HC Deb 02 February 1977 vol 925 cc543-5
36. Mr. Arnold

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what plans he has to seek a reform of the procedures of the European Council.

Mr. Crosland

The European Council has no formal procedures. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will no doubt consider a little nearer the time how he will wish to conduct the first European Council meeting under his chairmanship which will be held in Rome on 25th and 26th March.

Mr. Arnold

To what extent will it be possible to ensure that any changes which take place during the next five months will outlive our own tenure of the Presidency? In view of the distinct possibility of enlargement of the EEC, is there not an argument for an amendment to the Treaty to simplify the procedures and eliminate a lot of the detail which is still going to the Council of Ministers?

Mr. Crosland

I certainly agree that much too much detail has been going through to the Council of Ministers as opposed to the European Council. One of my objectives has been to cut down the detail and to confine the agenda to important matters.

Regarding the European Council, I hope that any changes will outlast our Presidency. At the last meeting of the European Council at The Hague at the end of November and the beginning of December, there was great dissatisfaction on the part of everybody present about the rambling quality of the discussions that we had and the inadequate preparation that had been made of the agenda.

Mr. Gould

What progress has been made in instituting a fundamental review of the rules of the Council secretariat and of the Commission?

Mr. Crosland

It is early days to say that great progress has been made. The Presidents of both the Council and the Commission are dissatisfied with the nature of the preparation that goes on for meetings of different kinds inside the Community. It will take a little time to conduct a fundamental review.

Mr. Hurd

Will the Foreign Secretary follow up the encouraging reply that he gave on direct elections and assure us that by the time the Prime Minister goes to the European Council meeting in Rome and takes the chair he will be able to show our colleagues in Europe a Bill which has been introduced into this House and so dispel the fears that it might be Britain alone that disrupts this move towards European parliamentary democracy?

Mr. Crosland

I am sure that those fears can be allayed. The timing is for my right hon. Friend the Lord President, and it partly depends upon the timing of the Bill which we were discussing until 6 o'clock this morning.

Mr. Heffer

Once again, may I draw to the attention of my right hon. Friend the decision of the Labour Party Conference on direct elections? Is he aware that the Labour Party Conference was totally opposed to the concept of direct elections? Will he bear that in mind? Does he not agree that there should be no rushing forward with a policy that has no real response from the Labour movement in this country?

Mr. Crosland

My hon. Friend knows that I am extremely well known for my total obeisance to Labour Party Conference decisions, and I noted that particular decision. But my hon. Friend is not quite right to say that the decision was accepted by an overwhelming majority. It was much closer than expected.