on a particular issue, whether it be the Middle East or a question of industrial or agricultural production, than is the case with a British MP operating within our tightly-organised national parties—and, of course, the assistance of the Whips—under our more intimate arrangement here. I therefore would not accept that argument.
I would not argue that the balance of 16 speeches to five necessarily gives us an exact measurement of opinion in this House, though I doubt whether Mr. Speaker would allow it to be too far out, 1135 but it suggests a strong preponderance of view. Furthermore, we in this House should feel entitled to speak for the British people on this issue at the present time. The result of the referendum was decisive and there was no attempt in the course of the campaign to suggest that we were voting simply for Europe standing still. I can speak here as President of the Britain in Europe Campaign. We constantly stressed that it was advance and not stagnation we wanted to see and that we wanted democratisation of bureaucracy, and I emphasised throughout that my fear was that Europe would go too slow rather than too fast. That remains my view.
§ Mr. Roger Moate (Faversham)
In view of what the right hon. Gentleman has said, can he say why the Government made no mention of direct elections in the very important document which they sent to every elector?
§ Mr. Jenkins
It was because there was a very wide range of issues concerned. I can assure the hon. Member, however, that it was mentioned a considerable amount during the campaign, far from there being any attempt to conceal it. In addition to that, there is an obligation under Article 138 which was plain for all who wished to look to see. Under the European system the articles of the Treaty undoubtedly can be strained, but there ought at the very least to be very good national or international reasons for so doing, and these do not exist here.
We have, of course, the derogation which as late entrants we share with Denmark and which would enable us to continue for a time with nomination after others had gone over to election. The right is there, but there would be heavy disadvantages in our having to fall back upon it.
Those disadvantages were powerfully put by my right hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. Stewart) yesterday and also by my hon. Friends the Members for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Mabon) and Farnworth (Mr. Roper), as well as by others who spoke last night. The disadvantages are, first, that the strain upon our system here, as indeed upon the individuals concerned, of having to provide 60 to 70, or maybe even as many as 80, nominees from this Parliament 1136 would be almost insupportable. Secondly, this would give our representatives, even if only for an interim period, something that would inevitably be near to second-class status. Thirdly, it would deprive the British people for a time of the right to vote directly when the citizens of other members of the Community were already exercising that right. Fourthly, by hanging back, particularly if unnecessarily, we would give some credibility to what I regard as the undesirable concept of a two-tier Community. Nevertheless, the derogation is there if we need to use it.
But do we need to use it? Despite our late entry, the difficulties we face over direct elections are no greater than those of some at least of the original member States. I hope that we can all manage 1978. Even more important, however, let us not be laggards. There is no need for this. Let us try to move together on this, whatever the date. I hope that it may be 1978, but there cannot be certainty about this.
That is not to say that there are not considerable technical problems to be solved, and some problems which are more than technical. There is the question of the allocation of seats, which will obviously have to be negotiated between Governments but upon which none the less the views of the House are of great importance. There are other questions which are much more within our own direct control. The Select Committee, with, I hope, ministerial representation from the Departments concerned, could be a most useful and thorough means of resolving them. That thoroughness should not and will not, I believe, be equated with leisureliness. The Select Committee should certainly not serve as a device for delay.
My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary indicated yesterday that he hoped he could get to work quickly and produce within three months some form based on the Part II issues, which have to be dealt with forthwith, because the Part III issues which call for national decision could then be taken next. Even here, however, I think that expedition is desirable.
Let me give one example. There is natural interest in the arrangements for drawing up constituencies for direct elections. There will be many fewer and 1137 much larger constituencies than for Westminster. In our view, it would be appropriate in ordinary circumstances for the Parliamentary Boundary Commissions to be responsible for reviewing and making recommendations about the boundaries of the Assembly constituencies in accordance with principles and procedures laid down by Parliament in legislation.
If, however, we are to be ready in 1978, or even 1979 or 1980, I estimate that it is probable that special arrangements for drawing the initial boundaries will be needed. Parliament could give the Parliamentary Boundary Commissions greatly simplified terms of reference for this purpose which would enable them to draw up provisional boundaries for the first elections very quickly. Alternatively, it could be that the only way of drawing up constituencies in time for the first direct elections to be held by the target date would be for Parliament itself to consider the appropriate arrangements in the course of its consideration of the Bill.
§ Mr. Alexander Fletcher (Edinburgh, North)
Despite the obvious difficulty, is it the intention of the Government to try to include members of the United Kingdom delegation to the European Parliament on the Select Committee?
§ Mr. Jenkins
We have not even come to the question of the terms of reference or the composition of the Select Committee. But, while I imagine that there would certainly be some members of the delegation on the Select Committee, it would be inappropriate and would not reflect the full range of views in the House if this were to be made a preserve of Members of the European Parliament. I very much doubt whether anyone would suggest that. If the hon. Member is merely asking whether membership of the European Parliament would automatically exclude membership of the Select Committee, my off-the-cuff answer is "No".
§ Mrs. Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)
The right hon. Gentlamen has suggested that simplified terms should be drawn up, but can he give an undertaking that the Boundary Commission's decisions will be accepted? There is considerable apprehension in my constituency on this matter because the right 1138 hon. Gentleman overturned a public inquiry on the question of ward boundaries in the city. We are very apprehensive that he might do the same thing with these wider constituencies.
§ Mr. Jenkins
The hon. Lady's capacity for irrelevance is considerable. She is now dealing with the local government position. The Local Government Boundary Commission took what I considered the remarkable decision to make a separate ward of the University of Lancaster. I considered that that raised a much wider matter of principle and I thought it right to put it back to the Commission. I do not act in these matters on the basis of political considerations. If the hon. Lady believes that I do, she will believe anything.
§ Mr. Jenkins
The hon. Lady confirms her balance of judgment, which merely confirms the view I previously held. The great majority of the House takes a rather more balanced view. The question of suddenly introducing totally separate university representation is a matter of considerable principle raising greater issues than the ward boundaries of the city of Lancaster.
§ Mr. Frank Hooley (Sheffield, Heeley)
The point raised by the hon. Member for Lancaster (Mrs. Kellett-Bowman) is not as academic as might be thought. It will be within the recollection of my right hon. Friend and the House that a few years ago a Home Secretary declined to implement the decisions of a Boundary Commission. Is my right hon. Friend sure that such a situation might not arise again in this context?
§ Mr. Jenkins
The intention of the legislation is that the Home Secretary, who is responsible to this House, should not be merely a rubber stamp. Otherwise, there would be no point in having in the legislation relating to the Commission a provision by which the Home Secretary may not confirm a recommendation until six weeks have passed, in order that further representations may be made and he can consider the matter. I am not prepared to be a rubber stamp, but I am not a political gerrymanderer either.
If I may move from the rather parochial point which is, no doubt, of importance 1139 to the hon. Member for Lancaster (Mrs. Kellett-Bowman)——
§ Mr. Jenkins
Oh, do be quiet. If I may return from that issue to the slightly wider matters before the House, the point I was endeavouring to make was that the Boundary Commission or Parliament, in order to meet the target date, would have to use groupings of existing electoral units, whether parliamentary constituencies or local authority areas. There is no divine right on either side. This is clearly a difficult and important matter on which we shall take fully into account the views expressed in the debate as well as the guidance of the Select Committee.
Hon. Members will know that the franchise for our parliamentary elections is based on a canvass of those resident in the United Kingdom on a qualifying date, at present 10th October each year. Registers are prepared and include British subjects and citizens of the Republic of Ireland resident here, together with Service voters who qualify for inclusion by virtue of Crown service.
Peers may vote in local elections but not in parliamentary elections. Parliament agreed that they should be eligible to vote in the referendum on membership of the EEC. In general, it would appear right that peers should be allowed to vote and stand in direct elections to the European Assembly. The rationale of their exclusion from parliamentary elections is that they already have a very high rate of representation—one for one—in a branch of the legislature. Clearly, that situation would not apply in relation to the European Assembly.
On that basis, the same considerations apply to the exclusion from candidature of clergymen of the Established Church. Roman Catholic priests are excluded for slightly different reasons, but clergymen of the Established Church are excluded on the ground that they too are represented, though on a substantially less than one-for-one basis, through the Bench of Bishops. I doubt whether that situation can be justified in relation to the European elections. Such clergymen may have certain problems in combining their pastoral duties with attendance at Luxembourg, Strasbourg or Brussels, but I do 1140 not see why these difficulties should apply more strongly to clergymen of the Established Church than to ministers of other denominations.
With the exception of citizens of the Republic of Ireland who are resident here, nationals of other member States are not entitled to vote in our local government or parliamentary elections. Their names are not included in the electoral register. There are considerations of principle as well as of practice to be taken into account in deciding whether nationals of other member States who are resident here should be entitled to vote in direct elections to the European Assembly.
Even if the principle were accepted, it would not be easy to overcome the practical difficulties of drawing up a suitable election register in time for 1978, though this does not mean that we cannot proceed on the existing basis for 1978, if that is to be the date, and refine later. Here again, the view of the Select Committee will be valuable.
§ Mr. Guy Barnett (Greenwich)
What will be the position of the Queen and the Royal Family? Will they have a vote?
§ Mr. Jenkins
I am not sure whether Her Majesty would wish to exercise her vote. I should like to study the point raised by my hon. Friend.
§ Sir John Rodgers (Sevenoaks)
Can the right hon. Gentleman clarify the position of British citizens working abroad, for example in Brussels, who are not paid by the Crown? Will they be able to vote?
§ Mr. Jenkins
I was just coming to that. I do not object to the hon. Member interrupting, but sometimes there is value in allowing the argument to develop because the next logical point, surprisingly enough, is sometimes covered next. The next sentence in my notes states:There is also the question of British subjects resident abroad.They may vote at our parliamentary elections only if they are registered at an address in the United Kingdom or qualify as Service voters.
I am aware that many people consider that British subjects resident abroad, for example those working in international organisations such as the EEC 1141 or the United Nations, should be entitled to vote in our parliamentary elections. This is part of a wider issue which the Government hope may be included in the terms of reference of a reconvened Speaker's Conference.
Paragraphs 26 and 36 of the Green Paper suggest that the provisions about disqualification on the grounds of Community incompatibility, which broadly means holding a post in the Commission or a member Government, and the rules governing candidature for Westminster elections could be adopted. It is not necessary for me to mention all the categories of people other than clergymen or Peers who are disqulified from candidature in Westminster elections. Hon. Members will be familiar with the rules. In preparing legislation, however, we shall need to go through these lists carefully to make sure that differences in the Westminster and Strasbourg situations are reflected in the rules we make.
Then there is the question of the date of the election—not in the sense of whether the date be 1978 or a later year, but the date within a particular year. There would be a great advantage in trying to hold these elections at or about the same time in the various member States. Not only would that in itself give the voters a sharp, albeit symbolic, perspective of the Community, but it would also bring a great sense of cohesion and definition to the issues on which they were being asked to pronounce. Of course, we must ensure—I do not think that this is in dispute—sufficient flexibility to be able to hold the election on the day of the week of our choice.
Yesterday my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary mentioned the difficulties which would arise if we tried to link European Assembly elections with national parliamentary elections. I tend to share that view, but we look forward to hearing the views which are being expressed in the House and the view of the Select Committee. None the less, there could be value in some link with domestic elections, perhaps with local authority elections. The link might provide an added initial impetus to the interest of the voters. As my right hon. Friend said, it would mean using a time to which the party organisations would already be committed, and it would avoid the practical problems of organisation 1142 and canvassing being repeated in a short space of time. On the other hand, if we look to a local authority election link, we should be conscious that the issues involved in a local election would be quite different from those raised by the Assembly elections. On this point, as on the other practical problems, it will be of great value to have the considered view of the Select Committee.
§ Mr. Fernyhough
As the vast majority of candidates will be very pro-Market in their approach, does my right hon. Friend expect that there will be any difference between the election programmes of one candidate and another? If he does, what is the difference likely to be?
§ Mr. Jenkins
The likely difference can be worked out by the candidates themselves. There is no reason why candidates should not stand on a somewhat backward-looking platform. That may be a rather pejorative use of "backward-looking", and I do not stress it. Just as some of my hon. Friends, and perhaps one or two Opposition Members, who are not enthusiastic for Europe have thought it right to go as nominated Members to Strasbourg, I see no reason why people should not think it right to stand as candidates and, if elected, put their views before the directly-elected Assembly.
Beyond that, once a person has decided that he is in favour of our membership of the Community and in favour of membership upon an advancing basis with a greater degree of integration, I do not take the view—and I doubt whether those with experience of the Assembly would take the view—that there would be no differences. Differences would arise from basic political philosophy, the methods which should be used and the goals which should be pursued in social, economic and other policies. I do not agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Jarrow (Mr. Fernyhough) that there is no room for dealing with the issues.
I turn again to wider questions. There is a fear in some quarters that by introducing direct elections we may impair the sovereignty of this Parliament. I regard that as a miser's view of sovereignty as a little store of gold which is taken out and looked at from time to time and then wrapped up and put back. 1143 That is not my view of sovereignty. I am much more concerned with influence upon our own destiny and the influence of the British people for good in the world.
This Westminster Parliament is overburdened with work and has been overburdened under successive Governments by the increasing complexity of modern government. The current level of legislation, the multiplicity of Statutory Instruments, the work of Select and Standing Committees and the number of Parliamentary Questions to be asked and answered have grown enormously and steadily over recent decades. We should not be worried about sharing some of this burden of work. We shall do our own job better if we are not unduly jealous of letting others assist us by dealing effectively, whether through devolution or through the European Assembly, with what is not essential to Westminster.
Inevitably to some extent, since last June campaigners on both sides of the debate have been inclined to heave a sigh of relief that it was over and to turn in on domestic worries. There can be in Britain, as in other countries of the Community, a tendency under present strains and difficulties, which are indeed great—although I agree with the hon. Member for Saffron Walden that equal and perhaps greater ones have been surmounted in the past, and I believe that these too will be surmounted—to see Brussels and what Brussels stands for as a complicating factor in our decisions and to think of the European dimension to any problem as a short-term limitation on our freedom of action rather than a permanent working out of common solutions to common problems. In my belief, that is a profoundly mistaken view of how the Community can and should work.
We now have in Britain, as in the rest of the Community, a general acceptance, underpinned by the massive majority in the referendum, that the prosperity and future security of our people are better served by our membership than by attempting to stand alone. Our task now is to build upon that foundation a more positive and direct commitment to a democratic, outward-looking, responsive Community. That is why I consider the 1144 move towards direct elections to the European Parliament as a significant and welcome advance.
To those in Britain and throughout Europe who complain about bureaucracy in Brussels and the lack of power in Strasbourg, I say that I share their fears but for Europe's sake let us draw the logical and positive conclusion and take up the fight for a democratic Europe responsive to the needs of the peoples of the several nations.
The people of the Community have bound themselves one to another. They look for leadership and a common purpose. The Community should never be merely a convenient table around which the leaders of Europe can sit to haggle about tariffs or the price of beef. It should be a living, working expression of the shared heritage, the shared outlook and the shared humanity of 250 million Europeans. Just as the problems we face in the world—unemployment, poverty, pollution, disease and social discord—know no frontiers, so there can be no solution to the problems of Europe and the world on the basis of narrow nationalism or suspicious self-interest.
§ 5.19 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)
There has been no disposition on the part of almost anyone who has spoken in the debate to minimise the fundamental character of the question of direct elections from this country to the Assembly, nor the revolutionary effect upon the powers of Parliament which would be produced if there were direct elections, from the same electorate from which we ourselves come, to an institution to which we have given overriding powers over this House of taxation and legislation.
To some extent the examination of the existing powers of the European Assembly results in an under-estimate both of the immediacy and of the scale of that impact. For the most part, the powers of the Assembly as they stand at the moment are advisory; but there is a world of difference between advice tendered by delegates from national Parliaments, which are themselves dominated by the Ministers who compose the Council of Ministers, and, on the other hand, advice tendered by a majority of the directly elected representatives of the peoples of the Community.
1145 It would very soon be found that such advice could not in practice be ignored. The accession of authority would not be slow and gradual: it would be instantaneous, for the whole nature of the Assembly would be transformed the moment it could say—as it would say—"We are the elected representatives of the people of the Community elected for this purpose and elected as such to this Assembly."
But the Assembly is not entirely advisory and deliberative in its powers. This was mentioned by the Foreign Secretary in almost a throw-away sentence, "Oh, by the way, they can dismiss the Commission." Now, of course, the notion of the Assembly, constituted as it is at present, dismissing the Commission, or even contemplating the possibility of dismissing the Commission, is remote and grotesque. But it takes on a very different dimension immediately it is the elected representatives of the people who, as in this House, are confronting the bureaucracy and the administration. Indeed, I doubt whether any formal increase in the powers of the Assembly is necessary at all to give it something comparable with the power of this House over the Executive, once it has that single lever in its hands.
Archimedes used to sayGive me somewhere to stand, and I will move the world.The Assembly already has somewhere to stand, and it can use that leverage without let or hindrance as soon as it can claim the ultimate title to authority—that of deriving its power, its mission and its mandate directly from the people.
Power which is gained in one place is power lost in another place. The immediate loss, of course—this is understood and intended—would be to the Commission on the one hand, but very much more to the Council of Ministers on the other hand, for, after all, the Council of Ministers is really the sovereign body—so far as one can find anything analogous to a government, it is the real government, the real political government—of the Community. So the gain of power by a directly elected Assembly would necessarily be at the expense of the Council of Ministers.
But, of course, it does not stop there. The argument which we have heard, the 1146 case which we have heard, for year after year—and which in some weeks we hear almost nightly in this Chamber—is that we in the House of Commons and the electorate whom we represent are still in control of anything which matters that the Community does, because we can call Ministers to account, so that they cannot assent in the Council of Ministers to that which we criticise or refuse. All that is altered as soon as the Council of Ministers has a new master, as soon as the Council of Ministers finds that there is another elected body, elected for that purpose by the collective electorate of the Community, to which, whether it likes it or not, it must listen.
I was struck by a rather curious phrase which was used by the right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Maudling) in his speech yesterday afternoon. He was discussing the question of the dual mandate, and he saidthere would be no common executive to respond to such discussion, and second and more important,"—this is the phrase to which I ask the House to advert—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."—[Official Report, 29th March 1976; Vol. 908, c. 926.]In every debate which takes place in this House, following the work of the Select Committee presided over by the right hon. Member for Knutsford (Mr. Davies), there is, of course, an overlap between the work of the Assembly in its advisory capacity and the work of this House in its attempt to check and control and supervise what Ministers assent to in the Council of Ministers. The overlap is there. Note, therefore, what would necessarily happen.
We had an instance a week ago when a Community regulation which was about to be discussed by this House was withdrawn because it had been discovered that the Assembly had not yet given its view upon it, but we were told that it would in due course come back and that we should then be able to have a debate on it. For how long, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and with what patience, will members of Governments—will Governments—hold themselves responsible to this House for 1147 matters upon which the view of the electorate, through representatives directly elected for that purpose, has already been given in the European Assembly?
It will not be very long before we shall be told—and with complete logic—in this House "What is the point of this House reviewing regulations, reconsidering, and perhaps attempting, by amending the 'take note' question, to vote against legislation which has already received detailed scrutiny in committee and brief acceptance in plenary session by a directly elected Assembly?" The very fact of direct election brings about an immense and decisive shift of power and of control over all the matters within the competence of the European Economic Community—a shift from this House and Parliament to the European Parliament or Assembly.
But the matter does not stop even there. It might still be said, "After all, what are we in this House but the mouthpiece of the electorate? If that electorate has another mouthpiece—if it has others elected as we are and responsible as we are to them for what they do—what harm, what loss, if it is through a different channel that the electorate of this country, the people of the United Kingdom, exercise control over the laws, the taxes, the policies under which, as part of the European Community, they are to live?". I answer that we have hardly yet envisaged what is meant by direct election, in our sense of the term "election", to a European Assembly.
