HC Deb 07 December 1977 vol 940 cc1378-80
46. Mr. Viggers

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he will raise in the Council of Ministers the future adequacy of co-ordination between the European Parliament and the Parliament of the United Kingdom.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Frank Judd)

The question of the relationship between the European Assembly and this Parliament is primarily a matter for the two institutions themselves, which both may wish to reconsider after direct elections. I doubt whether the Council of Ministers can assist at this stage. The British Government have made plain in this House and elsewhere their position on the powers of the European Assembly.

Mr. Viggers

Does the Minister agree that his answer adds up to the fact that nobody knows so far how co-ordination will work? What leads him to think that the European Members of Parliament will be the exception to the general rule that capable and ambitious people tend to seek to maximise their power and influence?

Mr. Judd

As the hon. Gentleman knows, we debated this very point at some length the other night. I remain convinced, together with colleagues, that the main accountability of the European Assembly will be through Ministers to this House, and this House will, therefore, continue to attract maximum talent.

Mr. Spearing

Is not the position quite clear? Does not my hon. Friend agree with the statement of the former Commissioner, now Lord Thomson, in the Lloyds Bank Review last July, when he said that from the moment of direct elections the new European Assemblymen will cease to be colleagues of Members of this House and, instead, become rivals? Is not that clear and is it not also clear that this House and this Parliament have no part in the written constitution under the Treaty of Rome?

Mr. Judd

But I am sure that my hon. Friend will also agree that, as we discussed the other night at some length and on other occasions, the functions of the European Assembly are in no way to be compared with the legislative functions of the House. I do not believe that the sort of person who is interested in a legislative role will be attracted to the European Assembly in the same way as people will continue to be attracted to this House.

Mr. Marten

Can we once and for all rule out the dotty suggestion that Members of the directly elected European Assembly, if any, should be Members of the House of Lords?

Mr. Judd

We are to discuss later, in the context of the Bill now before the House, what methods of election are to be used. No doubt the hon. Gentleman will put his views forward very forcefully then, and they will be dealt with by the Government.

Mr. Jay

If my hon. Friend thinks that the main avenue of accountability would be through the Council of Ministers to this House, what is the point of direct elections?

Mr. Judd

I am sure that my right hon. Friend will agree that on many occasions many of us in the House have said that, wherever public bodies exist, it is better that the people who belong to them should be elected rather than that they should be appointed indirectly.

Mr. Hurd

Developing that point, may ask whether The Times was accurate this morning in its account of what the Foreign Secretary said at the Summit Conference about the direct elections Bill? If it was accurate, was this not a very deeply partisan and misleading statement? Would it not be better to correct it now by acknowledging that in recent weeks, and again this week, the obstacle to progress with the Bill has nothing whatever to do with the electoral system but is simply the continuing refusal by the Government to provide adequate days for discussion?

Mr. Judd

The hon. Gentleman knows that that is not so. He knows very well that if the House decides to opt for the regional list system there is every reason to believe that the date that has been set as the target will be met.