§ Question proposed [1st December], That the clause stand part of the Bill.
§ Question again proposed.
§ Mr. Powell
The remarks I shall address to you on this question, Mr. Murton have a curiously close relationship with your ruling on the point of order you have just dealt with. In that ruling, which I am not of course in any way challenging, you based yourself upon the proposition that not only did the Assembly of the European Economic Community exist already as a fact but the membership of that Assembly existed already as a fact and that this Bill was not creating a new membership but merely providing for a different method of obtaining individuals to fill that membership. If I have correctly apprehended that that is your view, Mr. Murton, I suggest that we are in considerable difficulties in understanding what it is that Parliament is invited to do by this Bill; and Clause 1 in its wording emphasises the nature of these difficulties.
You are of course aware, Mr. Murton, that the membership of the elected Assembly, if it comes into existence, will be different numerically from the membership of the existing Assembly. It will be very different indeed. It will be between two and three times as large; and if we had not had your assistance, Mr. Murton, we might have found it difficult to conclude that an Assembly of between 100 and 200 Members was identical with an Assembly of more than 400 Members.
A more significant characteristic of the membership, to which we here should be specially sensitive, is whom they are representing. The shoulder to this clause refers to 120Election of representatives to the European Assembly".I shall not detain the Committee with the grammatical question whether "representatives to" is part of the English language—I personally doubt whether it is correct English—but the shoulder title does not tell us whom these representatives represent. In order to find an answer—I shall argue in a moment that it is a very puzzling and unsatisfactory answer—we must read the clause, which says that these elected members are to beThe representatives of the people of the United Kingdom.We in the House of Commons are used to the meaning of "representatives of the people". We have had a whole series of Acts of Parliament, ending in our present constitution of universal adult suffrage, which were entitled "Representation of the People Acts". By "representing the people" we mean being directly elected by the people to speak on their behalf in an Assembly—being entrusted by the people in their respective constituencies with powers to grant, to agree and to decide on their behalf—receiving a direct commission from the people. Indeed, long before universal suffrage, that was the nature of the Members of the House of Commons from the beginning: they were men who came here with power given to them by those who sent them here to do things bindingly on their behalf.
It is not at all clear that that is the meaning of direct elections, to the European Assembly. There are three possibilities—at least three possibilities. One can never be quite sure of exhausting the range of possibilities—a fruitful source of human error—and so I say there are at least three possibilities. One is that such representatives night be representatives of their respective nations. If the words "of the people" did not stand in this clause, we should read that we were going to elect people to represent, not their respective constituencies, not the people as an electorate, but the United Kingdom as a nation vis-a-vis the other nation States of the European Economic Community.
The second possibility was provided for in the Treaty of Rome, and, 121 indeed, exists at present, again creating a difficulty in regarding the present Assembly as being the same as the Assembly which will come into existence if and when this Act is in force, is that they will be representatives of their respective Parliaments. That was the initial form of the Assembly, and it is as such that the House of Commons has partially sent its quota of representatives to the European Assembly hitherto: they have been representatives not of the United Kingdom, on the one hand, nor of the electorate of the United Kingdom, on the other hand, but of the House.
There has been one convenience about that, and it is one of which we should painfully feel the lack if the Bill were to be passed: it is that the representation of the people in the House of Commons, as expressed by the party composition of the House, could be reproduced in microcosm in its representation in the European Assembly. So the second possibility, that which is currently in existence, is that the representative, sovereign elected bodies—if I dare by habit and perhaps by anticipation so describe the parliamentary bodies of the countries of the Community—are represented at the Assembly of the EEC.
The third possibility is that which appears to be conveyed by the wording of the clause. It is that there is to be a new heaven and a new earth, and instead of the Assembly comprising representatives of the national Assemblies, still less representatives of the component States as States, there are to come from all the corners of the European Economic Community elected representatives of the people in exactly the same sense as we 635 who come here are representatives in Parliament of the people of the United Kingdom.
Perhaps, incautiously some of us might have concluded that that was what we were doing today. We should have been confirmed in that incautious and mistaken conclusion by noticing that this extraordinary proposal before Parliament purports to be in partial fulfilment of the aspiration in Article 138 of the Treaty of Rome—that Members of the Assembly should be "directly elected by adult universal suffrage". The natural conclusion from the Decision of 20th September 122 last year was that the Treaty of Rome envisaged an Assembly which would stand to the electorate of the Community as a whole as the House of Commons stands to the electorate of the United Kingdom.
Alas, that theory does not survive scrutiny of the Decision itself. The Decision itself sets out the number of representatives to be elected in each member State—what are described in article 1 of that Decision as:representatives in the Assembly of the peoples of the states brought together in the Community.If we examine those numbers of representatives, we find that a certain principle which is implicit for us in representation of the people and which—however imperfectly we fulfil it from time to time in the United Kingdom—we cannot for the last 150 years separate in our minds from representation of the people, is not only absent but has clearly been deliberately affronted.
I need take only one example. Luxembourg has six Members. If the Assembly were to be the representation of the peoples of the States brought together in the community in the sense in which we understand representation of the people, it would need a very much larger Assembly than this for Luxembourg to rate six representatives. When we study the numbers which are to be sent from the respective peoples, we see that this is still to be an Assembly of the representatives of nations. It is only if this is an Assembly of the representatives of nations that it begins to make sense that the Republic of Ireland is to send 15 representatives, Belgium 24 or Denmark 16, as against 81 from the United Kingdom. These are the balances which are built into the Community of nation States.
Thus, if anyone imagined that in enacting the Bill we should be obeying any of the principles of parliamentary democracy to which we have been accustomed in the last 150 years in this country, he would be gravely mistaken. The idea of one man, one vote, one value—the idea that, within reason but as a general objective, constituencies should be roughly equal in size, so that as far as possible the people as a whole in the respective constituencies may be fairly represented in the House of 123 Commons—does not apply to the Assembly to which what are called the representatives of the people are to be sent.
We therefore have an anomaly and contradiction which lies at the heart of what we are doing. It is not too early—arguably, it may be too late on the Question, "That the clause stand part of the Bill"—to seek some elucidation. So far as I am aware—and no man can say that he has heard every word that has been spoken in the House on this topic over two Sessions—those who have proposed the measure and put the Bill twice before the House have at no time referred to this more than puzzling, indeed self-destructive, contradiction which lies in the nature of the Assembly.
Out of doors, those who ask us to support the Bill are loud in their protestations that if we pass it we shall democratise the Community. They want the electorate to believe that the same principles upon which they consider us in the House to be elected to represent them will now be applied, by a kind of parity of reasoning, to the Assembly of the EEC. That is not so. Therefore, what we are doing is electing representatives of the member States on a ratio which is related to the intended importance of those member States relative to one another in the counsels of the Community. Yet we are doing it on a system which is intended to be the same simultaneously in all of those States and which is intended to be everywhere on the basis of universal franchise.
There is no sense in this, because if we are electing representatives of the United Kingdom, as clearly we are from the composition of the new Assembly, it is our business, and the business of no one else, how we decide to nominate, elect or arrive at those representatives; and equally validly and logically, each of the other member States could elect and secure those who were to represent their respective States. Instead of that, however, we are told to do this under a prescription, and in accordance with rules, which would be logical only if membership in the European Assembly were proportionate to the population of the respective territories and constituencies from which the representatives are to come.
124 So the very wording of the first line of the Bill reveals a profound and unresolved contradiction in what we are doing. I am tempted to say that we could easily slip into prostituting that which is the basis of our authority and pride in the House of Commons, namely, to be the elected representatives of the people, in order to form a body which in no way resembles the House but a congress assembled from the respective member States of the Community.
I am glad that the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office is to be at the Dispatch Box, because he made a very important statement—I know that he was not making it for the first time, but he made it in lapidary fashion—just as we were moving temporarily 10 days ago from consideration of the Question again proposed to the Committee this evening. He said that in the concept of the Government the European Economic Communityis of a Community in which independent and sovereign states collaborate together for the common good".—[Official Report, 2nd December 1977; Vol. 940, c. 858.]I cannot express to the Minister what music, at any rate to my ears, that formulation was. It is a formulation with which I would have not the slightest difficulty in associating myself. If the United Kingdom is to be after all—if we were mistaken and all that has happened from 1972 on has been an ugly dream, as if there were no Section 2 of the 1972 Act—an independent sovereign nation, that is to say, not legislated for or managed in any respect of our affairs by any external authority, the more closely we co-operate with our neighbours on the Continent the better it will be for this country, and I give my heart to participating in that and urging it on. But we are not furthering that cause by what is in the Bill. By this Bill, as Clause 1 tells us, we are creating a monster, a constitutional monstrosity in terms of this country, and a contradiction at the heart of the European Community itself which should be clearly resolved before we do what is proposed in the Bill.
We ought to know whether the Assembly is to be a congress of the component States. If so, we need not tear ourselves to pieces tomorrow or after Christmas deciding whether we are to abandon our 125 ordinary methods of electing representatives if we wish to do so. Nor need we puzzle our heads, as I fear we shall be doing from clause to clause of the Bill, how one representation of the people of the United Kingdom is to be kept in any reasonable co-ordination with another representation—no mean difficulty. We should find that all we were logically, by our membership of the Community, required to do was to provide a representation of the United Kingdom.
Those who went on that basis would not go as individuals. They would not go, as we come here, as individuals. They would go as a representation of the United Kingdom as a whole. That is to say, they would go as a representation which, like the House itself, comes to its decisions as best it can by the counting of heads, by a majority; for a nation, through its representatives, cannot by definition have two voices. If a nation is to be represented, it must say one thing and speak with one voice.
It is a contradiction of that essential representation of the nations in the European Assembly that they should be elected as is proposed in this Bill, as if they were to be, indeed, in the sense in which we always mean those words—we have not been told that they are not so meant in this clause—therepresentatives of the people of the United Kingdom".Therefore, I would not give my voice to the passage of this clause until we have resolved, if we can resolve, what is the nature of the EEC. If it be, indeed, according to the Government's view as stated by the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, this is not the Bill by which we ought to provide for the representation of the United Kingdom in the Assembly of the European Economic Community.