The right hon. Member for Jarrow (Mr. Fernyhough), in an intervention in the speech of the Home Secretary, was on to the essential point here. We do not enjoy parliamentary democracy through the right to elect individuals. It is not by choosing Dick, Tom or Harry that the electorate of this country exercises its control and calls to account, at the end of the day, the various Governments who preside over it for periods of time. It is by voting for parties. It is by the fact that when it votes it does not choose primarily, nor virtually at all, an individual but chooses between one policy and another, between policies which are embodied in parties. Without party, parliamentary democracy is meaningless. It is only through party that the electorate, 1148 by its vote, exercises its control and speaks its voice.
I may depose in my own person to how deeply I hold that view. I see behind me the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen). I think it perfectly possible that in February 1974, if I had presented myself to the electorate of Wolverhampton, South-West as an individual, I might have held the seat and returned to the House; but I scorned to do so, for I see no meaning in a person presenting himself to the electorate at a General Election except within the framework of a party.
The meaning of a Member is to be the bearer of a message from the people to Government. His function is to exercise on their behalf the control which can be exercised only through party. Without party there is no democracy. Those who talk without party—[Interruption.]—yes, and without the ultimate right to go against party with all the sanctions which that entails, for that is also implicit in the nature of party—those who talk without party about democratising the Community by direct elections have left out the essential.
Direct elections, if they are to mean anything, must mean the presentation to the electorate in the respective constituencies of alternative and, for the purposes of the elections, mutually exclusive policies in the European sphere. If that is not what we are talking about, we are wasting our time. Those who put forward those policies can no more do so as individuals than those who put forward policies in General Elections within the United Kingdom. The only link between what the candidates say and the achievement of what the electors vote for is the party affiliation and party programme of those who present themselves for election. It can therefore only be upon European party programmes, backed by European party discipline, that candidates can present themselves for direct election to the European Assembly in any democratic sense of the term.
Those policies will not be British policies. Members of the Labour Party may find themselves allied, for the purposes of the direct elections if they come about, with Socialists and goodness knows who else in the rest of the European Economic Community; but the policy upon which 1149 they stand will not be formed by the Labour Party at its annual conference. It will not be the policy of the British Labour Party. It will be a policy in which the Labour Party has only minority influence and a minority voice.
Thus it is the British electorate itself, as a national electorate, which forfeits its political power by the institution of direct elections. There could not be a more thorough-going political revolution—perhaps it is even more thorough-going than that brought about by the European Communities Act 1972—than is implicit in the inauguration of direct elections.
There are those who say that it is too late now to argue. They say that we are now concerned only with the nuts and bolts and that the time for arguing about the consequences is past. I recognise that there are hon. Members who conscientiously and candidly take the view—if I may say so, no one has been more candid and honourable in this matter than the hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Sir P. Kirk)—that the destiny of the people of this Kingdom lies in its becoming a province in a European State. I do not use the word "province" in any prejudicial way, but as the most accurate way in which to describe the relationship which will come about between the electorate, this House, the Government and the European Economic Community. That is a view which is held, and which people are entitled to hold honourably; but I do not believe that it is the view of the majority even in the House of Commons. I believe that the majority of hon. Members do not wish the House to part with its political sovereignty. Nor do I believe that the British electorate as a national electorate wishes to part with its independence. Yet that is the decision which again falls to be taken and is again being resolved when we discuss direct elections.
There is no doubt that we are free to debate and to decide the issue. I do not intend to look into the meaning of the small print of Article 138 of the Treaty of Rome. I do not intend to discuss what it means or does not mean. I regard that as a rather arid debate. I can see a case on both sides. I appeal instead to the fundamental fact that was stated by the Government at the time of the referendum: they said that 1150our continued membership will depend on the continuing assent of Parliament",and those words were a summary of a statement made at greater length in the White Paper which the Government presented. At every moment and at every stage—and this stage is the most crucial that there can be—the House retains the right to assent or to dissent.
Therefore, it would be wrong if any hon. Member, either for himself or for his constituents, pretended that he could treat this issue as simply an issue of mechanics, as the implementation in detail of a decision which has already been taken. As the stages of our discussions on direct elections go by, every hon. Member as responsible to his electorate as well as to himself will once again be taking the crucial decision that involves the future political independence of this country and the political power of the House. It is no less than that that we shall be deciding under the rubric of direct elections. The responsibility has not gone from us—not yet.
§ 5.38 p.m.
§ Miss Betty Boothroyd (West Bromwich, West)
I hope that the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), will forgive me if I do not take up his argument directly. I shall take up the points that were made early in the opening remarks of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs.
Yesterday my right hon. Friend said that at an early stage in our approach to direct elections it will be necessary to come to some agreement on the size of the European Assembly and the distribution of seats among those who form the Assembly. In arriving at some agreement we must give thought, too, to the future and to the representation which will eventually be required by the countries which seek membership of the Community. We look to a Community of not only nine. Perhaps in the years to come there will be much greater representation throughout other parts of Europe.
The Green Paper, which is a workmanlike document, sets out the Government's preliminary thinking about the size of the Assembly and distribution of seats. It seems to come down in favour of the present proposals of the European Assembly. If that is the case, I hope that the Government will play again with the 1151 numbers. I say this because it seems that the proposals of the Assembly weigh far too heavily in favour of States with small populations. I think that a much better balance is required.
Perhaps I may give two examples. The first is that Denmark, with less than one-tenth of France's 51 million population, would be entitled to more than a quarter of the number of seats to which France is entitled, which is 65. Ireland, with a population of 3 million, would be entitled to 13 seats, while we in the United Kingdom, with our 55 million of the Community's population, would have about 67 places.
I do not wish to give the impression that I am seeking strict proportionality, because that would be unrealistic. I very much support the view that there should be a minimum level of representation for small countries such as Luxembourg to ensure that there is more than one political voice from such countries. But I suggest that minimum representation of six seats should be balanced with a degree of proportionality based on national population. While direct elections and the creation of Scottish and Welsh Assemblies are separate issues and should be kept as such, the number of seats worked out on a basis of proportionality for the United Kingdom would seem a much fairer system of representation in a directly elected assembly.
Yesterday and today many hon. Members touched upon the bewildering variety of problems to be solved. These include the financing of elections, a permanent site for the Parliament and the electoral method to be used. So far as the system to be used is concerned, I prefer the "first past the post" which is the only practical and sensible system for the early years, though I welcome the announcement of a Select Committee, which no doubt will be charged with examining other systems which might be applied to future contests.
On the timing of elections, I urge the Government to work towards the first election in the spring of 1978 so that our procedures at Westminster are interrupted as little as possible and so that we are not faced with the task of having to appoint 67 or 87, or whatever the number may be, from our own 1152 Parliament. My heart goes out to the Whips in such a situation. Having belonged to that merry band myself, I can appreciate its difficulties, as I am sure hon. Members will understand.
A much more serious point is that made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. Stewart) in the European Parliament some time ago when he expressed the view that if we did not proceed to elections, we had two choices: either we should find the required number from this House, or we should face the alternative of letting some of our seats go vacant so that our voice would be weaker than it need be both in plenary session and in committees. That is a very unsatisfactory situation. I hope, therefore, that we shall proceed with as little delay as possible.
I hope that I have never dodged the question of answering whether the dual mandate works. The hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Sir P. Kirk), as a long-established Member of the European Parliament, gave his answer, and I shall now give mine. Of course, I speak only for myself. I believe that the system can work for a period and in varying degrees. But the strain of travelling, of being constantly itinerant, is very little to complain of compared with the burden, volume and pressure of work and of trying to keep abreast of detailed happenings in legislation here and in the European Parliament, of trying to keep well-informed on these matters and active in both Houses.
It must be a personal decision as to whether hon. Members follow the two Parliaments or restrict themselves to Westminster or to the European Parliament. No doubt hon. Members in all parts of the House are capable, able and willing to work the two systems. There are those with a great deal of parliamentary experience here. It would be very important for Members here, especially in the formative period, to take up a dual rôle so that we have a degree of consistency and so that we can build the necessary bridge between the two Parliaments.
But what of those Members who will have no home at Westminster? What will be their relationship to the United Kingdom Parliament? My right hon. Friend the Member for Fulham, who has been in the vanguard of thinking on that issue for some time, suggested a second 1153 category of MPs. Others have proposed a temporary summons to the other place. I do not believe that either of those systems would work. Both would produce just the sort of second-class citizen which would do no credit to either House. A third choice is needed.
We must try to lend the force of an established democratic Parliament to an Assembly whose democracy and parliamentary character are both very new and fragile. At the same time we must provide a channel for the sort of information which hon. Members need if they are to exercise the necessary control and scrutiny.
All the precedents that I have looked at seem to be against admitting strangers into our deliberations. I hold to that. I should not wish to see Members not elected to this Parliament taking their seat here. But with this in mind perhaps I may quote the relevant passage of "Erskine May" which says:Such appointments have always been regarded as constitutionally objectionable".But I would suggest that a fairly good precedent exists which is not quoted in that journal. It is that of the Joint Select Committee on Indian Constitutional Reform which was set up in November 1933. It had the following terms of reference:with power to call into consultation representatives of the Indian states and of British India … and in particular to examine and report on the proposal in the State Command Paper".What happened was that delegates from the Indian states, from continental British India and from the province of Burma came and took part in many meetings with the Joint Committee.
There were debates and exchanges of views but, more important, they asked questions when evidence was heard and they examined witnesses. They were not present when a report was discussed and they had no voting rights. I should like to see European Members "called into consultation", having access to a joint scrutiny committee of our two Houses, especially if that body were divided into committees roughly matching the Continental system of the European Parliament and the directorates of the European Commission.
1154 As at present constituted, the House of Lords Scrutiny Committee, with its seven specialist Committees, which cover a wide variety, meets these two provisos, and if we were to develop this type of Committee into a Joint Committee of the two Houses, it could make for part of that link that we are seeking for European Members of Parliament. It could also become a forum for the specialisation which the complexity of European legislation demands. Perhaps my right hon. Friend, the Leader of the House will consider whether a Select Commitee on parliamentary Procedure should consider the Indian precedent. I hope that the Select Committee announced yesterday will do likewise.
Finally, I do not look upon the European Parliament as a rival to Westminster. I believe that for very many years to come direct elections will not affect the powers of the United Kingdom Parliament. I believe that the European Parliament will only eventually win limited increases in power—not at the expense of Westminster, but at the expense of the Commission and the Council of Ministers. I believe that this is how it should be and that the British people should have closer democratic control over the so called "faceless men" of Brussels.
§ Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)
I have been listening particularly hard to what my hon. Friend has said. In view of what she said about not taking power, can she say now whether she is a federalist? If she is not a federalist, why does she think that the powers of the committees to which she has referred, which are almost an exact parallel, will not take power from the Committees of this House and, therefore, the House itself?
§ Miss Boothroyd
I am glad that my hon. Friend has asked me that question. Since I have been sitting in the Chamber, his two utterances have been "federalism" and "skimmed milk".
I am not a federalist. I believe in the sovereignty of this Parliament. Indeed, there has been only one occasion when Europe has spoken with one voice, and that was on the Lomé negotiations. I believe that there is a degree of power in the committees that I have mentioned 1155 and that the Joint Scrutiny Committees here in the House have a great degree of power. That is where our Members who are directly elected must sit. It is they who must look at the legislation before it then goes to Europe. That is where the power lies. That is why I have tried to suggest how there can be a link and relationship with this House.
Therefore, I want us to make the initial decision for direct elections in the spring of 1978. I hope that through the Select Committee we can start thinking very seriously of the longer-term questions which have been asked yesterday and today and which certainly cannot be answered in a two-day debate—the type of future electoral system, about which we are all concerned, and the relationship of the Member, on which I have touched. I hope that our uncertainty today about all these and many other serious questions—there are very serious constitutional questions to be answered before we make much further progress—will not become an excuse for not moving towards a more democratic system as soon as possible.
§ 5.53 p.m.
§ Mr. David Madel (Bedfordshire, South)
I agree with the hon. Member for West Bromwich, West (Miss Booth-royd) that the Green Paper is a workmanlike document. It gives us a chance to share in the Government's preliminary thinking on this very important matter of direct elctions to the European Assembly. The Green Paper may be a bit shy of coming to conclusions, but I think that that was the intention of the authors anyway. We get few chances in the House to share in the Government's preliminary thinking. This Green Paper is not unlike the Green Paper on Local Government Finance. It gives all the options but is rather shy of coming to any conclusions. However, it has served a useful purpose in starting off our debate on this difficult topic.
Nor do I think that we should in any sense underestimate the difficulties of getting the nine countries of the EEC to agree to direct elections, to the timing of them, to the size of constituencies and, eventually, to the method of election to be used.
Throughout all the speeches we have heard in the last two days there has been, 1156 as there is in the Community, evidence of a desire to have much greater democratic control of the EEC institutions. However, the Government must face up to the fact that if we have direct elections in just over two years' time, in May or June 1978, they will have quite a job in getting this country ready for that process. In paragraph 4 on page 3 of the Green Paper, the Government point out all the other constitutional work on which they are currently engaged. They talk about the possibility of the establishment of a new legislative body for Northern Ireland and about the possible setting up of Scottish and Welsh Assemblies. In two years they have a very heavy constitutional programme.
The Government should look carefully now at the totality of their legislative programme. I am not seeking to make a party point about dropping or abandoning Bills—although inevitably, as the Opposition, we say that when we are actually discussing them. However, if the Government mean business in relation to the Scottish Assembly, as I think they do, and on a new form of legislative assembly for Northern Ireland, and if they mean business on the EEC, I do not believe that in the two years remaining they can possibly proceed merrily along with the existing legislation on their hands and the legislation that they have promised for the next Session of Parliament, such as the massive Industrial Democracy Bill to name but one measure in particular.
Therefore, given that constitutionally this Parliament can continue until October 1979, the Government, and especially the Home Secretary—in view of the work he will be doing in this matter—should look very carefully at the totality of the legislative programme.
Paragraph 12 of the Green Paper mentions the increased powers of the European Assembly. Yesterday the Foreign Secretary made it quite clear that the British Government have no plans for giving the Assembly further powers. He went on to say: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 doing so."—[Official Report, 29th March 1976; Vol. 908. c. 914–15.]Therefore, we should reiterate that there is a national veto of all the nine members of the Community on giving the European Assembly any further powers. 1157 It is only by agreement among the Nine that any further powers would be ceded to the Assembly.
However, I want to look a little further on this matter to see whether it is merely a national veto or whether we shall see developing from direct elections some form of European Supreme Court on the lines of that of the United States.
Paragraph 24(b) of the Green Paper refers to matters about which the Convention will have to make some provisions. At the top of page 10 the Green Paper refers to the possibility of appeals over Community provisions to a competent national authority or to the European Court of Justice. Therefore, I should like to raise the question whether, when we have had the direct elections, we shall be considering constitutionally even more closely the powers of the European Assembly. Shall we have, as they have in the United States, a Supreme Court to which an individual or groups of individuals can go and challenge whether the Executive or legislature has or has not exceeded its powers? Obviously there is a national veto for individual Parliaments of the Nine, but, as there is this hint about appeals to the European Court of Justice and an indirect hint about some form of appeal to a Supreme Court, this matter ought to be raised in the debate.
I am grateful that mention is made about matters which the United Kingdom has to consider if we are to get ourselves ready in time for the direct elections. We must face up to the possibility of bringing in an alternative system of voting. I quite take the point that, given the two-year time scale, this may be somewhat difficult. The Home Secretary has already said that he sees the Boundary Commission as being the obvious organisation for drawing up constituency boundaries. We should remember, though, that it will be drawing up boundaries for a completely new type of Assembly or Parliament, but as we shall probably have in 1978 a Scottish Assembly and as we counted on a regional basis in the referendum I think that we should look carefully—as I hope the Select Committee will do—at the West German system of elections to its Parliament. For instance, if a party in Scotland gets a very high popular vote but because of the sheer size of the constituencies 1158 just fails to get an elected representative from a particular constituency, ought we not to say that it could send a representative to the European Assembly because in that region—that is, Scotland—it had polled a very high popular total vote?
We argue about the system in this House. There is a natural shyness about bringing in a system for elections to this place whereby some people would have constituencies and some would not. But in this country in national elections we are electing a Government as well as a Parliament. Therefore, it is the West German system that we must look at carefully when we consider elections to the European Assembly.
Mention has been made of the party list argument. People say that a form of proportional representation leads to the danger that party hacks will be sent to Europe. But every party has a party list. All of us are on a party list of sorts. The only point about it is that, given our present system, the party list is diluted by the local or regional choice that is made. Therefore, we should not run away from the idea of a different system of voting to the European Assembly merely because we are anxious about the party list argument.
However, there is a further point about the timing of elections which I seek to make and which has been made on a number of occasions in the debate. In paragraph 20 of the Green Paper, the Government hint at the possibility of holding the European Assembly elections in May at the same time as local authority elections. I hope that they will not do that. I hope that we shall keep the European elections separate. Already, for parliamentary elections there is a good deal of mixing up of local issues with national issues for elections to Westminster. Although there may be advantage in having the European elections at the same time as the local elections, I see difficulties in that, and if we are to encourage the electorate to concentrate exclusively on the arguments about the future development of Europe I see advantage in keeping the elections for the Assembly separate from any domestic elections that we have.
It has been said many times that the power of the European Assembly 1159 increases only if the national Governments are willing to concede additional powers to it. However, it is outside pressures on Europe which will encourage the directly-elected Assembly to press for greater powers by agreement between itself and the national Governments. There is the whole problem of food supplies and food reserves throughout the world. There is the question of the depletion of world mineral resources, about which Europe as a whole and the national Governments of the member States have had very little to say. There are a host of employment matters-training and unemployment—and there is the question of the role of multinational companies in Europe. All are matters proper for a directly-elected European Assembly and matters in which such an Assembly can play a positive part.
Again and again we need to stress that the EEC has grown by agreement. It has never grown by imposition. I do not believe that the situation will change with the welcome addition of direct elections to the Assembly.
§ 6.4 p.m.
§ Mr. David Steel (Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles)
The hon. Member for Bedfordshire, South (Mr. Madel) made some interesting remarks about the system to be used in direct elections, and it will come as no surprise to the House when I say that it is my intention to comment on it too.
I begin by saying that it has always been my view that following the result of the referendum the advent of direct elections to the European Assembly was both logical and inevitable, and I cannot understand why so many of the speeches in this debate so far against the concept have been re-runs of the speeches made during the referendum campaign, considering that so many hon. Members who made those speeches are the same people who foisted the referendum upon us and appeared to say that they would abide by the decision of the people. The decision having been taken, I want to say why I take the view that I do.
First, the advent of direct elections was foreshadowed in the Treaty of Rome, and after the referendum we had to adhere to the principles of that Treaty. Secondly, once we were inside the Community 1160 and that had been confirmed by the result of the referendum, it was desirable to extend democratic control over the bureaucracy.
It is the very people who argue against direct elections who, during the referendum campaign, constantly portrayed Europe as a great bureaucracy over which the citizen had very little control. The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) talked about our loss of sovereignty from here to the European Parliament if we moved to direct elections. But what we are doing is not that. What we are doing is enlarging the capacity of the people to control the bureaucracy. We are giving them a double-barrelled shotgun instead of a single-barrelled one.
The individual members of the Council of Ministers from this country will still be answerable to Parliament, as they are at the moment, but they will have a second shot. They will have their directly elected representatives of the European Assembly who can call before them the members of the Commission, which we cannot do in this House, and they will in that way advance the democratic control over the bureaucracy.
§ Mr. Steel
Quite easily, because they have responsibility as Ministers answerable to this House and they will have responsibility to their European colleagues within the European framework. I see no difficulty about that. Indeed, we shall come to the same argument when we deal with Scottish devolution. I hope that hon. Members at least will grant me that I have been consistent about this. I believe in a federal structure with different layers of responsibility and answerability at different levels. I have always held that view, and it is still my view.
