§ [FIRST DAY]
§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Mr. Speaker
Before I call the Secretary of State for the Home Department, I should inform the House that I have already had indicated to me that, so it seems to me, nearly half the House wishes to speak in this two-day debate. [HON. MEMBERS: "Where are they?"] I have no doubt that hon. Members have good reasons for not being in the Chamber until the debate begins. But I must warn right hon. and hon. Members that even if this were a four-day debate those who have written to me could not possibly all be called. This puts on those lucky enough to be called a greater responsibility for bearing in mind the needs of others.
§ 3.32 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Merlyn Rees)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
As you have indicated in your reference to the interest of hon. Members, Mr. Speaker, this Bill is a major constitutional measure. It concerns a new type of election, since never before in the history of Europe have nine States proposed to hold elections in the same body at the same time. It embodies a new electoral system, since, if the House approves the regional list system, it will be the first time that an election has been held throughout the United Kingdom on the basis of proportional representation.
Fundamental constitutional issues are involved. We have to decide whether to participate in elections to a body outside this country. We have to decide the electoral system to be used. We have to decide the detailed procedures of the election. On all these matters it is for this House to decide.
The consequences of our decisions will be substantial. They include the manner in which our electorate and our political parties will conduct the election and the whole relationship between the directly elected member of the European 1251 Assembly and his region and, indeed, this Parliament. The House will wish to give all these matters full and careful consideration.
The Bill seeks to give effect to the decison of the Council of the European Communities, agreed on 20th September 1976, when Her Majesty's Government undertook to use their best endeavours to be ready for direct elections to the European Assembly by May-June 1978. The Bill was anticipated in the Queen's Speech of November 1976, which contained a commitment to introduce the necessary legislation in the current Session of Parliament.
The Government accept Britain's membership of the European Community as endorsed by the British electorate in the decisive referendum of 1975. From time to time we need to re-examine the nature and role of the institutions of the European Community.
The Government accept that the Community is a developing one and that it is right that we should now move towards direct elections to the European Assembly. After 19 years of nominating members of the Assembly from the national legislatures of the member States, the time has now come to provide for direct elections on the basis of universal suffrage. At the time of the refrendum campaign the non-democratic nature of the European Assembly was rightly criticised and direct elections will provide a new accountability of the Members to their local electorates.
§ Mr. Rees
Not all these issues were written into the collective or individual manifestos. Nevertheless, the issue of direct elections was discussed at the time, and in any event now is the chance to discuss it in the place where the decisions will be taken—here.
I should emphasise that these direct elections are being conducted on the basis of the present limited powers of the European Assembly. No increase in those powers is possible without the unanimous consent of all nine member States of the Community, and that would involve the express approval of this Parliament.
The many issues involved in direct elections have already been the subject 1252 of much examination and discussion. The Government published a Green Paper in February 1976, the Select Committee has produced three reports, and there was a White Paper this April. The issues are clear and will be spelled out in this debate. The time has now come for decision, and it is for Parliament to decide.
§ Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)
My right hon. Friend has now stressed twice that it is for Parliament to decide and that the issues must be discussed at considerable length, and so on. Will he give an assurance that at no time during the passage of this Bill will there be an attempt by anyone, across the Floor or otherwise, to bring in a guillotine motion?
§ Mr. Rees
On that issue I think that it would be as well to wait and see where we get on the Bill.
Besides the principle of direct elections, which will be decided by the vote at the end of this Second Reading debate, the central issue in the Bill is the electoral method to be used. That White Paper outlined three possible methods—the simple majority system, the regional list system, and the single transferable vote.
The debates in the House on the White Paper, which took place on 20th and 25th April, made it clear that there was very little support for STV but significant support for both the simple majority system and the regional list system, and the Bill enables the House to make a clear choice between these two systems. Before I describe the detailed provisions of the Bill, I should explain the procedure for making the choice of electoral system and the Government's recommendation.
Clause 3(1) provides that the method of election should be the regional list system. At that point in the proceedings the House will be able to debate and vote on which electoral system is to be used. Clause 3(2) is simply a procedural device for enabling two contradictory methods of election to be contained in the same Bill and for that Bill still to make sense. The Government felt—and it was brought out during the debate in April—that the House could make an informed decision on the electoral system to be used only if it could see, in detailed 1253 legislative terms, precisely what would be involved in each case, rather than vote without benefit of the Bill before it. Indeed, the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) made the point that decisions of this kind should only be taken when the broad panoply of the Bill could be seen and not in isolation.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)
Is it the intention of the Government to bring in at the appropriate stage a motion that would enable the question to be deferred until the House has been able in detail to examine the two systems? Otherwise we appear to be in the absurd position of taking a decision between one or the other, at any rate for one or the other, without the opportunity in detail to examine the implications.
§ Mr. Rees
It is certainly the Government's intention that the decision should be taken. That is why the Bill was drawn up in the way that it was with regard to Part I and Clause 3. Without any commitment, I should be happy to listen to any arguments that are put forward, because there is no doubt that the major issue inside the Bill—once principle is decided—is the method of election. I shall certainly listen to the arguments put forward in the next two days and consider them.
§ Mr. John Mendelson (Penistone)
In spite of the scoffing that we have heard, can my right hon. Friend explain the reason for putting two proposals into the Bill for consideration? Can my right hon. Friend say by what authority the Government make their recommendation in favour of PR? Has the Labour Party or any other political party ever been consulted? My right hon. Friend has talked about the authority of the manifesto with regard to the principle of the Bill. Where is the authority for PR?
§ Mr. Rees
My hon. Friend asks a perfectly proper question, but at the end of the day it is for Governments in this House to decide what it is that they are putting for decision. Of course, it is this House that will decide and at the end of the day all of us are responsible to the electorate for the decisions that we take.
§ Sir Anthony Royle (Richmond, Surrey)
Will the right hon. Gentleman give an 1254 assurance that the House will have an opportunity to press the Secretary of State to set up the Boundary Commission to look into the prospects of starting work on the boundaries for the first-past-the-post system so that when the vote takes place between the systems there is still the possibility of having the first-past-the-post system as well as PR?
§ Mr. Rees
I shall listen carefully to what the hon. Gentleman says in" the debate. I shall come to the question of timing in a moment, because it is right that I should deal not only with PR but with the first-past-the-post system as well as the Boundary Commission's proposals.
Whatever the decision of the House, the Government will then move the necessary amendments to remove from the Bill all references to the electoral system not favoured by the House. The procedural device in Clause 3(2) will have served its purpose and will also be deleted.
The Government recommend to the House acceptance of the regional list system set out in Part II and Schedules 3, 4 and 5 of the Bill. Whilst I acknowledge that support—indeed, I have no option—for such a system is, of course, an important step in favour of proportionality, I want to emphasise that our support for a proportional representation system of election can only extend to this particular election to this particular body.
Although the European Community intends to move towards a common electoral system for all member States, this is likely to take some time. It has to be remembered it took the Community 20 years to reach the likelihood of direct elections at all. Britain will, of course, have every opportunity to express its view on the common system to be adopted in future. [HON. MEMBERS: "In the next 20 years."] Hon. Members say "In the next 20 years". That is repeating what I have said, and I am grateful for that support. The simple majority system, with STV in Northern Ireland, is set out in Schedules 1 and 2 of the Bill.
There would be a total of 79 new single-Member constituencies—66 for England, eight for Scotland and four for Wales— and these would be drawn up by the respective Parliamentary Boundary Commissions. Each Boundary Commission would be required to draw up these new Assembly constituencies by grouping 1255 together whole parliamentary constituencies in such a way that the electorate of each Assembly constituency was as near the electoral quota as reasonably practicable having regard, where appropriate, to special geographical considerations.
The Boundary Commission procedures set out in Schedule 2 follow option B of paragraph 30 of the White Paper, which we discussed some months ago. This provides for one round of representations but no local inquiries for the initial division into Assembly constituencies and in evidence to the Select Committee the Boundary Commission suggested that, from the time of Royal Assent up to the submission of its reports, this option would take a minimum of 18 weeks.
The hon. Member for Richmond, Surrey (Sir A. Royle) referred to timing. I shall consider this very carefully. But as a Junior Minister I recall this House interfering with Boundary Commission procedures. If it is the case that the House should decide to proceed with the new constituency arrangements in advance of the final decision of the House, that would be a profound change in the whole principle of Boundary Commission procedures. Nevertheless, whether or not there is any argument in this respect which can be put forward, I would simply say that, whatever the best intentions the House itself never seemed to take very kindly to interfering with well-set procedures of the past.
§ Mr. Gwynfor Evans (Carmarthen)
Is the House to deduce that the whole of Wales will have only four representatives in this Parliament compared with six for Luxembourg and 14 for the Republic of Ireland? Is that the case?
§ Mr. Rees
That is the case and as a Welshman born and bred I am glad that it is, because we are part of the United Kingdom. Wales is not independent and the people of Wales do not want to be independent. We are not Luxembourg or the Republic of Ireland. We are Wales, proudly part of the United Kingdom.
Northern Ireland would use STV and there would be a single three-member constituency, so no boundary procedures would be necessary.
I now turn to the regional list system. In arriving at their recommendation of 1256 the regional list system the Government have been guided by the following considerations. [HON. MEMBERS: "The Liberals."] It may well prove that there are a substantial number of hon. Members from the official Opposition who are in favour of the regional list system. We ought to wait and see before hon. Members start to make deductions, however relevant they may be.
First, the regional list system is liable to produce a British delegation to the European Assembly which is more representative of electoral opinion than would be the case with the simple majority system. Our traditional simple majority system has considerable strengths and virtues. It is one that is firmly rooted in the Westminster arrangements and, of course, underpins all that the Government believe about the form of government for Westminster.
However, one of the characteristics of a simple majority system is its tendency to exaggerate swings in electoral opinion. We all know that. In an election for the European Assembly where there are only 81 seats as opposed to 635 this tendency would be much exaggerated.
Without the use of a proportional representation electoral system for the European Assembly, it might be that there would be such a wide divergence between the balance of power at Westminster and the party composition of the British delegation to the European Assembly that there would be a real danger of friction between the Government at Westminster and our representatives in Europe. Furthermore, the credibility of the British delegation in the European Assembly might well be undermined by such a result.
However appropriate the simple majority system is for elections to Westminster, it is important to recognise that the European Assembly is different. It is not a legislature. It does not provide a Government. Its members do not have the same constituency responsibilities as Westminster MPs.
In this context, therefore, the regional list system actually demonstrates by itself that the European Assembly is different from our national Parliament, and thus different methods of election are appropriate in this case.
1257 If the House does not accept the Government's recommendation on a regional list system and instead supports the simple majority system, the Government nevertheless believe that Northern Ireland should use a system of proportional representation. Since the single transferable vote has been used for local government, Assembly and Convention elections there since 1973, we believe that STV with Northern Ireland as one three-member constituency should be used.
§ Mr. Powell
Will the Secretary of State agree that one essential difference between the assemblies that he has just mentioned and either this House or the European Parliament is that all those assemblies are bodies that are limited in powers and extent to Northern Ireland?
§ Mr. Rees
I understand that the right hon. Gentleman's experience in Northern Ireland is based on the fact that, unlike some of us, he has been elected in Northern Ireland. With this experience he must agree that Northern Ireland is different, and the special circumstances there make it appropriate for direct elections in Northern Ireland to be conducted by a system of PR, whatever is decided for the remainder of the United Kingdom. Therefore, Schedule 1 provides for STV for Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Heffer
This is a very important point. This is a one-off election. Whatever we decide—whether it be the first-past-the-post system or a regional list— is for one time only. What will happen to Northern Ireland after that? What will happen to our own system when it becomes submerged in a uniform system?
§ Mr. Tim Renton (Mid-Sussex)
Will the Secretary of State confirm that with the regional list system it would be perfectly possible for an individual candidate to receive the most votes in his region but not to be elected because his party had not received a sufficient percentage of the total? Is that satisfactory?
§ Mr. Rees
Certainly that is the case, because under the system one is voting for a party and within that party people can vote for an individual. If the hon. Member wishes to swap curiosities of what might happen he could take an extreme situation in the first-past-the-post system. It would be possible if there were sufficient candidates for someone to be elected and not have a majority of votes. In Committee we can swap these oddities. Basically the system is that proportional representation is for the party, and the voter can decide on the individual within that party.
§ Mr. Nick Budgen (Wolverhampton, South-West) rose—
§ Mr. Rees
I shall not give way. There will be a Committee stage when we can proceed on these matters.
The details of the simple majority system are familiar to the House but the regional system is new to us all. This afternoon I simply wish to explain the principal features of the system. It is an electoral system designed for a particular election in a particular country and it has been evolved to meet our own special requirements.
The 12 electoral regions to be used— specified in Clause 4 and Schedule 3— are well-known economic planning regions, with one exception. South-East England, which would be entitled to 24 out of the 81 seats, has been divided into two by separating the Greater London Council area from the remainder. The number of seats allocated to England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland— specified in Clause 2—is as recommended by the Select Commitee and the number of seats allocated to the nine English regions—specified in Schedule 3 —is on the basis of electorate.
Clause 5 provides that those eligible to vote in direct elections will be those eligible to vote in Westminster elections, plus peers.
§ Mr. David Price (Eastleigh)
Will the Secretary of State accept that the proposal for the South-East Region, in terms of identification with Members, is electoral nonsense? To put my people in Southampton with those in Bedfordshire and Essex is nonsense.
§ Mr. Rees
I have no doubt that these arguments will be deployed in Committee and we shall listen to them with interest.
Clause 9 provides that, apart from certain Community limitations, those eligible to stand for election will be those eligible to stand for the House of Commons, plus peers and clergy. There is no requirement that candidates should or should not be Westminster Members of Parliament. As set out in Schedule 4, each elector casts one vote for one named candidate.
A feature of proportional representation is that it uses multi-member constituencies so that the number of candidates in any one constituency or region can be substantial. If the names of the candidates are simply listed alphabetically the elector is faced with a formidable list and—as I know from my experience of STV in Northern Ireland—there is an alphabetic advantage to candidates at the top of such a long ballot paper. Consequently, the Government have designed a new form of ballot paper for the regional list system and this is set out in the appendix to Schedule 4.