§ Mr. Michael Stewart (Fulham)
I would like to try to reply to that part of the speech of the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) in which he contended that the Assembly and the proposed Bill were illogical and anomalous because of what he regards as the over-representation of the smaller States in the Community. He argues that, because they have that disproportionate representation, therefore the representatives 126 are representatives of States. But how can they be representatives of States if they at any time speak with a different voice from us as representatives of the United Kingdom?
The right hon. Gentleman played with this apparent anomaly and inconsistency for some time. He argued, as always, with powerful logic in a context in which logic will not alone provide the answer. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I should have thought that most hon. Members would have grasped that. Occasionally in politics imagination is required. Let me give an example.
The Charter of the United Nations lays down that there is no right to interfere with the internal affairs of other countries. It then lays down that all countries are to observe certain human rights. Therefore, if one ever protests against any Government oppressing their own subjects, one can say that one is standing on that part of the Charter which talks about human rights, and one can be given the answer "Yes, but you are transgressing against that part of the Charter which says that you must not interfere with the internal affairs of other countries".
On the basis of pure logic, there is a hopeless contradiction here. The reason why that occurs is that in politics things do not stand still. They do not remain the same for ever. In geometry a triangle is always a triangle and a circle is always a circle, and certain conclusions can be drawn from that as to their properties. In politics, things are always in process of turning into something else. We are living in a world in which in the main we are organised into sovereign States, but it is a world in which we know that there are certain ideas—ideas of right and wrong—that ought to, but, alas, do not always as yet transcend sovereign States.
That is why we have this apparent anomaly in the Charter of the United Nations, which says that we must not interfere with the internal affairs of any country but then gives us a right to do so by laying down a Convention on Human Rights which every State, however proud in claiming sovereignty over its internal affairs, is expected to respect.
I hope, therefore, that I have made clear what I mean by saying that there are certain political problems in which mere logic will not provide one with the 127 answer. That is because the development of human affairs politically is a moving and not a static thing.
§ Mr. Bryan Gould (Southampton, Test)
I do not wish to dispute the basic thesis of my right hon. Friend, but I think that the example which he has chosen is ill chosen. The fact is that an international lawyer, at any rate, would say, that, if a State fails to provide human rights to its citizens in such a way as to breach the principles of international law, it is no longer entitled to claim the exemption of domestic jurisdiction.
§ Mr. Stewart
In that case, the exemption ought not to be stated in the absolute form that it is. That is exactly the point that I am making. A lawyer would point out that in the end one of these principles ought to prevail over the other, but we state them at the moment both in apparent contradiction, because the world is in a state of transition. It is mainly organised on the basis of sovereign States, but we recognise that for certain purposes and ideals that is not an entirely satisfactory way of organising it.
In the same way, the European Economic Community is a collection of nine sovereign States, but they are sovereign States which have come together more closely and have created more closely meshed machinery for their jont action than any other group of nations has done before. That creates, therefore, entirely new problems. One cannot disprove the validity of the concept of a European Assembly elected as it is proposed to be elected by saying that there has never been anything quite like it before.
That, I fear, is the tendency of the right hon. Gentleman—to assume that there are certain categories of fact and that, if one cannot fit a new idea into these categories, there must be something wrong with the idea. I do not believe that that is so.
First, it cannot be argued that it is wrong in itself for a group of nine sovereign States to come together in very close co-operation in certain matters. There cannot be an objection if they then decide, as one of the pieces of machinery, that for this purpose they will have an Assembly. It is open then for them to decide collectively how that Assembly shall be chosen.
128 As to the particular point of objection, the exceptional representation of Luxembourg, one could say that the Isles of Orkney and Shetland are virtually over-represented in the House of Commons. After all, why do we accept what would otherwise be a gross overrepresentation? It is because we feel that if they were put in as part of a larger constituency in the North of Scotland it would be so difficult for their Member to speak up for their needs that they would suffer from a real injustice, and that the rest of us are quite willing to accept what is an over-representation of them considering that the alternative would be to inflict on them a real injustice.
§ Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)
Will my right hon. Friend accept that the main reason the Orkneys and Shetlands and some other disparate areas within the United Kingdom have a Member of Parliament for, let us say, fewer than 30,000 constituents has little or nothing to do with the argument that is before us now but has very much more to do with the geography of the place? On that basis, my right hon. Friend's choice of Luxembourg is a very bad one, because Luxembourg is like one of the inner constituencies of London.
§ Mr. Stewart
Perhaps my hon. Friend will be patient with me for a little. I accept that the reason why the Orkneys and Shetlands and certain other areas have what might be called over-representation is a geographical one. But if we then ask "Why is geography relevant?", the answer is that the effect of the geography is such that, if one did not give them over-representation, in sheer mathematical terms their interests would suffer. They would not be properly represented, which was the reason I gave.
§ Mr. Powell
I have been following the right hon. Gentleman's argument very closely. I can see his argument that it would be extremely inconvenient for Luxembourg to have two-thirds of a Member. But the difficulty that the right hon. Member has to face is that it is not proposed to give Luxembourg as much as one Member, rather like the Orkneys and Shetlands, but to give it six.
§ Mr. Stewart
I appreciate that. I am establishing so far that we are quite 129 familiar here with the situation of what one might call, in pure mathematics, the over-representation of certain parts of the United Kingdom. I say "overrepresentation in pure mathematics", but I have tried to argue that it is, in common sense and justice, the right representation that they should have. Now we come to the Community, and here again I remind the Committee of what I said earlier. We are dealing with an institution that is changing and that is growing. It is at present an institution of nine sovereign States, and, in deciding how its Assembly is to be elected, it has to take account of that fact.
One will find that, whenever units have come together to form a federation, some degree of kindness has always been shown to the smaller members of the federation. Every State of the United States is entitled to elect two senators, whatever its population may be. There are many other examples.
§ Mr. John Lee (Birmingham, Handsworth)
Surely my right hon. Friend is defeating is own argument. This is an election to a unicameral Assembly. The position of the smaller units to which he has referred is confined to the Senate, which was established especially for that purpose. That is the principle which one finds in other places. But he cannot reconcile it with the election of a single-chamber Assembly.
§ Mr. Stewart
The point I am making is that, when various units have come together to make one entity, they have always sought to show some special regard for the rights of the smaller members. I quoted the United States as an example. It is true that in the United States the particular special regard that is shown is to provide for equal representation in the Senate, but that is not necessarily the only way it can be done. We do it in the House of Commons by ensuring a fixed representation for Scotland and Wales, so it could be argued again in mathematical terms that they are over-represented.
§ Mr. Powell
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. He is being very patient. Some of us have been more closely concerned than others with the history of the representation in the House of Commons of parts of the 130 kingdom. The over-representation—if I may use shorthand—of Scotland and Wales, and of Ireland in the 30 or 40 years before Home Rule, was an adventitious result. In fact, all these parts were, if anything, under-represented at the time of the Union and for long afterwards.
§ Mr. Stewart
But the decision taken by the Parliament of the United Kingdom shortly after the war about representation in the House of Commons, laid down particular safeguards for Scotland and Wales. The reason was that they were the smaller members of the United Kingdom.
I draw attention to the fact that the European Assembly itself does its work largely on a committee system. The nation from which only one representative came would have great difficulty in keeping in touch with all that was going on. The advantage that one gives to a very small State by increasing its membership—say, from two or three to six—is very great indeed, because that enables it to man committees and be aware of all that the Parliament is doing. The advantage given to that smaller State is very much greater than the theoretical injustice which might be inflicted on the larger States.
§ Mr. Mikardo
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. There is no great hurry about this. We are all looking forward to hearing him develop his argument further. May I put two points? Of course, there is great validity in what he has just said, but will he address his mind not to the over-representation of Luxembourg but to the under-representation of the United Kingdom? He cannot compare the position of Scotland and Wales in the House of Commons with the distribution proposed, because here we have disparities of about one and a half to one or, at the worst, perhaps a little less than two to one. But we are being asked to agree to a disparity in the Assembly which goes up to 10 to one. The great advantage that Luxembourg and Ireland will have is that their Members will represent a reasonably-manageable number of constituents. Ours will not. What shall we do with Members with nearly 131 500,000 constituents each? That is the point to which my right hon. Friend should address himself.
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Stewart
I was replying to the point made by the right hon. Member for Down, South. My hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo) mentions the number of people that a British Member will represent, but I do not see why British Members of the Assembly should be regarded as less capable and competent than Members of the United States House of Representatives, who also have very large constituencies.
It is true that what is sometimes called the over-representation of Luxembourg could inversely be called the under-representation of the United Kingdom, but we must see the matter in proportion. If Luxembourg were forced down to one Member and all the other States had Members in proportion, we would have an Assembly unworkably large and Luxembourg almost deprived of the power to do any work properly in it. In order to prevent that, one gives Luxembourg and the other small countries a greater representation. Suppose that Luxembourg were cut down to one Member and the other five Luxembourg seats were added to our total. Luxembourg would suffer very greatly, while the extra advantage to the United Kingdom of having 86 Members instead of 81 would not be of any real significance.
I say again that we must look not at what we have been used to in the past, and what is the theory of representation, but simply at what is the most workmanlike way of creating an elected Assembly for the European Community as it now exists and as it may exist in the future. That is the job that we are engaged on.
§ Mr. Stewart
I cannot give way any more. I am taking up too much time in the Committee. [Interruption.] I am aware that many of the arguments advanced by opponents of the Bill are meant not as serious arguments but merely to delay the passage of the Bill.
§ Mr. Stewart
I remind hon. Members that we have never debated Community matters in the House of Commons without those of us who support British membership being accused of bad faith and trickery. It has happened time and again. I ask hon. Members to listen in silence for a little.
Our job is to provide a workmanlike way of electing the Members of the Assembly. I have suggested before that one great advantage of Members directly elected by the whole people and not by the House of Commons is that it will give them greater time to apply themselves to the work and to make known in the Community what has never been emphasised sufficiently before—the voice of the consumer. That is one of the great drawbacks of the Community at present, and it is particularly one of the jobs which a directly-elected Member can do.
The argument, then, is that we have the Community, and we are not going to come out of it.