The third assumption which seemed to run through the speech of the right hon. Member for Down, South was that parliamentary sovereignty as we know it at the moment is the most perfect way of controlling the European bureaucracy and that the Scrutiny Committee of this House combined with Members of this House nominated to the Assembly is the 1161 perfect way to control, scrutinise and deal with everything flowing from Europe.
I pay tribute to those who serve on the Select Committee and to those Members of this House who are nominated to the Assembly. However, they are in no way a substitute for the detailed scrutiny of all the regulations which flow from the Community.
The fourth reason why I say that direct elections flow naturally from the outcome of the referendum is the one which the Home Secretary gave. I do not think that in the referendum we were taking a decision about joining a static institution. Europe must have a political momentum of its own. Those of us who participated on the "Yes" side in the referendum campaign argued in our speeches and in our literature that this was a continuing and developing institution.
I can only say that the British Liberal Party only this past weekend was engaged in conversations with its counterparts in the other member States of the Community precisely to start the process, which is natural and logical, of drawing up a declaration of policy and philosophy common to the Liberal Parties of the Community. I have no doubt that the other parties will follow suit in due course, as they usually do. We are taking the political initiative here because that is the logical way in which a mature European political democracy will develop.
The next matter to which I address myself concerns the numbers in the Parliament and the balance between the nation States. I do this because there is an error in the Official Report of yesterday's debate. During the speech of the Foreign Secretary, I am credited with having shouted "One", with reference to the appropriate representation of Luxembourg. The shout may have come from somewhere in this direction, but it did not come from me.
§ Mr. David Steel
The hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) has owned up. I trust that it will be noted in the Official Report today.
The Foreign Secretary is on exactly the right lines when he says that he takes the current proposals before us but that 1162 he believes they should be altered. He said yesterday: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."—[Official Report, 29th March 1976; Vol. 908, c. 905.]That is a principle which my colleagues and I support. If we accept Luxembourg as a special case and that there is a need to establish a minimum number of seats that any sovereign nation State shall have, it is then possible to make an exception of Luxembourg and to say that, beyond that, the strict allocation of seats among the other countries should be nearer in proportion to their population than is proposed at present. If we get it right, it should be possible to bring the representation of Scotland and Wales nearer in numbers to that proposed for Norway, Denmark and Eire, countries of comparable size.
In the long run, this problem may have to be solved by the creation of a second Chamber elected on a European regional basis, which would avoid the single Chamber in Europe getting out of hand in size.
I welcome the announcement that we are to have a Select Committee to investigate and recommend to the House various matters connected with the details of the elections. I should like to address myself to three matters in this respect. The first has been touched on by the hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Sir P. Kirk) and the Home Secretary—namely, who will be eligible to stand in the elections? For some reason they concentrated on the clergy of the Church of Scotland and the Church of England. I support their views. I see the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Mabon) smiling. I have no interest to declare. Those people should not be barred from standing in this election. But there is a wider section of the population to consider.
It is the practice on the continent of Europe much more than in this country for people in the public service generally, in the wider sense of the word, to be free to stand for their Parliaments and, having been unsuccessful, or having been successful and served for a while, to return to their old positions. That is true more of academic life there than here. It is even true of people who in this country could be described as civil servants. I 1163 hope that the Select Committee will consider the eligibility rules to ascertain whether we could canvass a wider section of the population to stand for election to the European Parliament.
Secondly, the Select Committee must look at the links between this House and the European Parliament. The hon. Member for West Bromwich, West (Miss Boothroyd) produced an interesting but unconvincing proposal for a Select Committee based on the precedent of the Indian situation. I thought that she too lightly set aside the proposal which I have always thought reasonable—that those elected to the European Parliament should sit ex officio in the other place. I say that because I do not believe that the proposal made by the right hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. Stewart) for a floating band of people in this House, whatever rights they were told they could not have, would be accepted by this House.
I set this argument in the context of the Liberal Party's review of the reform of the other Chamber. A fundamental change was made in 1959 when the concept of life peerages was introduced. That was an innovation. Therefore, why not have peerages by office? The hon. Member for Saffron Walden said that the Bishops already occupy that position. Therefore, it is not a novel concept in principle. Moreover, as the Liberal Party believes that eventually we should have an elected second Chamber representative of the regions of this country, there is no reason why we should not make a modest start by saying that the 67, or however many they may be, who are elected to go to Europe should form the link with this Parliament by sitting in the other place for as long they are Members of the European Parliament.
I turn next to the vexed question of the electoral sysem itself. The right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Maudling) said that the Green Paper was coy on the subject. In fact, it does not mention it at all. The right hon. Gentleman hastily went on to say that, as far as he was concerned, this was a good matter for argument between the Liberal Party and the Government. We were left not knowing the Opposition's view. "Coy" is an adjective I should apply to the right hon. Gentleman on this question.
1164 We have taken our decision and made representations, in the consultations which the Foreign Secretary has had with all parties, that it is essential, in framing an electoral system for the 67 Members, not to use the first-past-the-post system. I have read all the speeches to which I was not able to listen yesterday and I know that there is a prevailing view that this is a matter exclusively of interest to the Liberal Party. I hope to show that it is not.
The first-past-the-post system is a crude form of election which gives a swift and decisive result. The larger the constituency, however, the greater is the crudity built into the system and the greater is the potential for building up a quite large mass of support throughout the country without winning a single seat. Therefore it is possible, on present or on past levels of support which it has enjoyed since the war, for the Liberal Party to have no representation in Europe. That may not a matter of great regret to Members here, but it affects the working of the European Parliament as a European institution with its political groupings.
When we made our representations to the Foreign Secretary, we sent him a detailed analysis of some of the results which could accrue if he used the first-past-the-post system. The right hon. Gentleman sent us an interesting letter, significantly dated 17th March—before he realised that he would be a competitor in another election, as he is this very day—in which he said:Of course, the question of what the electoral system should be is for Parliament to consider. But, speaking for myself, I shall take a lot of convincing before I should be persuaded to abandon the system of first past the post.The right hon. Gentleman abandoned it last Thursday when he pressed on to the second ballot.
I have been strongly pressed to take the line—I do not take it, but I should tell the House that it exists among Members of the Liberal Party—that, if the Government insist on going ahead with the first-past-the-post system, we should have nothing to do with it and that no Liberal candidate should stand. Personally, I do not take that view. Indeed, it has not been discussed in any organ within the Liberal Party. However, there 1165 are those who take that view, and that view might prevail at the end of the day.
I stress that the argument about the election system goes much wider than the Liberal Party's interest. In the first-past-the-post system it is conceivable that, if we add a couple of percentage points to the present level of electoral support enjoyed by the SNP in Scotland, all six or seven seats there could be taken by SNP Members. It is likely that not one Conservative would be returned from Wales. It is likely—indeed, almost definite—that there would be no representative of the minority population in Ulster. It may be that the Government are prepared to accept these distortions, but they will be looked upon with astonishment by our colleagues in Europe.
There is an inbuilt distortion in the first-past-the-post system when we consider the swing between the two major parties. If we accept, for the basis of the argument, that there will be 67 seats and that seven will be in Scotland and Ulster, we are talking about 60 scats in England and Wales. The timing of the European elections, once we have passed the first election in 1978 or whenever it is to be—I think it is agreed that the elections should take place every five years—will not be dictated by this House. It will become an automatic matter. Therefore, we cannot tell what the political temperature will be when an election is held.
We are used to the hard fact that in local government many splendid councillors of all parties lose their seats, not because of any wickedness on their part or any demerit on the part of the local authority but because their political party nationally is going through a bad patch when the local government elections are being held. While that may be understood and tolerated as a distortion in this country, it will be difficult to export it to a European level.
I should like to give a concrete example. A full research document on this matter has been given to the Foreign Secretary and I do not want to weary the House. During the period of the previous Labour Government, to take the most graphic example, in March 1968 there were five by-elections. There was an average swing of 18.4 per cent. from the Labour Party to the Conservative Party 1166 in those five by-elections. If we had held a European election at that moment, the probable result would be that out of the 60 seats 53 would go to the Conservative Party and seven to the Labour Party.
The tables can be turned the other way. It is not difficult to imagine a Conservative Government going through a bad patch, hitting the European election, there being a gross distortion the other way, and being saddled with that situation in Europe for five years. The Government here would have to put up with a delegation in the European Parliament not marginally but grossly unrepresentative of their views.
I hope that the House will consider this argument and accept that, when we talk about election systems and ask the Select Committee to look into the matter we are not indulging in special pleading on the part of the Liberal Party but are putting forward a serious proposal which has not yet been thoroughly examined by the Government. It has, however, been examined by several newspapers. In an editorial on the Green Paper, the Evening Standard said that the Green Paper stated:'It is proposed that it should be for the Government and Parliament of each Member State to decide on their own electoral system and procedures.' No mention of the public's views on the matter, one notes.I suspect that the public will be concerned about the electoral system.
The Times, in an editorial on 18th February, said:An unrepresentative British delegation will be an acute embarrassment in an assembly where at least seven out of the other eight delegations will have been elected under proportional systemsand in France under the second ballot system now familiar to the Labour Party. We shall be the only country using a first-past-the-post method. I do not accept that we need have delay or that we need put off the date of direct elections if we start discussing a change in the electoral system.
I shall not weary the House by arguing the Liberal Party's view of the single transferable vote or whether we should use the German system. The European Movement's working party produced an excellent compromise between the two which is worthy of study, but it should 1167 not be beyond the wit of the Select Committee or the Government to devise a system of election which will produce fairly, in a European context, the balance of views held in this country.
Another argument is that in any case the Treaty of Rome and the draft Convention foresee the time when there will be a common system of elections. If there is such a common system, it will not be our one which everyone will adopt. There will be the European system, which will certainly be proportionate in some way. The Foreign Secretary when tackled on this by one of his hon. Friends replied: "Don't ask me about these things. They are a long way off. We shall all be dead and gone by then."
§ Mr. Steel
I do not accept that. Here I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Banbury and other hon. Members behind me who have been at least consistent on this issue.
The Foreign Secretary adopts a posture of saying:I do not ask to seeThe distant scene; one step enough for me.But one step is not good enough. That has been the fault of the European policy of the British Government for too long. It is the distant scene which we wish to see. As the hon. Member for Saffron Walden put it in the opening and closing passages of his speech, we are talking here not of a technical change in the electoral system in Europe but of the kind of Europe we want to see and the future democracy our children will enjoy.
§ 6.23 p.m.
§ Mr. Bryan Gould (Southampton, Test)
The Green Paper which we are debating concerns itself with the very many problems of direct elections. The Select Committee, the establishment of which I welcome, will no doubt go into the practical problems, but there are other issues which I hope will also concern the Committee. There are issues of far-reaching implications for Europe, for this House, for the United Kingdom and for political parties, each of which is undeniably important, with which I hope the Select Committee will deal.
1168 It is simply not the case that direct elections arise naturally and directly from the fact of our membership. Rather is it the case that they represent a major step in a fundamentally new direction. I hope to indicate very briefly what that new direction is. When we consider this, the temptation is to say, as others have said, that direct elections will simply democratise the Community, but that is a far from simple and superficial view.
Quite apart from the practical point of whether the British people would be content with a system which offered them just one representative in Strasbourg for every 650,000 voters, or whether trade union lobbyists would be content to lobby 67 Members in a House of 400 Members in Strasbourg, one must ask in what context this supposed democracy is to operate. As the Community exists at the moment, it is, as we recognise, the Council of Ministers which is the major decisionmaking body, and our representative on that Council is there precisely because he is a Minister, a Member of this House and of the Government from this House, and therefore he is responsible to this House. It defies all logic to try to assume and maintain that such a Minister could have a dual sense of responsibility to conflicting bodies with differing views.
If, therefore, one is trying, in some vain attempt to democratise what we have, to introduce a directly-elected European Assembly, it could operate only if one or two major changes should occur. First, there must be a substantial and, indeed, fundamental constitutional change in the doctrine of ministerial responsibility to this House, or there must be an equally fundamental change in the constitution of the Community so that the decisionmaking body is no longer the Council of Ministers but some form of European Government. It is this latter possibility which is overtly hoped and argued for by many federalists—and why not? At least, they are honest in this matter.
In this country and in Europe people would be incredulous if we said that we could take direct elections in isolation, that direct elections had no such consequences and that there was no question of extending the powers of the European Assembly, because if one talks to people in the Federal Republic of Germany or elsewhere they mention the two in the same breath. The two issues of direct 1169 elections and extending the Assembly's powers are indivisible. The Commission itself supports direct elections on exactly the same basis. The Commission recognises that direct elections are necessary though largely valueless, a democratic gloss on what it sees as a substantial change of powers from the Council of Ministers to the new European Government. Therefore, the argument that direct elections are a simple, natural form of democratising the existing arrangements is seen to be both misleading and dangerous.
It is misleading because it obscures the fact that direct elections and a directly-elected Assembly make sense only in the context of, and as a step towards, European union. It is dangerous because it diverts our attention from our only real chance of really extending democracy in the Community, which is to develop our own powers of control over our own Ministers so that they are responsible to this House for what they do in Brussels. So much for the implications for the kind of Europe we have joined.
There are equally serious and fundamental implications for the rôle of this House which were fully developed in the excellent speech of the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell). But we are accustomed in this House to claim that we are the sole democratic expression of the people's will in this country. To some of us that remains a comfort in the context of the European debate, because we believe that in the end, on the basis of that claim, we shall be able to resist changes in Europe which we do not like. Consider, however, how vitally weakened our ability to resist those changes would be—and they would include the very change in the extent of the powers of the European Assembly itself—when we could no longer claim to be the sole democratic expression of the people's will. Ministers could then say 'These proposals have been approved by another place which has a claim to democratic legitimacy equal to your own".
§ Mr. Hooley
Is my hon. Friend seriously saying that, if conflict arose within this country between the will of 615 Members of this Parliament and the views or supposed opinions of 60 or 70 Euro-Members of Parliament somewhere 1170 else, the will of this House would not prevail in practice?
§ Mr. Gould
If one draws any lesson at all from history, one cannot be sure that great efforts will be made to ensure that such a conflict in that form does not take place. But the 67 MPs and their European colleagues, in the nature of any democratically elected body, will make those claims and extend them and gain those powers without our recognising that it has happened. I believe that, once that genie is let out of the bottle, we shall be deluding ourselves if we believe that we shall be able to put it back again.
Then there are the implications for the United Kingdom. Almost all of us recognise that membership of the Common Market has provided a powerful stimulus for centrifugal forces in the United Kingdom. Consider, however, the situation which will arise if there is not only an elected Assembly in Edinburgh or Cardiff but also an elected Assembly in Strasbourg, Luxembourg or wherever it may be. Who, then, in Scotland or Wales will bother about an elected Assembly at Westminster?
The whole issue of devolution provides an instructive contrast to the way we have approached the subject of direct elections. On the subject of devolution we have had a decade of discussions. Commissions, White Papers, four-day debates, election manifestos and promises. But on the subject of direct elections, which is a form of upward devolution with far-reaching consequences, we have been in great danger of skating over decisions in principle.
We must also consider the implications of direct elections for political parties and the electoral system. Political parties will be organising and financing those elections. They will be selecting the candidates and in some senses will be responsible for the manifestos on which candidates stand. How will my Labour Party colleagues react when the manifesto on which their colleagues stand does not represent Labour Party views but is drawn up by some confederation of Socialist European Parliaments? Who can doubt that the consequences for our electoral system are equally far-reaching?
Article 138 of the Treaty of Rome imposes an obligation upon us to harmonise our electoral system. Whatever 1171 may happen the first time round, we are bound the second time to proceed to a harmonised voting system. If we believe that we would choose that system, we are living in cloud-cuckoo-land.
I have already said that the Select Committee will have much with which to concern itself and that work will go far beyond the practical problems detailed in the Green Paper. If we are to reach a decision, by all means let us reach that decision in full knowledge of its consequences and with a clear-eyed appreciation of what is involved. It would have been shameful if we had allowed this decision to be taken from us or to be imposed upon us. I would find it incredible that this House, normally so jealous of its power and privileges and rightly concerned at any loss of its rights, should be prepared to contemplate the establishment of a powerful rival without bothering to discuss the matter.
I very much welcome the setting up of a Select Committee. I am not concerned about the limitations which are to be imposed on that body in that it is not to be allowed to consider the principle of the matter. I believe that there is no way in which the question of principle can be withdrawn from this House. We cannot shrug off our responsibility, and indeed we have a duty to consider this important issue.
The principle has not been decided. It was certainly not decided in the referendum campaign. The Government contented themselves with the simple statement that they reserved their position. The matter is not decided in the Treaty of Rome. There is nothing in the Treaty that binds this country in principle to direct elections. Article 138 of the Treaty imposes an obligation on the Assembly to produce proposals and, secondly, calls upon the Council to produce recommendations. But Article 189 makes it clear that the recommendations have no legally binding effect whatever. It remains for national Parliaments of member States to make that decision in principle. The great advantage of a Select Committee lies in the fact that when we consider questions of principle we may be able not merely to jump through one hoop at a time but to look ahead with the full knowledge of what is involved.
§ 6.33 p.m.
§ Mr. John Davies (Knutsford)
I was interested in the argument advanced by the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. Gould), particularly the latter part of his contribution. I agree with the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) that the question of whether Article 138 implies an effective commitment is beside the point. I regard that as a somewhat arid point, and perhaps I may demonstrate why.
I believe that the nine member States of Europe have come to an understanding on what they intend. One of the things they profoundly intended from the beginning, when the Six and later the Nine were formed, was that there should be a directly-elected European Parliament. It is of no real consequence whether the words can be contorted or twisted. What is significant is that that was the intention, and that is what we are discussing today.
§ Mr. Davies
I shall seek to truncate debate only in compliance with Mr. Speaker's suggestion that we should not speak for too long. It is necessary to say one or two things which seem to have great importance in this context. I believe that the Green Paper is a nuts-and-bolts document, a mechanics paper, and it is right that it should be so. Equally, issues of principle rightly have been invoked in this debate and, no doubt, will continue to be brought into discussion.
I believe that there is a matter that goes well beyond the question of any isolated national interest in direct elections. I believe that the Community now needs, as soon as it can have it, a directly-elected Parliament. I take that view for reasons related to the future of the Community. I believe that the Community must now be able to go forward if it is not to stagnate in ways in which I fear so many of us have found it stagnating of late, and regrettably so. I regard the direct election of a European Parliament not as a matter of moral undertaking or 1173 treaty commitment but as a real necessity for the future development of the European Community. It is in that sense that I wish to speak today.
I do not see a directly-elected Parliament as undermining the power of this Parliament. I have always felt that our membership of the Community involved a specific and clear decision to shift a major area of legislative and policymaking activity into a united European group and out of a national one. That seemed to me to be the purpose of the Community. If that is so, it seems proper that within that sphere of policy-making and legislative action there needs to be the proper institutional structure to undertake that process in an orderly and democratic manner. Therefore, I do not feel that we are at any time undermining the one by ensuring that the other has validity.
I always find the remarks of the right hon. Member for Down, South persuasive in their clarity, but when he says that the deprivation of power from one authority was an inevitable consequence of the granting of power to another I do not believe that to be the case. The inference that power moved is power lost seems to be totally incorrect in my experience of handling affairs on this scale. Surely the more appropriate quotation would be that of the Belgium nation, whose motto is "Union makes strength". That, after all, is the purpose of the Community. The purpose is to secure within a directly-elected European Parliament a corresponding force to add to that which resides in the national Parliaments. Equally, I do not think there is any real danger of an onrush into a federalist State. That seems to me to be a gradual progressive process which perhaps will eventuate one day, but not within the compass of my immediate expectations.