The titles of the competing political parties are listed alphabetically and vertically and then, under each party description are listed that party's candidates alphabetically but horizontally. This form of ballot paper will be easier for the elector and it should reduce substantially any alphabetic advantage.
The total votes cast for all candidates of each party in a region is calculated and the parties are allocated seats in that region in proportion to their total share of the poll in that region. The procedure for allocating the seats is described in Rule 50 of Schedule 4 and is known as the highest average principle.
The first seat goes to the party with the largest total number of votes. A calculation is then made as to the average number of votes per seat in the case of each party if the second seat were given to that party. The party which would have the highest average number of votes per seat is allocated the second seat.
§ Mr. Rees
Yes, it is very simple and it can be clearly understood by anyone who applies his mind to it.
1260 The procedure is repeated until all the seats in that region are allocated among the parties. The principle is clear, namely, that at any given stage of the allocation the party that gains the seat is that party which at that point would have the highest average vote per seat.
§ Mr. Alexander W. Lyon (York)
Is my right hon. Friend aware that this crystal-clear system could create a situation in which two candidates for one party — say, independents — find themselves in a situation in which one of them gets an overwhelming majority of votes and the second is then elected, even though the number of votes cast in his or her favour may not even be half as many as those cast for the first?
§ Mr. Rees
Precisely. But the elector will be voting for a party. There are oddities in the system, but there are oddities in all systems and this must be taken into account. Once the number of seats has been won it is up to each party to determine that these are given to individual candidates with the highest number of votes.
§ Mr. Mike Thomas (Newcastle upon Tyne, East)
I shall try to help my right hon. Friend, because I appreciate his problems. I am not ill-disposed to the regional list system. Will he accept that the ballot paper he proposes with the problems involving the alphabetical order of candidates to determine the personal vote will cause difficuties? For example, would not the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson), be at a disadvantage because he would be at the right hand side of the ballot paper and would receive fewer votes than somebody whose name happened to be "Albertson"?
§ Mr. Rees
It is better in my view to have the names on a ballot paper set out 1261 horizontally rather than vertically. As I have said, these matters are better argued in Committee than in a Second Reading debate.
One problem with any PR system is the filling of vacancies. If conventional by-elections are held, the turnout is liable to be low because the multi-member constituency is geographically very large and the result is not proportional because only one seat is at stake and the largest party in the region wins it.
In Clause 7 and Schedule 5 the Government have set out our recommendations as to how this situation can be dealt with. If the House decides to accept the recommendation on the regional list, the best place to investigate the subject is in Committee, because it is appropriate that it should be done that way. Considerable thought has been given to the matter and the House will find that Schedules 3, 4 and 5 provide a sensible and well-thought-out scheme for giving effect to that division.
This is a major constitutional Bill. The decisions which the House takes on the Bill may well in practice decide whether and when the first direct elections to the European Assembly are held—not just in Britain, but throughout all nine member States of the European Community. Our decisions will shape the composition and standing of the British representatives in the directly elected European Assembly. We are in Europe to stay and it is time that this House put its mind to elections for the European Assembly.
I commend to the House the Bill and the Government's recommendation of the regional list system. This is a matter for the House to decide, and I hope that all parties will make their decision, because it is important for individual Members to express on major issues their belief in the future. That is the way we shall proceed.
§ 4.13 p.m.
§ Mr. John Davies (Knutsford)
The Home Secretary has repeatedly said that this a major constitutional issue, and I do not disagree with that view. I strongly commend to my Conservative colleagues, and indeed I commend to the House, that we should respond to that issue of principle by giving a clear and positive 1262 answer. We should say "Yes" to that principle, and we should do so despite deep and understandable misgivings about the contents of the Bill.
What the Home Secretary said about the contents of the Bill did very little to relieve those misgivings. Indeed, I fear that it has somewhat accentuated them. The misgivings concern both the circumstances in which the Bill is introduced to the House and the construction of the Bill itself. I shall say a little more later about both those questions, but I should like first to underline the fact that the Conservative Party on this and on allied matters has proved throughout to have been absolutely consistent. I have confidence that it will be consistent today.
The Conservative Party believes in a European future. We have said so repeatedly when this subject has been debated. I know that our party has a minimal number of dissenters on that principle, but I am sure that on this occasion the Conservative Party will make absolutely clear to the House and to the country its assent to the purpose which this Bill seeks to serve.
§ Mr. Heffer rose—
§ Mr. Davies
I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman in due course when I have got a little further in my remarks. We should bear in mind Mr. Speaker's request to the House.
§ Mr. Davies
I shall come to the hon. Gentleman shortly.
There is a need, despite all the reservations that may exist, for the vast majority of the House to express itself profoundly in favour of the purposes of the Bill, because I believe that direct elections to the European Parliament are the next step in the evolution of a truly democratic Community. I believe that that is the essential underlying purpose with which we are now concerned. We have a Community which still needs the full infusion of a democratic process which direct elections to the European Parliament alone can provide.
I hope that the view of the Conservative Party, and indeed of this House, will be clear and vivid. Equally, I hope that it will be uncompromised by political 1263 opportunism or short-term expediency which may exist elsewhere.
§ Mr. Heffer
The right hon. Gentleman is making a good deal out of his party's attitude on this matter. Is he saying that there will not be a free vote among Conservatives on this Bill?
§ Mr. Davies
The issue of the free vote on the electoral system has already been made abundantly clear by me on a previous occasion. On the Bill itself, I believe that it is the will of the party that we should vote as unanimously as we can. In saying that, I make reasonable provision—and the House can chatter as it will—for individuals who for a very long time have consistently held a different viewpoint. I respect that viewpoint. I do not, and could not, share it, but I could not at this moment of time expect them to dissent from a view which they have long expressed on these occasions. But they are few in number—unlike the situation with which the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) is confronted on the Labour Benches.
§ Mr. Norman Tebbit (Chingford)
Is my right hon. Friend saying that he wants the party tomorrow night to vote as nearly unanimously as possible for what he agrees is a bad Bill, and that it will then be quite all right for everybody to go his own way in putting right the defects in that bad Bill?
§ Mr. Davies
I am sure that when we reach the Committee stage—and when that will be we do not know—there will be a very large number of views which may indeed cause a split among many of us within our own parties. But on the issue of principle with which we are today concerned—and that is the issue whether we do or do not wish to elect our parliamentarians to go to Europe to represent us—I hope and believe that there will be no dissent in our party other than from those who for many years have expressed that dissent.
I speak first of the objections to the circumstances in which the Bill has been introduced. The truth is that for virtually 18 months we have seen a great deal of procrastination, deferment, and evasion by the Government in seeking to handle the system. It is nine months since the decision of principle was taken to which the Home Secretary referred, despite at 1264 that time the majority decision of the Labour Party Conference. But as a result there was a clear and unequivocal statement by the then Foreign Secretary, Mr. Anthony Crosland, who is now, unfortunately, dead.
The trouble was that that decision, so clearly announced and shared with our partners in Europe, has since become debased—as has the expression to which the Labour Government then lent their names, which was to use their best endeavours to procure that these elections should take place in May-June next year. We in the Conservative Party have consistently exerted pressure for the necessary Bill to give effect to that international undertaking. We have continually pressed both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the House to bring forward the necessary material on which the House could express its opinion, and the Government have equally persistently evaded doing so.
This process has taken many months. Most recently we had the production of what to most of us seemed a totally valueless White Paper at the beginning of April. It contained nothing new and posed no new considerations. In our view, it could be interpreted only as a wish once again to gain time.
Equally, we have constantly pressed for an early debate and an early decision to be taken by the House on the electoral method to be incorporated into the Bill. When these questions have been put to the Leader of the House, he has frequently responded by using his unquestionable talent to manipulate the House rather than to lead it in the way that his duty demands. The repeated assurances that the right hon. Gentleman gave in April, at the time of the White Paper debates, that the Bill would contain all the conclusions to be drawn from the debates held on 20th and 25th April, have been entirely betrayed by the Bill. Despite what the Home Secretary said, the Bill could not seriously be construed by anybody as a response to the debate on the White Paper. It is a response to something different—a response to the problems of political manoeuvring, not at all to the will of the House.
Now this much-delayed Bill has been submitted to the judgment of the House. But no one believes—and the Prime 1265 Minister has not sought to have us believe—that it is the Government's intention that the Bill should be passed into law this Session. The final humiliation for the Government, who integrally attached themselves to a Queen's Speech in which they declared their intention to introduce this legislation, is that there is now a relapse into the public fragmentation of the Cabinet before our eyes.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
Can the right hon. Gentleman tell me of any other country in Europe that has passed its legislation?
§ Mr. Davies
I have been closely in touch with each of the member countries in recent months. Not one of them, apart from ourselves, has any doubt about procuring the legislation necessary to have these elections on the due date in May-June 1978. It is idle for the Home Secretary to pretend that the same problems face other member countries as face us. It is not true. The Prime Minister gave his unqualified assurance, but unworthily he has failed to carry it through.
§ Mr. John Mendelson
The right hon. Gentleman has a record of being correct on his facts, whatever hon. Members may think about his conclusions. However, does he not accept that in the French Assembly only 21 days ago there was a majority against a European direct elections, which forced M. Barre and the President to have it passed on a motion which did not lead to a vote? There is no record in the French Assembly of a majority vote in favour of direct elections.
§ Mr. Davies
I accept, just the same, that as a result of the proposal to hold a vote of confidence the issue was then decided. What I said to the Home Secretary is correct. In France and the other member countries there are no obstacles to elections being held in May-June 1978, as there are here. Therefore, we alone hold the key for the Community as a whole on direct elections. I have made this subject a matter of profound study, and I am content that what I say is correct. I cannot accept that there is any question of any other country being faced with the kind of problems that we face.
§ Mr. Davies
Is it democracy for the Prime Minister to give our eight partners 1266 an assurance that he would try to use his best endeavours and then to show a total lack of action for nine months to give effect to it? That is not democracy. It is not the sort of democracy that we expect from a Prime Minister of this country.
§ The Prime Minister (Mr. James Callaghan)
As the right hon. Gentleman is challenging me, let me say that of course there are peculiar difficulties about this Parliament—of which I hope all hon. Members will be proud—which do not exist in the Parliaments of our neighbours. I have said many times that, because other countries do not have the system of first-past-the-post elections, because people there are constantly used to voting for the party and not for the individual, in most cases their problems are far less than ours.
However, it is for the House to decide. I hope that it will decide in favour of the Bill and the regional list system. But I have always made clear to our Continental partners that if there is one thing that I cannot do it is to command votes in this House in the way that they seem to be able to do in their Parliaments.
§ Mr. Davies
However, the right hon Gentleman need not have allowed nine months to elapse before allowing Parliament to have its say.
§ The Prime Minister
The delay has been part of the process of getting people to understand the necessity for this legislation. Persuading is part of democracy.
I begin to despair of any constitutional change—whether on devolution, reform of the House of Lords or direct elections— ever being able to get through this House without a guillotine.
§ Mr. Davies
Despite what the Prime Minister says, the impression that he has managed to create—and to create among people who do not necessarily have any ill-will on this subject—is one of persistent procrastination. When, at the end, the matter comes in the form of a Bill before the House, that Bill looks like a political document, used as a piece of the right hon. Gentleman's survival package, not at all as a means of achieving the purpose to which he is addressing himself.
Therefore, the whole responsibility for the delay, and for the problems that we now face in dealing with the delay rests 1267 squarely on the Government's shoulders and must not be transferred to Parliament. It is only now that Parliament has the opportunity to try to deal with it.
I come to the construction of the Bill. I was very interested in the Home Secretary's remarks. I found them strangely in contradiction of my own reading of the Bill. However, I am sure that he is much better advised than I can be.
In Clause 3(2) the Government are asking the House to pass into statutory form an arrangement which says:If after the passing of this Act the House of Commons by resolution so directs,various things will happen. The right hon. Gentleman said just now that that was not the Government's will. He said that before the Bill became an Act a decision should be taken on the alternatives offered in Clause 3. That represents something of a different form of words, at least, from that which seems to be in the Bill.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
I know that there are those who find this amusing, but the Government's view was that it would be better to have both alternatives clearly set out. The purpose of Clause 3(2) is purely procedural. The decision was taken on very firm advice that this was the only way to get two methods into one Bill. Once a decision has been taken one way or the other, Clause 3(2) falls from the Bill, and we then proceed with the method that we shall decide.
§ Mr. Davies
The most important question we have to ask the Home Secretary— he can reply now or it can be replied to later—is how that decision is to be taken. Is it the intention that the Government will put down amendments to their own Bill in order to allow us to take that decision? That is not implicit in the Bill as presented.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
Certainly we have an amendment ready. The Government favour the regional list system, but for the benefit of those who want to vote in another vein, we have an amendment drawn up, which we shall assist people to put down, and that will enable a decision to be taken under Clause 3.
§ Mr. David Price
Surely the House is to be asked to determine whether it is in favour of the regional list system 1268 before having a discussion on any alternative method. That is the first proposition, surely. These alternatives are not on level pegging. There will not be a broad debate and a decision on one method or the other. We have to decide first, surely, on the regional list method, voting either for or against it.
§ Mr. Davies
The form of drafting is unusual. It is, in fact, so unusual as to pose a great series of different questions in one's mind. I do not know whether my right hon. and hon. Friends are all perfectly clear about the Home Secretary's response. I am not. I freely admit that.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
Clause 3(2) is simply a procedural device and is there only to enable us to have the two methods in the Bill. That is all. If hon. Members will look carefully they will see that the regional list system and the first-past-the-post system are both in the Bill. We were advised that unless we used this device of having Clause 3(2) in the Bill, we could not do it. Once the House has decided on the method—and the Government recommend the regional list system —Clause 3(2) falls, and we proceed on the Bill that we want.