§ Mr. Stewart
I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) would like to come out of the Community. He does not like international affairs. But we have got to make the Community—if my hon. Friend does not like the word "democratic", I will simply say more responsive to the wishes and feelings of ordinary people. One of the ways in which that can be done is by a directly-elected European Assembly. Granted that, one has to find the most workmanlike way of electing it.
The arguments that we have had so far have not really been helping to secure a more workmanlike way of electing the Assembly but trying to prevent it from being elected at all. The approach of the right hon. Gentleman falls down, as his approaches so often do, because he tries to fit into categories that he already has in his mind something that is new, something that is changeable and something that requires a greater effort of imagination than he is prepared to make.
§ Mr. Alan Clark (Plymouth, Sutton)
Here we are discussing these representatives for the European Assembly when we have not any idea what they will do 133 when they get there other than draw their enormous salaries.
The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) has described the anomalies and inconsistencies in the terms of reference by which they will be deemed to be representatives, but, passing that aside, they will represent the people of England, or Britain. The question is what they will do when they are there. Will they all speak with one voice and see things only in terms of British interests? Obviously, some of them will be Conservatives and some will be Socialists. Some will be M6 murderers, or whatever the odds and sods who come in on a proportional list are likely to be. [Interruption.] Every time there is a by-election, one of the candidates has something to do with the M6 murder, so I understand that statistically that is a possibility.
There will be only 81 of these representatives and even if they were all elected on precisely the same ticket and with precisely the same allegiance, I do not see that they could make the slightest difference to what went on in the Assembly. As things stand, they will not even be unanimous.
As to their status, to whom are they to be responsible ultimately? From whom will they take their orders? Are they to be an adjunct of this place? Are they to be subordinate to this place? Are they to respond to their party leaders in this place, or are they to be independent, with their own leadership structure? Will they represent the people of this country in terms of some kind of Euro-pact, some kind of broad-ranging alliance with other European political parties, or will they respond to and take their orders from party leaders and political platforms in this country?
Here we are, sailing along with this cumbersome great Bill, but without any idea of what these people will do if they ever get to the Assembly. No one has ever explained this in any specific terms. There is a good deal later in the Bill about their expenses—if we ever deal with that—but what are they actually to do in the Assembly?
§ Mr. Gwilym Roberts (Cannock)
Is not the position even more complex than that? It is not a question of what these ladies and gentlemen will do when they get there. It is a question of what the 134 Assembly itself will do. No one has yet determined that basic question.
§ Mr. Clark
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. This is the finally ludicrous aspect of the question. The Assembly cannot construct Governments. It cannot support Governments. It cannot dismiss Governments. The only conceivable excuse that I have heard in its favour is that it may save us from some of the work that we do here.
§ Mr. Nick Budgen (Wolverhampton, South-West)
Does my hon. Friend believe that the loyalty of Members of the Assembly will be to the EEC institutions or to the British nation State?
§ Mr. Clark
It is very agreeable to get to these prompts from all round the House. As we all know, their loyalties are very unlikely to remain for long with the political party under whose nomination they arrived in the Assembly. They might, if the regional list system is chosen, get there by some obscure selection process devised in the smoke-filled rooms of their respective party headquarters.
But, however they get to the Assembly, those loyalties are unlikely to last for long. They will become more and more de-nationalised; the political equivalent of the multinational corporation, in the hothouse atmosphere of wherever this Assembly will sit. They will be completely detached from their real national identity, and they will inevitably start wheeling and dealing with the parties of the other member States, which will probably have nothing like our political standards and concepts. All the national instincts of the Members from this country will gradually be subordinated to the concept of being good Europeans.
The essential question of what they are to do, what they are to scrutinise and on what matters they are to deliberate, has never been explained to the House, as far as I can recall. Would it not be better if at this stage we were to take another look at the whole question? I recognise that we in this House are limited and obstructed on every side by Governments of whatever party and by the whole of the Civil Service, but at any rate there are some things that we can do. Would it not be better if the things 135 that these representatives are to do were left in our hands here?
§ Mr. Gould
There is, I believe, a fundamental misapprehension at the heart of the debate and, indeed, at the heart of the whole debate on direct elections. It was touched on briefly by my right hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. Stewart) when he introduced the concept of democracy. We who oppose direct elections are accused by Opposition Members of resisting democracy and of not being true to our traditions. Then, on the other hand, we are assured by the Government Front Bench that of course we can extend democracy by means of direct elections, although that will not actually change anything very much. It certainly will not diminish our powers and it will not even extend the powers of the European Assembly.
I believe that implicit in all this is the assumption that democracy is really just a matter of holding elections, that all one has to do to produce democracy is to hold elections, quite apart from whether those elections produce any change of any sort at all in the way in which we govern ourselves. But it makes sense only if we use the terms "democracy" to describe a form of government and a way in which we make our governmental decisions.
It is a form of government, and its peculiar feature is that those who exercise the powers of government are actually elected and are therefore responsible to those who elect them. But, unless they exercise the powers of government, however often they are elected, they are not a democratic form of government at ail.
§ Mr. Spearing
I intervened in the speech of a Conservative Member earlier and mistakenly accused these representatives of not being responsible. I was reminded that they are responsible to their electorate, which is true, but will my hon. Friend agree that they are not responsible in the real sense of the word? When it comes to any positive decision-making in the Community, they cannot be held responsible for the decisions which are made. In some respects they may be accountable for their actions but they are not responsible, and therefore they are irresponsible in the strict sense of the word.
§ Mr. Kenneth Clarke (Rushcliffe)
Most elected representatives do not actually govern anything themselves. Democracy is a system of electing representatives to whom the Executive, which has powers, is answerable. The present position in the European Economic Community is that the Council of Ministers has considerable executive and legislative powers and is not answerable as a body to any directly elected representatives. If the European Assembly is directly elected, we shall be injecting the very essence of democracy into a system that at present lacks it.
§ Mr. Gould
I shall deal with the Council of Ministers in a moment, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will find what I have to say enlightening. Government, however, is a shorthand term for a range of functions certainly including the power to make laws and to control, check and challenge the Executive. That seems to me to be the major functions of this House of Commons, for example.
If I am right in suggesting that democracy is not simply a matter of elections but is a form of government, when we come to consider the position that might arise if we were to have direct elections to a European Assembly two conclusions follow—at least from the viewpoint of those who agree with me on this matter. First, it would follow that in opposing these elections we are not opposing democracy in any sense. We are simply opposing one step towards a system of government which may or may not be democratic, but which, if it were to be democratic, would have to be supranational and operated on a European level.
If one were simply concerned for democracy and about current ways in which governmental powers were used—I agree that this is particularly true of the Council of Ministers—there is a much simpler way of democratising the procedure. It is to make those who are members of the Council of Ministers responsible and accountable to elected representatives in this House of Commons.
137 There is a second consequence. It is that if direct elections were to produce—as is argued by hon. Members opposite—a truly democratic form of government, that could happen only if the powers were transferred to the directly elected Assembly. Since the powers of government are not infinite—they are strictly limited in number and type—those powers could be transferred only at the expense of those who exercise them at the moment—in other words, ourselves. For that reason I believe that the issues arising on this clause are crucial to the whole concept of direct elections.
We are, of course, entitled to be extremely suspicious in the context of the logic which runs that direct elections are needed to establish democracy but that that democracy will make no change of any sort in the shape of the government of the Community. We are also entitled to be suspicious because we hear from all sides and among our partners in the Community that direct elections are about the transfer of powers to the European Assembly. Indeed, even our own former colleague, Lord Thomson—a former Commissioner—has warned us that, come direct elections, those directly elected representatives will be rivals who will want to take powers from us and exercise them themselves.
Our record in resisting this sort of pressure and argument is not at all encouraging. Pure political expediency has, after all, produced this Bill. The Bill is directly contradictory to the logic of the view of the Community which is set out in our own Prime Minister's letter. The only reason for bringing forward this Bill is the twin political pressures put upon the Government by the Liberals on the one hand and by the rest of our European colleagues on the other.
If political expediency can produce this Bill, what guarantee do we have that in the end political expediency will not also produce the extension of powers implicit in the whole concept of direct elections?
§ Mr. Lee
Is it not made even worse by the fact that in the final analysis the interpretation of these matters is bound to fall to the court of the Community? If one is to go by the examples of other federations in their embryonic stage these have always had a centrifugal effect, such as happened in the case of the United States.
§ Mr. Gould
My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the crucial rôle of the European Court of Justice. That is a rôle that we sometimes overlook to our cost.
But even if hon. Members do not recognise the responsibility that history and their constituents place upon them, an instinct for survival might at least lead them to devote some attention to this question of the transfer of power. We shall eventually face the claim that directly elected democracy should be made good by increasing the powers of those directly elected representatives.
The amendment, which was unfortunately voted down, at least tried to safeguard us by guaranteeing what our response would be to such a demand when it is made, as inevitably it will be made. When the Government offer a new clause, that new clause must likewise provide such a guarantee if we are to take seriously the Government's resistance and opposition to the whole concept of European union. If the new clause is fit for this purpose it will reveal direct elections as being unnecessary and unwanted and an expensive piece of window-dressing which has nothing at all to do with democracy. That is a small price to pay for at least adhering to the Government's view of the way in which the Community ought to develop.
If, on the other hand, the new clause is not fit for this purpose, we shall find that direct elections will simply be the springboard to ceding the powers that will go with those elections and, therefore, to completing the process of creating a new supra-national tier of government.
§ Mr. Kenneth Clarke
The hon. Member for Southampton Test (Mr. Gould) took us back to the core of the debate which has featured in this prolonged discussion on the clause. Most of the participants have been those who are opposed to the Bill. They oppose it basically because they fear the extension of powers to which they believe that it will eventually lead. They fear that those powers will be won at the expense of this Parliament.
I personally feel that those fears are groundless. I am one of those hon. Members who disapprove of what is in the Prime Minister's letter and who is 139 somewhat suspicious of the Foreign Secretary's assurances during the course of the debate when he tried to reassure hon. Members who share the opinions of the hon. Member for Southampton, Test. On the whole, I support working in as pragmatic and sensible a fashion as possible towards European union.