I agree with those who say that Europe is moving not in a clear blueprint progression but in terms of a realisation of the problems that it faces as it goes along and endeavours to solve them. I do not believe that we are moving into something that automatically entails the disappearance and elimination of our identity or of our ability to maintain a clear, distinct role of our own. It involves us in a continual review of the right way to administer power in modern 1174 States and of the best way to administer it in the interests of individual States or the Community. These are phobias in many ways and are not compatible with my own view of the immediate problems we face or with likely developments in the immediate future.
I found persuasive the argument by the right hon. Member for Down, South on the effect of granting direct elections. They do not need to add massively to the legislative powers in a European Parliament, but I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that when Members can say that they are the elected representatives of the people and of their countries they will have already taken on a degree of authority which they do not possess now. Those who are at present involved in the legislative and policy-making system of the Community—which is different from our own and more compatible with continental systems—believe that they will have to take more to heart the views and advice which they receive.
That will be more true for the ultimate power-making group in the Community which is conscious of the dangers which arise from its being an isolated body, making laws and decisions which it is not doing in the normal way through the exchanges between Government and Parliament in this country. They themselves must wish to have an opposing force of a constructive character able to question and argue, able to put into effect the consultative or conciliation system. They must believe that they will be more able to do that with confidence if and when the Parliament is self-elected and directly representative of the people.
The importance of ensuring greater popular concern for the activities of the Community has not been emphasised in the debate so far. All good Governments desire to do good, to improve and to make decisions which are advantageous to the member States and the people in them. But people today remain indifferent or unknowing about what is being done. One of the virtues of direct elections is that they would result in the people becoming involved, being made aware of the issues which concern the Community and being asked to give an opinion about them. Once an opinion is given, people become more deeply involved. That must be worth something in terms of popular support and in terms of the belief of the 1175 people of Europe in the future of the Continent as an effective part of their lives beyond the strict confines of the nation State.
I hope that the direct elections issue will be regarded not as a technicality but as something which profoundly affects our national interest and which will have the deepest effect on a Community to which we have given our support and which we must see go on to ultimate success.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ Mr. John Mendelson (Penistone)
I am pleased to be following the right hon. Member for Knutsford (Mr. Davies). One can always rely on the right hon Gentleman to give straightforward reasons for supporting a proposal. He said that his first reason for supporting the proposal for direct elections was to avoid stagnation. That is the most honest reason given in the debate so far. But it is an insufficient reason for such a major change.
My first reason for rejecting the idea is the same as his first reason for supporting it. I have always understood from earlier debates on the Common Market at the time of de Gasperi that the originators had in mind an organisation that would be built up bit by bit and that the institutions would follow later. I thought that the original planner rejected the idea of beginning with large organisations, building a large edifice and then dealing with details. They thought that that was not the right way and that they would fail if they attempted it.
In their wisdom they saw that it was best to create small realities and to allow institutions to follow over the years. That is how I understood the situation, but I am open to contradiction if hon. Members feel that my impression is wrong. That is why I interrupted my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary yesterday to ask him whether he thought that to go ahead with direct elections, when there was hardly any other significant development, would be in the spirit of the Common Market itself. My right hon. Friend said that it was a matter of opinion and speculation, but that he thought that it was implied in the original plan and draft.
My right hon. Friend's opinion deserves at least as much respect as that of anybody 1176 else but for several reasons I wish to argue the contrary view. If nothing exists apart from the common agricultural policy—and that is a view widely held in the Common Market and I doubt that there will be much contradiction—we can not say that much development has taken place. For the right hon. Gentleman to say that we should move forward just to get out of stagnation, that we should have direct elections for that reason, is to suggest the negation of the intention of those who originally planned the Common Market development. It is a very bad reason. It would be an empty shell.
My second reason for rejecting the idea is more political. If there is to be a development in the position of this Parliament, it should be carefully watched. We must notice the sort of ideas that prominent Members have recently put forward. I want to refer to some of the views of the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath), who was Prime Minister recently and who has more recently made profoundly interesting speeches in a number of our debates. He has been heard with great respect. When he spoke in the devolution debate, he probably surprised some members of his own party by the warmth with which he supported devolution.
§ Mr. Mendelson
I carry at least one Conservative Member with me, and I would probably carry others who are not here.
The right hon. Gentleman gave a reason for his warm support for devolution for Scotland and other parts of the United Kingdom. He said that now we were in the Common Market, we should look at the internal systems of some of the other countries in the Common Market. He talked about countries with the federal system. That is precisely the kind of development that some of us feared when we opposed entry.
This is not the kind of debate in which one would want to take too much time talking about the completely mistaken belief that our system can be compared with the federal system of Germany or some other countries. The comparison is completely unhistoric and beside the point. I hope that I do not disconcert my right hon. Friend the Foreign and 1177 Commonwealth Secretary when I say that I wholeheartedly agreed with what he said about federalism yesterday afternoon. I found some reassurance in what he said, although I am not sure that all my hon. Friends share my enthusiasm for his view on the matter.
We were afraid that this might be given as a reason for believing that could seriously endanger the unity of the United Kingdom. Perhaps I may be allowed by Conservative Members still to refer to the right hon. Member for Sidcup as a prominent political leader. If as prominent a political leader as the right hon. Gentleman uses the argument of our having joined the Common Market in order to support assemblies in Edinburgh and Cardiff, the unity of the United Kingdom is indeed endangered by our membership. We have every reason to look carefully once again at some of the long-term purposes of the out-and-out pro-Marketeers. I intend to vote tonight or on some other suitable occasion against the proposal to have direct elections, because I believe that it is a deliberate step in the direction of breaking up the unity of this country.
The content of the Common Market has not developed—this is my third reason for objecting to the proposal—and, judging by the tone of the speeches of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on the subject, and even by what my right hon. Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary said yesterday in opening the debate, nobody in authority is making particular haste in building up its content. Given that, and the talk about its taking many years, that it is something that might be done in a generation, why rush ahead with direct elections? Why be in such a hurry on this peripheral political point, if it were not the only matter on which people felt that if they made quick progress, they might be able to persuade others to do other things which otherwise might be found not acceptable?
There is one other matter which is particularly difficult for the people of this country. The debate on devolution has only just started. I am sorry—I make no complaint about it—that no Scottish National Party Member is present now. I have that party's point of view particularly in mind. When SNP Members make their propaganda in Scottish constituencies, 1178 they do not put the soft-pedalled view that we sometimes hear in the House. They produce bitter anti-United Kingdom propaganda in their constituencies. Some of it has very unpleasant and dangerous undertones. I do not believe that one should surrender to that kind of nasty propaganda. One should meet it by opposing it as bitterly as it is put forward and by bringing home to those to whom it is presented the real dangers involved.
If we are to do that, it is important that the significance of the United Kingdom and the benefit that the United Kingdom Parliament brings to constituents in Scotland and Wales, as well as other parts of the United Kingdom, should be brought home time and again to all concerned. Therefore, I fully agree with what the Government are now belatedly doing—they should have started much earlier—in bringing home to the people of Scotland and Wales the value, including the economic value, of their membership of the United Kingdom.
The battle is far from lost. I believe that if we manage to reduce unemployment and to have a better economic situation, many of the people now voting for the SNP can be persuaded to change their allegiance again and to support some of the other political parties in Scotland. But if we accept a policy which gradually shifts the centre of political power from this Parliament, from Britain, to Brussels, we shall be surrendering some of the major arguments that I put forward against all those who argue as SNP Members argue in Scottish debates.
Last night a Conservative Member of the European Parliament appeared on the "Tonight" programme on television. The hon. Member for Dorset, West (Mr. Spicer) was seen in conversation with three other Members of that Parliament. He told us that they belonged to various political parties, and he made a remark that I found particularly amusing. He said to his colleagues "There is a great danger in the European countries if they are left to themselves. There is the same danger in Britain: we shall all go Socialist. In Britain we have a Socialist Government; in France and Italy there may be Socialist Governments. All these countries will have Socialist Governments and the only way to stop that is for us all 1179 to combine by having a sort of general coalition on a European basis."
The hon. Member did not make me tremble, but what is interesting is that these countries have either a federal system or a system approaching federalism—mostly coalition Governments. It is one of the characteristics of all these systems. It has been a general principle of our political system, except for the Liberal Party at present, to prefer clear political responsibilities and for a Government to be formed by a party with a clear parliamentary majority. It is a matter of great regret that at present that majority is not as clear as it ought to be. I am not making a party point: whether it is a Conservative, Liberal or Labour Government, it is much better for our political system that there should be a clear majority.
It is a characteristic of Common Market countries that there should for ever be coalition Governments with no knowledge of this political responsibility. Clearly, one of the aims of those who want to build up the European Parliament by direct elections is to create a system of wishy-washy coalitions in which people sit together and produce the kind of general policies for which no one in particular can be held responsible, in the hope that a reflection of those policies can influence the politics of this country so as to escape from what some of them fear will be the future of this country—that it will become a Socialist convert.
§ Mr. Stephen Ross (Isle of Wight)
Is the hon. Gentleman saying that the Government of Western Germany, which has had a coalition since 1969, has been abysmally bad in comparison with the Government of this country since the war? What about the Government of Southern Ireland. Is the hon. Gentleman saying that coalition is not successful?
§ Mr. Mendelson
The question of good or bad is not the point I am making at the moment. This is not the argument and I would deliberately avoid entering into it. That is not the reason why the German Social Democratic Party decided to give up all the Socialist content of its policies. I am not trying to please the hon. Gentleman: I happen to make a point which I thought would have some appeal to hon. Members on my side of 1180 the House, particularly during a week when we are electing the leader of the Socialist Party. I do not expect the hon. Gentleman, who is anti-Socialist, to be impressed by my argument, but he has helped me underline what I am trying to get across.
By building up a kind of system that has no content we shall allow those who wish to have that kind of politically wishy-washy coalition to be built up to influence the politics of this country. It is on those grounds that I am profoundly opposed to the proposal to have direct elections and I shall seek an early opportunity to vote against it.
§ 7.4 p.m.
§ Mr. Hugh Dykes (Harrow, East)
The hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson) has a justified reputation as a devoted parliamentarian, and one can understand his argument, although I do not share his views, over the Common Market as a whole. One can easily understand the many misgivings of people who are not as enthusiastic about our membership, let alone about proceeding to direct elections to the European Parliament as encompassed in the Green Paper. I was myself rather scathing when it was first published, but I have since mellowed. Although it is negative in many ways, that is understandable, remembering the complexities of the argument, especially about constructing the first set of direct elections. As a quid pro quo, the Foreign Secretary himself was very positive yesterday on many of these aspects. That is to be welcomed.
Contrary to what some people have said about there being ample time ahead, I believe that these direct elections to the European Parliament are important. urgent and, indeed, overdue because of other developments in the Community and because of what many other hon. Members have already alluded to—the need to provide a democratic base to counteract the very strong centralised bureaucratic pressures emanating from the Commission or the Council of Ministers, or from both of them in conjunction.
I think it is overdue also because of the need to engage the British public in what this is all about. Before that, we cannot draw up value judgments about low turnouts or high turnouts. Until the 1181 public start thinking about their European candidates and maybe their European constituencies in the conventional sense, they will justifiably feel that they are not engaged in this complex European experiment.
My colleagues will learn with enthusiasm that I am going to be brief—and, inevitably, probably superficial—over some of the complicated points. Most other hon. Members have welcomed the Select Committee proposal, but the date of July is ambitious. Although I should be delighted if it was achieved in three or four months, I hope that the Government will not shelter behind the difficulties of adhering to the timetable as an excuse for procrastination. On the converse argument, I hope that the Government's solemn assurance yesterday that they would keep in step with the other member States will also be adhered to.
Coming back to the fears of some of the anti-Marketeers about this particular exercise, they make too much use of the word "impossible". This is more than just difficult. This is perhaps one of the most difficult exercises that the member States working together will have to engage upon. I hope that some of the factors such as the consequence of value judgments on the turnout level and whether people will comprehend the system of elections will not be used as an excuse for inaction or further delay.
The "anti's" cannot have it both ways. There have been once again this afternoon splendid contradictions between those who say "Why bother with this bizarre exercise when it is and will remain a feeble institution which is incomprehensible to me and most of my constituents?" and those, like the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), who take the entirely contrary view that it will mean the effective disappearance of this House. These absolutes are not only likely to scare the public without reason: they are also likely to be mischievous.
The answer to all these arguments is surely that we do not know. By definition, this is uncharted territory. There is no question, as the Green Paper says, of any new accretion of powers, yet no one knows what will happen in the natural organic development of the Community 1182 as it has been so far. Much Community theory has been abandoned or substantially modified since it began, in a way which should appeal to hon. Members.
It is a fallacy to say that any division of influence or additional power for the European Parliament, at least at the margin, will replace the powers of this House. The European Parliament and institutions of the Community are complementary and supplementary to this House and to a lesser extent the other place. I hope, therefore, that the new developing European Parliament will have some additional powers and that there will be a long debate between the Council of Ministers and the new Parliament on the division of labour. Perhaps in five years it will control one-third of the Community budget. Perhaps it will exclusively make 50 per cent. of the principal agricultural policy decisions.
Once again no one knows, but I would welcome its processing Community legislation, perhaps in conjunction with the Council of Ministers, having the final say on some items, initiating others, as Mr. Tindemans proposes, and having a powerful advisory rôle vis-.-à-vis the Council—perhaps with a three-line whip—on yet others. There are numbers of splendid possible combinations.
§ Mr. Dykes
The hon. Gentleman says that I do not know where I am in this respect. No one knows. Like most things, the future of the Community must be unascertainable, but why does the hon. Gentleman get so enthusiastic about an unrealistic view of the world which no longer bears any relation to what the British public know to be the truth of this country's relationships to others?
This is one of our most important debates of recent years, yet the attendance would hardly do justice to the Rating (Caravan Sites) Bill which we debated last night. It is worse than the average attendance in the European Parliament, even on minor matters like the harmonisation of mayonnaise. I ask the hon. Member to accept the realities. I am proud to be a Member of this Parliament, which has many virtues, including the hon. Member for Penistone, but we have to see where our so-called pristine political 1183 system has brought Great Britain in comparison with the other member States.
We rightly mock the intrintic feebleness of the French National Assembly. It is a feeble Parliament under the Fifth Republic constitution, but economically France has forged ahead. It is no good politicians saying that that has happened independently of our activity as political leaders of the Community. There are conclusions to be drawn there. That is why the Community is important for this country in a general context, as well as the question of what a new democratically-elected European Parliament might do.
I share the anxieties of my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Maudling) about the idea of a linked committee. As an alternative, emphasising the separate though complementary nature of these two institutions must be the right approach. If, however, we are to have a committee to join the two, perhaps the Select Committee should consider making it a Select Committee itself at which European Members can be interviewed—that is the polite word: perhaps "interrogated" would be more accurate—about European legislation and policy, so that they would know the views of this House.
The former Liberal Chief Whip, the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel), said that the first-past-the-post system had its deficiencies for any European election, and he may be right. But if a compromise is reached in the first session or the second which allows a minority German representation reflecting the national votes of the smaller parties and giving them a total national electoral gain, I hope that the Liberals will not immediately say that we are still second-class citizens in the new Parliament and that we do not have a direct constituency relationship. If we are to get this experiment off the ground, we cannot have it both ways.
We should give a good deal of attention to broadcasting in any European election. In large European constituencies the sort of campaigning that we are used to will be impossible. This must mean inter-party talks fairly soon after the Select Committee has produced some findings, 1184 at least theoretically, on some of the complications of broadcasting.
I hope that there will be no State handouts to candidates or parties in the elections. Any money provided should be limited to infrastructural and constitutional expenditure and not extended to physical arrangements like sending out two election addresses instead of one. I would regard such arrangements as the slippery slope and the first step in the wrong direction. If the political parties in this country find it harder to raise funds, that may be a consequence of what they have done in the past.
§ 7.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Raphael Tuck (Watford)
I wish that I had the confidence of my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, West (Miss Boothroyd) that no step towards federalism would be inherent in direct elections. I take the gloomy view of the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) and my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. Gould), with whose speeches I entirely agreed. I feel that direct elections are the direct step towards a federal system in Europe.
The European Parliament at present has limited functions. It can scrutinise legislation, it can question the Commission and the Council, it can debate matters of public importance—debate, not decide—and it can dismiss the whole Commission. We have been told more than once that our suspicions are unfounded, that there is no danger of direct elections leading to a federal assembly. Is this true? The London office of the European Parliament Secretariat published a pamphlet in January entitled "Your Voice in Europe: The European Parliament", which 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.What does that portend? In the very next sentence we are told that it means… control over the whole Community budget".Another booklet, "Facts", published monthly by the European Movement, says:The Congress of Europe … joins Mr. Tindemans in calling for … progress towards Economic and Monetary Union.1185 On economic union, we have seen already how detrimental to us has been the economy of the Community—butter, beef, skimmed milk powder mountains, escalating prices of food, and recently we have had the escalating prices of butter, cheese and milk, and the Minister admitted to me in a parliamentary answer a couple of days ago that it was due to our entry into the Common Market. I pointed out to him that even before the recent increases the price of butter in the EEC was 320 per cent. of the price of butter on the world market. This is a result of the common agricultural policy, which is a millstone round the necks of our people.
I remind the House of what President de Gaulle said about the common agricultural policy. He said it would bea crippling blow to the British economy".He knew what he was talking about when he shut the door on us, not once, but twice. Yet Mr. Tindemans calls for progress towards economic union and monetary union.
We on this side of the House have asked questions many times of Ministers, and how many times have we been assured by pro-Europeans on both sides of the House that there is no question of monetary union? Yet Mr. Tindemans says there must be monetary union.
The Congress also approves Mr. Tindemans's call for the unification of the Community's external policy. This means surely that the country's foreign policy and international relations are to be decided for us by a central European authority. Treaties will in future be made for us, not by us. Again,Defence policy should be made accountable to the European Parliament. While peace is absent or severely threatened in many parts of the world, the Community must be able to respond with one voice.Therefore, whether the United Kingdom goes to war is not to be left to our Government any more than it is left to the county council or the district council or any local authority; it is to be decided for us by the central European authority.
I remind the House of what the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) said when he talked about the shift of power and control if there were direct elections. It is stated quite clearly that Mr. Tindemans believes that 1186election by direct universal suffrage will endow the European Parliament with greater political authorityand that the European Parliament should be givena growing share in defining and steering the Community's further development.If that is not enough, let me quote from the Official Journal of the European Communities of 11th February 1975 a resolution on the adoption of a draft convention introducing elections to the European Parliament by direct universal suffrage:The European Parliament … reaffirms its conviction that the process of European unification cannot succeed without the direct participation of the peoples affected, therefore considers a European Parliament elected by direct universal suffrage as an indispensable element in achieving further progress toward integration and establishing a better equilibrium between the Community institutions on a democratic basis".I recently received an assurance from my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, that there was no question of federalism. If all the statements to which I have referred are not a prelude to federalism, I should like to know what is.
A federal system may be very desirable in Europe, although I do not think that is so, but at least let us be honest about it. Let those who say that no federalism is involved take off the attractive trap-pins, and see the whole thing in its nakedness. Federalism is on the way whether we like it or not, and in this connection I must pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Knutsford (Mr. Davies) for admitting that federalism, although not immediately on the way, is on the way in the distant future.
Finally, on what basis are we likely to elect the Members? I must pay tribute again to the right hon. Member for Down, South. Elections are fights over policies. Is there a Conservative, Labour or Liberal policy in European matters? What are the issues which can be put before the electorate? There do not appear to be any.
What is likely to be the turn-out of the population at one of these elections? Many people say that the average citizen does not understand the issues in a General Election in this country. How much less is he likely to understand the largely undefined issues or differences of policy, 1187 if there are any policies, in a European election? The whole thing is a farce, and a tragic farce at that.