§ Mr. Davies
I still think that, rather than trying to analyse the matter in exchanges across the Floor, it might be better if the Home Secretary could suggest, to whoever is to speak later in the debate from the Government Front Bench, that it should be gone into more profoundly, because it is still unclear to us on what we are to vote in trying to procure the very decision of which the Home Secretary has spoken. Until that is clarified there will continue to be profound misgiving on how the Bill is intended to operate.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
It is our view that the vote on Clause 3(1) will be the occasion when the House will decide on the method of election with which it wishes to proceed.
§ Mr. Davies
I am bound to tell the Home Secretary that the words which still confuse us areafter the passing of this ActIs the Home Secretary saying that that is a procedural device and has no validity as a constituent part of the Bill? He may 1269 imagine that I am deliberately being difficult, but that is not so.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
It is a procedural device which is there only to enable us to have both methods in the Bill. Once a decision has been taken on the method, that part will fall. It is purely a procedural device.
§ Mr. Davies
It will be open to the House to reach a clear conclusion on this matter before getting to the remainder of the Bill, so to speak?
§ Mr. Robin Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton)
I think that what the Home Secretary has said is that we are to be invited to give a Second Reading to a Bill which he does not want to see passed in the form in which he is asking us to give it a Second Reading, on the undertaking that there will be an amendment, which will not be a Government amendment and which we shall not see until after we have given the Bill a Second Reading. That, I think, is the proposition which we are asked to accept.
§ Mr. Davies
If we persist with this point, I think that we shall only confuse ourselves still further. I have a feeling that the Home Secretary will realise that the matter still requires some clarification. No doubt he will arrange for that to be given.
The next question on the Bill as drafted is whether the alternative methods which are proposed to the House are valid alternatives. As we understand it—I referred to this earlier—it seems improbable that we shall proceed to finality with the Bill this Session. It seems likely that we shall have the Bill reintroduced at the beginning of the next Session. It seems extremely likely that the Bill will take a certain amount of time in its passage through the House. Are we to assume that at that time the Government will be content that they can still attain the target date of May-June 1978, or are we to understand that the Government have already abandoned that target date?
1270 It is important for us to know, because it is not impossible that a situation could arise in which one of the alternatives could still be feasible by the target date, whereas, by virtue of the lapse of time, it would simply not be practicable to bring the other into effect. We must know very clearly from the Home Secretary that he is not putting before the House a Bill which recites alternatives, one or other of which may prove in the end to be totally invalid, at least within the time frame which we are discussing.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
There are no Boundary Commission procedures with the regional list system. There are arguments, no doubt, about the planning regions, but this House would be stating what the electoral areas would be The White Paper—I think it was a valuable one—explained the position, and if the right hon. Gentleman had read it he would not have had to ask the questions he has asked today. The advice of the Boundary Commission is that on the other option it would take 18 weeks after the passage of the Bill. It is impossible for the Government to say how long the Bill would take to get through the House of Commons, because there are 635 experts on every clause. Undoubtedly with the regional list system one could move far more quickly than with the first-past-the-post system.
§ Mr. Davies
If that is so, perhaps the Home Secretary has considered already by which means he should immediately proceed in order to ensure that, when the Bill is passed, the alternatives are indeed valid alternatives. What steps has he taken and what intentions has he to ensure the validity of those alternatives?
§ Mr. Phillip Whitehead (Derby, North)
What is the attitude of the official Opposition to the question of contingency work by the Boundary Commission being started once the House has established which form of voting system is to be used?
§ Mr. Davies
The Home Secretary has the benefit of a very wide degree of advice on these matters, but I am doubtful of the statutory ability of the Boundary Commission to proceed in that way. But it would seem to me at least practical for the Home Secretary to find some method whereby he will not have 1271 to come to us in due course and say that, despite all the Government's good intentions, one of these systems is invalid and cannot be pursued. Before the end of the debate he must give some reply to that, because it is a matter which clearly exercises us all.
§ The Prime Minister
This only shows how wise I was to use the words "best endeavours". I have always explained to our Continental colleagues that we have a system of Boundary Commissioners and that, depending on how long it took and how many procedures we went through, this might make it impossible for us to make the target date in 1978. [Interrupton.] It will not be the end of the world if it is not 1978. I have always said to my colleagues on the Continent that it might have to be 1979 if the procedures were proper. But there is such a fundamental issue between the regional list and first-past-the-post systems that, since I have only used the phrase "best endeavours", we should not tie ourselves and say in all the circumstances that, because we have said that we shall try to meet the 1978 target, that must rule out any alternative system of election.
§ Mr. Davies
We welcome the Prime Minister's words. Equally, he underlines strongly what I said about the need to have proceeded earlier in order to try to achieve the target date. On the whole I think that we can take some comfort from the Prime Minister's remarks. It is an issue which has deeply worried us, and we now find ourselves faced with this dilemma.
§ Mr. Budgen
Will my right hon. Friend explain how important is the question of time to the official Opposition and whether it is the intention of the Opposition to assist the passage of the Bill through Parliament at some stage by whipping the Tory Party with a three-line Whip to support a guillotine motion?
§ Mr. Heffer
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Are we now in an extended Question Time, or is the right hon. Member for Knutsford (Mr. Davies) still making his speech?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Oscar Murton)
The Chair admits that the interventions are becoming fairly frequent. Perhaps it will be possible for the right 1272 hon. Member for Knutsford (Mr. Davies) to continue with fewer interruptions.
§ Mr. Davies
I hope that that might be so, though I think that some of the exchanges which have taken place produced necessary clarifications. Indeed, I am not entirely resentful that it was the hon. Member for Walton who happened to lead the band.
As for the remark by my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen), I think that, given that there is a clear indication that the Bill will not be proceeded with to finality during this Session, we have enough before us in dealing with it on Second Reading, and the issues that may subsequently emerge as a result of this or some other Bill being presented to us in a new session, will deserve further consideration at that time.
I am deeply glad that both the Government and my side of the House are to allow a free vote on the electoral system. I, for reasons which I shall not repeat, since they have been frequently alluded to, that I am not over-concerned as to which of the alternatives is adopted. I refer to the issue of the precedent involved which looms not so frighteningly in my mind as it does in the minds of others.
The one point on which I took slight issue with the Home Secretary was his rather indifferent attitude to the constituency responsibilities of hon. Members elected to the European Parliament. I think that those responsibilities will be substantial, and they therefore assume a real importance in terms of the attribution of Members to constituencies. For that important reason, and that there will not have to be two changes, I marginally prefer the first-past-the-post system to the other. But I freely admit that I do not regard this issue as being the essense of the problem.
In terms of the generalities of the broad purpose of the Bill, I believe that those who are deeply concerned by the sovereignty issues—I understand their concern—still do not understand the full nature of the difficulties and doubts that exist here and in member countries about the extension of the European Parliament's rights in the Community. In view of the constitutional obstacles which exist 1273 in France and Germany, to say nothing of those here to which the Home Secretary referred, the thought that the European Parliament will quickly change its fundamental powers and rights seems very remote. I do not rank that as a major issue.
Our failure to meet the target date would be regarded with great concern by our partners. There would be even greater concern if there were no firm, fixed alternative date available and if it were impossible to say when it will be. If that were the case the other members would regard us as a Britain which had let them severely down.
I once again call upon the whole House to give a resounding "Yes" to this Second Reading, and at the same time not to let the Government off without a severe reprimand for the delay with which we have been faced in dealing with what is, as the Home Secretary said, a vital constitutional issue.
§ 4.47 p.m.
§ Mr. David Steel (Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles)
Before I come to the technical intricacies of the Bill, I hope that it will be in order to make a passing reference to the principle. I, for one, welcome that principle. Whatever our views on the Common Market, we all have criticisms of that institution and its policies, particularly on agriculture, and we should all like to see improvements. But the biggest single improvement that I should like to see is that it should become more democratic and less bureaucratic.
I believe, therefore, that the advent of direct elections is extremely important. Indeed, the very concept of nine different nations joining together to elect members to a common Assembly for the first time in history ought to be rather exciting. I hope that we do not lose sight of that principle in the welter of detailed discussion that we naturally must have on the Bill.
Much has been made politically about the divisions in the Government on this question. I think that we should stop and take note that no European issue has been carried through this House except on a cross-party basis, irrespective of which party has been in power. It is not necessarily a bad thing, when we make constitutional decisions of this 1274 importance, that it is the votes of a free House of Commons that determine the matter.
It is only too easy to play up politically the divisions in the Government. The right hon. Member for Knutsford (Mr. Davies) indicated that there will be the right to dissent among members of his own party who have a long-standing antagonism to the Common Market. That is perfectly right and proper as well.
§ Mr. William Molloy (Ealing, North)
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will agree that not only should the parties in this House have time to consider and examine all that is involved but that all the various organisations in the country should have that time as well. This is the sort of thing that the right hon. Member for Knutsford (Mr. Davies) was clearly ignoring when he condemned the fact that we have had nine months to discuss this massive constitutional issue.
§ Mr. Steel
I do not dissent from that. As for Europe as a whole, every other member State has got over the difficulties —the two that had particular difficulties were France and Denmark—which were in their way to meeting a common election target for May or June of next year. It is for that reason that, in a sense, I slightly differed from the view expressed by the Prime Minister.
Although I accept that it is not the end of the world if we do not meet the deadline of 1978, it is important that we should try to meet that deadline. It would be a pity if this country were the one member out of step and therefore the one member that put the brake on the development of Europe on to a more democratic basis.
I, for one, make no bones about it. I am keen to see the May-June deadline of 1978 met by this country. For that reason, I hope that the Opposition will be prepared to assist the passage of the Bill. I dissent from the view of the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Gardiner), expressed in his article in The Daily Telegraph earlier this week, when he said that no harm would come from delaying until 1979, or even 1980, the need for direct elections. He went on to argue that the Treaty of Rome could be amended to meet the peculiarities of the British electoral system.
1275 That does not seem to reflect the speech that was made by the Leader of the Opposition in Rome about the Conservative Party's commitment to Europe. I hope that we shall see that commitment demonstrated in support of the legislation.
When it comes to the intricacies of the Bill, I declare my position immediately. I would much rather the Government had indicated their recommendation in the Bill—full stop—and that we were now facing a Bill with a regional list. However, those who dislike the regional list and who advocate the first-past-the-post system would have had legitimate grounds for complaint had that been done, so we can see that, difficult and tortuous though the Bill is, it is perfectly understandable and acceptable as a means of providing the House with full alternatives set out in a legislative form. Although this is not the way that we should have liked, I hope that we shall proceed without any doubt or incomprehension on behalf of the Opposition spokesman about the method chosen.
§ Mr. Douglas Hurd (Mid-Oxon)
Would it not have been more comprehensible if the House had been able to make a decision on the method so that it would have established for the Government the system that it prefers?
§ Mr. Steel
It would be a most peculiar suggestion that we should discuss the detail and the method before the House has come to a decision on the principle of direct elections, as it will do tomorrow. I reject that view.
Strange observations have been made on the electoral system—not least by the Foreign Secretary, whom I am glad to see here. The right hon. Gentleman said, in a speech, significantly, at Saffron Walden the other day, that Labour supporters should not be put off this system because the Liberals support it. That is a way of winning friends and influencing people. Another peculiar view was indicated earlier during the Home Secretary's speech. It is that some form of proportional representation is a bit too difficult for us. It is all right for clever people like the French, the Germans and the Irish, but it is wholly beyond us to understand it. I find that an absurd proposition. I say to those who are keen to try to point out the total absurdities in the 1276 regional list system that we can point out total absurdities in any system.
If one considers the first-past-the-post system and applies it to the 81 constituencies—given the high salaries that it is rumoured will be offered to European members and the number of possible candidates from all sides—it would be possible, if there were 100 candidates in one of those constituencies, for a member to be elected with a little over 1 per cent. of the vote. Of course it would not happen, and neither would some of the absurd anomalies that have been illustrated to try to destroy the regional list.
§ Mr. John Mendelson
The right hon. Gentleman is putting forward a travesty of an argument. I do not know of anyone who is suggesting that others are clever enough to have proportional representation but that the British are not. The main indictment is that most historians agree that the destruction of the Third Republic in France and the downfall of the Weimar Republic were, to a considerable extent, due to a system of proportional representation.
§ Mr. Steel
I must hand it to the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson). Those are new arguments. However, he forgot to add the fall of the Roman Empire.
We must discuss this matter on a rational basis. The Government are right to recommend this system. They are right to spell out, in the schedule to the first-past-the-post system, the necessary shortened Boundary Commission procedure that would have to be adopted if we were to have any hope of meeting any sort of electoral deadline. I regard the shortened procedure for the Boundary Commission as wholly repugnant, and the Home Secretary was right to point out the dangers of destroying the set procedures of recommendation, local inquiries and the rights of every community in the land—a right that they have always had—to make representations why they should or should not be included in particular constituencies.
It should be clearly pointed out that the schedule, as it stands, eliminates a major part of our democratic process, presumably in the interests of trying to meet the May-June deadline. That is inexcusable, and it is one of the reasons 1277 why the Government are right in recommending the regional list system.
Another reason why the Government were right in that matter—and this has been accepted by independent commentators—is that such a system would produce a fairer result, whatever that result may be. I take note of what the right hon. Member for Knutsford said in hoping that short-term political considerations would not sway anybody in these matters. There could be a short-term political advantage for the Conservatives. It would not be a bad thing for them if there were elections next year on the first-past-the-post basis, because if public opinion were the same then as it was in the local elections last May it would give the Labour Party only 10 of the 81 seats. That would be a short-term political advantage to the Conservative Party, but the boot might be on the other foot on future occasions. One can never be absolutely certain. We have had experience in local government elections of good serving councillors losing seats not because of lack of ability but because the party to which they were attached, and which was in government at the time, was unpopular. There is no reason why we should impose that on the European delegation. It would be right for our European partners to turn to the British and to claim that we were distorting the balance in the European Assembly by insisting on an election system that gave an unfair representation in that Assembly.