It is important that we have a more powerful European Parliament. I feel that that would inject an element of democracy into the Community in an area where it is missing at the moment. I feel that the strongest point ever made against our entry into the Community at the time of the referendum was made by those who said that it was not democratic enough for us. My answer was that we should try to make it more democratic once we were in. As long as we have the Council of Ministers exercising greater executive powers, I feel that the case is made even stronger for having a directly-elected body to whom it is responsible.
I do not share the view that democratic control of the Council would be made more effective if Ministers were more accountable to the different national Parliaments from which they came. That is no substitute, and can be no substitute, for the Council of Ministers as a body being directly responsible to a European Parliament elected for the purpose of scrutinising its powers. I feel that we need a more powerful European Parliament, and I see such a body which is directly elected rather than nominated as paving the way to a more powerful European Parliament.
§ Mr. Ron Thomas (Bristol, North-West)
The hon. Gentleman said that he would like to see a situation in which the Council of Ministers was answerable to the European Parliament. Given that situation, can he tell us what would then be the relationship between our representative on the Council of Ministers and this Parliament?
§ Mr. Clarke
Our representative on the Council of Ministers can only serve on that body if he is a Minister in the national Government. As a Minister in the national Government, he would obviously be answerable in the House of Commons under our present procedures. I do not think that there is 140 such a great gulf between us, because the hon. Gentleman does not think that it is adequate, and I agree with him. It is not adequate. There has been this continuing debate since we entered the Community about the way in which Ministers are answerable here for decisions to which they have assented in the Council of Ministers that have had a directly applicable effect upon our law.
I know that hon. Members both for and against the Community talk about improving our arrangements upstairs for scrutinising legislation from Europe. I am all in favour of that. I am saying that I agree with the hon. Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Thomas) that this has its limitations and that it would be an improvement, and a democratic one, if in addition the Council of Ministers as a body was answerable to a European Parliament.
I want to explore a little further the different fears about the powers of the European Parliament which have been expressed in the debate. Different groups of people are expressing fears about the powers of the Parliament. One group of hon. Members who are against our membership of the Community—a position which I respect but disagree with—are therefore against the existence of the Parliament and certainly are against its having its existing powers, let alone more. There is a slightly more perplexing group of hon. Members who say that they are in favour of our membership of the Community but are against any increase of the powers of the European Parliament which might encroach upon those of this Parliament in the House of Commons. That position is one that I do not share.
In trying to reassure that section of opinion, the Foreign Secretary added confusion to the debate rather than assistance. He made what necessarily had to be a brief appearance, because he has to be one of the more absentee Members from the Chamber. He floated in and gave a woolly undertaking that there would be provision in the Bill to deal with any increase in the powers of the European Parliament which might encroach on the powers of this Parliament and might require an amendment to the Treaty. He seemed to say that, to implement such an amendment to the 141 Treaty, a full Act in this House would be required.
The Minister of State intervened in our debate on the clause and produced an even more peculiar answer to those who fear a growth in the powers of the European Parliament. He has always been against our membership, so whether he was reading from a brief or had devised an ingenious one of his own I am not sure. He said that direct elections to the European Parliament would direct so much attention to what was going on there that it would make it easier for this Parliament to control it. That was about the daftest argument for direct elections to the European Parliament that I have ever heard.
§ Mr. Mikardo
The hon. Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) has not faced the challenge of the point put to him about the dichotomy that he has created. He said that a Minister who was a member of the Council of Ministers would continue to have the same accountability to the House of Commons as he has now, but then he said that the whole thing would be more democratic if, in addition, he was responsible and accountable to the European Parliament. Let us suppose that the House of Commons says to a Minister "We want you to reduce taxation" and the European Parliament says to members of the Council of Ministers "We want to increase taxation". What does the Minister do?
§ Mr. Clarke
Taxation is a very long way ahead. At the moment, neither body has taxing powers. However, I shall answer the hon. Gentleman in this way on his general point. The weakness is in our present situation. The dichotomy exists. It is a weakness which the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo) and his hon. Friends complain about frequently after 10 o'clock at night when Ministers come back here.
As a necessary part of our entering the Community, the House has abandoned some legislative powers already. In 1972, when we passed the European Communities Act, we had the debates about the position of Ministers when it came to the Council of Ministers enacting directly applicable legislation. We have made it clear that no Minister goes to the Council of Ministers with his hands tied by this Parliament because he needs a 142 negotiating position there. In the Council of Ministers he agrees to regulations which, by an Act of the House in 1972, are directly applicable in this country and form part of our law without any further parliamentary steps. When he comes back here, all that he can do, as one member of the Council of Ministers which took that decision, is to answer to individual Members of Parliament.
When we look at the fears about the powers of the European Parliament, we should bear in mind the important starting point that the House has surrendered to the Council of Ministers the key power of all—legislative power—for what the vast majority of right hon. and hon. Members in 1972 accepted were good reasons. The House is now taking the democratic step of going on from that and saying "Because we have surrendered that power to the Council of Ministers, we ought to have a directly elected body to which the Council of Ministers is responsible". That is a view that I should like to see extended. If the Foreign Secretary manages to put his new clause in order and got it selected for debate, I hope that it will not do anything to inhibit that view.
I shall discuss with my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Clark) what the Assembly does and what its powers are. It has a weakness in the field of legislation which should be closed. It is consulted on regulations at an early stage and submits amendments to the Commission. It cannot insist on those amendments, but the Commission normally accepts them. It has no powers and is not consulted again over the final draft which the Commission puts to the Council, which the Council can enact without further recourse to the Parliament. I should like to see the European Parliament have stronger legislative powers.
An additional legislative step that the Community will have to have is that, when the Council has agreed on a regulation which shall be directly applicable, it should not be enacted unless a majority of the European Parliament, acting as a second House, also approves it. I do not see what we have to fear from that. The House of Commons does not have any rival powers of this sort, since it gave them up under the 1972 Act.
143 It would mean that a body of people, elected as we are and representing their constituents, would be a constant check on the powers already exercised by the Council of Ministers. Therefore, I do not understand the fears that have been expressed. I should have thought that those taking part in the debate would be more fearful than I am of the power exercised in Strasbourg and Brussels. By suggesting more legislative powers for the Parliament, we are providing an extra democratic check on the Community's institutions and making sure that the power of the Council of Ministers is confined.
The assurance that has been given is that if we move in that direction an Act of Parliament will be required. I cannot understand that. It has not been the Government's policy until very recently. Very important changes have already been made in the powers of the European Parliament since we joined the Community. It has been given all the budgetary powers it wants as a result of the 1975 Treaty. Those provisions went through this House on an order after 10 o'clock at night under the present Government.
The only people who want an Act of Parliament comprise that body of right hon. and hon. Members who attend every debate on the EEC and who want to overturn the whole of the 1972 Act and our membership of the Community. The same hon. Members continually turn out. I cannot understand why, merely as a result of the Delphic letter from the Prime Minister to the Labour Party, Ministers suddenly feel it necessary to say that we should have another Act, when the one significant change that might require minor amendment of the Treaty is the provision of extra legislative powers to the European Parliament. The same arguments were advanced during debates on the 1972 Act, which had a huge majority on Second Reading, as did this Bill. If we have another Act of Parliament every time the Parliament seeks an extension of its powers, we shall only be giving an opening to those hon. Members who wish to put another spanner in the works, such as the right hon. Members for Down, South (Mr. Powell), and Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) and the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. 144 Spearing). They are clearly capable of speaking at interminable length and using every outdated device of the House to stop any legislation being passed.
I do not see anything fearful in increased powers for the European Parliament. This is an opportunity to try to improve the democracy of the European Community. I am sorry that this matter is being handled by a Government who are in such a mess with their supporters, the Parliamentary Labour Party and the party conference, that they so mishandle things and disappoint our partners in Europe who are waiting for direct elections.
§ Mr. Spearing
The hon. Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) is a consistent speaker. I will at least say for him that he has openly set out his views about European union. He believes that the important powers should go to the European Assembly, the so-called Parliament, from this place. He believes that the Assembly should have powers of legislation and powers over the budget, and that this House should be only the second check on the Council of Ministers. I suppose that we should acknowledge a new kind of Unionist here, a European Unionist. The hon. Gentleman is a European Unionist. He has made no bones about it.
The hon. Gentleman has every right to express his views, but he might not do so for too long, for every potential voter in his constituency will know that they are his views, and I am not sure that everyone who has already voted for him would go with him down that road. The hon. Gentleman asked why, when we have had only definition of treaties orders, the Government must pledge themselves to a new Act to provide further powers for the Assembly. It is because although the Government are trying to say "The Assembly is only a talking shop. It does not really forward European unionism, and to guarantee that it does not we shall tell the House that there will be an Act of Parliament before any future powers are given.", they are having to yield to the pressures of people inside the EEC to move towards that very thing.
I want to take up what the hon. Gentleman said about the powers of the Assembly and to answer some of the questions 145 of the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Clarke). I do not intend to speak for hours, but I want to give the Committee some information that it has not yet had. So far in the Bill we are not allowed to write in the responsibilities of those elected under its provisions. I make no comment on the Chair's rulings, Mr. Murton, because you can only go by precedent. But if the Bill has been drafted in such a way that the insertion of clauses about the duties and responsibilities of elected Members has been deliberately excluded by those who drafted it, that matter should be noted.
I wish to speak about the powers of the representatives of the people, who are mentioned in the clause. Money and the budget are the centre of power. One of the powers that the new elected Assemblymen will have is over the budget of the European Communities. As we know from our own history, power over the budget means power of bargaining over a whole range of other matters, in particular the informal and de facto procedures that are adopted in relation to the Executive.
The hon. Member for Rushclitie said that the Assemblymen did not have power of taxation. The budget is produced by the Commission and passed by the Council, and if they enlarge the Communities budget, the Communities must find that money from somewhere. Therefore, in effect the powers of taxation are very much with the existing Council and within the powers of the Assembly.
The new powers of the Assembly in relation to the budget are in the new Article 203 of the Treaty of Rome, which was debated in the House on 8th and 9th December 1975 as part of Cmnd. 6252. In it are set out at fair length the new powers of the Assembly over the budget. I am tempted to read it into the Official Report in full, because it is clear from answers to questions that I have put to the Government that the new Article 203 is not being sent to Government Departments to stick in their copies of the treaty. To the best of my knowledge, it has not been altered in the Library of this House either.