§ 7.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Alexander Fletcher (Edinburgh, North)
I do not often feel inclined to pay any tribute to the Members of the Scottish National Party in this House, but, having listened to the hon. Member for Watford (Mr. Tuck), I must say that the Scottish nationalists at least declare their purpose, their nationalism or parochialism, in a way that is obvious for all to understand when listening to their performance in this House. The hon. Member for Watford is an English nationalist. He may well be proud of that, and there is no reason why he should not be, but it would be much better if in these debates people who take an English nationalistic view in this British Parliament were to declare that, just as the Scottish nationalist Members do.
The hon. Gentleman will therefore forgive me if I do not follow the line of his argument this evening but start by trying to make the point that constitutional questions rarely seem to be anticipated in this House. They seem to creep up on us and we never seem to find out what is happening until the day of the debate arrives. Nor do they seem to find this House at its best, or indeed particularly interested in the subject, as one can judge by the attendance, even allowing for the fact that circumstances elsewhere earlier today might have caused some hon. Members opposite to be looking for the results of a race. But even with that race having reached an inconclusive verdict tonight, I should have thought the upholders and those who are proud to be Members of this House and who are jealous of its powers and authority would have flocked in to join in this debate. However, if they had, I should not have had an opportunity to speak, so I should not complain too much.
Perhaps it is that our job and cur involvement in the business of government inhibit our performance on constitutional matters, but it certainly is a fact that our performance on these subjects is not good. This is evidenced by the fact that constitutional problems are piling up in Britain. Problems which we should have solved years ago are still in the pendingtray 1188 and show very little sign of being cleared or resolved in any satisfactory manner. So it is not surprising that people in Britain should have little confidence in the ability or willingness of this House to cope with these issues.
The Select Committee which the right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary announced yesterday is a step in the right direction as far as direct elections are concerned. But, of course, it begs the question of how we are to cope with even more pressing constitutional problems. Last Friday in Greenock, I think it was, the Home Secretary made a speech in which he said that the successful settlement of the constitutional future of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland had become as important to the country's future as the succesful management of the economy. I think I have quoted him correctly. That is absolutely right, although it ignores England, whose constitutional future is equally and inescapably involved with the constitutional futures of the other components parts of the United Kingdom. The solution to these and other critical constitutional matters might also benefit from the scrutiny and inter-party understanding which is often the hallmark of a Select Committee.
I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Waldon (Sir P. Kirk) and some other hon. Members have not tried to dodge the issue of the powers of the European Parliament. The debate should not play down this question. If we know what we mean when talking about a European Parliament—and I do not think we do—we must not take it for granted that the people outside have any clear idea of what we may be agreeing to and accepting as part of the political structure not only of Britain but of the Community. The vital first decision about a directly elected Parliament will be taken by the voters of this country on the first occasion they choose between the various candidates.
Many voters are becoming disillusioned with the end product of exercising their democratic right to vote. To avoid embarrassment on both sides of the House, I take local government elections as an example. People return councillors happily believing that they are doing their bit for democracy, only to find that, 1189 despite the huge reorganisation of local government, councillors have little say in most of the major matters affecting a local authority, including education, housing and rates. Essentially, these issues are decided at national level.
I include rates because in my part of the world two-thirds of everyone's rate bill comprises the wages and salaries of council employees, which are fixed at national level by joint consultative committees with NALGO and NUPE. These unions brook no interference from councillors, Members of Parliament or anyone else who wishes to question pay awards. I know this to my cost, because last year there were some very large increases in the pay of senior officials of a local authority which were challenged on the basis that the people were doing precisely the same job and getting a 50 per cent. or 66 per cent. increase in salary. Opposition came from the union spokesmen.
§ Mrs. Millie Miller (Ilford, North)
I think that the hon. Member is mistaken in suggesting that this is a deep-laid plot of the trade unions. He is talking about a direct effect of the reorganisation of local government into larger units, which created the need for the joint consultative committees to be set up between the original smaller units. The decisions to which the hon. Member refers were taken as part of the reorganisation. The increased population served by officers was given as one of the reasons for increases in salaries.
§ Mr. Fletcher
One Labour authority near where I live tried vigorously not to implement the increases, but was not successful. The voter does not get all that much when he exercises his right to vote. I am not sure that he gets much more value for his vote in parliamentary elections, though that is perhaps not for us to decide.
The question is what sort of powers are likely to be acquired by a directly elected European Parliament and to what we are asking the voters of this country to subscribe in the event of direct elections. Presumably, the reluctance of the Government to discuss this matter derives from the fear of giving offence to the House by describing the likely powers of a competitor in Europe. But to think of the European Parliament as a competitor to Westminster or to play down its importance 1190 is either to misunderstand the future role of the European Parliament or to indulge in political manoeuvring in this debate at the expense and knowledge of this House and the understanding of the people in the country, who rightly expect us to explain, openly and honestly, what direct elections are all about.
They are about many things other than the number and distribution of seats and the voting system. Surely our objective is to try to establish a legislative partner for Westminster in the form of an effective European Parliament capable of operating as a European second Chamber in relation to Westminster and the other national Parliaments. We want to be able to do this on a properly organised, full-time basis with the full authority of a direct mandate.
Just as the European Parliament should not take further powers from this House, other than those already given up under the Treaty of Accession, it should not take powers from the Council of Ministers, whether the veto or anything else. It is an important aspect of this debate, as it was in the referendum, that great emphasis should be placed on the control that this country and this House have through the Council of Ministers.
Certainly a directly elected Parliament should challenge the decisions of the Council as part of the normal decisionmaking process, but the new powers of the Parliament must come from some other place and the obvious place is the Commission. Surely it is now time for the Commission to revert more to a Civil Service role rather than the necessary and important executive role it played in the early formative years of the Community.
It is from and through the Commission that the Parliament can stake its claim to the democratic legislative task of the Community. If the Parliament is allowed to start along the road to a tripartite institutional government of the Community—the Council, the Parliament and the Court—we shall be establishing something which will satisfy the demands of Europe for a very long time.
I think that the Select Committee will soon find that proportional representation system of voting is inevitable. There is a considerable misunderstanding of the constituency job and the constituency arrangement within the confines of 1191 a directly elected Parliament. It is wrong to compare the job of a European Member and his constituency relationship with that of a Member of this House.
There is no way in which a European Member should superimpose himself on the personal matters and personal relationships which relate all of the British electorate to their Westminster Members. In this relationship, the Westminster Member should continue as the supreme person elected by the people of this country. The European Member has a broader interest, an area interest, which is less intimate than that of the Westminster Member. That is why proportional representation is not only more fair, but allows the area concept to be applied more logically.
As to the number and distribution of seats, my suggestion that the European Parliament could be the European second Chamber for Westminster and the other national Parliaments could allow two things to happen. First, with European Members representing areas rather than constituencies as we understand them, the number of seats need not be large. It is more like a Senate than a Parliament. For example, the United States of America manages with 100 Senators whereas the present European Parliament has 198 Members. There is no need to increase that number and, if it is increased, it should be by only a very small margin.
Secondly, the distribution of seats need be only partly on a population basis. It is more important to consider the regional situation within the Community as a whole than the member States. The member States, particularly the small ones, are well represented in the Council and the Commission, and it is the more remote areas of the Community that should be favoured in balancing population with geography for direct elections.
The present recommendations of the Parliament will not do. The obvious comparison between Northern Ireland, with a population of 1.6 million getting two Members, and the Irish Republic, with a population of less than 3 million getting 13 Members, is incompatible with any sense of justice in the allocation of seats. The same argument applies in comparing Scotland with Denmark, and for areas of Germany, France and this 1192 country—in Wales, Yorkshire and even London—the distribution on the present basis would be unfair.
The main Treaty industries of the Community, which are farming, fishing, forestry, coal and steel, are all to be found in Scotland, and that is more than can be said for some of the member States. That is why I emphasise the regional importance of the distribution of seats if the good will of the people in the more remote parts of the Community is to be retained.
Britain is at present unable to give much of a lead in the economic affairs of Europe. That is easily demonstrated when one considers that about a dozen years ago?1 would have purchased 13 German marks whereas today it will barely purchase five. But we can and should give a lead in structure and style and in the reassurance that the European Parliament should provide for the benefit of all the people in the Community. If we do that well, Britain's contribution to the Common Market will be second to none.
§ 7.44 p.m.
§ Mr. George Cunningham (Islington, South and Finsbury)
There are two points in the speech made by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, North (Mr. Fletcher) which I should like to follow up. The hon. Gentleman stated his belief that, whatever system of elections is finally adopted for the European Parliament, it should be on some kind of proportional representation. He should know that there is one characteristic of proportional representation which is almost unavoidable. That is that it strengthens the power of party, because the party determines whether a particular candidate is at the top of or lower down the list. That means that each Member, instead of feeling answerable primarily directly to the electorate, as he should do now, would have to keep an even more watchful eye upon his relations with his party machine to ensure that he was placed near the top instead of near the bottom of the list. That is exactly the opposite of the tendency which we should want to encourage in this country.
The hon. Member for Edinburgh, North also drew a comparison between the European Parliament as he would like it to be and the American Senate. He 1193 would like the European Parliament to represent the constituent nations more on an equal basis than on a population basis. I have a great deal of sympathy with that view, but the hon. Gentleman must accept that the whole purpose of the people who advocate direct elections is to substitute for a combination of nine separate nations, each with a veto, an institution which would have power in accordance with the population and which would speak for the entity which is the Community and not for a combination of nine separate units. However much we may sympathise with the hon. Gentleman's idea, we must recognise that if we accept it we shall have to kill or severely wound the ideas now being put before us.
The English have some magnificent qualities, and there are times in history when those qualities have served the nation well. One of those qualties which can be magnificent is the limitless power of the English for self-deception. In 1940 it was probably because the English were too stupid to see that they would be defeated that they would not believe it and went on fighting. On those occasions the vice of self-deception becomes a virtue but at other times it is a vice, and that vice of self-deception has been manifested throughout the discussion of the affairs of the Common Market.
There have been many references to the prospect of federalism in the Community. People ask whether it is coming or whether it can be ruled out. What on earth do people think we have now? We have now in the Community fundamentally a federal system in which some decisions are taken at the centre and some are left to the constituent parts. A preordained distinction is drawn between what shall be determined centrally and what shall be determined separately, with provision for change if that is agreed by the constituent parts. Federalism is here and is inevitable if we continue to be members of the Community.
The second quality which the British display—and I attribute this quality to the British rather than the English—is the desire to avoid taking decisions. It is almost impossible to get the House of Commons to address itself to a decision. So often we flee into the retreat that a proposal is either administratively impossible—which allows us to say "No"—or that it is in a treaty that has already been 1194 signed and, therefore, we have to say "Yes", whether or not we want to do so. Both those retreats have been displayed in this debate.
There are no administrative difficulties in the way of having direct elections in the next two years—I think that that would apply even to such an early date as 1978—which cannot be easily overcome. Some of the problems would take a little longer, but we can do it if we want to. The question is: Do we want to?
There is nothing in the Treaty of Rome or anywhere else that compels us to do it, because it cannot happen unless legislation is passed by Parliament. If legislation has to be passed by Parliament, there may be some hon. Members who will feel for some reason unfree to vote in one Lobby rather than in another. Whether they feel free or say they are free, they are in fact free to vote in one Lobby rather than the other. Therefore, there is no limitation on whether we decide to go for direct elections or not. Therefore, let us address ourselves to the question of principle whether we want to do so or not.
In the development of the European Community, probably more than in other matters, the inevitability of gradualness applies. If we try to create out of these nine nations—of any nine nations in the world we can think of—one single national or quasi-national entity too quickly, we shall fail. We may not fail in the next few years but we shall fail in the end if we try to do it too quickly. People say that it is like riding a bicycle: if we ride it too slowly, we fall off. But people also notice, to their discomfort, that one also falls off if one rides it too fast. That is how it will be with the Community.
We are, after all, not nations without a history. We are talking here of nations of the world which have been, almost exclusively, the world for the last few centuries, and which have in the very recent past fought great world wars with each other. We cannot, therefore, in the short run be brought into a relationship with each other which is remotely comparable to the relationship which can exist between parts of one country.
It is a question of identity. It is exactly the same question as is currently posed 1195 for people in Scotland and Wales, but not England, by the issue of devolution. Do people feel Scottish or British? It is because I believe that most people in Scotland feel British as much as or more than they feel Scottish that I oppose devolution. It is because I feel that people in this country—whatever for this purpose this country is—feel British and not European that I think that if there is a Community it has to be a very modest Community for the foreseeable future.
Equally, I think that Western European union—full union or coming close to being a single country—is inevitable in the very long term. But the very long term means 50 or 100 years. I would not oppose that development. I would welcome it. But it is something we have to take very gradually if we are not to sicken with it and prejudice it in the long term.
People have drawn attention to the difficulties that would be posed by candidates standing in election for, let us say, one-sixth of London and asking to be elected to the European Parliament. I do not think that any of us at the moment envisages that those candidates would be chosen other than by the normal political parties.
The people who elect me know that roughly speaking, because they have elected me as a Labour Member, they will get, roughly speaking, a certain kind of policy out of me in this place—roughly speaking, but near enough. It means something. They know the resulting difference between voting me into this place and voting in a Conservative. The difference does not apply on every issue. It may be greater on some issues and less on others, but it is meaningful enough for them to have a real choice.
But if we said to the voters in half a dozen London boroughs, grouped together for this purpose, "Do you want to send a Labour man, a Conservative man, a Liberal man or a Communist, say, to the European Parliament?", on what basis could they make the choice? If we could put up two candidates labelled "Fast man" and "Slow man", there would be a real choice. I think that on the whole people would vote for the slow man. If I were ever to stand in that election, 1196 I should put myself up as a slow man and the electors would then be able to decide whether they wanted the Community, with regard to its effect in Britain, to develop slowly, with very modest powers at the start, or to gallop along at a faster pace. Unless we are putting up the candidates on that basis, however, the electorate will not be able to choose anything the results of which it can foresee. That is one of the large elements in the case, as I see it, against having direct elections at all.
§ Mr. Hooley
It is not beyond the bounds of probability that the Labour Party, the Conservative Party or the Communist Party, when these elections occur, might promulgate specific policies on what one might call European issues—on, for example, fisheries, nuclear power or the use of oil—and on that basis electors would be voting for different policies.
§ Mr. Cunningham
Well, yes, but basically we have in this country at the moment political parties which are divided with regard to the question of Socialism. We have a party which is more or less Socialist and a party which is more or less not. That is the right distinction between them in regard to the running of the country at the present time. The distinction is about the main issue, the running of the economy, and fundamentally it is the relevant distinction. But in either of those camps there could be people totally opposed to each other on the matter of going slow or fast in Europe. That was the difficulty we had in the referendum. That was why we needed to have a referendum. The division of opinion as to Europe was not congruent with the distinction between the political parties.
The truth of the matter is that, certainly with regard to Britain—which may be different from some other members of the Community at the present time—there is a greater difference between British interests in the Community and other interests in the Community than there is between a Labour policy in the Community and a Conservative policy in the Community. Therefore, what we ought to want in the Community is a British delegation, which is exactly what we have at the moment. We should not want to have a delegation which is chosen according to the economic 1197 distinction which is relevant for our domestic purposes.
It goes without saying that there would be a conflict between a directly elected legislature in Brussels or Strasbourg and this House here. By the dynamics of politics, there will always be a conflict between any two bodies, whether it is the Greater London Council and this place or this place and a legislature in Brussels. They are bound to make inroads upon each other's responsibilities. And modern history demonstrates that it is the higher tier that wins. It would therefore be the higher tier, the one covering the larger area, which was constantly making inroads into this place, and not the other way round.
If the British House of Commons were in a virile state of its development and history, full of all those qualities which led it to cut off Charles Is head in the seventeenth century, we should be able to resist these inroads. But I doubt whether anyone believes that this House—or, indeed, this country—is doing anything at the moment other than passing through a period of deep decadence which would not allow us to resist any inroads from anywhere. And when I say that we are passing through a period of decadence, that is a definition of faith that we shall come out at the other end. However, we are in great danger that this institution will end up losing its powers upwards and downwards. It will not disappear, because the British never kill off an institution; it will merely become a museum-piece. Indeed, it is very close to that now.
I accept that we are in the Community. The British people consciously, and by a large majority, decided that we should be in Europe. Therefore, we should play our part in the European Parliament. I happen to believe that we should have done so from the moment we joined the Community. It is argued that a Member cannot do the two jobs. I think most people would say that it is impossible to do both jobs well. That being so, we must change the method of our delegation to one which at least makes it more possible to do both jobs well.
I should like to see a small nucleus of a delegation going from this place to the European Parliament, together with 1198 Members sent out from subject committees. We do not have such committees but we shall have to get them. I believe that there is more liaison between the subject committees of the Bundestag and the French Chamber of Deputies and the European Commission than there is between the subject people in this place and the Commission. It is natural that if we have a Committee in this place dealing, for example, with transport policy, that Committee should represent us on transport policy within the European Parliament.
Such a system should not be dismissed as outlandish. If it existed, I do not think anyone would be jumping up to say that we should kill it off. The only reason for our not proposing it is because none of the other member States has proposed it. The Community has not fitted itself up with such a system as yet. The danger is that we are taking it for granted that we have to fit in with a system that has been devised by others instead of setting up what we should like to exist and then setting about getting it.
My second objection is to the idea that we must accept direct elections bebecause that is what the other member States have decided upon and we cannot be on our own. I do not want to suggest that wtihin the Community we should be neo-Gaullists. We need not be quite as difficult as de Gaulle. However, that attitude established the French as the dominant member of the Community. In the end, it is the only way of getting anything in the Community. We shall probably get what we want only if we are prepared to say "You play it our way, or play without us".
France, because of its geographical position, can make that threat and make it credibly. We cannot make it, partly because of our geographical position and partly because we cannot say that the other member States cannot have a Community without us being in it because they did. Unfortunately, no one will ever believe that the British really mean what they are saying. The British are such awful diplomats in comparison with the French. Unless we start to adopt some of the habits of the Quai d'Orsay as opposed to the attitudes of the Foreign Office, we shall lose every battle within the Community.
§ Mr. Spearing
Does my hon. Friend realise that, far from being awkward, the Treaty gives us that very right? The third section of Article 138 reads:The Council shall, acting unanimously, lay down the appropriate provisions which it shall recommend to Member States".That is an inbuilt black ball which we can perfectly properly exercise under the Treaty.
§ Mr. Cunningham
Yes. The point that I am trying to make is the difference between good and bad diplomacy. The good diplomat maximises the cards with which fate has presented him. The bad diplomat cannot make the best use of the cards that he has; he plays them down and throws them away. We must use the cards that we have. We must stick a few up our sleeves and play down the cards that are held by our opponents. That means that the British must learn a new business of diplomacy, diplomacy being the art of getting what one wants without paying for it.
If we acquired the will, we could start to argue in that way. We could begin to say that the right way to organise the European Parliament is to adopt such and such an approach. I should argue that it should be organised along the lines I have suggested. We should then try to argue with our colleagues in the Community that that was the right way in which to proceed. At the moment, we are not taking a decision about the way in which we want matters to be organised; we are merely going along with what other people want.
I challenge anyone in the House to deny that if there were no proposals for direct elections, if no such thought had ever entered anyone's head within the Community, if everyone had agreed that we should continue to send delegations as they are now selected, the British would not have come forward with a proposal for direct elections. Of course we would not. We would be saying that the proper way in which to run the European Parliament at this stage in the Community's history is by way of delegations sent out by the legislatures of the nation States. I suggest that that would be the right attitude. It is time that we started to decide what we want within the Community, thereafter seeking support from other members, instead of going 1200 along with what others have worked cut without taking into account our interests or wishes.
§ 8.7 p.m.