There are other arguments. Hon. Members are rightly jealous of their territorial designation as hon. Members for a particular constituency. They would be rather worried about having someone like a super MP with a larger territory, including their own constituencies, who would be identified as the Member—European—for their constituencies. The advantage of the regional list is that it would not imply any such thing. The delegation to the European Assembly would have been democratically elected and would represent, as nearly as possible, the different views of the people. The system that the Government have written into the Bill is not the one that we would have chosen—
§ Mr. Powell
I am sorry to interrupt, but the right hon. Gentleman had just 1278 reached the point about the identification of a representative with a constituency. Under the regional list system, who polices, as it were, the actions and behaviour of the Members of the Assembly? Would the blame rest with the party on whose list the Members stood when they were elected? How would the relationship be maintained between the electorate and their representatives?
§ Mr. Steel
Surely there would be a combination of both, as, indeed, there is in our present democratic system. Clearly, when Members came forward for re-election they would be judged by their parties for inclusion on the list and by the electorate as a whole. I would not have chosen this system, but it is nevertheless better than the first-past-the-post system.
Moreover, there are misconceptions about the system. Contrary to what was said by the hon. Member for Reigate, it would not be possible for a party to demote someone on the list, because the party would not determine the order. That is the advantage of this system over the list system in West Germany, where the parties can do that. Here, the elector could indicate by his vote his preference for the candidates on the list, and that would be of great advantage.
§ Mr. George Gardiner (Reigate)
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree, nevertheless, that it would be perfectly possible, under this proposed system, for a party whose Member in the Assembly had failed to please the hierarchy, in some way, to drop that Member from the list altogether? Is that not a most terrible sanction?
§ Mr. Steel
I hope that the hon. Member for Reigate has heard of Dick Taverne at Lincoln, the present right hon. Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Prentice), and various others. That is not unknown.
The system of double representation in the House and in the European Assembly cannot be continued on any permanent basis. That is another reason for welcoming the passage of the Bill. It is wholly unsatisfactory to send hon. Members from this House on an appointed basis to attempt to do two jobs.
1279 The European Parliament must develop its own powers of control over the Commission and Council of Ministers. The methods that this House has for the control of European policies are totally inadequate. That is why it is right that the people of this country should have the chance to send representatives to represent their interests in the European Assembly.
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Stewart (Fulham)
I concur strongly with the general reasons given by the right hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel) for passing the Bill. I do not think that I need to add anything on the issue of direct elections.
§ Mr. John Mendelson
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. In view of what has been said from the Front Benches—namely, that there is a dividing line right through the political parties on this important constitutional reform— would it not be right for the Chair to consider calling alternative speakers representing more than one point of view? We have now had four speakers in favour of the proposition.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
A list has been drawn up by Mr. Speaker and there will be a balance, which will develop during the course of the debate, among right hon. and hon. Members who hold varying views. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that this will be the case.
§ Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South-West)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. Could we consider a first-off-the-Benches system rather than a list system?
§ Mr. Stewart
The proposition that Britain and other members of the Community should hold direct elections to the Assembly is a necessary consequence of Britain's membership of the Community. I doubt whether there is anyone who wants Britain to remain a member of the Community who would oppose the holding of direct elections. Opposition to direct elections will come from those who do not want Britain to be in the Community.
§ Mr. Bruce Grocott (Lichfield and Tamworth)
Is there any evidence from the French experience that the only consistent 1280 position to adopt is to be in favour of the Community and in favour of direct elections? Is not the experience of French membership, especially in the view of the Gaullist and other parties, almost the opposite?
§ Mr. Stewart
I was speaking not about the French but about hon. Members who will have to decide this issue here. Opposition to the general principle of direct elections comes from people who do not want Britain to be in the Community. They are entitled to their view, but it is as well that the House should be aware of what is really at issue.
Opponents of the Bill are not, in general, saying that they are all for the Community but want to get in by ways other than direct elections. Those who oppose the Bill in principle are really saying that they do not like Britain's membership of the Community.
§ Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop
Will the right hon. Gentleman take it from me that the question before us is not a repetition of the debate on whether the House approves or disapproves of direct elections? It is whether the Bill should have a Second Reading. There are many who believe in Britain's membership and have canvassed for it but who are opposed to the Bill as the instrument for bringing about the direct elections that they wish to see.
§ Mr. Cormack
It is possible to believe that Britain should be a member of the Community and to have campaigned for membership and yet to believe that the time has not come for direct elections. The right hon. Gentleman must not be arrogant about this matter. Many hon. Members have serious misgivings about this issue of principle even though they desperately wanted Britain to become a member of the Community, voted for accession and campaigned in the referendum for continued membership.
§ Mr. Stewart
If the clock shows a fairly long interval between the time that I started and the time that I shall finish my speech, it will not be mainly my fault.
If I am voting on the Second Reading of a Bill, I consider whether I want a Bill of that sort at all and whether I want that particular Bill. Those who do not want a Bill of this sort are, with perhaps a few exceptions, those who want Britain out of the Community. There are 1281 not many who say that they want direct elections but do not want them now. I am sure that my hon. Friends who were making noises earlier in my speech fall into the category of those who plainly want Britain out of the Community, and it is as well to be aware that this issue underlies our debate.
I do not propose to say anything further on the vital issue of having direct elections. In our debates on the Bill we shall be arguing mainly about the method and timing of elections.
My preference is for the first-past-the-post system, though the arguments against a regional list or any form of proportional representation are much weaker when applied to the European Assembly than when applied to the Westminster Parliament, because this is a sovereign Parliament and one of its powers and duties is to make it possible for a Government to be formed. It also has the power to destroy Governments. At no time in its history will the European Assembly find itself in that position.
There was a good deal more to be said for the argument of my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson) about the effect of proportional representation on pre-war France and Germany than some hon. Members seemed to suppose. However, they were Parliaments whose instability affected the instability of Governments. At most, the European Assembly will be a body of great influence but with limited powers. It will not be a government-making or government-destroying Assembly.
I have never regarded the method of election to a European Assembly as anything like as important as the method used in elections to this House, and I do not accept the proposition that if one can be reconciled to proportional representation in the Assembly one is logically bound to accept it for this House.
I hope that no hon. Member who, in general, supports what the Bill seeks to do will be deterred by the mere question of method. I should sooner see the Bill go through with the method that I do not prefer than see it not go through at all. I believe that this view is widely shared in the House.
1282 As to some of the absurdities that could arise from a regional list system, any fool could devise such absurdities about any electoral system or any part of the machinery of government. One could easily write a parody of Socratic dialogue trying to explain the exact relationship between this House and another place or about the nature of a Hybrid Bill. If one wanted to make any part of something as complicated as the machinery of government appear ridiculous, one could easily do so, but, except for the purpose of humour, it would be entirely pointless exercise. We know that the first-past-the-post and the regional list systems can be made to work.
My excuse for speaking on this subject again is that when ever I have spoken previously I have put a number of questions to the Government and they have never been answered. Therefore, I believe that I am justified in trying again. My first question is a new one and it arises from something that was mentioned earlier. Is it true that this is, as has been suggested, a one-off exercise?
I know that it is the intention of the members of the Community to try to achieve a uniform system of election for all Europe. However, we have no certainty that that will be done in five years. As I read the Bill, if it passes through Parliament and we have elections in 1978 or shortly thereafter, and in the next five years Europe has not agreed on its own method, it seems that the Bill will still be in force and we shall have another set of elections under the Bill whatever method is provided for. Therefore, it is not necessarily a one-off matter. Perhaps the Government will be able to tell me by the end of the debate whether I am right about that.
I think I understand what the Government have in mind about Clause 3(1) and 3(2). I say that with some trepidation. I shall tell the Government what I understand to be their position. I ask them to tell me whether I am right before the end of the debate.
First, I understand the Government to say that we should not pay too much attention to what Clause 3(1) and 3(2) actually state because in Committee we shall debate Clause 3(1) and if it goes through without amendment we shall have elections under the regional list system. 1283 However, as the Government are anxious to play fair, they say that they are prepared to give assistance to any hon. Members who want to draft a valid amendment providing for the first-past-the-post system.
If such an amendment were moved, the debate would, in effect, be on the merits of the two systems. If such an amendment were carried and the Bill went forward, we should have elections under the first-past-the-post system. That being so, I understand the Government to say that we need not bother any longer about Clause 3(2), which in those circumstances would presumably be deleted from the Bill. If that is what the Government mean, it is about as fair as they could play. It enables the House to make a fair decision between the two systems.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
My right hon. Friend has expressed the position with great clarity. That is exactly the situation. I fully understand why some of my right hon. and hon. Friends did not understand the position the first time. When we were discussing this issue some weeks ago we tried to find a means by which this could be done. I know that subsection (2) looks a bit odd but, as I have said, my right hon. Friend has expressed the position succinctly. That is what it is all about. It is on subsection (1) that we expect to have the important debate on method.
§ Mr. Stewart
Splendid. I am greatly obliged to my right hon. Friend.
I must press the question of timing. Let us suppose that the Bill will not be passed into law this Session. Let us assume that by the end of this calendar year the Bill is law with the regional list system. Do the Government see the elections being held in May or June 1978? Alternatively, if the Bill becomes law by the end of the calendar year with the first-past-the-post system, will it still be possible to hold the elections in May or June 1978?
I do not think I am asking for more than the Government can reasonably be expected to prophesy. Surely they should let us have that amount of information. Some of us may regard it as relevant to the decision that we shall make after discussion in Committee on Clause 3.
§ Sir Anthony Royle
If the Secretary of State carries out the assurance that was 1284 given to the Select Committee in evidence, that the Secretary of State should ask the Boundary Commission to start provisional work tomorrow, or at least the following day, immediately after the Second Reading has taken place, and if the House passed on Second Reading a Bill including direct elections by the first-past-the-post system, five months would have been saved.
§ Mr. Stewart
If the House passed the Bill on Second Reading, I should think that could be done. I am not a constitutional lawyer, but I am pretty sure that there are precedents for administrative action to be properly taken after the House has passed the Second Reading of a Bill.
§ Mr. Marten
Yes, there are precedents. There are thoroughly bad precedents, such as devolution, where the Government started to erect a building for the Assembly and then the Bill went down the drain. I remember that the Government set up the aircraft nationalisation organisation before the Bill received Royal Assent. I remember that they were criticised heavily in the House for doing so. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not fall for that one.
§ Mr. Stewart
We always say that such a precedent is a bad one if the issue that is under discussion is something that we do not want to be done. When it is clear what the House will decide, I think that there is some sense in making reasonable preparations in advance.
§ Mr. Powell
Surely the essence of the matter is that we are talking not about administrative action taken by anticipation but about action taken by a statutory body whose rights and duties are defined by the law.
§ Mr. Stewart
The right hon. Gentleman may be right about that. It may be legally impossible. If that is so, that is that. However, the Government should consider the matter.
I shall try not to get lost in my list of questions. If hon. Members continue to raise so many interesting sidelines it is possible that I shall get lost.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
There is no statutory power for the Boundary Commission to proceed in the way that has been suggested. It would be possible for it to 1285 proceed informally but it would have no power to publish any of its findings until after Royal Assent. As for the Commission's expenditure in taking that course, I must make it clear that I have no power to spend money unless the House gives me power to do so. There will be time at a later stage to discuss speeding-up action. My advice to the House is that it should face the question of timing but should not ask the Home Secretary to proceed in a way that might in later years be a precedent that many people in the House would not like to see established.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Rippon (Hexham) rose—
§ Mr. Rippon
I beg the right hon. Gentleman's pardon. Will he consider the possibility of a one-clause Bill by which Parliament could enable the Boundary Commission to get on with its work?
§ Mr. Stewart
Unless it took longer to get the one-clause Bill than for the Commission to do its work. I want the work to be done as expeditiously as possible.
§ Mr. David Steel
The issue is not resolved on Second Reading. Under Clause 2 the Boundary Commission could not possibly proceed until the House came to a conclusion on the distribution of seats. In other words, there is no stage short of the passing of the Bill at which the Commission could work with any sense.
§ Mr. Stewart
If we cannot make this economy of time, so be it. It is a pity. I accept that it may not be possible. As for timing generally, it has been said that perhaps it is premature to consider it now. The Prime Minister suggested that it would not be the end of the world if it were to be 1979 rather than 1978. If I could be dead certain that it would be 1979 I should not wring my hands over the loss of 1978, but where is that certainty to be found? So often in political matters it is proved that if we do not do the thing when the time is right the opportunity slips for possibly a generation. I am afraid that that will happen when I hear members of the Government talking of the difficulty of timing.
1286 Are the Government determined— admittedly not in this Session but in the next—to get the Bill through? I know that the Prime Minister has said that he cannot command votes. He does not need to do so on this Bill. We all know that there is a substantial majority of votes in the House to get the Bill through. I think that I can say that without fear of contradiction.
§ Mr. Budgen
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the crucial question is whether a guillotine can be achieved at a later stage? He may remember that my right hon. Friend the Member for Knutsford (Mr. Davies) told me that it was uncertain whether the Tories would support such a guillotine motion.
§ Mr. Stewart
I am coming to that.
Are the Government determined to get the Bill through? They are not in a position in which they can passionately desire the Bill and be frustrated because a majority in the House refuse it. The majority is there if the Government are determined to get it through.
Are the Government as determined to get this Bill through as they were to get their rent, industrial relations and prices legislation through? We want to know the answer to that question first.
Secondly, are they prepared to recommend to the House, with all their strength, whatever procedural measures are necessary to get the Bill through in the proper time? Incidentally, that is also a question for the Opposition. All the strictures about delay by the right hon. Member for Knutsford (Mr. Davies) will not mean anything if, when it comes to the point, the Opposition are not prepared to support a guillotine motion to carry it through. If, knowing the support that there is in the House for direct elections, the Government were to let this opportunity slide through their fingers, they would lose the good will, confidence and support of many Labour Members.
§ 5.22 p.m.
§ Mr. Richard Wood (Bridlington)
In all my 27 years as a Member of the House of Commons I cannot remember a more remarkable Bill being introduced by any Government, including any Government of which I had the honour to be a member.