Anybody wanting to know what were the powers of the Assembly—or the "no existing powers" of the Assembly as 146 the Prime Minister put it in his speech last summer—would not be able to find them in existing books of reference, but only by looking at Cmnd. 6252 and 6282, which did not appear on the Order Paper of the House and which do not appear in the Journals although they were approved by the House on 7th, 8th and 9th December 1975.
We are not dealing with trickery—and I say this particularly to my right hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. Stewart)—and we are not accusing anyone of such a thing. It is just that all these things happen to be clandestine in a most unfortunate way. The same thing will happen tonight, because we have two Command Papers before us, Command 2619 and 2911, which refer to Greece and Turkey, but the matter will not appear on the Order Paper of the House. Will the Leader of the House do something about that?
I return to the budget. Paragraph 8 of this new Article 203 states:However, the Assembly, acting by a mapority of its members and two-thirds of the votes cast, may if there are important reasons reject the draft budget and ask for a new draft to be submitted to it.That is put in to follow all the backwards and forwards procedure between the Assembly and the Council on the first draft budget. There are seven paragraphs on the provision referring to this conciliation procedure, which has been adopted informally, for use in arbitration in disputes between the Council and the Assembly when they cannot agree on the Budget. My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) has asked me to explain. Paragraph 4 says:The draft budget shall be placed before the Assembly not later than 5 October of the year preceding the year that in which the budget is to be implemented.Paragraph 5 says:After discussing the draft budget with the Commission and, where appropriate, with the other institutions concerned, the Council shall act under the following conditions".There follows a whole lot about the qualified majorities that the Council can use to modify suggestions from the Assembly and modifications proposed by the Assembly with the effect of increasing the total expenditure of an institution. The Council may, acting by qualified majority, 147 accept those proposed modifications. In the absence of a decision to accept a proposed modification, the Budget shall stand as rejected. After 15 days, if the draft budget has been placed before the Council and has not been modified by the Council, it shall be deemed to have been adopted.
§ The Chairman
I know of the great enthusiasm of the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) in this matter but he is going deeply into detail in his explanation of it.
§ The Chairman
I agree, but I do not know whether the Committee would wish to hear it in such detail as the hon. Member for Newham, South has propounded.
§ Mr. Spearing
I take the point, but I shall proceed because it is important that people should know—and that it should be put on the record—of these powers which, for reasons of procedure, are clandestine and unknown. They refer to the very things that an elected Assemblyman will be able to do, and that is what the hon. Member for Sutton was asking about.
We are fortunate in having a document which has been produced by the Directorate-General for Research and Documentation of the European Commission. Sub-paragraph 5 on page 18 says that if this procedure has been completed,the President of the Parliament declares that the budget has been finally adopted unless the draft budget as a whole has been rejected by the Parliament acting by a majority of its Members and two thirds of the votes cast.In other words, in an official document of the European Parliament we are told that, after all this complicated backwards and forwards procedure, the Assembly could still reject the budget acting by a majority of members and two-thirds of the votes passed.
Up to now people have said "What sort of sanction is that? It is no real sanction at all because, like this House not passing a Finance Bill, no Assembly would do that." It would mean that the machinery for the following year could come to a halt. It would be a blunderbuss, like dismissing the Commission, and no Assembly would dare to use it. That has always been my interpretation of the matter.
148 Not long ago another booklet was produced by the London information office of the European Parliament. It was called "Powers of the European Parliament". That went further and I must quote what it says, because it may be wrong. If it is wrong, I hope that the Minister will tell us, but, as it comes from such a source, I suspect that it is not It is said:Parliament has the power to reject the whole budget, compulsory and non-compulsory, 'if there are substantial reasons for such rejection'. This power is often considered of little value, particularly as its use would merely mean that expenditure was 'frozen' at the previous year's levels".I emphasise the words "merely mean", because it is not a question of "merely" at all. It means that if the Assembly rejects the budget under the new Article 203—and clearly it has power to do so—instead of stopping the whole thing, as would happen if we failed to pass a Finance Bill and the Government fell, the Community would simply go on spending as under the previous budget.
In other words, this is a sanction which the Assembly, elected or even as it is today, can wield very effectively, because it can say to the Council "We can control the change from last year's budget to this year's budget, and if you and the Commission do not do what we want, as long as we get a two-thirds majority of the votes cast, we will throw out every budget until we get what we want in other respects, either in respect of the budget or of any other powers".
This is perhaps a new element in the argument, because the Prime Minister has told us time and again that the existing powers do not amount to very much—providing opportunities for comment, perhaps dismissing the whole Commission at once, which is the blunderbuss, since it can be reappointed the next day by the Council. However, if we are to take the statement of the information office of the European Parliament at its face value, there is a new weapon which the elected Assembly would have.
Clearly Lord Gladwyn thinks that such power would be important. He wrote a letter to the Daily Telegraph on 14th October saying:I see the new Assembly, in fruitful co-operation with the Commission, submitting by 149 the requisite majority, sensible and constructive proposals in all spheres to the Ministers who will, in the nature of things, find it increasingly difficult to turn them down.If they have the veto over the budget and can use it effectively, they will say to the Council of Ministers—perhaps not openly, but we know how things happen in politics—"If you do not pass this proposal of the Commission, we will see whether we can stop the budget and freeze it at last year's amounts". I can think of half a dozen hon. Members who would use such a power very effectively, indeed.
Can my hon. Friend the Minister confirm that that is the power which the Assembly would have? If he can, does he think that the purpose of the Prime Minister's phrase "the existing powers" is to encourage us to go ahead? It is felt that there will be the emergence in the Assembly not of national groupings but of national parties. I am sorry that the right lion. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe) has left the Chamber, because there was a cutting from Agence Internationale D'Information pour la Presse giving reports of Liberal and Democratic parties' conventions. It refers to the Liberal convention agreeing a European union and havinga democratic constitution based on the division of powers, majority decisions, and the protection of minorities".Apparently the convention of Liberal Parties in the Community agrees with that. Under the headlineTindemans leads new EEC party",The Guardian stated on 9th July 1976 that the European political parties—note that—had a task to perform consisting in bridgingthe gap between the hopes … of public opinionand the powerlessness of Governments to transform such hopes into concrete political policies.
Finally, I wish to quote Mr. Max van der Stoel, speaking at the ceremony attending the signing of the so-called decision in December 1976. He said:For the first time, the people of Europe will be called on to elect their representatives, to choose between the differnt forms of society put before them and hence to give impetus to the development of Community action…It is a logical extension of the democratic principles adhered to by our peoples that the citizens of Europe themselves should indicate 150 the manner in which these objectives are to be achieved.If we agree to Clause I so that we may elect the so-called representatives of the people, we shall put in the hands of those elected representatives an exteremly effective weapon over any expansion or change in the budgets of the European Communities and we shall also project them into an arena in which the emergence of a European party is not only a probability, but is already happening.
I hope that the Minister will say why he believes that the election of representatives to an Assembly with the existing powers is not a step towards a new unitary State.
§ Mr. Roger Moate (Faversham)
The hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) commented on the constituency and clarity of the arguments put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke). I concur in that view. For my hon. Friend the situation is simple, because he openly and clearly espouses the federalist cause, to put the matter in the shorthand, if inaccurate, form. My hon. Friend said that he regarded direct elections as a stepping stone towards a stronger Parliament, a European union and a federal Europe. He put the matter clearly and nobody could fail to understand or appreciate his argument. For anybody who believes in the federal cause and a stronger Europe, direct elections are an essential stepping stone towards that goal.
What is harder to understand is the argument advanced by those who do not see the matter in those terms, but who support the basic principle that we should have direct elections. I have not heard from those who represent the majority in this House the fundamental reasons why that argument should be put forward. I have not heard one convincing reason how this will benefit the British people. We have heard some arguments, but they have not dealt with the benefits, if any, to the British people.
The general argument is shat we should uphold the commitment entered into by the Heads of Government. That is not a convincing reason for major constitutional change. It has become clear that there is no fundamental treaty obligation in respect of our proceeding to direct elections. Furthermore, there is no 151 electoral reason, because it was not a specific promise or contained in the mandate secured in the referendum.
The only continuing argument put forward is that we should upset our Community partners if we did not proceed and that we should somehow dishonour the Prime Minister's commitments. I do not find that argument convincing. It is up to the supporters of this proposition to explain to the British people how they will be better off if we have directly elected Members of the European Assembly.
We are constantly told that such a system will be more democratic. My understanding of democracy is that in some way it gives power to the people. It might be that it is only periodically that they can exercise that power, but it is one that they can exercise. There are very few hon. Members who are not deeply conscious of the fact that at a certain time they will return to their electors and ask for a renewed mandate. That mandate is by no means secure.
In my view, that will not be the position of a Member of an elected Assembly who represents perhaps half a million electors if we have the first-past-the-post system, or a Member who is one of 12 or 14 Members who represent many millions of electors. The individual Member will be almost unknown to his electors and there will be no sense of direct responsibility to the individual elector.
I think that the position was best explained by the Prime Minister. I have a quotation from the speech that he made at Portsmouth in 1971. I am glad to see that the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office is on the Government Front Bench, because the hon. Gentleman will probably remember the speech. It might even be that he agreed with it when it was made. I hope that he agrees with it now, but his position is somewhat different. The Prime Minister said:It will be no use British electors coming to the candidates for a Westminster parliament and complaining about prices or unemployment. Those candidates will reply that it has nothing to do with them. They would have no more control over these matters than does the present Hampshire County Council.152'Take it up with the European Parliament' they will say, 'and the best of British luck, because our representatives are in a permanent minority there.''Federalism will mean the surrender of vital decisions to a parliament the British cannot dismiss'.That is a significant quotation in a number of ways. It is significant because at that time the Prime Minister saw a Parliament only in the context of a federal Europe. That is the first and significant point.
The other significant point is the use of the phrase "the British cannot dismiss". All that the creation of an elected Assembly will do is to create a sense of impotence among the British people, a sense of frustration. If that Assembly should take some decision with which we disagree, our Members will be in a permanent minority. What use will it be for electors to say "I shall reject the Member"? That will make not a scrap of difference to the make-up of the total Assembly.