§ Mr. James Scott-Hopkins (Derbyshire, West)
The hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) has made a fascinating case for changing the existing system of European Parliament representation. He asked what would have happened if there had been no suggestion of direct elections. In point of fact, the suggestion was present from the beginning. The hon. Gentleman asked a completely hypothetical question. When we were negotiating to join the Community, we knew that the Treaty did not provide in black and white that direct elections would take place upon a specific date, but we knew and accepted that on joining there would be the moral obligation to accept direct elections.
I was amazed when the hon. Gentleman said that a federal system is in existence. That is not so. He must realise this when he puts forward his logical arguments. There is the light of veto within the Council of Ministers. That right was provided under the terms of the Luxembourg Agreement. In the Council of Ministers one hears the individual national point of view being put forward. One hears it being argued and accepted by the other eight nations. I do not understand how it can be pretended that there is an existing system of federalism within the Community.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Sir P. Kirk), I agree that federalism may come, but progress in that direction is bound to be slow. I do not know whether I shall see federalism in my lifetime or even whether my children will see it. However, I believe that Europe will move towards a federal state of union in the years to come. But that is in no way tied up with a necessity to have direct elections to the European Parliament in 1978.
It was gratifying to hear the Secretary of State for the Home Department say that he accepted the necessity to try to adhere to the 1978 date if possible. But there is no connection between the move to federalism and having direct elections. The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) argued that because we are 1201 to have direct elections we are moving rapidly towards a federal State——
§ Mr. Scott-Hopkins
I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Knutsford (Mr. Davies) that it is a question not of this House losing sovereignty but of an accretion of sovereignty to this House. The Foreign Secretary made clear yesterday that there will be no increase in the powers of the European Parliament unless that is agreed directly with the nine Governments and Parliaments of the Community. I hope and trust that over the years there will be an increase in the European Parliament's powers. On this score I agree with the excellent speech this afternoon by my hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden. That increase in power, however, is in no way directly linked with direct elections. Hon. Members who try to prove that link are doing a disservice both to this debate and to the one which will take place later in country.
I was pleased that the Home Secretary said that the Government would try to stick to the 1978 time scale, and that he thought that the important question of constructing the constituencies in this country could possibly be dealt with by the Boundary Commission machinery. The Commission, however, would need new instructions in order to complete its work in time. I believe that that is a correct paraphrase of the right hon. Gentleman's words. He said also that there might be some other means of achieving this objective. The only other possible means would involve the Home Secretary himself drafting out a combination of 10 constituencies or district councils and putting them together in an Order in Council which, when it came before the House, would be amendable by every hon. Member. That would be unacceptable.
Therefore, I hope that when the Home Secretary considers the Report from the Select Committee he will set his mind against any type or form of Home Office jigsaw puzzle and that instead he will come to the House with a new kind of 1202 instruction for the Boundary Commission setting out how the independent gentlemen of the Commission will decide on the combination of constituencies or districts.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) said, the Select Committee will be asked to report by July. I hope that it will be able to do that, but I share my hon. Friend's cynicism about whether it is possible. I hope that the Committee's terms of reference will be produced very quickly and that its members will be appointed very soon, because it will have a lot of work to do in a short space of time.
I wish now to turn to what will happen if we do not manage to adhere to the desired timetable as set out at the July meeting of Heads of Government. I have worked for three and a half years in the European Parliament and I believe that it is possible for us to go on with the dual mandate. The hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury was considering how to ameliorate the difficulties here, but we could go on as we do now. The system is tiring and difficult. There is an enormous amount of reading work to be done and time wasted in travelling. Perhaps the only thing which suffers, however, is that one is not able to keep up as much as one would like with all the nuances of what goes on in this place. Certainly, however, our constituents do not suffer, and we try to put forward the point of view of our parties there. The dual mandate system could be continued, but I am not sure that one should be asked to work it for too long a period.
That is, therefore, no argument in favour of direct elections, but it is an argument to say that there will be 67 or 70 Members going to Europe and carrying a work load which will grow, as the Council and the Commission extend their spheres of action, in supervisory work in examining those documents. As that work increases, it will not be feasible for perhaps 70 Members to travel from Westminster to do the work there when their counterparts from other countries who have been directly elected will be living in Luxembourg or wherever it is decided to locate the Parliament. Those Members will be there full-time while our representatives will be part-timers. That would be an unsatisfactory method.
1203 I therefore hope that a sensible date for direct elections will be agreed at the July meeting and that the Government will come up with the necessary mechanisms. I am sure that the hon. Member for Islington, South and Fins-bury is right when he says that if we want to find the means we can do so. This House could set up the necessary machinery to bring direct elections into effect in 1978. They are essential in the democratic development and control of European institutions which are central to the future well-being of this country.
§ 8.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Frank Hooley (Sheffield, Heeley)
I confess to being somewhat agnostic about the question of direct elections. I sometimes think that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) have become prisoners of their own intellectual logic. On the one hand we have the presentation of apocalyptic euphoria, a European paradise towards which we are steadily marching, and from the right hon. Gentleman we have a presentation of apocalyptic horror which seems to threaten the ancient powers and privileges of this place, for which I have as much respect and concern as he does.
In the end, however, it will be not the institutions in Europe but the political will and economic power of the individual member Stales which will determine the pattern. We are in some danger of being mesmerised by the Euro-heresy that somehow the institutions are the important factor and of overlooking the true political and economic factors.
The key issues in the next few years will be the power of the German economy, the fragility of the political and economic set-up in taly and the possible development of a Communist-Socialist coalition in France. These, and not constitutional semantics about direct elections, are the factors which will determine the pattern of Western Europe in the next few years.
We would probably do well to examine what has happened in the great international institutions of the United Nations. There we have seen how they have become moulded and developed to take account of the shifts of political 1204 and economic power in the membership. In so far as they take account of that shift and develop to meet new occasions and new duties, they work effectively. Over many fields they have worked very effectively. Where they have fallen short and failed to take account of changes in military, economic or political power, they have not worked effectively and have fallen down on the job. But what matters is the political and economic power of the members and the way in which they exercise it, and the institutions themselves become moulded by that force, and not vice-versa.
The EEC has demonstrated in the past few years that it is irrelevant. It was irrelevant to the oil crisis which occurred in 1973. It could do nothing about it and it said nothing about it. The EEC was irrelevant to the commodity crisis which developed following the oil crisis. It was irrelevant to the world food crisis. It is irrelevant to the economic recession. It has offered nothing to solve the problems of the economic recession.
The EEC has offered nothing to solve the problems of unemployment. In fact, it is a rather curious irony that the countries which decided to stay outside the Community, such as Norway, Sweden and Switzerland, do not have anything approaching the levels of unemployment that exist among the member States of the EEC.
The EEC has offered nothing in the field of nuclear power. Britain is going its own way in this respect. France and Germany are adopting their own separate policies. The EEC has offered nothing towards the solution of the currency crisis. It has offered nothing constructive, positive or useful to the great international centres of tension in the Middle East or Southern Africa.
So far, the EEC has failed totally to devise any coherent policy, to the best of my knowledge, at the highly important world conference in Nairobi, UNCTAD IV. Indeed, it was very significant that when the Prime Minister wanted to take an intiative on the whole question of commodities and international economic relationships he chose the Commonwealth as the forum and not Brussels or the EEC.
The common agricultural policy has been a matter for contempt and ridicule. I believe that a revolt against it has 1205 developed in Britain, and possibly in some other countries, which will create a political conflict and political controversy as great as the controversy over the corn laws more than a century ago. The obsession with harmonisation is again in the process of coming into ridicule. It is a factor in European thinking that has dominated much of the work that has been done so far.
My belief is that this sudden obsession with direct elections is a cosmentic exercise to try to paper over, or to bring some justifications for, a Community which has brought no solution and made no contribution to the massive world problems that I have just listed—problems of commodities, oil and food, and the political problems of the Middle East, Southern Africa and elsewhere. The Community has contributed nothing to the solution of those problems either directly or indirectly.
I do not like the phrase "Euro-fanatics". That is a bit unfair. Let us say that the committed Europeans are now saying "All right, let us see what we can do to show that this arrangement, this Community, is really going forward. Let us have some direct elections, and let us develop along a constitutional line. We can do nothing in economic or practical world politics, so let us have some fiddling around with the constitutional arrangements." This issue, therefore, has suddenly become important.
Why is it important now? For 15 years the Six could have proceeded, had they wished, to a fully-elected Assembly. In that situation it would have been almost automatic for those member States, such as ourselves, which came in at a later stage—had we done so—to have had to fall into line with the elected Assembly idea. But the Six did not do that. Why not? If it is of such paramount importance and such a critical feature of the future of Europe, why were the Six so uninterested? It was in the Treaty of Rome from the beginning, as has been said, yet they took no positive, practical step to deal with that aspect of the Treaty. Why have we got this now, suddenly, at this particular stage? I suggest that to a very considerable extent it is a cosmetic exercise by the committed European to try to prove mat we are moving somehow towards something that is realistic and meaningful.
1206 In my view, the key debate in the next stage of development of the Community will be about expansion of membership. As a democrat, I do not attempt to repudiate the massive majority decision of this House and the electorate that we should be and remain members of the Community. We are members by virtue of a two-thirds majority decision of this House and a two-thirds majority decision of the electorate. The next stage that is of importance is not the question of direct elections but the expansion of membership to take in other European countries—Greece, for example, which is on the agenda already, and possibly Portugal some day in the future. I have not abandoned the hope that possibly the Scandinavian countries may come in with us in due course. And there is possibly Turkey as well.
The question of nuts and bolts, the mechanics of the elections, can be left to the Select Committee. However, hon. Members make a mistake if they suppose that the electoral mechanism will develop as a sort of parallel to our own election system. Some people have talked of canvassing. How can one canvass half a million electors? It is an absurd notion. I believe that it will be much more comparable with the referendum exercise of a little while ago. Assumptions that it will follow the normal party patterns in Britain are very hasty. There may well develop European Movement candidates, anti-European Movement candidates and so on in the system as it develops. We cannot take it for granted that the election arrangements will be in any way parallel to those to which we are accustomed for elections for membership of this place.
However, what matters ultimately in Europe is the political will of its member States and their economic power. My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) was quite right in saying that, if we have the determination to say within the Community that certain interests of this country are essential and must be safeguarded and pursued, we in this House have the power to do it. I do not accept that mere membership of the Community—which I opposed and which I still think is mistaken—in itself abrogates the power of this House to make decisions on behalf of 1207 the 55 million people in the United Kingdom. Ultimately it is a matter of political will. I am not convinced that this issue of direct elections, for either those in favour or those against, will be a fundamental issue in the developments of the next few years.
§ 8.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Jim Spicer (Dorset, West)
I should like first to say how very grateful all of us should be when hon. Members who have probably in the past been opposed to our membership of the Community quite clearly say that they accept the democratic decision that was taken in June. Unfortunately, one of the problems that we face is that in all these European debates we never seem to move forward. We are fighting over the same battlefield time and time again. Perhaps many hon. Members become bored and stay away from these debates purely on that count alone.
To illustrate what I mean, I quote from the speech of the Foreign Secretary when he was talking about the Select Committee. He said: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."—[Official Report, 29th March 1976; Vol. 908, c. 911.]I should have thought that that was a very clear and concise statement which many hon. Members in this House should be able to accept. After all, the June referendum was held to settle once and for all the matter of our membership of the Community. It did so, and with that decision, given so overwhelmingly by the people of England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales, we became committed to working for the future of the whole Community with the United Kingdom as a part of that Community.
Access to the Community undoubtedly involves acceptance of the principle of direct elections to the European Parliament. Those who pretend otherwise and place obstacles in the way of direct elections taking place in this country at the same time as they take place in other parts of the Community are not really arguing against those direct elections as such but are intent upon continuing the battle which they lost in June.
1208 I must confess my disappointment at the possible time slippage suggested by the Foreign Secretary yesterday. The meetings of the Heads of Government to be held on Thursday and Friday of this week should be taking crucial decisions about the date of these first elections and about the size of the European Parliament.
There are major reasons why it may not be possible to reach such conclusions. By no means the least of those problems must be the very crucial fact of who really can speak for the United Kingdom at those Council meetings. However, on the basis of the old adage that the difficult we do at once but that the impossible may take a little longer, I hope that the Council can at least take one crucial decision, which is to decide upon the date of the European elections, thus giving all members of the European Community a target at which to aim. If such a decision is not taken quickly, there will be many reasons put forward why no one can meet the deadline, and there are many hon. Members of this House who would wish to see that happen.
I accept that there are also problems in deciding upon the ultimate size of the European Parliament. For that most important area, probably the July deadline is the right one. But the date is the vital factor, and in this respect I was surprised and horrified to hear the Foreign Secretary advocating a link with local government elections in 1978 or whenever the direct elections may be held.
There is the suggestion in the Green Paper that:The Government would, however, see advantage in holding the European Assembly elections in May at the same time as local authority elections if this can be conveniently arranged.The Foreign Secretary restated much the same position yesterday.
What local government elections can the Foreign Secretary have in mind? The county council elections are due to be held in 1977 and again in 1981. In 1978, one-third of the metropolitan districts will be fought, plus, on a completely optional basis, one-third of the other district councils. Even to consider such a link is not only irrational but also defeatist.
We achieved the vote in the referendum when many hon. Members thought 1209 that we would not. Given goodwill and two years' hard work, I am certain that we can achieve the same result in elections which are held on their own, in isolation, where people can face the realities of the situation.
Given, however, that these final decisions will not be taken until July, will the Minister of State assure us that, side by side with the work of the Select Committee, other vital preliminary work can be done? I have in mind, for example, the work to be carried out by the Boundary Commission. Four months is a long time to waste. I hope that some preliminary work at least will be carried out by the Boundary Commission in the intervening period.
It has been rightly said that the terms of reference of the Select Committee must be widely drawn, but obviously the most important decision again centres round the number of seats in the directly-elected Assembly and just how many will be allocated to the United Kingdom. If the draft Convention of the European Parliament is adopted, we shall have 67 seats. I suggest that this is the worst of all possible numbers to divide neatly. However such an apportionment is done, there is bound to be major resentment in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland at the disparity between the allocation to them and the allocation to parts of the Community with the same or in many cases smaller populations.
This major problem need not be insoluble provided that everyone is prepared to give a little when others take. In this respect, mention has been made already of the proposals put forward by Lord Reay which would give the United Kingdom an allocation of seats up to a figure of 80, reducing at the same time the number of seats available to other members of the Community. Such a change would give us more flexibility and would open up more options, including the giving of more seats to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and also the possibility of our adhering to a very much greater extent to existing county boundaries rather than to some new boundaries artificially hacked out of several existing counties or as many local authorities.
Within the United Kingdom there is a clear understanding of what a county means. I spent the weekend in Cornwall. 1210 There is a strong feeling in Cornwall for Cornwall. Much the same goes for Dorset. To my mind, to produce some new mixed-up type of European constituency which bears no relation to a local authority area, such as a county council, would be quite wrong. I can envisage a situation in which Cornwall, including part of West Devon, lumped together under the unfeeling and unsympathetic title of "European Constituency No. 1 (UK)", would not inspire Cornish people. Exactly the same comment applies to people in my part of the country.
Although there will be a major discrepancy in numbers, I think that we should accept it. We should be able to accept that at the bottom of the scale we can have Cornwall with a population and electorate of 340,000 and at the top end of the scale larger amalgamations of perhaps two counties with 850,000 or 860,000. We have always existed on that basis in the United Kingdom. I see no reason why we should not be prepared to accept that variation in the interests of local involvement and of local feeling that people belong within the Community.
It might be said that over the last few years the United Kingdom has not played a full part within the work of the Community. It is my hope and the hope of many hon. Members that those days are now well past. In the context of direct elections, it is for us not to be laggards but to go forward and to give a lead. If we do that, we shall find others ready, willing and able to follow us.
§ 8.38 p.m.
§ Sir Geoffrey de Freitas (Kettering)
I should like to take up a remark made by the hon. Member for Dorset, West (Mr. Spicer). It seemed to me that the hon. Gentleman was reading too much into what the Foreign Secretary may have uttered yesterday. According to Hansard— I do not think that anyone could read into this a powerful statement of Government policy regarding local government elections—my right hon. Friend said:If they"—the European elections—were linked with local authority elections, there would at least be a linkage between the two"—[Official Report, 29th March 1976; Vol. 908, c. 906–7.]I am a great admirer of the Foreign Secretary. However, I should not have 1211 brought that sentence up, because I do not regard it as the most powerful contribution to the debate. I do not think that the hon. Member for Dorset, West could say that that was a statement of Government policy. I ask him to look again but I certainly ask the Government to clarify the matter.
Yesterday the hon. Member for Aberdeen, West (Mr. Fairgrieve) referred to Clement Attlee having said that Europe must unite or perish. Attlee did use such words, but his point was that it would perish, if it did not unite, either through Russian imperialism or, as he put it, the sheer numbers of our American friends.
It was in 1951, when we lost the General Election, that Attlee got some of us—we were then young Members in our thirties—to go to the Council of Europe in Strasbourg when Paul-Henri Spaak was President of the Assembly. It was through him that many of us got the feeling that there was much to be gained from uniting the small nation States of Western Europe which had been wasting their citizens' lives, treasure and energies for too long in civil war.
I have mentioned at least once in this House—it was relevant to my experience—that my earliest memory had been a German air raid on London in the First World War. I felt that my generation was just the generation to try to end the possibility of the recurrence of civil wars and to turn our energies to something constructive. That was in 1915.
For 10 of the last 25 years I have been fortunate in being a Member either of the Assembly of the Council of Europe or, in the last nine months, a Member of the European Parliament. I have frequently found myself discussing with other people, particularly those of my own generation, what we should have as a forum for criticism and encouragement of any intergovernmental European institution which was established in Western Europe. We always came round to something like the European Parliament, but essentially one directly elected, so that it had power from the people. I feel that this is the point that we have reached.
It is not something that has been dreamed up overnight, as my hon. Friend said, to obscure the failures of the common 1212 agricultural policy. For over 25 years people have been thinking of these things and we have now reached this point. There are many problems and the more we study them, the more we see. But we have the Select Committee to go into them, so I will refer to only a few. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary asked us to divide the problems as we saw them into two, those which were domestic problems, in other words, problems which we could solve here in this House, and those which had to be solved by the Council of Ministers.
First, there is a formidable domestic decision as to size and shape of constituencies and method of voting. If 55 million of us are to be divided into 67 constituencies, roughly an amalgamation of 10, it is a very difficult problem, and we have to have the first election on the only system of which we know—first past the post. It is a system that we have worked for many years and something we understand.
We have to be prepared in the future to have some compromise in the method of election, probably a single transferable vote along the lines of the Irish Republic's system. But I am certain that no one in this country would for a moment accept—and I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) is not here, because he was very strong on this, and I entirely agree with him—a list system such as in some Continental countries. We are a mature parliamentary democracy with a strong sense of responsibility to our constituents, and they would not like to see us as nominees of the Tory Central Office or of Transport House. I need hardly remind hon. Members that if this system had operated in this country in 1940, Winston Churchill would not even have been a Member of this House, because he would never have been nominated by the Tory Central Office.
§ Sir G. de Freitas
But he would not have been a Member in 1940.
The second domestic problem is how to encourage men and women of the right quality to stand for the European Parliament. It will always take time for a new central parliamentary body to attract 1213 to it able men and women when there is an existing legislature in which they serve and hope to serve, even if the new body, the new legislature, is potentially important.
This is what happened in the United States. For many years after the foundation of the United States, membership of the legislature of even the smallest state was something more prized than membership of the United States Congress.
Yesterday my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary referred to the present agreement to call the European Parliament "the Parliament" and not "the Assembly". It is true that the legislation and the Green Paper both refer to "the Assembly". In March 1962 the Members of the European Parliament passed a resolution to bring the title in French and Italian into line with the title used in Dutch and German. The translation into English in the official documents in all four languages is the word "Parliament". This change was made to avoid confusion between the Assembly of the Council of Europe and the European Parliament. It was an important point. To persist in referring to the European "Assembly" is to do an unnecessary disservice to both institutions. Furthermore, if we seek to encourage able men and women to stand for the European Parliament, the prestige of the word "Parliament" must not be lightly set aside.