As the Home Secretary explained, we have a method proposed of electing 1287 Members to the European Assembly, and, later in the Bill, we are offered an apparent opportunity to choose an entirely different method. Schedules 1 and 2 are devoted to a method that the Government plainly do not want the House to choose.
Part of the reason for this unprecedented indecision is not hard to see. The Bill is introduced by a Government who have lost the confidence of many of their supporters and who have lost a great deal of confidence in themselves. The Government have been forced to allow a free vote, even to members of the Cabinet, on the central principle of the Bill, which, according to all that we have been told, is the touchstone of the honour of the Prime Minister.
The Government are compelled by parliamentary arithmetic to propose a certain method of election, but, realising that the price of parliamentary survival may be even higher elsewhere, they are anxious to produce the illusion of choice by the reserve formula in the Bill. In my view, that is not only weak but, much worse, unfair. In present parliamentary circumstances, and in the likely circumstances of the next few months, the choice that we are apparently being offered is wholly illusory. Frankly, the tactics are such that even Machiavelli would have felt some sense of shame. As I have never visualised the Home Secretary as a disciple of Machiavelli, I wonder whether he understands what is involved in this apparent choice that is offered to us.
I understand that after tomorrow night it is not the intention of Her Majesty's Government to make any further progress on the Bill in this Session.
§ Mr. Wood
Anyhow, I understand that it is the intention of the Government not to make any significant progress in this Session. That may be a more apt description.
Therefore, I suppose, we come to October. It is always possible that this Parliament will not reassemble in October. But if it does reassemble in October, we shall no doubt have protracted debate in this place and consider- 1288 able debate in another place. Therefore, it is difficult to believe that, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Knutsford (Mr. Davies) pointed out, the Bill will become an Act many weeks or even days before Christmas.
The Home Secretary has patiently explained exactly how we are to interpret Clause 3(2). I understand that it does not mean exactly what it says. Once we have reached a decision on Clause 3(1), Clause 3(2) fades into oblivion. Therefore, we need not take seriously the need for the House to pass a resolution to substitute the first-past-the-post system for the regional list. In those circumstances, that will already have been done. However, it must surely be early next year before preparations could begin on first-past-the-post lines, if that system were chosen, for elections to take place a year from now.
The Home Secretary has told us— indeed, it is in the Bill—that the Government adhere to option B of the White Paper in the circumstances of our preparing for first-past-the-post elections. The right hon. Gentleman repeated the estimate that it would be at least 18 weeks between the beginning and end of the Boundary Commission's operation. Therefore, in that eventuality the boundaries of single-member constituencies would not be agreed before May, and the first elections, if they are to take place in June or July, would indeed be the botched jobs that I foresaw when I spoke on the White Paper in April.
Unless the Government are able and willing to instruct the Boundary Commission to begin drawing constituencies, which would be required under Schedule 2, or alternatively, if, as has been suggested in recent interchanges, they decide that that would be unconstitutional, impossible and contrary to statute, I maintain my view that the choice that we are offered is bogus. Therefore, later this year many of my right hon. and hon. Friends will face not a choice but an appalling dilemma.
There is a large majority in the House of Commons as a whole—there is certainly a large majority on the Opposition side—who want the elections to take place next year. A considerable number of my right hon. and hon. Friends—no one knows exactly how many—disagree with 1289 my preference for the regional list and prefer first-past-the-post elections.
How is the European Party, as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, rightly, I believe, described the Conservatives in a recent speech, going to reconcile a principle that we support—the principle of elections next summer—with a method that many of my right hon. and hon. Friends view with profound suspicion? No one can tell. However, it is clear to me that the Prime Minister is taking great risks in expecting the whole of the Opposition loyally to fall in behind him if he is not prepared to take the steps that I have mentioned and in some way to transform the appearance of choice into a reality.
Hon. Members know my views on the matter. I want the Bill to become law and the elections to be held as quickly as possible. For reasons which I expressed as clearly as I could in April, I believe that the method proposed in the first three clauses will give fairer representation than the method contained in the first two schedules. But my anxiety about the Bill's future is immeasurably increased by the Government's failure to present us with a real choice and by the frustrations which will be caused by the attitude of "take it or leave it" that they seem to be adopting.
Men and women who are offered a free choice often choose differently from those who feel, with some reason, that they are being bullied. Convinced as I am about the real dangers of a first-past-the-post system for European elections, I would profoundly like my right hon. and hon. Friends to be free fairly to weigh the arguments before choosing and not be be driven to destroy the whole concept because they are not free to choose.
For the arguments are important. I do not think that they all end up at the destination to which they first seem to point. For example, many who fear that proportional representation for European elections will lead inexorably to a similar system for Westminster may find that the opposite is true. The disillusion which many feel for our present system here would be powerfully fuelled by some of the absurd results it would secure in the European elections.
I have some doubts about the precise form of the regional list system. We have 1290 had a certain amount of discussion in detail this afternoon. At first sight, it seems more appealing to be asked to vote for a man or a woman than for a party, even if the votes cast for an individual will ultimately benefit the party to which he or she belongs. The danger is that in an overwhelmingly Conservative or Socialist region—and all the regions, at least in England, would at present be overwhelmingly Conservative—the main struggle would not be between the parties, but between candidates of the same party, whose main concern would be to do better than the other candidates most likely to be elected. I do not think that that is unnatural or reprehensible, but it would be undesirable and would be encouraged by the proposed system.
It is also suggested that it will be possible for one of the candidates to come top of the poll and yet not be elected, because the rest of his party has not done sufficiently well. The Home Secretary was not definite about that aspect. I myself understand that such a result is not only politically unlikely but mathematically impossible. I shall examine the matter and take great pleasure in explaining it at a later stage.
§ Mr. John Page (Harrow, West)
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. If, in Committee, we vote out Clause 3(1), does it mean that there is any chance of voting for Part II of the Bill at all? Alternatively, is the decision made whether we have one system or the other when we first reach Clause 3(1)?
§ Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop
As I read the Bill, we could destroy Clause 3(1) but we should still be left with Clause 4, other parts of Part 2 and Schedules 3, 4 and 5. So we would still have a regional list system and a first-past-the-post system This is what is so bizarre about the Government's proposals.
§ Mr. Wood
I have never denied that the proposals are bizarre. Clearly we must have a system for the elections. I understand that if we reject Clause 3(1) 1291 we shall move on to the alternative system provided later in the Bill.
There are many other problems, but there will be a lot of time to examine them in detail. For the moment, we are looking at the principle of the Bill and the likelihood of its being accepted.
The right hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. Stewart) echoed the view which I expressed during the debate on the White Paper, when I said that it would befar preferable to hold the elections next year under what I believe to be a defective system than to frustrate them entirely by insisting on a better one."—[Official Report, 20th April 1977; Vol. 930, c. 279.]That means that if we do not get the proposal in Clauses 1 to 3 of the Bill, it would be better if we had the other system so long as we have the elections on time.
I believed that a number of hon. Members, although not the right hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe), shared that sentiment. I believe that they thought the elections more important than the system, even though the system that many preferred is the exact opposite to that which I preferred. But those were the days when we believed, perhaps naively, that we would be offered a free choice between the available systems.
For this reason, I beg the Government to look again at the matter and to provide us with the real free choice which most of us expected. That would enable us all freely to decide which system we prefer, and when we have made our collective decision, to make the final preparations for the elections on whatever basis the majority choose.
§ 5.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)
The right hon. Member for Bridlington (Mr. Wood) has properly raised many questions from the point of view of those who support the Bill. I am the first speaker in the debate who does not support the Bill, and I shall take a different line.
First, I should like the Minister to answer a question that has not been asked, although assumptions have been made. Will there be a Second Reading of the Bill in the next Session? I assume that it will not pass in this Session. It might be possible for the Government to move a motion for a carry-over. I do 1292 not think that many hon. Members would support that. It has not been mentioned, but the question should be asked. We need a reply from the Minister, and if he says that he intends to introduce a carry-over motion we must know the attitude of the Opposition to that.
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said that this was a constitutional Bill of major significance. So far, that aspect has not been given great attention by the House, at least in principle. One part of this constitutional change has escaped attention not only in this debate but in almost every other debate. The issue is that even with a first-past-the-post system, the party, as distinct from the person, is put in a higher position. That is clearly true in the case of a regional list, where a person is voting for an individual within a party, but it is also true of the first-past-the-post system, because the European Assembly, as we have been told by colleagues there, is organised almost entirely on a party basis in a way in which this House is not.
No one denies the right of anyone to cross the Floor. It has been done. It might be undesirable, but it can happen. A person is first and foremost a Member of Parliament representing all in his constituency, of whatever party or view. That is something that I think Liberal Members tend to forget.
§ Mr. Spearing
I am glad to hear that. That is a principle of this House. However, even with the first-past-the-post system, representation in the Assembly is on a basis of party. I understand that it is even more rigid there—although relatively, it is not rigid at all here. I understand that party institutions there get financial aid for party meetings and all sorts of party matters. That is not a feature of this House in quite the same way. I note that my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) agrees about that. Therefore, if we agree to the Bill, even with the first-past-the-post system, we are agreeing to something which, as I understand it, is quite foreign to British democracy.
It is to the question of democracy that I now turn. My right hon. Friend the 1293 Home Secretary says that the mandate for the Bill comes, first, from an obligation of Government. Governments can say what they like and enter into agreements with other Governments, but this House has the right to say "No". Therefore, it is purely a question whether this House agrees with the Government in their intention of 2nd December last year. Hon. Members should note that it was "the decision", so called, at that time. There was no reference to the Treaty of Rome, because it was quite clear in the last debate on this matter that the proposal in the Bill is in pursuance not of the treaty but of something less, because the treaty calls for a proposal for elections under a common system, and that is not what is being done.
The Home Secretary also mentioned the referendum. I have a distinct impression that at the time of the referendum many people voted "Yes", to remain in the EEC and not to come out, because they wanted to preserve the status quo. They thought "Well, we are in. We have not given it a fair run. Let us see how it works out. It would be foolhardy" —they accepted the arguments put forward by some hon. Members—" to come out." However, I submit that they did not vote for direct elections. That is absolutely clear, because quite clearly, although the matter may have been discussed at various meetings and raised in various ways, it was not raised in the Government's document which they sent to every household in the land, on public money. It was the Government's obligation to explain what the country would be letting itself in for. "Britain's New Deal in Europe" had two pages on the subject of "Will Parliament lose its power?" There was not a word on direct elections at all.
§ Mr. Hugh Dykes (Harrow, East)
Would not the hon. Gentleman concede, though, that the reverse position is the case, and that when the subject is raised now, as it was during the referendum campaign, the uneasiness of the public when they are apprised of this subject —and that is an important "when"— is that the European Parliament should remain undemocratic in future? That is their principal anxiety.
§ Mr. Spearing
I am coming to the question of democracy, and I shall reply to that point. However, I do not think that the hon. Gentleman can claim that the Government made clear that, in their view, a "Yes" vote meant an obligation to direct elections. If they felt that, they should have said it. If they now claim that it was there, I do not think that they would do very well under the Trade Descriptions Act or anything like that when it comes to the question of doorstep salesmen. That is the comparison that I would make in relation to that document.
§ Mr. Whitehead
Before this tired old argument goes any further, may I ask my hon. Friend whether he agrees that the "No" leaflet, which was also distributed to every household, warned at great length about the diabolical evils of direct elections to the European Parliament and was rejected by a vote of more than two to one?
§ Mr. Spearing
I would not use the language that my hon. Friend has chosen. I am talking about the Government. This is a Government Bill. It was up to the Government to make clear what the obligations were. All that I am saying is that whatever hon. Members may say, the Government cannot claim that this is an obligation or a mandate resulting either from the Treaty of Rome or from the referendum.
I come to the question of the powers of the Assembly. This was referred to by my right hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. Stewart). Perhaps he knows that the Tindemans Report made it quite clear that some people see the development of direct elections to the European Assembly as leading to European union. Tindemans says that the Parliament will have a new authority when it is elected directly. He goes on to say,A consequence of the Parliament's new authority will be an increase in its powers, which will take place gradually in the course of the progressive development of the European Union notably through a growing exercise of the legislative function. It goes without saying that the Parliament should assume an important responsibility in the construction of the Union."—capital "U.It may be said—as hon. Members have said—that the Assembly cannot have more powers than it has now unless there 1295 is a unanimous decision of all the countries in the Community. That is precisely what was said about direct elections. We go from stage to stage and say "It is all right. You do not have to agree. You will have another chance. You will have to agree to it when we come to it." When we reach that stage we are told that we are naughty boys if we do not go along with it and that we shall be disadvantaged in the Community. We are told that all along there was an obligation and that this was thoroughly understood.
That is what has happened previously, and in respect of the powers of the European Assembly it could happen again.
On the question of democracy—and coming to the point raised by the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes)— if the European Assembly had clearly defined responsibilities, if the EEC were responsible for clearly defined areas of national or international policy, there might be a stronger case—I do not happen to agree with it—for the side that agrees with direct elections. However, we know from the 80-odd debates in this Chamber that the competence of the EEC, or claimed competence, goes into every detail of domestic, social and political life of this nation.
I asked a Question only yesterday on a point that a constituent had put to me, namely why the Government would not agree to have fluted bottles made mandatory to indicate that they contained poisons? The reply was "You cannot do that because the EEC regulation says that you cannot do it." At first sight that appears a matter of detail, but it goes to the very centre of the medicine chest of every house in the country. From that sort of issue to the subject of lorries and questions of transport policy and major questions on matters such as tariffs, food costs and agricultural policy, and almost every issue one cares to name, almost the whole of British political and social life is within the competence of the European Assembly.
What will happen to Opposition Members who agree with this proposal? What will happen to Conservative Members of Parliament in their constituencies when pressure groups and people who are concerned with these issues, in trade associa- 1296 tions or bands of retailers and citizens, come to them about matters that are concerned with both this House and the European Assembly, as more and more issues will be? If they are hard pressed, they will send the person or the group off to the European Assembly Member. They may say "No, I shall try to do something about that when there is a debate in the House", but inevitably, as we know from what happens already, people go to councillors and come to us, and most pressure groups ought to go to both. There will be a clash, and difficulties between the two. There will be an overlap, and competition.
