§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I am afraid I did not hear the remark. [Interruption.] Did the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Ms. Colquhoun) say "Traitor"?
§ Mr. Gow
Is the Minister aware that even those of us who voted "Yes" at last year's referendum are increasingly concerned that the consequence of direct elections will be additional powers given to the European Parliament and the derogration of powers of this House? Will the Minister make a statement to the House about that aspect of the matter?
§ Dr. Owen
I do not think that the issues are related, although it is known that the European Parliament wishes to have more powers, and that over some aspects, such as the control of the Commission, there is a widespread feeling that it is a good idea that the European Parliament should have those powers. But the mere fact of having direct elections does not of itself carry any explicit pledge of greater powers.
§ Mr. Thorpe
The right hon. Gentleman has no doubt seen the article in the Economist of last week stating that, if the elections were held under our present corrupt system, the Labour Party would get about five Members if it was lucky, according to present trends. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that many of us who were pro-European long before most of those on the two Front Benches would prefer, in 1978, to have continued nomination rather than a rigged election under our corrupt electoral system, which would produce a totally distorted result?
§ Dr. Owen
The right hon. Gentleman has had an opportunity to argue his case. He knows better than anyone that the Select Committee has recommended the use of the system employed at parliamentary elections—that is, the first-past-the-post system—for the first direct election to the European Parliament. The Committee discussed the question of having some unified system throughout the Community which could be applied at a later date, but these are issues that would have to be discussed in relation to any such legislation coming to this House, and no doubt they would be.
§ Mrs. Bain
Will the Minister tell us whether the Government will be bringing forward appropriate legislation in the next Session, and whether he can indicate at this stage how many seats Scotland is likely to have in a direct elections situation, since we seek parity with other small nations within the European Community?
§ Dr. Owen
I cannot and do not intend to prejudge the Queen's Speech, but we have already made it clear that the Government will introduce the legislation at the earliest practical moment.
As to the allocation of seats, the hon. Lady will no doubt have read the recommendation of the Select Committee. This is something that will be discussed in relation to the legislation, and the Government have yet to take a view on this issue.
§ Mr. Heffer
Is the country not getting into a ridiculous position, in the sense that we shall have elections for this House, elections for Assemblies in Scotland and Wales, votes for county councils, votes for district councils, and then votes in the direct elections to the European Parliament? We shall have more continuous elections than there are in the Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers.
§ Dr. Owen
I note my hon. Friend's support for elections in all forms, even in the trade union movement, which I, too, strongly support. But I do not deny that, as part of the constitutional changes which are likely to come before the House in the next few years, we shall have to review the whole question of how many elections are held and at what point decisions are made. I am a strong believer in some decentralisation of authority, but clearly this raises serious issues that need to be looked at as a whole and not bit by bit.
§ Mr. Hurd
The Minister has already referred to the Second Report of the Select Committee. Does he accept the analysis that the Select Committee made after listening to a lot of evidence from the Boundary Commission, namely, that if the Commission was to do its essential work properly Parliament would need to be able to discuss and decide the main issues by the end of February. Does he accept that analysis?
§ Dr. Owen
This is primarily a matter for my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. This is one of the aspects of the Select Committee Report that we are looking at most seriously—how to achieve both early legislation and also carry out the full Boundary Commission procedure. This is a real problem for the House at the moment.