I referred a moment ago to the four official languages. That referred back to 1962. Today there are six official languages. It has been said in this debate that if Greece, Turkey, Norway, Portugal and Spain join the Community, there will be many more official languages. We may be certain that the new members of Parliament will be as bound by linguistic nationalism as are the Nine today to speak in their mother tongue.
This is a dreadful problem, and as I have seen from letters in The Times and from my own correspondence, many men and women who would consider offering themselves for election are deterred because they have the mistaken idea that they must have a knowledge of languages to play their part in the proceedings at the European Parliament. But that facility is not essential. Most of us who have served in the European Parliament 1214 realise that a much more important qualification for candidates is to have been a Member of Parliament or a member of a local authority. It is an enormous advantage, and certainly easier to undertake one's work in a more pleasant atmosphere, if one has great facility with languages. But even with the present six languages there is hardly any member of the European Paliament who does not spend some time wearing his headphones listening to the excellent interpretations.
One of the biggest problems—and this is not just a domestic matter but a matter for the Council of Ministers—relates to the number of seats to represent the United Kingdom, a large country, compared with the plans for the number of seats representing the small countries. In February last year the European Parliament voted for plans under which, for example, the Irish Republic, with a little over 1 per cent. of the Community's population would have a little under 4 per cent. of the seats. I refer to Ireland only because it is the small country with which we have the closest links and whose citizens live and work in our community.
The present plan would give 55 million Britons only 67 seats and would give 3 million Irish men and women 13 seats. In my constituency, which is in the heart of the Midlands, it has greatly surprised people to learn that 10 million people in the English Midlands would have about 12 Members under the plan while three million people in the Irish Republic would have 13 Members. I ask Her Majesty's Government not to accept this nonsense. It can only bring the European Parliament into disrepute.
I do not ask the Government to reject the principle of direct elections merely because the representation is ridiculous. Indeed, I ask the Government—and I am confident that they will do so—to accept the principle of direct elections and to work towards trying to achieve that aim in 1978. But at the same time I wish them to make it clear to other Governments that within 10 years of the first direct elections we shall insist on a redistribution of seats giving six seats to every country and thereafter seats in proportion to population. My electors include many thousands of Irishmen and none of them would agree that his vote 1215 was worth less than one-third of the vote of an Irishman who stayed at home in Dublin.
The Prime Minister, speaking in Strasbourg at the Council of Europe in January 1976 on our application to join the Community, said "We mean business". We still mean business, but it must be business on a democratic basis with a democratic allocation of seats.
From time to time our political party system has been mocked. I have been a member of a political party for over 40 years and a Member of the House for many years and I do not see how our parliamentary system can work without political parties. Cynics contend that if after a General Election we just divided into the A to Ls and the M to Zs, we should have a two-party system. I am not that cynical, but I say that parliamentary democracy must have a party system.
I have seen the marvelous contribution made in the European Parliament towards building a European Community by the party system. The grouping of members into political parties is one of the real successes of the European Parliament. The Socialist Group is the only fully international group in that it has members from all nine countries. But the Christian Democrats are not far behind and most other groups are wide enough to include men and women from several Parliaments, which breaks down the barriers of nationality.
In the truly international groups it is impossible to identify members by nationality. We can be proud of the working of the party system which makes us who are Members of the European Parliament look what we are—no more, no less than elderly, middle-aged or young Europeans.
§ 8.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Shaw (Scarborough)
I am glad to follow the right hon. Member for Kettering (Sir G. de Freitas) because he has put the debate back on course. I was disheartened to hear people talking about the need for Members to go to Europe as members of a British delegation rather than as members of a European grouping. That is a negative point of view.
1216 One of the factors that makes the European experiment so valuable and so set apart is that we have created the Parliament. The right hon. Member for Kettering was right to talk of it as a Parliament. There is now a chance, which I hope we are about to take, of sending hon. Members out to Europe on a European ticket as members of a European group, not of a national group. It will mean that Members of the European Parliament will have direct access to their constituents in the different countries, will be able to understand directly their feelings and needs and can translate from the European Parliament the views and discussions that are taking place there.
In all the other international organisations, that is the one quality that has been lacking. We have heard much talk about the United Nations and other organisations, and we have seen all too clearly many of their weaknesses. In none of them is the direct view of constituents represented by Members of Parliament in that way. This matter is of supreme importance in the venture upon which we are about to embark, and it is right that it has been emphasised.
It is vital that we have direct elections as soon as we sensibly can. I entirely accept what has been said by those who have been in Europe longer than I have, that there are great difficulties about continuing the double mandate because of the work load and because of the need to keep in touch with the day-to-day operations of this House. It can be done and it is being done, but I do not believe that it is good that it should continue in the long term. I do not believe that people intent on making a serious job of this House and of Europe will wish to carry on doing both jobs indefinitely. If we are to make Europe succeed, it is vital to have first-class men and women there representing the people of this country.
The other main reason why I believe that it is so important to have direct elections to the European Parliament is as follows. At present, the operational impetus comes from the Council. It is the supreme power, but it consists of members of nine national Governments who are there not by virtue of being Europeans but because they are representatives of those Governments. Therefore, it is inevitable that from time to time the national interest takes precedence over 1217 the European interest. In other words, the national voice is heard more loudly than the European.
Therefore, it is right that we should have a directly-elected European Parliament with its Members mixing continually, talking over the problems affecting not only their own countries but the whole of Europe, so that a European view may be given and may sometimes be put against the Council's view. In that way we shall move much more rapidly, seriously and successfully towards a closer union in Europe, which I believe we must all be seeking.
We have heard a great deal about whether we want federation. In listening to the debate, as I have done for nearly the whole of the past two days, I thought that one or two of us needed to define rather more closely what we meant by-federation. If we mean that we are moving to a situation whereby we are more and more working closer and closer together, I believe that there could be real unity amongst us. Of course there may be disunity, or there may be differences, as to how far we want that progress to go.
In conclusion, I believe that the holding of direct elections is probably the most important thing we can do to help put forward the cause of the Economic Community. The possibility is clearly there, but if we are to do so we must, as we have done in so many other fields of our activities, involve directly the people of our country. In doing that we shall be bringing much greater and much more necessary authority to the European Parliament.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Douglas Hurd (Mid-Oxon)
The subject we have been discussing in these last two days bristles with difficult details. It is perhaps a criticism of the Green Paper that we have concentrated rather too much on the details and rather too little on the principles. I do not think that this is a fair criticism of the debate, because, having listened to almost all of it, I think that there was hardly an hon. Member who did not address himself directly to the important principles underlying the Green Paper and this proposal, and none more succinctly than my hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough (Mr. Shaw).
1218 In discussing the principles almost all speakers concentrated on the subject of powers and the relationship between the present and future powers of the European Parliament and the powers of this House. It is perfectly natural that that should have been so and it would have been unnatural and wrong if this had not been the central feature of the debate.
Two points about the powers of the European Parliament have emerged more clearly than might have been thought at the beginning of the debate. The first is the assurance of the Foreign Secretary yesterday that there is no proposal on the table at the moment for increasing the powers of the Parliament, so that when the Parliament becomes directly elected, it will become directly elected to administer essentially the existing powers. The second is that if, as is likely, a directly elected European Parliament decides that it would like new powers, it cannot grab them, but has to ask for them. It has to ask national Governments meeting in the Council of Ministers and, under their different procedures, they have to seek in turn the approval of national Parliaments, because what is involved is a further amendment of the Treaty of Rome.
That is a rather more substantial provision and safeguard against some fears than has been recognised in the debate so far. But, obviously, these two safeguards do not meet all worries and preoccupations. We have had, particularly from the right hon. Member for Down. South (Mr. Powell) and the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. Gould), the wider fear that, without any formal process for any actual amendment of the Treaty, if the European Parliament were directly elected, this House would suffer a sort of haemorrhage and that the strength would flow out of it until finally nothing was left but a husk. It is to that anxiety and worry that those of us who favour direct elections must address ourselves.
My hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) set out what he would regard as a safeguard in this matter. He explained to me and to my hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Sir P. Kirk) why he could not be here for most of today's debate. He suggested that before we went on to direct elections, we should define firmly and clearly in 1219 advance the powers which a directly elected European Parliament would have. I wonder whether, on reflection, he would not agree that that would be an empty and artificial exercise. It would be a little like a married couple deciding that they would not have children until they were sure that they would have a tractable and cosy disposition.
Life is not like that. Any understanding reached in the Community now about future powers of the Parliament could not bind a directly elected Parliament in future or prevent it from asking for such powers if it wanted them. Any understanding reached in the House about future powers that we would grant to a directly elected Parliament could not possibly bind future Parliaments here on how they would respond to requests through national Governments from a directly elected Parliament.
So this exercise of trying to define in advance the powers of a directly elected Parliament has no real meaning or substance. The assurances which right hon. and hon. Members rightly seek about the future of the House of Commons in this matter cannot be assured to them by some contrived definition in advance. The assurances to which they are entitled derive from the essential nature of the Community.
Anyone who heard the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden would have been impressed by the strong case for certain new powers for the European Parliament and for the fuller use of its existing powers. This process will gradually develop, as my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Scott-Hopkins) said, in response to perceived need.
But, in allowing fresh powers, we should not be creating a new layer of government. This point is often made, I think wrongly. The new layer of executive power already exists, as the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) said yesterday when he talked about the effect of the Community already on the daily lives of his constituents. What is lacking is the democratic control of that executive power.
It is no use supposing that we in this House can exercise that control. We cannot summon M. Thorn as President of 1220 the Council of Ministers or M. Tindemans as the author of the report on the future of the Community. We cannot even summon the British Commissioners, Sir Christopher Soames and Mr. Thomson. Those are not acts within our jurisdiction. We voted to belong to a Community which has these central institutions which these gentlemen, in different capacities, represent. Surely it must be right that these central institutions should be subject to parliamentary control, and that control cannot come from national Parliaments. In the nature of the Community, it can come only from the European Parliament. That seems to be the essence of the case.
Our rôle in this House is different but it is crucial. It is different because it is exercised on British Ministers on their way to and from the Council of Ministers in its different forms. They have to be in this House; they are our creatures. We can harass them or stimulate them; we can make their lives cheerful or miserable. That is up to us, and that is what they are for. We can get rid of them if need be. What they cannot do in all their glory and majesty is take us for granted or treat us as if we are of no account.
These are doctrines which I have imbibed from the right hon. Member for Down, South to a considerable extent over these past two years. I have heard him put this exact point in phrases more eloquent than mine. But this situation, the presence of British Ministers on the Treasury Bench, is not one whit altered by direct elections; nor is our capacity to make their lives miserable if that is what we wish to do.
I take an exact example. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture is not present, but he came back a few weeks ago with a bargain from Brussels which was heartily disliked in many parts of the House. He has got himself into a difficulty from which we do not quite see how he is to extricate himself. If the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) were right in their contention, the Minister of Agriculture would be able in future to say to us, and all our fears and anxieties would be appeased, "Do not worry, because the European Parliament has agreed to what I have 1221 said". That would cause the haemorrhage that this House would suffer, the ebbing of our authority, because the Minister would be able to say "This has all been settled somewhere else".
I cannot believe that anyone who knows this House could think that a Minister who said that would find his ride here was easier. He would find it much more difficult. This is also true in our dealings with what we call technically "another place". A Minister who says "It has all been agreed in another place" is not certain of universal approval, and so it will be with the European Parliament. There will be a certain creative jealousy between the two institutions. It may not make life easier for Ministers, but certainly it will not lead to the draining away of the authority of the House of Commons.
This is crucial to an understanding of the Community. The Community might have developed in such a way that by now there was a European Government. The Commission would have evolved into one and there would have been a European Assembly sustaining that executive; but it has not done so. The significant fact is that it is the Council of Ministers which has grown and established its authority and has now produced the European Council, and that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Mr. Price) pointed out, the Council of Ministers and the European Council are essentially the decision takers of the Community. So long as that is the fact, the rôle of the House of Commons acting on these Councils will be absolutely crucial, if we are decisive, as I think we should be. in the way in which we in this House carry out that role. Let us concentrate on doing our task better. If we are decisive, surely we shall improve the way in which we do our job; but that is no reason for denying the European Parliament the authority it needs to do its job.
The right hon. Gentleman also dealt at some length with the subject of party. I do not think from the discussions that I have had with Conservatives and Christian Democrats across Europe in the past month or so that there is any chance of a rigid kind of European party in which British Socialists. Conservatives or Liberals would have no say. I am surprised 1222 that the right hon. Gentleman should have been so unhistoric as to suppose that.
It seems much more likely that there will be some such kind of party set-up as we had in the late eighteenth century in this House, with associations, alliances and unions on certain aspects but from time to time the British standing up and doing things as British, farmers standing up and doing things as farmers, and Conservatives standing up and doing things as Conservatives—a bit of a kaleidoscope, unsatisfactory in some ways, but certainly not a rigid and autocratic party in the way the right hon. Gentleman envisaged.
The Foreign Secretary tried a little to brush aside the subject of numbers when he suggested that the Select Committee should discuss this matter during the next three or four months. Surely this is one of the matters which the President of the Council identified for discussion on Thursday and Friday this week. Perhaps the Minister of State can tell us a little more about how the Government propose to address themselves to the question of numbers at the important negotiations this week. Do they propose to achieve a better sense of proportion by altering the balance through increasing the total, as suggested, for example, by Lord Reay, or by decreasing the total, as suggested, for example, by the French Government?
The Home Secretary had a rather sibylline passage on boundaries in his speech, reflecting an almost similarly obscure passage in the Green Paper, when he said that we might simplify the remit of the Boundary Commission or have other arrangements approved by Parliament. We should put down a marker, even in advance of the Select Committee. I do not wish to be discourteous or to recall uncomfortable memories, but we go for the Boundary Commission with whatever simplifications may be appropriate—not arrangements between the parties or in smoke-filled rooms. Such arrangements are not likely to command the respect which is essential in this crucial matter if the direct elections are to be a success.
We agree that the elections to the European Parliament should be held more or less simultaneously throughout the Community. The Foreign Secretary is obviously tempted by the idea of linking 1223 them with our local elections, but surely these two events are so different in their nature and scope and in the arguments which would be employed that holding the elections on the same day would be confusing and unsatisfactory. One appreciates the temptation, but I hope that the Select Committee will feel it wise to resist it.
The hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel), as one would expect, mentioned the electoral system. I have some sympathy with his general criticism of the system we use for national purposes, but there are two reasons why I doubt the force of his argument for making a change in advance of the first direct elections to the European Parliament.
Of course, we shall aim for a harmonised system for the elections, but it is unlikely to be our system. We are the only country which uses our system, but then only one country, the Republic of Ireland, adopts the single transferable vote system. If we followed the advice of the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles, we might change our system and later find a different system being adopted by the rest of the Community. We should be in the ludicrous position of having to change twice.
§ Mr. David Steel
I did not advocate that we should move to the single transferable vote system. I suggested that we should look at the systems used by other countries.
§ Mr. Hurd
That leads me to my second reason for resisting the hon. Member's suggestion. I do not believe there is a majority in this House for finding another system. In logic, we could refer to the Select Committee the subject of devolution and electoral reform which are both connected with direct elections and a whole number of other fascinating and interesting matters. In that case, all we could be certain of is that nothing much would come out.
There is an argument for keeping matters referred to the Committee as simple and as familiar as we can. We have enough matters to resolve before the first elections and there is, perhaps, a case for saying that we do not want to tackle matters at this stage which do not have to be resolved now, particularly in view of the 1224 danger of changing our system in anticipation of the elections and then finding the Community had adopted another system.
The one situation we should not get into is where our partners hold direct elections and we do not. That would be damaging for this country, and I want to explain briefly why. Some hon. and right hon. Members have spoken as though it were enough for this House of Commons to disapprove of direct elections for the whole concept to collapse. We have a habit in the House of assuming that if we dislike something, everyone else in his right mind will dislike it, too.
The world is no longer constructed on that basis. The overwhelming evidence, although there is dispute in other countries, is that because this is the overwhelming wish inside the Community, there will be at some time—we cannot be sure in which year—direct elections to the Community. What the House can do, if it so wishes, is to ensure that when other countries have direct elections, we do not. There are strong arguments for not getting into that position.
There is here perhaps a parallel with our earlier championing of a united Europe. In the 1940s we held a very strong position. We were among the pioneers, and our statesmen were among the first statesmen to send rallying calls for a united Europe. In the European Parliament we are now in a fairly strong position, thanks in large part to my hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden and other hon. Members on both sides of the House.
In the 1950s we came up against the practical question of whether to join the Community, which was being created, just as now we are up against the practical question whether to have direct elections. In the 1950s almost all parties and Members of this House began to find excuses. The concept was fine for foreigners, there was a great deal to be said for it, but we had special institutions and special causes which were entirely British and which justified our staying out. We threw away our advantage.
Many years later we were trying to get back into the Community which we could have joined at the start but which, meanwhile, had developed in ways which to us 1225 were unfamiliar and damaging. We all know the difficulties we have suffered as a result. Do we want to go through the same experience again with the European Parliament? Do we want to throw away our advantage and say at this stage that it is not for us, and then find in 10 or 15 years' time that the Community has grown in influence—perhaps more in influence than in power—and we desperately need to belong to it and play a full part but that our action now has debarred us from doing so?
Mention has been made by many hon. Members of the practical difficulties of sending 67, 70 or even 80 nominated Members from the House to take part in a directly elected Parliament. How would they be received at the other end? Would they be accepted as full, competent and effective Members of that Parliament? They would be of a different species, and I suspect that they would be regarded as belonging to a rather outmoded species.
All those who supported membership of the Community had different ideas of what were the best advantages to be gained by this country and Europe as a whole from the enlarged Community. To take just one example, many of us are strongly in favour of coming together in a common foreign policy because we see that as a necessary way of resisting the threats which Europe and European interests face across the world. But what we can achieve in any direction we might take depends on our contribution to the Community. I am talking not in terms of money but of energy, wisdom and the enterprises about which we are willing to be enthusiastic. That is how the Community works.
Our partners do not expect from us a brilliant contribution in terms of industry, finance and so on. They are aware of the difficulties from which we suffer and the lost ground we have to make up. They expect a contribution from us in this sphere. If we listen to our foreign friends, of whatever nationality, the theme of what they expect out contribution to be emerges clearly.
I suspect that any of those friends, reading our debates of the last two days, would choose, perhaps as an illustration of where they wanted the British contribution to Europe to come from and how they wanted it to express itself, the 1226 speeches yesterday of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith) and of my right hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann). Here were two senior Members of this House, with long parliamentary experience, who had for many years, and with considerable energy, opposed British membership of the Community, and who obviously still entertained grave doubts about it, which they did not disguise.
Nevertheless, in this debate their position was very clear, expressed in different terms, but very similar from each of them. Partly it was a matter of the Treaty obligation, but mainly it was not. Mainly it was the argument that here was a Community which we had joined, which had central institutions, and in their view as British parliamentarians it was unthinkable that these institutions should not be properly controlled by properly elected members of a European Parliament or Assembly.
That was the simple point which from their experience they put with such force. That is the sort of argument that our friends expect to hear from this House. That is the sort of contribution they expect from Britain.
If from this debate the message had gone out that we, the British House of Commons, had stood aside on this matter, I think that our friends would have been incredulous and then deeply sad, and our position in the Community, whatever we wanted to achieve in it, would have been greatly weakened. They simply would not have been able to believe that the House of Commons would stand aside grumbling when, for the first time in history, free elections were held across Europe for a single assembly.