If one believes in a unitary State of Europe, a federal Europe, that is no problem. In that case one is prepared to accept the global decision of the European States collectively. However, we have been told by many distinguished Members of this place, Members on both sides of the Chamber, that we are not moving towards a federal Europe.
That brings me to what I regard as a fundamental dilemma. My hon. Friend the Member for Rushcliffe argues for federalism. My hon. Friend might feel a little disappointed and dismayed to sense that he is in a small minority in the House as hon. Member after hon. Member from positions of power and responsibility have said that they are not interested in a federal Europe. However, I suspect that he does not feel at all disappointed. Although the argument might be going against him, the vote goes with him. Every time that hon. Members say that we are not moving towards a federal structure, we still take the necessary steps towards it. That is the dilemma.
The Prime Minister says that on no account shall we move to a federal Europe. He says that on no account shall we allow the European Assembly extra powers with a specific Act of this Parliament. However, while those things are being said the necessary pre-requisite towards the creation of a federal Europe 153 is taking place. My hon. Friend the Member for Rushcliffe and those of my hon. Friends who agree with him are happy. They should be quite content.
What will happen? It is possible that in a year or two we shall receive another proposal for an Act of Parliament to extend the powers of the European Assembly. No doubt we shall be told the same story. We shall probably be told "All this was implicit. Why do you think that we set up the Assembly if we were not to give it more powers?" Later we shall be given the same story about economic and monetary union. We move forward step after step regardless of the assurances that we receive from the Front Benches.
That is the problem that many of us face. We sense in the debates that there is a general acceptance of our membership of the Community. Some might like it and others might not, but we are arguing in this way simply because direct elections have now been brought forward. Were it not for that, I believe that the Common Market argument might well have almost disappeared in this country, at least for the time being.
§ 9 p.m.
§ Mr. Skinner
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that only a few months ago, before Second Reading of the Bill in the last Session, opinion polls were taken in South-West England and in the Gloucestershire area the results of which indicated not only that there was great opposition to direct elections but that an overwhelming majority wanted Britain to be taken out of the Common Market? The hon. Gentleman should bear in mind that there will always be a large percentage of people in the United Kingdom who, irrespective of what happens to this Bill, will be battling to get Britain out of the EEC, and I shall be one of them.
§ Mr. Moate
I shall not give way. I must continue. I was about to say subject, as the Government have said, to the continuing assent of Parliament.
154 We now have opportunities to mould the future of the Community. It can change its nature. Enlargement of the Community could ensure that it is a community of nation States. We could extend our powers of scrutiny to exercise greater control over the Community and make it more to our liking. But the possibility of getting a consensus and of shaping it as I believe the British people would want it is being sabotaged by the introduction of Bills such as this.
Legislation to introduce direct elections is an essential step towards a federal Europe. It will revive arguments about federalism. Therefore, it will revive old arguments about membership of the Community. I believe that would be destructive of British membership in that sense.
The Government have said that they will introduce a clause which might be helpful, but it will be a very modest step. I should be more convinced if we had seen the Government's proposal to exercise real power of control over Community legislation.
My hon. Friend the Member for Rushcliffe made a great point about our inability to control Community legislation. Indeed, he said that he joined forces with those who thought that it was unsatisfactory. My hon. Friend implied that there was nothing that we could do about it and that therefore we had to extend the powers of the Assembly to exercise the control that we could not exercise.
We can exercise that control. We could tie our Ministers' hands and feet in most matters, if we so wished, except perhaps with regard to pre-accession obligations. We have the power to exercise tighter scrutiny, to control the Executive and to control our Ministers in the Council of Ministers.
At the moment we do not choose to exercise that power. I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Rushcliffe is perhaps deceiving himself over these matters. I am sure that he knows that, by exaggerating our difficulties regarding the exercise of control, he is thereby trying to justify direct elections. It is not necessary. This Parliament ought to have power to exercise proper jurisdiction over all Ministers and it should have the will to do so.
155 The Government have promised certain proposals. Let us see those proposals. If we can exercise proper control from Westminster, I do not believe that we shall need directly elected Members of the Assembly.
The present system might be slightly inconvenient to hon. Members who are sent to the Assembly. However, we do not detect any lack of willingness on their part to go there. The present system is better than the proposal for directly elected Members of the Assembly. If we have Members going to Strasbourg, or wherever, who are deeply rooted in this Parliament, I believe that they will more truly represent the people of this country than would directly elected Members under any other system. I do not think that we have yet heard a true justification of direct elections. On that basis, I hope that Clause 1 will not stand part of the Bill.
§ Mr. Ron Thomas
I hope that the hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) was not suggesting that, irrespective of the consequences which flowed from the referendum, the British people for ever and a day must automatically, by the law of God or some power greater than God, remain in the European Community.
I shall not develop a long argument about the conduct of the referendum and the consequent distortions. It was suggested that if we did not stay in the Common Market we would suffer from inflation, unemployment, lack of capital investment in British industry and so on. I shall not even comment on the vast sums that were paid out by big business in a form of bribery during the referendum.
I understand that the hon. Member for Faversham means that this is simply a matter of degree. He does not say as I do that membership of the Common Market has been an unmitigated disaster for the British people but simply that it has been a disaster. The British people do not accept that there will not be another opportunity to decide whether to stay in or come out.
The hon. Member also hinted at something else. He hinted that the pro-Europeans are trying their best to focus our attention on the direct elections issue for two reasons—first, to hide the clear, unmitigated 156 disaster that membership has meant to the British people and, secondly, to suggest that it would not be the unmitigated disaster that it has turned out to be if we had had the proposals in this legislation.
The hon. Member for Faversham said that the hon. Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) had been honest to the Committee in saying that he wanted to see a federal Europe. I do not believe that he was sufficiently honest with the Committee, because those who believe in a federal Europe should be honest enough to say that one can give power to a European Parliament only at the expense of the power which is already exercised by all the national Parliaments. The hon. Member attempted to ride two horses. To say that the Council of Ministers can be answerable both to an elected European Assembly and to the House of Commons is unacceptable, and the hon. Member knows it.
Let us take value added tax, for in-instance. Is the hon. Member suggesting that a Minister could discuss an increase in VAT with the Council of Ministers, having borne in mind the views of our Government and the House, and then go to the Assembly, which might suggest a different line? What would he do? Would he trot between each of these institutions? Would he be like some kind of conciliator in an industrial dispute? The hon. Member for Rushcliffe was not being honest about federalism. However we juggle the figures, there is a total amount of power that can be exercised, whoever exercises it. If more power is exercised in an elected European Assembly, ipso facto less power can be exercised in the House of Commons.
A federalist believes that less power should be exercised here and more power in the European or federal institutions.
§ Mr. Kenneth Clarke
I do not wish to go into the question of whether I am a federalist. Does the hon. Member realise that a Minister could, if he wished, go to the Council of Ministers and agree to a harmonisation of VAT without reference to the House of Commons? If he agreed to a directly-applicable regulation, the House would have no powers, but I am sure he would not agree unless he felt safe about the response that he would 157 receive from the House. If such an agreement were made, the Council of Ministers would have to go to the European Parliament for its consent.
§ Mr. Thomas
I go so far as to say that there has been a mixed form of control over Ministers who have gone to the Council of Ministers. The Minister of Agriculture, for example, has taken careful note of what the House has said and on the majority of occasions has pursued the line advocated by the House. But if the hon. Member wants real democratic control over the Council of Ministers, let us have it here. I will support that. Let us unite and ensure that our Ministers who go to Europe are mandated in a proper fashion by the House and are made to carry out its policies. That would be far better than handing the whole issue over, as the hon. Member for Rushcliffe is suggesting, to some kind of European federal Parliament.
§ Mr. Kenneth Clarke
The German and Italian Ministers of Agriculture can never be made answerable to this House in the way in which the hon. Member wishes. Any Minister going from the House of Commons must make concessions in the agreements he reaches with Ministers from other member countries. Equally, they must make concessions too. But they disperse and return to their respective Parliaments after they have agreed to binding regulations. They then come under pressure. But that can never be as effective as having all the Ministers answerable as a body to one Parliament.
§ Mr. Thomas
If a Minister goes from the House of Commons to the Council of Ministers and is adamant in advancing the view of the House, major decisions will not be taken against us. Our Minister has the power to veto those decisions.
§ Mr. Budgen
Will the hon. Member reconsider his remark that any power taken by the European Assembly would be at the expense of national Parliaments? It might not be at the expense of national Parliaments. It might be at the expense of national individuals. We might find that we have not only too much government from Westminster but too much government from the European institutions.
§ Mr. Thomas
I agree with the hon. Member only to the extent that I do not believe that we have enough of the right kind of government from Westminster.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. Stewart), in response to a comment by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), seemed to say that what we are discussing in terms of how representatives to the Assembly will be weighted in accordance with the country from which they come is a matter partly of logic and partly of imagination. It reminded me of the theory and knowledge of Leibnitz, who devised a wonderful theory of knowledge but then found that he had a gap. He filled that gap with God and the circle was completed. It is dangerous to say that logic can take us so far and that our imagination enables us to complete the circle. It is dangerous to say "If you have not got the same imagination as I have, that is just too bad." That is hardly the kind of thing that I could go along with.
§ 9.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Thomas
Indeed. One of the important aspects raised by the right hon. Member for Down, South, which was not answered by my right hon. Friend the Member for Fulham, was in terms not so much of the logic as of the democracy of the way it has been decided that the countries will have a particular weight of representation in the European Assembly. As the right hon. Member quite rightly pointed out, the myth has been created that at some stage we shall be going into a system of democratic elections. That myth is being created by the pro-Marketeers.
It seems to me that these particular weights do not flow from any kind of democracy or from any attempt to inject democracy. As far as I can judge, they flow simply from the same kind of weighting as we had under the customs union, where one had qualified majorities or unanimous majorities and so on and the different countries were given different numbers of votes. I think that they were arrived at simply so that one juggles around with the figures, so that three of the countries which have 81 votes stand together as against one of the countries 159 with 81 votes and some with a number of other votes and so on. They have simply been weighted for that particular purpose. But they owe nothing to democracy whatsoever.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo) was absolutely right when he said that if Luxembourg is to have six representatives the United Kingdom should have about 800. That would be the logic in terms of democracy.