Inevitably—and this is the democratic point—there will be a clash of interest between this House and the Assembly—a clash of interests between elected Members of the Assembly and elected Members of this House. There will not be any clear definition as to whose responsibility a certain matter is. There will be a tennis match, passing the ball one to the other. Whatever happens, the stature and responsibility of the Member of this House will be diminished merely by the fact of an alternative route.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)
Since the hon. Gentleman is talking about democracy and since all these European regulations touch every citizen of this country, why is it more democratic for the European Parliament, which is supposed to deal with these matters, not to be elected? Surely it follows as a matter of logic that it is more democratic if the members of the Parliament are elected.
§ Mr. Spearing
That is a fair question, and that is the point that I am coming to next. I have just pointed out the inevitable clash which will occur and which does not occur at the moment. Those who are concerned with the democracy of the EEC must be concerned with the way in which we in this House deal or fail to deal with these matters and make sure that our procedures of mandating our Ministers or telling them what they should or should not do in the Council are improved.
Those hon. Members who say that we must have democracy in the Community are therefore avoiding the fact that we have it here first through elected Members of this House, and that we can 1297 improve it by improving our procedures of scrutiny and debate and the accountability of members of the Council of Ministers to this House. If they were really concerned, they would be concerned with that first. If they are making a great pother about democracy in the Community, they must realise that the only way to make the Executive more accountable to the European Assembly will be to give the latter the powers referred to by my right hon. Friend—not necessarily the power to kick the Executive out but the power that is more common in a federal or unitary State. That is the danger of the slippery slope. That sort of democracy to be effective, has to be in a State or an embryonic State, with power. That is what will happen, and the power of this House will be diminished thereby.
My last point has not been raised in any of these debates. It concerns the effect of so-called direct elections on the historic parties in this House. The Conservative Party started as a party in this House and its structure and power is related to gaining power in this House and to governing this country. Its aim is power and its fuel is patronage, overt or covert. The structure is historic; it may not be open, but it is what works. I will not say that from the point of view of Conservative Members that may be appropriate for their party.
What will happen when there are directly-elected European Members? What strains and stresses will be felt in the Tory Party when it comes to nominating these people and deciding the part that they will play in the Tory Party? People will turn to them because it will be thought in Europe that they have the information that is necessary, and pressure will be put on them by trade associations, companies, people with financial interests and those who are very much concerned with harmonisa-tion and authorisation and all the other matters connected with the EEC.
The strains and stresses set up may be unforeseen by direct elections and may have an effect on the Conservative Party which its members do not now foresee. In this country we have undergone many reorganisations recently — local government, water, hospitals and the Health Service. In almost every case there have 1298 been unexpected side-effects of what might have appeared to be logical and coherent proposals. In the end, it is one of the faults of our country, perhaps, that it is the unexpected side-effects which have most effect and it is the side-effects which are not always foreseen. These things must be dealt with as practical issues.
The Conservative Party may be damaging itself seriously if that happens. People may wonder why I, as a Socialist, should be concerned with the welfare of the Tory Party. My concern is that this House and British democracy have a strong and virile—and permanent— Opposition. I am also concerned that there should be confidence in the powers of this House and our historic democratic procedures. We cannot say that that is overwhelming at the moment. There is a great deal of criticism of what happens, even without direct elections.
The Labour Party, unlike the Conservative and Liberal Parties, was set up outside this House to gain power so that it could put its programme into effect. Perhaps the effect of direct elections for the EEC will be as great on the Labour Party. The appeal of my party always was: "Do not do things unconstitutionally. Get into the House, get a majority and change the law ". That is what this party has historically done and it was able to deliver the goods when the majority was gained in 1945 and again in 1966.
If we have direct elections, as already happens in the EEC, even with an overwhelming majority in this House, we shall not be able to change policies which we could have changed before we entered. Difficulties, although not perhaps as great as in the Conservative Party, will certainly be felt in my party. They have been felt already. Even in the run-up to direct elections there are tensions and differences in both parties which otherwise would not exist.
Why is this important to democracy as a whole? Conservative Members have already accepted in effect the principle of State cash for parties in Europe and they may have to accept Houghton too. If that happens, the British electorate will be confused about whom they should go to for advice and assistance and their confidence in British democracy will be further eroded. These things are likely 1299 with any form of European elections— whether first past the post or PR. All these factors will diminish the power of this House and therefore the confidence that people will put in it and will therefore strike a blow at the roots of parliamentary democracy, which has been the great quality of this House and the pride of the United Kingdom through the years.
§ 5.57 p.m.
§ Mr. Neil Marten (Banbury)
I shall follow much the same theme as the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing). I shall not deal with the nuts and bolts of the Bill, which we shall have weeks and weeks and weeks to consider after the recess. I cannot see the carry-over motion being supported by the Opposition, certainly for a Public Bill.
I want to speak against the whole idea of having direct elections.
§ Mr. Marten
It is a surprise, I know, to some people.
My main objection, as most people know, is that this proposal is one step down the road to a federal Europe. That is what it is about and those who vote for the Bill will show that that is what they are really after. I shall, therefore, speak against the Bill in rather broad terms.
Many of those who share my view are told by our headmaster, Mr. Roy Jenkins—having "denationalised" himself and become a Eurocrat he still comes over here and lectures us—that we are fighting the referendum over again.
I would rather put it in this way. One is in a bus with 100 other people which comes to a Y junction. Some say that the bus should go left and others that is should go right. In the course of the debate, some say that down the left-hand road they will pass a church and a cemetery on one side and a farm on the other. Others describe what will be seen if the other fork is taken. There is then a vote, and 60 passengers vote for the left fork and 40 vote to fork right. So we all go along in the bus and, as time passes, it dawns on people that somehow or another they are not passing that church. If that is so, is it not up to me and the likes of me to say "The decision to fork to the left, which was taken 1300 by the majority in the bus, is not turning out to be right. The church is not there as we were told it would be. Where is the cemetery? That is not there either. We are told that there would be a farm, but there is also no farm in sight." Then there is another discussion and we get to the position that we are in today.
That is why I suggest that if we had another referendum not, the result would be the reverse of the last one. When the majority on the bus have decided that they have taken the wrong road after all, one has two options. One can turn the bus back to the junction and go off on the right road. The other is to go farther along the left fork where there is a turning on the right which will take one to the right road.
I am not anti-European. I am anti the Treaty of Rome. We anti-Marketeers are pointing out that the promised church, cemetery and farm are not there, and that perhaps we are going along the wrong road after all, and that we should, therefore, turn on to the right road. I say that in order not to be accused by the headmaster again.
§ Mr. John Page
Before my hon. Friend gets off the bus, we would be interested to know whether he is happy to remain on the European bus. Does he feel that he is on the bus and wants to alter the route, or does he want to get out and walk?
§ Mr. Marten
I will come to that very point. That is how I would like to end my speech.
The trouble is that there is general disillusionment because the church, the cemetery and the farm have not turned up. Let us look at the national opinion polls on the question. In February, in a national poll, 35 people out of 100 thought that the Common Market was a good thing, but 41 thought it a bad thing. A poll in April conducted by the Community produced the same sort of figures. A poll conducted by Granada Television in the North-West showed that 53 per cent. in that area wanted to withdraw from the Common Market and only 44 per cent. wanted to stay in. I am not saying that these are absolute figures, but they undoubtedly show a trend the reverse of the referendum result. It is interesting to note from the 1301 February opinion poll that, at the time of the referendum, only one person in 10 knew that direct elections were involved. So the Government have not much excuse on that point.
There is general disillusionment, and one must ask why it has happened. My answer is that in 1972, and again during the referendum campaign, the pro-Market propaganda machine exaggerated things to such an extent that, as they have not come to pass, great disillusionment has set in. That is the backlash against the pro-Marketeers and their propaganda. Of course, the British Press was all behind the Common Market. It "bought" all the propaganda churned out from Brussels and churned it out again. As a result, it will be extremely difficult for the pro-Marketeers to recover their position with further propaganda through the British Press, whose newspapers are in any case merely the agents of the EEC. The people's backlash is justifiable.
I want to say something to my Conservative colleagues who have been talking recently about the anti-Market so-called campaign, and are trying to imply that those who are against the Common Market or who want to take, as it were, my right turn, or who want to turn the bus round and go back to the junction, are Left-wing Tribunites or National Front. I wish that they would stop it. They should look at the opinion polls.
Perhaps they would care to take the temperature of the Conservative Party. In February, 32 per cent. of its membership was against Britain's membership of the Common Market. For Conservatives to say that everyone of them who is against the Common Market is a member of the National Front, or whatever, is an appalling slur on the political feelings of people in their own party. I wish that they would stop that sort of propaganda. It worked in the referendum, but we shall see that it does not work again.
I understand why they are doing it. They themselves are supping with the devil of Euro-Communists, and therefore, in order to protect themselves from that accusation, they have to make this other accusation. I say that light-heartedly, but, nevertheless, they have to find some justification. I wish that they would stop this smearing of fellow Conservatives. It does not do them or the Conservative Party 1302 any good. As the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. Gould) said on television, nearly all those who are responsible for the anti-Market organisation outside the House are solid Conservatives.
It has been said that the Conservative Party is committed to direct elections. I believe that it is so committed under Article 183 of the Treaty of Rome. The Conservatives who voted for the thing are committed to some introduction of direct elections on a uniform procedure, but the Conservative Party is not committed to this Bill, which is introduced under the decision taken on 20th September 1976 and signed by my late constituent, Anthony Crosland, on behalf of the Labour Government. It did not commit the Conservative Party at all. That decision is not in the Treaty of Rome, but something quite different. So, the Conservative Party is not committed to this Bill. I hope that the argument that it is will not be used.
In any case, how can a party and Parliament be committed to something that we can veto? In the referendum, pamphlets were issued on the use of the veto. One of the two examples that we were given was that we could veto a Bill for direct elections when it came. How can one be committed to something that one can overturn? It is Euro-gobblede-gook. It has become a new form of thinking—the gobbledegook of Euro-gook.
My main objection is that the Bill is a step in the direction of a federal Europe. I do not mind the sniggers from my hon. Friends around me when I say that: I have got used to them. I shall advance the argument by quoting their friends. Here is the editor of Common Market News writing in the Daily Telegraph:Direct elections to the European Assembly in 1978 are a step in the federal direction.I have always believed that the Community will only work if it becomes a federal State. That is borne out by Mr. Tindemans, who knows much more about it than my hon. Friends do. He wrote in his report on European union:Europe will only fulfil its destiny if it espouses federalism.That man probably knows more about the subject than most people. He spent a whole year on it. He was commissioned to do so, and that is what he said.
1303 Then we come to the Right-wing, Centre or Christian Democratic parties in Europe, which, regrettably, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said in Rome that we must try to get closer to. So the Christian Democratic and Right-wing parties have formed themselves into a "People's Party". Article 3 of this grouping of parties, which the Conservative Party would presumably join, says:It shall participate in, and support the process of, European integration and co-operate in the transformation of Europe into a European Union with a view to achieving a Federal Union ".If we do not join that lot there is really no one else to join. I cannot think that was what my right hon. Friend was talking about.
§ Mr. Spearing
Is the hon. Gentleman saying that the Conservative Party is now espousing federalism as a policy or that it has made some qualification in that regard?
§ Mr. Marten
I am probably the last person on this earth to speak for the Conservative Party on this issue, but that is my suspicion.
My other objection is that the European Assembly—I am glad that it is officially called an "Assembly" and no longer that bogus word "Parliament"— is going to get legislative powers. This is always brushed aside, but again I must quote from people who are far better informed than my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) and who have more experience than he has. They do not pay much attention to what I say. However, we have M. Ortoli in his 1975 annual report saying:If the elected Parliament is to be true to its calling, it must be given legislative power.That is precisely what I fear.
Again, in the December 1974 Summit communique, the bottom of paragraph 12 states:The competence of the European Assembly will be extended, in particular by granting it certain powers in the Communities' legislative process.Then we get the European Movement, of which so many of my hon. Friends are members and supporters, saying:The Parliament should also exercise joint responsibility with the Council for enacting Community legislation.1304 All that points to this Assembly being a legislative Assembly.
I put this point to Labour Members. If the directly elected Assembly has a Right-wing, or Centre Right-wing majority—which my hon. Friends assure me it will have—which starts passing Centre Right-wing legislation, and if the British people, for some reason which I shall not question at the moment, vote for a Socialist Government to do Socialist things and pass Socialist laws, that Government will find itself blocked by what that Right-wing European Assembly has legislated. That is a danger.
One can easily turn the argument around because it may be just as likely. If the European Assembly has a Socialist plus a Euro-Communist majority which passes Left-wing Euro-Communist legislation, then a Conservative Government will find that it cannot implement Conservative policies because Euro-Communists and Left-wing senior legislators, as a party, will have blocked what they are trying to do. That is my fundamental objection to this whole proposition.
I would quote what the hon. Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds) said when talking about direct elections. The hon. Gentleman said thatwe are committed, not only by our party manifesto and the Queen's Speech but also by the outcome of the referendum and by international treaty, to the introduction of direct elections to Europe, where we could play a part—and this is what some of our colleagues seem to have forgotten—in the furtherance of the introduction of international Socialism".The Prime Minister replied:I broadly agree. That is why a Bill will be introduced next week."—[Official Report, 16th June 1977; Vol. 933, c. 553.]My hon. Friends have been warned. I am a Conservative and I do not want international Socialism united in Europe, just as I am sure that Labour Members do not want international Right-wing-ism. Therefore, let us have no legislation over there at all.