But that, fortunately, has not been the message that has come out of this debate. The message that has come out of this debate—cautiously, as is our habit, but unmistakably—is that we should take our time to prepare thoroughly and carefully in order to get the thing right, but that we overwhelmingly conclude that it is our job to do our utmost to ensure that when direct elections are held across Western Europe for a European Parliament, we shall be there with our full participation and support.
§ 9.28 p.m.
§ The Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr Roy Hattersley)
Clearly my first duty is to offer, I am sure, the congratulations of the whole House to the hon. Member for Mid-Ox on (Mr. Hurd) on what I am assured was his first major speech from the Front Bench. Listening to it, it seemed almost inconceivable that it was his first major speech, but I am assured that that is so. I offer him our good wishes and our thanks for what he said during the last half hour. I hope that we shall hear him speak many more times from the Front Bench—on that side rather than this—in the future.
The two days of debate which are now coming to their conclusion have been dominated by three themes. The first has been the obligation—or, as some would argue, the absence of any obligation—to hold direct elections. The second has been the powers which will be enjoyed by the Assembly which the Community is proposing directly to elect. The third is the relationship between the British Parliament and an elected Assembly, considering the powers that the Assembly might assume, the powers of Parliament which we might lose and the important details of relationship governing the role of Members of one place or another.
I shall do my best to deal with each of these major themes in turn, beginning with what I regard as the obligation of this country to hold direct elections. My hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. Gould), who has been courteous enough to explain that he must unavoidably be absent from the House during this last half hour of debate, described the obligation to hold direct elections as a fundamental step in a wholly new direction.
I believe, with the greatest respect to him, that my hon. Friend is wrong in that contention. Article 138 of the Treaty of Rome is absolutely specific. It states:The Assembly shall draw up proposals for elections".That it has already done. In fact, it has done so twice. On the first occasion there was no response from the Council. The second time was at a period in the Community's history when the Council chose to respond in a positive fashion.
1228 In my view, the drawing up of proposals by the Parliament and the Council's wish to respond positively places the Government under no obligation to accept every word or every detail of the Assembly's plan. Nor does it require that this Government or any other Community Government approve the plan in its entirety or with unreasonable haste. However, having become party to the Treaty in which Article 138 appears, it is to be noted that the Treaty provides that:The Council shall, acting unanimously, lay down the appropriate provisions".That is the laying down of the appropriate provisions for putting the plan into operation.
It is impossible to argue that we are not committed, at least in principle, to direct elections or at least conscientiously to work towards them. I believe that that was implicit in paragraph 131 of the renegotiation White Paper published a year ago this week. If the implicit point is not sufficient for some of my hon. Friends, let me give them an explicit example of the statement of principle which the Government made before the referendum campaign even began.
We have heard several times during the debate and on previous occasions that somehow the Government never clearly said that there was an obligation for direct elections before the referendum campaign began. I simply ask Members who have said that and who continue to believe it to refer to Hansard of 29th January 1975 at column 389, when the hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Sir P. Kirk) asked me explicitly whether, in my view, there was an obligation for direct elections. I told him then what I have told the House many times since—namely, that in my view the obligation in principle existed. The obligations in terms of detail and timing are different matters, but the obligation in principle is clearly present.
Bearing in mind that obligation, had we signed the Treaty of Accession and the Treaty of Rome, and had we accepted the terms of the Treaty of Rome—we should not have had any doubt what the prospects of direct elections were and were bound to be—but at the same time secretly determined to reject every proposal for direct elections made by the Assembly and to veto every provision tabled by the Council, we would have 1229 been committing an act of grotesque bad faith. That was not our position and it cannot be our position now.
The position was put with great clarity great strength and very typically by my right hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. Stewart) during his speech in the December debate on the Community. He said that common sense and honesty required us to make direct elections work. That is my view. I share, too, the view that was expressed yesterday—namely, that were we to adopt any other attitude, were we to turn our face consciously and consistently against every proposal for direct elections, we should be adopting a mischievous course. I not only share that view, I go further. By adopting such an attitude I believe that we should be adopting a course deeply damaging to the interests of Great Britain.
As permanent and irrevocable members of the Community, we must accept that the Community works on compromise and co-operation. We accepted Article 138 when we joined. To seek now to deny its implications, to deny as well as what it says what it does and to deny the implementation of its proposals by a perversely legalistic interpretation of our commitment, would damage the Government's good name within the Community as well as severely eroding our ability to influence other events.
Despite my robust insistence that the Government are committed to direct elections, we are not in any way attempting to deny the rights of Parliament in these matters. In my view, the Government are obliged in honour and self-interest to pursue the course of direct elections. But they cannot promise, and they have not promised, that they will pass any specific legislation by any deadline or, indeed, at all. That is why the renegotiation White Paper stated what was said yesterday by my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing)—namely, that if British membership is confirmed, any scheme for direct elections to the European Assembly will require an Act of Parliament. Of course it will. And when that Bill to implement that decision comes before Parliament, Parliament will possess the sovereign right to defeat it and to prevent the Government from fulfilling their Treaty commitments. Those commitments 1230 will exist nevertheless. The Government's obligation in honour and logic is to operate the Treaty we signed, and that Treaty committed us in principle to direct elections.
I turn to the second area which has particularly interested and excited hon. Members in the last two days—the powers of the Assembly, an Assembly which, I believe, will eventually be elected directly. Yesterday my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South read a second extract from paragraph 131 of the renegotiation White Paper. He read the sentence which states:Any revision of the powers of the Assembly would also require the specific approval of the United Kingdom Parliament.That is a simple, incontrovertible fact. It lies at the heart of the question about the Assembly's powers, about which so much concern has been expressed during the last two days.
Some of that concern stems from the fact that in this place we are used to a Parliament which has whatever powers it chooses to take. Here our powers remain undefined, because in theory at least they are infinite. But that is not the tradition of the other eight member States in the Community. They possess written constitutions which carefully circumscribe the powers of their Executives and their Parliaments. Inevitably the Treaty of Rome, created by six of the nine current members, reflects that view of written constitutions. The European Parliament can do what the Treaty of Rome says and no more unless additional powers are expressly approved by the nine member nations. These powers are there in writing for everyone to see. They could hardly be defined in a more precise fashion. They are as they were at the time of the referendum last year, and whatever else we can say about the present powers of the European Parliament we cannot say we are doubtful what they are. They are absolutely explicit and completely precise.
§ Mr. Spearing
Next week the Tindemans Report will be discussed. M. Tindemans said that the progressive development of European union would depend to some extent on the exercise of the growing legislative function of the Assembly. The hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Sir P. Kirk) said that this was 1231 unnecessary as the Assembly already had these powers if it wished to exercise them. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the legislative powers of the Assembly now exist?
§ Mr. Hattersley
I cannot agree with the contention of my hon. Friend, nor can I agree that the hon. Member for Saffron Walden made that point. I am open to correction if I have misinterpreted, but I fear that the misinterpretation comes from my hon. Friend, to whom I think I should give a warning. I believe that what I am about to say will require him to make noises indicating scepticism and surprise.
I have said that the Community's Assembly is governed by a written constitution, but, of course, that written constitution, like all written constitutions, is capable of amendment and can be changed only after substantial safeguards are included making sure that the interests of all groups within the area governed have been adequately met. Within the EEC, the safeguard is the need to obtain the specific agreement of the nine member Governments. This cannot be repeated too often. It means that the power of the Assembly cannot be changed or extended without the express agreement of the British Government. It may well be that in the future we might choose to support some specific changes in the Assembly's formal powers. We did so in this House on 8th December. We did so unanimously, after a debate in which two members of the Government and three Members from the Back Benches spoke. We did so for the good and practical reason that we thought it in the interests of all the Community members for the Assembly's powers over audit and audit procedures to be extended and strengthened.
I do not for one moment discount the possibility that there will be times when each member Government, Britain included, want to extend the Assembly's powers in that sort of way. But that is very different from the spectre of rampant federalism with which some of my hon. Friends have tried to haunt us during the last two days. My hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Mr. Tuck) was my colleague who spoke in strongest terms about the creation of a federalist Parliament. 1232 Let me remind him and the House what has to happen for a federalist Parliament to come into being. First, there have to be nine member Governments within the Community committed to federalism. Secondly, among them there have to be a British Government who are supporting federalism. Thirdly, that Government have to be sustained by a Parliament which is itself either federalist or totally supine.
I do not believe that any of those situations will come about in the lifetime of any Member here, and I regard the federalist bogy as wholly unrealistic.
I also regard as unrealistic the suggestion made by very many right hon. and hon. Members and described by the hon. Member for Mid-Oxon as the unintentional haemorrhage that might come about in reducing the powers of the Parliament at Westminster as the powers of the Assembly were extended. I do not believe that that situation conforms to the reality and the relationship between the two bodies. I do not believe that there will be an unintentional movement of powers. There may occasionally be the deliberate act of extending the rôle and responsibility of the Assembly, but I do not believe that that necessarily reduces our powers and responsibilities here.
Like my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, I cannot accept that by strengthening any of the institutions of the European Community we are automatically diminishing ourselves. Let me take some examples, not from the Assembly but from the other institutions of the Community. Let me take the example of the Regional Development Fund, where the Community has acquired powers. Let me take the example of the relationship with the Third World, where, through the Lomé Convention, the Community has begun to do things that it did not do previously. I do not believe that in either of those areas the assumption by the Community of new tasks, roles and responsibilities has made us weaker. I believe that in every practical sense it has strengthened us, and I believe that that process can continue and ought to continue.
Right hon. and hon. Members who have talked about the powers of the Assembly have talked about them in two senses. In one sense they talk about its 1233 circumscribed powers, what it is legally entitled and enabled to do. In another sense they have insisted that the simple fact of electing Members to the Community's Assembly rather than appointing them by the fiat of the Whips and party machines will give them an authority which they will exercise with a new determination and a new willingness to risk more and to chance more. Of course they will. That, I believe, is a statement of inevitable fact.
I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Newton (Mr. Evans) was absolutely right in saying that the Assembly Member appointed by his Parliament, the House of Commons, by his Government's machinery in London, would regard his role as a great deal inferior to the role of the Assembly Member who can claim that he is there by the right and will of the electorate. But no matter how determined the Assembly Member is in pursuing his role with his new authority, he can act only as far as the Treaties enable him to act. I would hope that we actually want Members of the European Assembly to act with the maximum degree of authority in discharging the tasks we have actually set them by signing the Treaty of Rome and subscribing to its concept.
Let me give a simple example. When we decided that the European Assembly should be able to have some scrutiny over spending by the Commission, surely we wanted the Members there to be able to exercise that authority with the maximum amount of power and the maximum amount of influence. I believe it is right that within the terms of reference they now possess we should do all we can to give them the ability to discharge their duties with all the force at their elected disposal. I must say, however, that in my judgment, for the foreseeable future, the real power within the Community will remain within the Council of Ministers.
The hon. Member for Saffron Walden, describing the present powers of the Assembly, said that they were excessively moderate and minimal. I agree with him. I think that the hon. Gentleman deeply regrets that state of affairs. Out of respect for the European Assembly, I say that I regret it less than he does. I believe that power is bound to remain within the Council of Ministers, and I also believe, as does the hon. Member 1234 for Mid-Oxon, that the control that this Parliament will exercise over Community decisions will be the result of the relationship that it forges with its Ministers here and the relationship between Ministers here and the Council of Ministers in Brussels. That is absolutely true and absolutely inevitable.
I take a simple example of that, and it is the one which brought the hon. Member for Saffron Walden and me into conflict over the powers within the Community. The example is that of the Regional Development Fund. When that fund was first created, it was created by a decision of nine Prime Ministers who, feeling that they were responsible for the Governments who raised taxes, decided how big that fund should be. The European Assembly believed that that was within its prerogative and that the decision of the Prime Ministers could not be allowed to stand. It felt that it was a matter for the Assembly to decide. Of course, it was the Prime Ministers' judgment which prevailed. That was inevitable, and for my part I am glad about it. I am glad because I believe that the reality of the Community at the moment is that the democracy, control and power within it is best exercised by the Council of Ministers and I do not believe that anything that we decide today changes that very much.
Of course, I want to give the Assembly adequate authority to perform the tasks that we have given it. Of course, I want to see its public accounts function, which we proposed and which we hope to develop, performed by Members elected to the Assembly in their own right. Thus, it is the members of the Council of Ministers who have the authority to decide and recommend to their Parliaments what the authority of the Assembly should be. That is not the same as wanting a major transfer of power from the Council of Ministers to the Assembly. That is not my wish. That is not my view about what the future holds.
§ Mr. Hooley
Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is a widespread impression that effective decisions are being taken by the Committee of Permanent Representatives and not by the Ministers at all?
§ Mr. Hattersley
That is the same bogy as the widespread impression that 1235 decisions are taken by Permanent Under-Secretaries rather than by Ministers. Knowing my hon. Friend of old, I thought that he was too sophisticated to bring out these hoary old chestnuts which are disproved day after day. [interruption.] I am sorry. I warned my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South that he was about to make noises.
§ Sir Derek Walker-Smith (Hertfordshire. East)
I remind the right hon. Gentleman that there is what is known as the "A" List, which is adopted without discussion by the Council of Ministers simply after consideration by the Committee of Permanent Representatives.
§ Mr. Hattersley
It is adopted without discussion if the Council chooses to do so. Even when the Council chooses to do so however, the decision taken by the Permanent Representatives is taken after instructions from the Foreign Ministries of their respective capitals. What else would the right hon. and learned Gentleman expect?
But, as I have said, there are clearly two views about the matters that I have just tried to describe. However, one thing is absolutely certain. It is that the eight other members of the Nine are determined to move towards a directly-elected Assembly. My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Fins-bury (Mr. Cunningham) half implied that he believed that we should stop them—that we should stop not only ourselves but stop them. If that is what he was suggesting, I must warn him that, if we accepted that advice and told the Government of the Federal German Republic that it was our decision that they should not in future be allowed to elect their representatives to the European Assembly, I should not like to go to the next European Council to ask for a bigger Regional Development Fund or for special help for Botswana.
However, putting that aside, I hope it is generally accepted that, were we to postpone direct elections in this country or to abandon the idea altogether, other countries would nevertheless go on with them. If we did not move with those 1236 countries, two things would inevitably result. First, we would send appointed Members to a generally elected Assembly. If nothing else has been common to speeches in the last two days, the theme in almost every one of them has been that elected Members have more authority than appointed Members. Clearly, we would be sending Members of second-class status. That would be intolerable to the Members and an indignity which few would be prepared to accept.
Secondly, we have heard time after time in the debate of the intolerable strain on Members in particular and on the House in general if 36 of our number from both places were sent off to the European Parliament. If the rest of the member countries go ahead and we do not move with them towards direct elections, we shall be sending almost twice that number. I do not know whether the House could survive in efficiency with the prospect of about 10 per cent. of its Members being absent for two or three days every week. The prospect of others electing and us appointing would be intolerable to Members and impossible for the efficient working of this House.
By saying that, I suppose that I have revealed my personal view—I emphasise that it is simply that—on the doctrine of the dual mandate about which we have heard so much in the last two days. I believe that the doctrine of the dual mandate has two possible meanings. The first is the right to stand for election both to the Assembly in Europe and to the Parliament in Westminster and the right to sit in both of those bodies if elected to them.
There is, however, a second interpretation of the dual mandate which I frankly think is a more correct definition. It is a definition which began during the two great Home Rule debates when proposals for dual mandate between the Irish and the Imperial Parliaments were considered. That second interpretation of the dual mandate suggests that a Member elected to one Parliament has rights in another or, in an extreme form, that a Member can sit in only one Parliament if he is already a Member of another. I believe that that is a proposal which the Danish Government are to adopt. Either way, such proposals amount to what the hon. Member for Richmond, Surrey (Sir A. Royle) described as the institutional links 1237 between the Assembly and the Parliament.
I shall give my wholly personal view on both those forms of dual mandate. I believe that on the first definition—the loose definition—people who want to stand for and sit in both Parliaments should be allowed to do so. That is not a choice which I should make, but, since I want to avoid limiting the list of candidates and prospective Members as much as possible, if people want to do both, let them try to do so.
On the other aspect of the dual mandate I have the most severe reservations. It would be intolerable for us all if membership of one Parliament was limited to Members of the other. On the other hand, I take the straightforward view, which some of my hon. Friends may regard as intolerably reactionary, that rights in this place should be confined to hon. Members who have been elected to this place.
Therefore, I believe wholeheartedly that the elections must proceed by individual men and women making their own choice whether they wish to take a seat in one or both places and then suffering the inevitable consequences in terms of time, effort and strain if they are successful in the two elections.
Finally, I turn to what will and what I believe ought to happen: the prospect of holding direct elections in about two years. That is the aspiration of the Community, to which, of course, the Government subscribe. We have told the House many times that the prospect of keeping up with the European timetable depends on both the will of this House and others and our ability to operate a number of difficult technicalities within the prescribed time scale.
This will very largely depend on the willingness of the House to pass the necessary legislation, but even if that is the case—as I hope it will be—there are a number of substantial technicalities which we have to understand, decide upon and meet in a time scale which by any standards is likely to be crowded. An hon. Member asked whether the Boundary Commission could be set to work now to decide where the constituency boundaries should lie. Since we have not yet decided how many constituencies there shall be, that is virtually an impossible 1238 task. I give that example not to confound the hon. Gentleman's suggestion but to demonstrate that in this area we are working on an exceedingly tight timetable.
In answer to the point made by the hon. Member for Mid-Oxon, I make that point against the background of the Government's hope that at the next European Council in June we can move towards the concept of proportionality of which my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary spoke in opening the debate yesterday. But these things have yet to be decided, and in good time—in time enough for party machines to select candidates, for individuals to decide whether they want to run in these elections and for the campaign to be prepared and organised. That is a very tight schedule and a very difficult timetable to fulfil.
I emphasise that because I want to make absolutely clear that with the best will in the world it would not be possible, as many hon. Members have hoped, for the Boundary Commission to draw its lines in the usual way. Certainly we understand the desirability of the Commission performing this function in one way or another, but for the Commission to work in its thorough way, which some people regard as leisurely, would be quite impossible were the boundaries to be drawn sufficiently early for the machinery of the parties and the decisions of individuals to operate and sufficiently early for an election to be held.
I therefore ask my hon. Friends and Opposition Members to understand the simple proposition that we are committed to fulfilling our obligations if that can be done reasonably within the time. The right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Maudling), who opened for the Opposition, was kind enough to quote what I said in a previous debate. He asked whether the Government were committed to holding elections as late as possible or as soon as possible. I told him that we were committed to holding them as soon as sensible. That remains our position, and it remains our position tonight.
§ Mr. Hattersley
I said that I hoped the Boundary Commission could have some 1239 part in this, but I made clear that the Commission might have to operate more quickly and with new and different techniques from those it usually employs—no more and no less than that.
§ Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) rose——
§ Mr. Hattersley
I am very glad to welcome the hon. Gentleman here at this late hour, but I do not think I am obliged to give way. When I said I hoped that we would move as soon as is sensible, I hope that that characterised my general attitude towards European matters. I have been in favour of British membership of the Community for over 20 years, not since the Treaty of Rome but since the Treaty of Messina. I have never doubted that it was the right course for this Government to follow. Notwithstanding that, I have always been 1240 sceptical about those who saw our membership of the Community in a spiritual rather than a practical sense. I have been publicly critical when the Community has chosen to define a valid objective and has said that we will work towards it when we can and as quickly as we can by a prescribed date.
I regard the extension of the franchise to the European Assembly not as part of the spiritual development of the Community but as a necessary practical step, as something that will make the Community work better and will contribute to its efficiency, which is a sensible and practical proposition, not a daydream but something in the interests of the practical application of Community policy. That is all that the Green Paper tries to describe, and it is in that spirit that I commend it to the House.
§ Question, That this House do now adjourn, put and negatived.