HC Deb 02 February 1977 vol 925 cc548-50
40. Mr. Spearing

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he is satisfied with the current arrangements for public notification of documents published by the various parts and agencies of the EEC.

Dr. Owen

No, and in an effort to improve the situation the Government have decided to publish lists of EEC documents in the London Gazette. This arrangement will be introduced shortly.

Mr. Spearing

While thanking my right hon. Friend for the arrangements he is making, may I ask him to comment on the documents emanating from the Council of Ministers? Since it is a legislative body, is it not possible for it to issue minutes of proceedings as we do in this House? If that is not done, does it not put into question the democratic nature of the EEC? Will my right hon. Friend make arrangements to ensure that decisions are published and made public?

Dr. Owen

All legislation that is agreed by the Council of Ministers is published. But the Council of Ministers is not simply a legislative Chamber. In some senses it is also a Cabinet. Even in these days of open government we do not release Cabinet minutes for general circulation—and I am in favour of our not doing so.

Mrs. Winifred Ewing

Since the Cabinet does not legislate and since the Council of Ministers does, is not the whole problem that the Council of Ministers operates behind a curtain of silence and is closed to the Press and the public even when it is carrying out its legislative functions? Is it not the case that it does not allow Members of the European Parliament to attend even when the subject is relevant to a particular committee? Is it not time that this curtain of silence was pulled down?

Dr. Owen

This is a difficult issue. If it were possible to make a definite separation between the legislative function and the Cabinet decision-making function it would be easy to do, but it is difficult to make that separation.

Mr. Budgen

Does the Minister agree that the first thing that must be done in respect of the European institutions is to define and limit the rôle and functions of the European Assembly? Does he agree that it is clear, for instance, from the speech of Mr. Roy Jenkins in Luxembourg on 11th January that no one has an agreed or clear idea of what the European Assembly should do, and, indeed, that until there is such a redefinition of the functions and the rôle of that Assembly there should be no direct elections to it?

Dr. Owen

The speech of the President of the Commission is a matter for him. There are many different views about the rôle and functions of the European Parliament, or Assembly. However, one thing is quite clear. That is that the mere fact of introducing direct elections carries with it no commitment to any change in its existing powers.

Mr. Fernyhough

What does my right hon. Friend think will be the cost to this country of direct elections? Will he take it from me, in view of the cuts that have recently been made in education and social services, that the money would be much better spent in my constituency of Jarrow?

Mr. Ernest G. Perry

And in Battersea, South.

Dr. Owen

I am afraid that I am not able to give my right hon. Friend an estimate of the cost of European elections. One of the matters that the House will wish to discuss is the whole question of financing and what financial arrangements may need to be made concerning European elections. However, I shall give as much information as I can to the House.

Rear-Admiral Morgan-Miles

Follow. the reply given to my right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) a moment ago, may I ask whether the Government will arrange for a document to be issued explaining where the President thinks that the greatest threat to Europe comes from, because that surely is the basis on which defence in Europe must primarily depend?

Dr. Owen

Did the hon. and gallant Gentleman say "Where does the President feel that the greatest threat is?" The Government are always making clear their views on the threats to both the security of this country and the NATO Alliance, and the traditional way of dealing with that matter is in the annual Defence White Paper.