There will be an enormous conflict between the Assembly, if it is directly-elected, and this Parliament. Who better to quote than George, Lord Thomson, who was a Commissioner and who has now retired and can draw three years' redundancy pay of £20,000 a year. That is an extraordinary fact which I have 1305 picked up. However, I leave that aside. Writing in a magazine called "Facts", which usually comes into this debate. Lord Thomson said:After direct elections it"—that is, the Assembly—will be converted into a rival of national Parliaments, fighting for a fairer share of Parliamentary power.That must be brought home to hon. Members of this House before they vote for this Bill. If the Assembly is to have more power let us ask what those powers will be before we vote. If it is not to have more powers why are we spending £10 million in having direct elections at all, since the members of that Assembly will be political eunuchs or the female equivalent? I do not know what that is.
The Bill is undoubtedly a step towards federalism. People argue that it will make the Assembly more democratic if its Members are directly elected. Goodness me, the Russian Parliament is directly elected but one cannot say that that has made that Parliament any more democratic. What matters is what powers, if any, the Assembly is to have. Direct elections have nothing at all to do with it. If one wants to make the thing more democratic the place where we parliamentarians ought to insist on bringing democracy into the Community is at the Government Dispatch Box. Before a Minister goes to Luxembourg we should tell him how far he can go. If he needs to go further than that all he has to say is "I am not allowed to go further than that. I shall have to go back and check whether the House of Commons agrees." That will delay things, but it will give Ministers another trip to Brussels to say whether the House of Commons has agreed. That is where we can control, and ensure that democracy operates.
I shall not go into the question of pay. That is not an unimportant point but it is something that we shall discuss in Committee. I think that what is being talked about in the way of pay for these members is outrageous. I shall be seeking to move an amendment in Committee whereby any pay which directly elected Members draw over and above the pay of Members of this House of Commons should be forfeited into the Consolidated 1306 Fund for the benefit of this country which they go to represent.
The whole proposition is an absurdity. It is one of those Common Market dreams dreamt up by old men after the war and which is now really a bit of a nonsense. I am very sad that my party is operating a three-line Whip on this matter. How much nicer it would have been if there had been a voluntary vote for Conservative Members. I shall not be obeying that three-line Whip, but I do not think that my hon. Friends are worried about that.
I believe that we are wrong to pick out in isolation the question of direct elections to the European Assembly. What we are talking about is the sovereignty of our Parliament in one way or another. What we should do is look at devolution to Scotland and Wales, devolution to Europe and the reform of the House of Commons and the House of Lords. They are all one and the same theme. We are doing it piecemeal. We should stand back and find out where this Parliament stands in relation to these other outside organisations.
While we are doing that, I hope that the Government and the Opposition will begin to think about where the European Community is going. At the moment it is drifting, and it is not working. We have got to realise that if it goes on like this—and includes Spain, Portugal, Greece and possibly Turkey— there will be no improvement in the Community. We must ask ourselves how it will end.
I am a strong European. I want co-operation and unity in Europe, but I do not want political union or a federal Europe. That is why I shall fight this Bill right the way through to next February or March.
§ 6.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Bryan Gould (Southampton, Test)
We on this side of the House at least will have a free vote at the end of the debate. It will be a free vote, not just in the sense that we are not being "whipped" but because the arguments pressed earlier to the effect that the issue had been decided by virtue of our commitment to the Treaty of Rome and by the referendum have been abandoned. As befits an issue of major constitutional significance 1307 we are free to decide it according to our own minds and consciences.
Attitudes will be affected by the views that we hold on Common Market membership. However, there will be many who—rightly, in my view—assess the two issues independently of each other. I wish to approach this matter from the hypothetical viewpoint of one who is neutral on the question of membership but who recognises that we are members for the time being and should ensure the greatest element of democratic control of EEC affairs. [HON. MEMBERS: "Pull the other leg."] It seems that there are some hon. Members who find it impossible to understand the meaning of the word "hypothetical". I accept that it is desirable to introduce a democratising element into Community affairs. From that point of view the most obvious, direct and effective way of introducing that element is to strengthen the democratic control that we exercise in this House.
We must recognise that all major decisions in the EEC are taken by the Council of Ministers, and we must ensure that Ministers are made properly accountable to this House. That would be the course of action true to our own parliamentary institutions and in accordance with current constitutional practice in the EEC. It would require no amendment to the Treaty of Rome and would be by far the most effective method of democratic control available.
By contrast, to try to introduce a democratic element by electing a European Assembly would be to do something which does not arise naturally or directly from the fact of membership. It is a major new step, a decisive move towards a new and different concept of Europe in which the whole constitutional practices of the EEC would have to be changed. It would require substantial amendment to the Treaty of Rome and even more substantial informal changes in the practice of the Community. In the name of legitimacy and orthodoxy, we are being urged to accept this.
The fundamental nature of the change is being played down by Ministers and its innovatory nature is being minimised. We are told that the power to control and arrest these developments will remain with us and that we will not be 1308 ceding in perpetuity political power to a new form of federal government. Many people who are neutral will decide their attitude to the Euroelections according to whether they accept those assurances. I want to offer some reasons why those assurances should be looked at with great scepticism.
We have been told all this before in Common Market affairs. We were told by a Conservative Government under the former leadership that their commitment was to negotiate, nothing more and nothing less. We were told by a Labour Government that if we voted for membership there would be no irreversible commitment on membership or on direct elections. Now we are told that we can vote for direct elections but that that will imply no commitment to federalism.
This is all part of the process of asking us to jump through one hoop at a time so that we will never look up and see where the course is leading us. The language of commitment is misleading. It is not the case that by taking one step we commit ourselves to the next. It is rather that by taking one step we weaken our own will and ability to resist the pressure on us to take the next step. It is hard to know whether Ministers who are edging us along step by step are conspirators or are simply acting as Judas goats.
Another reason for scepticism is that these assurances are flatly contradicted by many of the most powerful forces in the EEC who make no secret of their intention to use Euro elections to achieve a federal Europe. We can hardly say that we have not been warned. Our record of success in resisting pressure from the EEC on such issues does not inspire much confidence.
Surely the whole logic of the arguments supports those who deny ministerial assurances and argue overtly for a federalist Europe. Otherwise, why should we bother with all this paraphernalia of elections if it is not intended to transform the situation? There is nothing in the present role or function of the Assembly that requires that there should be elections. Elections are necessary only if they are seen as a contribution towards, and a concomitant of, an extension of the role and importance of the Assembly in order to produce a new level of federal government.
1309 It is not so much that, having been elected, the Assembly will demand additional powers, though no doubt it will do so. It is rather the simple fact that elections will inevitably make more effective the Assembly's existing powers, which include, after all, the power to dismiss the Executive and to control Supply—quite enough to be going on with.
We of all people, with our instinctive understanding of political realities, can outstrip those who fail to understand that. It is right to claim democratic legitimacy, and legitimacy of a special kind, on the basis that the Assembly was elected specifically to do this job. That right will transform the sitaution, and we denude ourselves if we believe that this will not be done at our expense. [Interruption.] I am delighted that some of my hon. Friends agree with me and accept that the whole purpose of direct elections is to bring about a federal Europe.
We have this on the authority of no less a person than Lord Thomson of Monifieth. Writing this month in Lloyds Bank Review, he says:From the moment of direct elections, the European MPs, with rare exceptions, will cease to be colleagues. They will become rivals whose powers can be increased only by those of national Parliaments diminishing.We can expect no clearer warning than that.
It is not so much the reality but the appearance of power which should be our concern. Whether or not an elected Assembly would actually wield effective power along democratic lines—which is doubtful—it is the fact that there are so many institutions with a vested interest in pretending that they do which poses the real threat. Naturally, the Assembly itself will wish to give the impression that it is doing an effective and important job. The Commission will gladly support this claim, at least for its pretension if not for actuality, as a means of reducing the power of the Council of Ministers and, through them, of national Parliaments. It is not an accident that the Commission is a keen supporter of direct elections. It sees them as a largely valueless but necessary precondition of a fundamental shift of power from the Council to itself.
1310 Even Ministers from time to time will be attempting to ascribe to the Assembly powers that it does not have in order to deflect the attention of national Parliaments. We shall have to get used to hearing Ministers say that certain matters are no concern of ours because they are being debated in the European Assembly which was elected for that purpose.
§ Mr. Marten
Perhaps the hon. Member will allow me to quote a remark by a Conservative delegate to the European Assembly, who said on 20th April:It makes one almost ashamed to be British. We in this House are Europeans, not nationalists.That is the sort of thing that we are going to hear.
§ Mr. Budgen
Not only will the buck be passed from this place to Europe; there may also be attempts to ascribe to Europe powers of economic revival that plainly cannot be exercised by this House or by any other body. In particular, hon. Members may remember the speech of the then Foreign Secretary, the present Prime Minister, who said on 29th March 1976 that he hoped that the Community might perhaps solve the whole problem of unemployment in this country.
§ Mr. Gould
We still hear such unwarrantable optimism in many quarters. In the end, ministerial assurances on the question of whether direct elections will mean federalism founder on the simple fact that an elected Assembly will either be doing something which is actually or potentially within the competence of national Parliaments, in which case it will be superfluous, or will be doing something which is allegedly beyond the competence of national Parliaments, in which case it will be federalist. Indeed, it is possible that we shall have both and that the elected Assembly will be superfluous because the job could be better done by national Parliaments but be federalist by default because it will simply be used as a means of moving out of the area of control and power in national Parliaments. If that is the case, we shall end up with the federalism but without the democracy.
1311 My conclusion is that those who want a federal Europe will vote for this measure. Those who, whether in favour of Common Market membership or not, do not accept that the Common Market should develop along federalist lines should oppose it. That is the view which will be taken by all those who wish to remain true to our parliamentary traditions and who are not prepared to say, for the first time in the history of this institution, that they are unwilling or unable to discharge their responsibilities to the British people.
§ 6.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Hugh Dykes (Harrow, East)
I hope that the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. Gould) will not mind my saying that there was a slight touch of moral blackmail when he said that those who wish to support the Bill will be going down a dangerous federal path. I do not believe that that is the case. Indeed, I would not support the Bill or membership of the Common Market and the essential democratisation of the European Parliament flowing from direct elections if I believed that to be the fact.
I believe that there is a range of opinion about future political perspectives and the structure of the Community which embraces all kinds of ultra-federalist views but which will also take in those with nationalist views who are in favour of direct elections. There is a strong current of nationalist opinion in many States, including this country, which is strongly in favour of direct elections and which sees a logical interface and a combination of the greater strengths of national Parliaments in the surveillance of European Community legislation and the direct election of Members to a European Parliament. I use that title advisedly rather than the word "Assembly".
§ Mr. Dykes
Because I believe that relationships between the European Parliament and national Parliaments can be constructive in future in making a positive contribution to a better Europe. It could lead to a better system of scrutiny of European legislation. I believe that, through the party political affiliations and transcending party lines, directly-elected Members of the European Parliament can fulfil a useful function.
1312 I believe that the Bill is long overdue. I still have detailed objections to the Bill, which no doubt will cause the Government a little anxiety at later stages—as and when—indeed, if and when—the Bill is dealt with in Committee. But certainly this vote on the principle of the matter on Second Reading is disgracefully overdue. The Government had no excuse for delaying the matter for so long. I regard as absurd all the Byzantine chatter about complicated situations and the need for members of the Tribune Group and certain members of the Cabinet to have long enough to digest these difficult political concepts.
If only the Prime Minister, the Home Secretary and the Foreign Secretary had collectively within the Cabinet led their colleagues and maintained an active struggle within that body, if only they had been a little harsher on their colleagues who, as far as we can judge from newspaper reports, have been hostile to this legislation—certainly, a strong stand by those Cabinet Ministers is long overdue—this Bill, or, preferably, a better Bill, could have come before the House much earlier this year. A system chosen to give a good majority on the basis of a universal free vote on all sides of the House involving a first-past-the-post arrangement leading to single-Member constituencies could have made a rational and uncontroversial contribution in respect of clusters of parliamentary constituencies.
As a result of the inexcusable delay, we have the situation in which Clause 3(1) will be amended in certain circumstances if the proposal for a regional list is defeated. It would then be too late to do a great deal about the situation in relation to the first-past-the-post arrangement, which I prefer, and the European constituencies will become so controversial that they will not carry the moral or political support of hon. Members, or, indeed, of those outside the House.
§ Mr. John Stokes (Halesowen and Stourbridge) rose—
§ Mr. Dykes
No, I said "brief".
It is disappointing that we have reached the present situation when so much water has flowed under the direct elections bridge. However, we now have the Bill before us, and I hope that it will be the earnest desire of the House to support it and to vote for the first-past-the-post system.
Equally, it will be argued that we should have an alternative system because of the development of circumstances in recent months. However, it is essentially for this House to pass this vital piece of legislation. The European Parliament needs to be made democratic. Furthermore, politically and psychologically the British public need to be apprised of the future verities in Europe in political terms and in terms of its structures. The essential protection in democratic terms is to see that a strong organisation will develop from its small and modest beginnings. Therefore, we need a democratically-elected European Parliament with which the public may identify, whatever system of election may be chosen in this country. I hope that those who go to the European Parliament will in due course be Members of Parliament instead of merely representatives in an Assembly. We do not wish the European Parliament to be an enfeebled type of United Nations.
The Government have a chance to redeem themselves from their earlier vacillations and lack of Cabinet leadership. It was encouraging that the Home Secretary cleared up a number of understandable confusions and worries about the peculiar and almost Machiavellian way in which Clause 3 is drafted, because that might have caused many people to question whether to support the Bill in the normal way. If the system proposed in Clause 3 (1) is defeated, the Government will need to table an amendment providing for the alternative set out later in the Bill. Certainly we could then have a free vote on that matter, and that might well remove a number of major anxieties and objections.
There are many other hon. Members who wish to speak in this debate, and I conclude by hoping that there will be an overwhelming vote for the Bill. The sooner the target date is acknowledged— I believe that this can still be met under 1314 the first-past-the-post system, although time is getting short—the better. We know all about political suggestions which may have been made to accommodate the Liberal Party on the regional list and all the rest of it, but whatever system is chosen it is important that there should be a target date.