§ Mr. Thomas
It would seem that we have got to give up logic in terms of democracy and use a bit of anti-democratic imagination. One could trace a nice bit of Hegel or someone else in that.
My hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. Gould) demolished the other points that were made about democracy. He was absolutely right, in my judgment, when he said that democracy is about exercising power. But perhaps, at a lower level, I would question how one can have democratic elections or how one can call them democratic elections when one cannot tell the people who are involved in those elections what will be the functions and responsibilities of those elected. What kind of democracy is that? Could my hon. Friends here imagine a trade union branch saying "We are going to elect"—we can think of a title—"a secretary/chairman or secretary/chairman/treasurer." Somebody says "What exactly are his powers and responsibilities before we seek nominations?" We say "Sorry, we cannot tell you what they are. We do not know what they are." If that is a form of democracy, heaven help us.
The Minister of State, in his speech on 1st December, kept telling us that these people are going to do nothing. So that is our answer. We have got to go to our constituents and say "This is a bit of democracy that you are going to have. You are going to elect people to do nothing, and we are going to pay them £500 a week for doing it." I wonder what our constituents would make of that.
Let us make up our minds. Certainly the members of the European Movement have made up their minds. They are not 160 advocating, as the right hon. Member for Down, South was emphasising,representatives of the people of the United Kingdom.The European Movement does not think in those terms at all. Facts, which is its journal, which is a euphemism for being Euro-fanatics says in the December issue:we must secure the return of candidates who are wholehearted believers in European unity.It goes on to make the point that it wants to see European parliamentarians and not representatives of the national States. We are embarking on an exercise to elect either the most expensive talking shop ever devised or, as the European Movement honestly proclaims, a group of people who will gradually extend the notion of federalism and a United States of Europe. That is what it is all about.
My hon. Friend the Minister of State, speaking to the amendment to Clause 1, failed to see the distinction that we want to see in the Government's new clause. Or perhaps I should say that he saw it but was not prepared to admit it. We were saying that it was not a question of assurances about encroachment on or erosion of the sovereignty of this Parliament. That, to some extent, has already taken place. In terms of the Community budget, we are suddenly told that the Council of Ministers, after discussion with the European Parliament, demands that we pay in the value added tax revenues even before we collect them. One can think of many other examples. But there is a complete distinction between the erosion of the sovereignty of the House of Commons and an extension of the powers of the European Assembly.
We want to see in the Government's new clause clear and precise wording which says that there will be no extension whatever of the powers of the Assembly without a Bill being brought before the House to be debated and voted upon. I am surprised that the Government have not, over the past 10 days, been able to bring forward their new clause. It is strange that it is not on the Amendment Paper. There should be no difficulty about the wording. We could soon tell the Government that.
§ Mr. Skinner
It is rumoured, not a million miles from here, that the main reason why the clause has not yet come 161 forward concerns the Liberal Party. We are shortly to take a decision on bringing forward Clause 3 before Clause 2. That was arranged secretly between the Government and the Liberals several days ago—indeed, on the very same day as the Government refused to give way on the amendment to Clause 1. Meantime, the Liberals are refusing to allow the Government—that is how much power they have—to deal with the matter to which my hon. Friend is referring. This is the real question that we have to face. The Liberal Party is dominating the Government on this issue. In addition, it is trying to dragoon Labour Members against the Common Market into the Lobby tomorrow behind the Prime Minister. That is how much power the Liberals have, and that is why my hon. Friend is in such a dilemma on this matter.
§ Mr. Thomas
Is my hon. Friend asking me to believe that the Liberals, who have not been here for at least three or four hours, have that kind of influence outside the Chamber—some magical influence on the Government? If that is the situation, many of us feel that it is rather disastrous.
§ Mr. Thomas
As so many of my hon. Friends have emphasised time and time again, there was no mandate whatsoever for this legislation in either the "Yes" document or the other document that was put out by the Government at the time of the referendum. There has been no mandate from the British people for the direct elections Bill. There is no obligation under the Rome Treaty concerning direct elections or, indeed, for having direct elections by any particular date. Moreover, I remind the Government Front Bench that the Labour Party at conference after conference has made its position quite clear. It is opposed to the concept of direct elections and opposed to the development of a federal Europe which will flow from those direct elections.
If my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) is right in suggesting that a tiny hand-full of Liberals are able to persuade a majority of a Labour Cabinet to go 162 ahead with a piece of legislation which has no mandate from the people, which is not asked for in the Treaty of Rome and which, above all else, is in complete and utter contradiction to the will of the Labour Party and the Labour movement, then indeed we have reached a very sorry state of affairs.
§ Mr. Stan Thorne (Preston, South)
It is not my intention to repeat points already made by my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) and the hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate), but they both dealt with matters which caused me some concern on reading Clause 1.
The first two words, for example, raise questions in one's mind. Some time could be usefully spent in considering what is meant by "representatives". Most hon. Members are in the same position as myself, representing about 38 per cent. of the electorate in their constituencies. The other 62 per cent. either voted for the other parties or failed to vote at all. Our representative character, therefore, is somewhat diminished in that regard.
When we become Members of the House of Commons, we lean on certain other Members for their expertise in certain areas. This may be true on the subject of the European Economic Community, on which we have a tendency to rejoice from time to time in the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South. I take the view, therefore, that in certain matters we are representative, but not in any full sense of the word. I am not suggesting that we should substitute the word "delegate", but it is interesting to ask in what sense we would be representing the people of the United Kingdom in a European Assembly.
When I consider that question, I am reminded of the events of only a few days ago in my constituency. There was a Lancashire County Council by-election in Preston. Presumably it took place on the basis of representative democracy, as envisaged in Clause 1, but when we consider adopting the concept of democracy, advanced by the hon. Member for Faversham, as being people's power, we have to ask certain questions. If only 29 per cent. of the electorate considered it appropriate to vote in that election, to what extent was power being exercised by the people? It was being exercised by a minority of the people. That 163 is one of the dangers which always exist in societies.
When we use the term "democracy" we should talk about informed democracies and ignorant democracies. It seems to me that we cannot have democratic participation in politics unless the people are informed about the issues on which they are going to take a decision in some form of election.
It is interesting to report that during the election for the Lancashire County Council I was able to spend some time canvassing. Most hon. Members will not be surprised to learn that not one single person asked me what I was doing to ensure that we had early elections to the European Assembly. Most of them raised the question of prices, the question of unemployment, and the question of the closing of the textile mill in the constituency, and what we were doing about that as their representatives in this body which they believe is responsible for taking decisions. They raised the question of housing because there is a major housing problem in Preston. They also asked about the Health Service and the inadequacy of the provisions that are made therein. They also pointed to the absence of certain community facilities.
In all this one got the feeling that these people wanted to participate in decision making with regard to the sort of community in which they lived. They clearly could not see that community as part of a European situation. With regard to the problems that I have referred to—their community, their housing, their health, their schools and their unemployment—they are quite convinced that the decision makers are in this Chamber or in the local authority offices. Often they felt that both bodies were too far removed from them in terms of making representations about the decisions those bodies were making.
§ Mr. Marten
Returning to the question of representation, and so on, does the hon. Gentleman recall the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Bute and North Ayrshire (Mr. Corrie) in the European Assembly on 20th April 1977 when he criticised the present Minister of Agriculture for having stood up for the housewife and the consumer with regard to the 164 Price Review? In that speech my hon. Friend said:The British Minister who is President of the Council is being nationalistic and narrow-minded in his thinking. It almost makes one ashamed to be British. We in this House are Europeans, we are not nationalists.This is a very important point when it comes to choosing representatives, because the first question on any selection committee in a European constituency will ask is "When you get there will you stand up for the British interests or not?"
§ Mr. Thorne
That is a fair comment. I can tell the hon. Gentleman that there is considerable support for the actions of the Minister of Agriculture because the Minister was acting in defence of the consumer with regard to the prices of some foods which are paid in my constituency and in Lancashire generally. To the extent that he is pursuing what they consider to be their interests in terms of prices, they are represented.
§ Mrs. Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)
Will the hon. Gentleman explain to a fellow Lancastrian why, when canvassing in a county council election, he should be discussing Europe, anyway? In my constituency, the services of the Labour member of the council in charge of education were dispensed with. That election decided how the people of Lancaster wanted their children educated. That election was not concerned with the European Parliament
§ Mr. Thorne
The last thing that I want to get involved in is the politics of Lancaster, for obvious reasons. I am concerned about the implication in Clause 1 that we shall be establishing some sort of democratic representative body which will be in the interests of the people of the United Kingdom.
In this connection, one might be forgiven for referring to the argument put forward by Jean Jacques Rousseau that Britain has a democracy once every five years. The electorate go to the poll, they elect Members on the basis of first past the post, and the majority party forms the Government. But, thereafter, the ability of the electorate to participate democratically in the decision-making which goes on is virtually non-existent.
One of our major problems in Britain—it is one that we face continuously, 165 even in this Parliament—is to try to get people in the localities informed about the decision-making which is going on and to try to find ways to implement the decisions which they consider relevant to the problems which they face in the communities and localities.
Hon. Members on the Back Benches find it almost impossible to gain a point in an argument about a decision to be taken by any member of the present Government. It is a virtual impossibility. Certainly I have not yet had that experience, although other lion. Members may have.
I noticed that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary glanced up when I said that. I have expectations of discussing with him certain matters in the future. I hope that it will be possible to change his mind about the implementation of the immigration policies pursued at the moment by this Government, which many people in my constituency do not consider to be the sort of decisions which should emerge from the kind of representative democracy under discus sion in Clause 1 of the Bill.
We come back to the problem of who decides the policies to be pursued. I have admitted openly—I do not think that some of my hon. Friends will quarrel with me—that we have very little effect in trying to influence decisions taken in the Committee. We may be persuaded to go to a meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party and listen to a Front Bench spokesman saying how things ought to be done, having already produced a White Paper saying how they will be done. That does not give us any sense of representative democracy.
If that is the true picture of what happens in this Parliament, what prospects will there be of relaying the ideas, aspirations and expectations of the people of Preston, South to a European Assembly? In what way will that Assembly be able to respond to the demands of the people of Preston?
§ Dr. Colin Phipps (Dudley, West)
I agree with the point that my hon. Friend is making, particularly in respect of this Parliament. Does he agree that the fact that the European Parliament will not have an Executive which is part of that Parliament will enable individual Members of that Parliament to be a good 166 deal freer than Labour Back Benchers are in the House of Commons?
§ Mr. Thorne
The essence of what my hon. Friend is saying is that the European Assembly is completely irrelevant. It will clearly not involve Members in the decision-making process on matters of broad policy that will affect the people of Britain should we become a full member of the Community. [HON. MEMBERS: "We are."] The European Commission is the decision-making body on matters of policy.
§ Mr. Eric Ogden (Liverpool, West Derby)
Surely my hon. Friend is aware that Britain is a full member of the Community and has been for many years and that the British people have decided that they want to remain full members.
§ Mr. Thorne
It depends on how one interprets the word "full". The majority of people in Preston wish that it were empty instead of full. They are certainly not full members in the sense that my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden) may be.
The Government must explain how people in Preston, Lancashire and the rest of the United Kingdom are to be represented in the European Assembly in a way that will permit them to influence the decisions taken in the Assembly. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House of Commons could give us an extremely erudite explanation of how we in this Chamber can ensure that we fulfil our rôle as representatives of the people. However, I always find it almost impossible to influence the Leader of the House and the Government about what the people in my constituency consider to be priorities.
I may not have the eloquence of the hon. Member for Lancaster (Mrs. Kellett-Bowman) or as loud a voice as hers. I do not know whether she has a greater impact on my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House than I have.
In an informed democracy in which people participate in making choices—in this case electing representatives to the Assembly—the electorate must be informed about the issues that the Assembly will decide. Nothing in the referendum gave the electorate a clear exposition of the rôle of the Assembly 167 or details of the way in which the elections to the Assembly would be conducted. They were certainly not informed about how their lives would be affected by the Assembly on matters such as housing, health, jobs and economic prospects. Many promises were made.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson) indicated on many occasions that membership of the EEC in some way meant that a bonanza was not far round the corner. The people in my constituency are still waiting for that bonanza. All that they have had so far are increased food prices and the feeling that the inflation from which this country has suffered is in some degree a product of our membership of the EEC. There is an increasing recognition that the pricing policies that determine the prices paid in some supermarkets are fixed by some of the multinational companies that were so anxious for Britain to become part of the EEC. I hope that I am not distracting you, Sir Myer.
§ The First Deputy Chairman (Sir Myer Galpern)
I have been listening carefully to what the hon. Gentleman has been saying. Unfortunately, most of it was irrelevant and out of order.
§ Mr. Thorne
I am sure that if what I have been saying had been out of order, Sir Myer, you would have pointed that out to me earlier, with your usual speed.
§ Mr. Thorne
I only hope that some of my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Government Front Bench are also in that sort of mood, Sir Myer.
I understand that the Whips wish us to proceed to another vote, but other hon. Members still wish to take part in the debate. Therefore, it is only right that I should finish my speech. The very notion of our being involved in representing the people through a European Assembly seems to me a total absurdity. I am sure that we shall succeed in mobilising a substantial vote against the clause.
§ 9.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Lee
A chance remark of my right hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. 168 Stewart) prompted me to take part in the debate. My right hon. Friend pointed rather defensively to one of the dilemmas that he said confronted the makers of that extraordinary organisation, the European Economic Community. He said that the dilemma was that if the representation of this country was made adequate in relation to that of the smaller countries, such as Luxembourg, the Assembly would be too large, and that if one tried to scale it down to avoid that but still preserve the proper respective degrees of proportion as between the larger and smaller countries, the representation of such countries as Luxembourg would disappear or would be reduced to a fraction of a person.
I see in the Statesman's Year-Book that:The European Parliament consists of 198 members delegated by the 9 national Parliaments. The EEC Treaty provides for the direct election of its members, and on 20 Sept. 1976 the Council of Ministers agreed that direct elections should be held, if possible in May or June 1978, for an enlarged Parliament of 410 seats. The Parliament has to be consulted over the annual budgets of the 3 Communities and a wide range of other matters.It goes on to describe the way in which, for example, the Commission can be dismissed.
Before we decide whether it is right to allow the clause to stand part of the Bill, it must surely be right to consider what the position would be if, amongst other things, all the other members of Europe in the geographical sense were to become affiliated to this organisation. For example, what would be the representation of the Soviet Union or, to take the other extreme, of Vatican City? That might be said to be a combination of Reds and, as the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) would say, red socks.
My right hon. Friend spoke about the imaginative representation of Luxembourg. What would be the position if we were to do justice to those very small communities that might one day choose to affiliate, if San Marino, Monaco, Lichtenstein or Andorra were silly enough to do so, to take just a few examples?
That is not the only problem. At the other end of the scale there are still quite a number of sizeable countries whose representation would be bound to 169 diminish our influence within the Community as the years went by. It may be said that it is unrealistic to think of the affiliation of the Soviet Union, Romania, Poland or Hungary, at any rate for many years to come, but it is possible that a less wise electorate in Norway or Sweden might one day reverse the sensible decisions taken hitherto to have nothing to do with the EEC. They might be joined in time, perhaps, by Yugoslavia. One does not know, but it is a possibility. Austria, Switzerland and Iceland are all possible candidates and every time that there was an affiliation of a fresh body of persons—to say nothing of the present three likely candidates—our ability to influence the Assembly and the strength of our so-called representation would be correspondingly reduced.
Not a word has been said by the Minister by way of a promise that in such an eventuality there would be an attempt to increase our representation to safeguard our interests. I suspect that the reason for that is that the Government know perfectly well that we would not get a look in and that nobody would listen to us if we attempted to increase our representation so as to safeguard ourselves against dilution.
I mention all that by way of preliminary observations, but I now turn to something that has not been mentioned so far. I left the Chamber briefly after the abysmal speech of the hon. Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke)—and I must say that anyone who is of his view about this House, who wants to see our powers siphoned away, makes we wonder why on earth he ever wanted to be elected. I would not want to be a member of an Assembly that had been whittled down in the way that the hon. Gentleman was content to envisage. I hear an hon. Friend behind me say that I should therefore vote against devolution. I hope that he will join me in voting against this Bill. At least with devolution it would remain possible for Parliament one day—should there be a change in the climate of opinion—to revoke the Assemblies by statute. However, while we are affiliated to the European Community it may well be that the time will come when it will no longer be possible for us to leave. I hope that my hon. Friend will bear that in mind. I have no particular enthusiasm for the Scotland or Wales Bills, but at 170 least they are somewhat less irrevocably offensive than this piece of legislation.
All this brings me to the subject of the right hon. Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Prentice). I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman is not here tonight, but he has gone through two Pauline conversions during the last two years and they are the principal reason for my intervention tonight. Until March 1975 the right hon. Gentleman was a fervent anti-Marketeer. I have had all his speeches on the subject collected by the Library and I intend to send them to any Conservative association silly enough to consider selecting him and, if he is selected, to his Labour opponents, too. They are useful and powerful speeches.
In March 1975 the right hon. Gentleman went through a peculiar emotional convolution and found himself on the side of the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) and others of his ilk. A few months ago, having gone through a transitory "Taverne" phase, the right hon. Gentleman went right over and joined the Tory Party—which he was fully entitled to do. It would have been more sensible had he done that some time ago and preferably before the October 1974 election.
I ask what would be the position of a so-called representative. If one looks at the term "representative" in the clause, one finds that he would be representing possibly 250,000 to 600,000 people. What would happen if his political beliefs underwent the kind of Pauline conversion that afflicted the right hon. Member and he gave his allegiance to the other side?
It has always been said that Members of the House of Commons are representatives in contradistinction to delegates and that we are not mandated. I am not sure that that is entirely correct, and I should have thought that there were limits to which the properties of the situation permitted it. There have been plenty of occasions when hon. Members, having changed their political affiliation, have thought it appropriate to resign. There is the celebrated example of that remarkable political chameleon, the late Lord Jowitt, who was elected as a Liberal in 1929 and within days had accepted the post of Attorney-General in the Labour Government—not a difficult task; we have had Shawcross since then, so 171 anything goes. Within days he had joined the Government.
§ Mr. Lee
Loth as I am to stop the hon. Lady's solo cabaret performance, we had better get on with discussing this subject.
Sir William Jowitt was elected as a Liberal on 30th May 1929 and within days he had joined the Labour Party. He performed the one honourable act in the whole of his tortuous political career by promptly resigning his seat and standing for re-election. The integrity of the Preston constituency was preserved. The electors of Preston, with their usual wisdom, took a step further to the Left, at least nominally, and elected him.
There was the example of the father of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy, who was an advanced Liberal in the 1920s. He represented, I think, Leith, or Aberdeen, North. When he decided to join the Labour Party, he, too, honourably resigned his seat. He was not re-elected immediately; he had to wait in the wilderness for some time until he obtained another constituency for which he was elected. Therefore, the basic representational character of the constituency was preserved; its integrity was intact.
I want to know what the Government's intentions are concerning representatives in the European Parliament. What happens if they change sides? Is it not right that we should consider the position? It is one thing for a Member to be thrown out. That has happened to all sorts of good people, including the Leader of the House. Perhaps it will happen to me before I leave Parliament if I try hard enough. It is quite another thing for a Member, putting himself forward as a representative—
§ The First Deputy Chairman
Order. The hon. Gentleman is going too wide. He is discussing the morality of individuals and whether they should remain Members having changed their political allegiance. The hon. Gentleman should not go into that matter in great depth, as he is doing.
§ Mr. Lee
I am not making a personal attack on the right hon. Member for Newham, North-East. He is doing the same as many others have done. I am concerned about the effect of changed political allegiance on the mandatory principle as applied to the Assembly. Nothing has been said to enlighten us on that subject. Nothing has been said by way of amendment to the Bill. No new clause has been tabled to give us instruction. How can we take action in these matters?
§ The First Deputy Chairman
Order. The hon. Gentleman can do so by simply tabling a new clause or an amendment, if he desires to do so.
§ It being Ten o'clock, THE CHAIRMAN left the Chair to report Progress and ask leave to sit again.
§ Committee report Progress.