As the right hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. Stewart) said, it is easy to see slippage in the target date, particularly having regard to the way in which the Community has developed. There could be a danger that, if there is any slippage, direct elections will not take place in May and June next year, much to the pleasure of some hon. Members on both sides of the House but, I think, to the detriment of the Community and of this country.
The regional list system may be chosen, for all sorts of complicated reasons as a result of sheer force of circumstances in the autumn, when the Bill will presumably be re-presented and debated. Incidentally, I hope that the mathematics and composition of the vote on Second Reading then will be the same as the vote on Second Reading tomorrow. If the regional list system is decided upon on the basis of a free vote, that, too, may well be capable of some rational amendments to improve the methodology. I am sure that there will be some strong objections to the method that is proposed.
The Leader of the Liberal Party said earlier that he personally did not like the D'Honte proposals as set out, I believe, on page 48 in the schedule which describes how the vote takes place. The Home Secretary caused some amusement when he tried to describe how the voting would be carried out, how the votes would be counted and so on.
If there is a crucial difficulty over passing the remaining stages of the Bill, or if there is a dilemma over the choice of system, perhaps it would be possible to conceive alternatives to the regional list system as set out in the Bill. Would it be impossible as a compromise that the regional list system might be opened up by removing the proportionality built into it on the D'Honte proposals but still avoiding the need to create controversial European constituencies? We could have the economic planning regions as set out in the Bill, but the vote could take place on a non-proportional basis and therefore 1315 be more or less akin to the first-past-the-post system as we know it.
In other words, we should have the familiarity of voting in county council elections, albeit on smaller areas than in the regions as set out in the Bill. At that stage there could be this familiar pattern for the European elections, as long as each voter had not the one vote proposed in the Bill but as many votes as there are seats in the region. That would be a collective first-past-the-post system, with eight or 10 seats or whatever the number may be. I believe, incidentally, that the 14 proposed for the South-East Region are too many. As time goes on, the attractions of that compromise— using the term "compromise" in its respectable sense—might well become more and more evident if there are difficulties in choosing between the systems.
Because the Bill is overdue and we and the Community need it, I hope that there will be a strong vote for its Second Reading.
§ 6.43 p.m.
§ Miss Betty Boothroyd (West Bromwich, West)
The hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) has made his usual thoughtful speech on European affairs. I shall follow his example by turning immediately to some of the provisions of the Bill, particularly those concerned with the method of election.
As a member of the Select Committee which dealt with direct elections, I supported the majority view of the Committee, which recommended the first-past-the-post system. I did this for two major reasons. The obvious one is that it is very simple. We all understand it and it is familiar to everyone. At that time it did not seem to me to be necessary to tamper with the well-known method. However, my conclusion was based largely on the second reason, which I think is more important.
I inclined to the view that European constituencies should be determined on the basis of recommendations from the Boundary Commission, using as far as possible procedures similar to those employed in the review of parliamentary constituencies. I accepted this in the knowledge that we would have to forgo the second round of representations and inquiries. I took that view then because 1316 I believed that if the Select Committee did its work speedily and effectively—
§ Mr. Thorpe
May I correct the hon. Lady? There will be representations but no inquiries. The hon. Lady said that there would be inquiries, but option B rules out all inquiries.
§ Miss Boothroyd
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that correction.
The Committee accepted a shortened version of that recommendation, ruling out the usual procedure of the Boundary Commission. I accepted that because I believed that if the Select Committee did its work speedily and effectively— which it did—there would be ample opportunity in the autumn of last year for Parliament to debate the reports and for instructions to be given by Parliament to the Boundary Commission. The Commission would then have been able to do its work without fear that the official process was being unduly accelerated. It followed that legislation could have been introduced by February of this year, which is far behind us now. It is obvious that the dates I had in mind in the Select Committee are long past and no longer have any meaning.
An additional factor which cannot entirely be disregarded is the way in which other member countries are moving. It was said earlier today that France had not quite finished its legislation. I checked with the French Embassy today and was told clearly that the French Government had in fact completed it. Italy is coming along strongly and other countries are advanced in their preparations.
However, not all the EEC countries are using their traditional methods of voting. Denmark, for example, is changing its method. Added to this is the inevitability of our moving towards a more uniform system of voting over a five-year period. As likely as not, that will mean fundamental changes for Britain, to a form of proportionality. It seems that, for many reasons, phase one has been overtaken by phase two. In these changed circumstances I have revised my view. I new feel that we should fall much more in line with developments in Europe and move forward to a more uniform electoral system.
§ Mr. Spearing
This is a matter of some importance. Article 7 of the Decision 1317 on direct elections taken by the EEC states that, pursuant to various treaty articles,the Assembly shall draw up a proposal for a uniform electoral procedure.While I understand that some people would like this to be done in the near future, no injunction is given on the timing and the article only asks the Assembly to draw up proposals.
§ Miss Boothroyd
It is my understanding that within five years we shall be asked to have a uniform system of proportionality. Let us move towards that rather than continuously being out of step in Europe. Let us have the good sense to get it right first time round once in a while.
The disadvantage of any list system is the power that it gives to the caucus in a party. Like many hon. Members in all parts of the House, I am concerned that the party machine should not find itself all-powerful in drawing up the list of candidates. Of course, each national party must make its own decisions on how this is to be done, but I should like to see some form of primary system working through constituency parties, with the constituency party delegates making the final decision at a regional level. By this method there would be scope for involving organisations familiar to the Westminster system in the selection.
I think also that the regional system could produce a balance, not only a geographical balance of people within the region but a broad political balance within the parties in the region.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths
Is it the hon. Lady's suggestion that the primary system would reduce the influence of the party? In the United States, where there is a primary system, far from reducing the influence of the party, it very greatly increases it.
§ Miss Boothroyd
I was trying to suggest that it would reduce the national party emphasis on selection of candidates. I think that the primary system should be left to constituent parties through to regional level, and the national caucus would have less influence. I am well aware of the system in the United States and hope that it will not develop in this country in that way.
1318 Concerning the balance of personalities and people within the region, there is a broad spectrum of people with different attitudes to Europe. If the Parliamentary Labour Party is able to elect from within its own ranks a balanced delegation to the European Assembly, the people in our constituency parties might have no difficulty in working in the same spirit. But there are advantages, too, with the regional list system. Candidates can identify with a particular region if they so wish. They may have worked in the area in a public capacity, or not even in a public capacity. Equally, voters can identify with a particular candidate. This two-way identification is one of the strengths of the simple majority system which would not be lost.
§ Miss Boothroyd
Of course it would be stronger with the simple majority system, but, for the reasons I have given, I do not prefer the simple majority system. I prefer the regional system. I am trying, as any woman would, to get the best of both worlds.
Some hon. Members have suggested in the debate that a system of election to the European Assembly which differed in its method from that used in our national elections might be too confusing to the electorate. For almost 20 years, however, Australia has had different methods of electing its House of Representatives and its Senate, and there have been times in recent years when the two different methods have been used by voters on precisely the same day. I do not accept that the British elector is less intelligent than his Australian counterpart. Therefore, I believe that a different system could be used in this country for direct election to the European Parliament.
Concerning the method of voting, there is a point to be made in relation to Schedule 4, which deals with the election rules. I tend towards the view expressed in The Times last Saturday by Schelto Patjin, the rapporteur on direct elections in the European Assembly. He takes the view that the ballot paper as laid out on page 58 of the Bill would tend to give advantage to a candidate or party with an initial which comes 1319 early in the alphabet. I have more reasons than one for not having changed my name. In order not to disadvantage either party or candidate, he suggests that it might be much better to place the party names horizontally across the top of the ballot form, from left to right, with the party with the largest number of seats in Parliament on the left, followed by the party with the second largest number of seats, and so on. The names of the candidates could then be placed vertically in an order determined by the political party itself.
It is suggested that if there is a lot of printing on a ballot form—an innovation in this country—the voter will tend to read the ballot paper from left to right in the first instance to select the choice of party, and from top to bottom to find the candidate of choice, and that it will be much easier in handling a very large paper with about 50 names on it. This is a detailed matter but nevertheless a very important one for the Standing Committee to consider. I hope that we shall not be too inhibited to learn from others who have already operated the system of proportionality.
Finally, I want to say a word on a subject which is not totally covered by the Bill but one which it seems inevitably to imply. I very much hope that Westminster's relationships with the European Assembly and its directly-elected Members will not be shoved under the carpet.
The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) earlier this afternoon asked who is to police—he used that word—European Assembly Members. I certainly do not wish to see a group of undisciplined, itinerant internationalists with no base at all. I therefore look to Westminster to find some links which could give them a base.
All the precedents that I have seen seem to be against admitting strangers to our deliberations, and I hold to that. I should not wish to see Members not elected to this Parliament taking their seats here—nor, for that matter, do I wish to see them join Members in the other place—but I hope they will have access to Parliament, so that they may work in the Libraries and use the facilities here and be able to exchange views and ideas with Members of Parliament.
1320 There is a fairly good precedent concerning formal links. I refer to the Joint Select Committee on Indian Constitutional Reform, which was established in, I believe, November 1933, with the powerto call into consultation representatives of the Indian states and of British India … and in particular to examine and report on the proposals in the State Command Paper".What happened was that delegates from the Indian States, from continental British India and from the province of Burma, came and took part in many meetings with the Joint Committee. There were debates and exchanges of views, but what was more important was that they were able to ask questions and to examine witnesses.
As I understand it, a directly-elected European Assembly will have additional plenary sessions, but Members will be asked to work on only one committee. There will, therefore, be an opportunity to call European Members into consultation and to give them access to a Joint Scrutiny Committee of our two Houses, especially if that body were divided into Committees roughly matching the committee system in the European Assembly and the directorates of the Commission.
As at present constituted, the House of Lords Scrutiny Committee, with its specialist Committees, which cover a very wide variety of subjects, meets those two provisos. If we were to develop this type of system into a Joint Committee of the two Houses, it could make for part of the link that I am seeking.
§ Miss Boothroyd
I accept that. There must be more debate about European matters in this House. This suggestion is only a substitute for that. I am very concerned to see that there is a formal link with our European Members. It could also become a forum for the specialisation which I know from personal experience, as does the hon. Member for Harrow, East, the complexity of European legislation demands. There must, therefore, be a greater degree of 1321 specialisation, and I think that it will help towards this as well.
This is an important constitutional Bill, and I have mentioned only two or three of its ingredients. I welcome the principle of the Bill and hope for its passage. As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said in opening the debate, there are 635 constitutional experts in this House. Therefore, the sooner the Bill goes into Committee to be dealt with by a few of them, the better.
§ 6.59 p.m.
§ Mr. Julian Amery (Brighton, Pavilion)
I do not think that I can presume to comment on the speech of the hon. Member for West Bromwich, West (Miss Boothroyd) until I have had time to read it rather closely, but I should be speaking for many of us if I said that it would be a help if she could insert in the Official Report, or place in the Library, a diagram of the ballot paper to which she refers.
§ Mr. Amery
I will, if I may, turn to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) and the speech of the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. Gould), who followed him. My hon. Friend, in a characteristically bland and unpolemical style, hinted that he feared there might be a touch of federalism in what was going on. Of course, the debates between the advocates of federalism and of a Europe of States has been raging inside the European movement since its beginning. I have been associated with the European movement myself since 1946. I was present at the steering committee when Sir Winston Churchill decided to set it up.
We know a good deal, after all, about the Europe of States. The founder members of the European Community have had 20 years of experience in that direction, but we have had about half a dozen. It would be naive and wrong to say that no progress has been made. Undeniably, there has been great progress since the European Community was started, but we have to ask ourselves whether there has been enough progress to meet the 1322 rising economic and social problems of Europe, the dangers from outside and the problems associated with the Third world, particularly with Africa, a continent with which Europe inevitably has such close connections.
All of us who have studied these matters will feel that there has been a serious limitation on the ability of the European Community to meet the challenges before it. The causes are many, but there is one to which I should like to draw attention. It is an inevitable weakness of parliamentary democracy that democratic Governments are very much subject to the influence of pressure groups and lobbies. Since their span of life is limited to three, four or five years—the lifetime of a Parliament—it is difficult for democratic Governments to take a long view. The dictators have the advantage here. I am not suggesting that we should abandon our system for that particular advantage, but it is a weakness that we have to recognise.
So, inevitably in any Europe of States, the Ministers who represent the different European Governments have a natural inclination to fight their own corner. All of us who have been associated with this fact, particularly my right hon. Friend the Member for Knutsford (Mr. Davies), will be well aware of that. It is inevitable. The Minister responsible to his own national Parliament, with perhaps another year or so to go before the elections, is under great pressure to fight his own corner very hard. In doing so he is reinforced by the entrenched bureaucracy of his own country, and influenced by the media there. That militates against taking a longer view. We know that there is a European public opinion, sometimes synonymous with, or overlapping, our different national and provincial opinions.
There is a European opinion, as distinct from a national and provincial opinion, but it does not have focus or a forum in which it can express itself. In my judgment, the real case for the Bill is the need to create a focus, a forum, and an arena in which the public opinion of Europe, as distinct from the national or provincial opinion, can be expressed.
I am not so concerned with the powers of the Assembly. A Parliament has many functions. In our case it has the critical function of voting supply and it has the 1323 legislative function. Personally, I believe that our most important function is the deliberative function. I believe that it is here, in this House, that the public opinion of Britain finds its ultimate expression. All the articles in the newspapers and a lot of the arguments that take place in private find ultimate expression here.
I should like to see a focus of opinion for Europe, leaving aside all questions of legislative powers and powers for the voting of supply, but a focus where European opinion could be expressed. The present European Parliament cannot do that, because its Members are delegates in the real sense of the word, representing their national Parliaments. An elected Assembly would be different. It would rest on its own independent legitimacy. It would have its own European character. It could speak primarily for Europe, and its Members would be very much less subject to the authority and discipline of their party machines over here.
Does this mean that I have become a convert to federalism? Not at all. I have never believed that the federal concept, essentially an eighteenth and nineteenth century concept, could apply to the Europe of today. It had its application in the United States of America and in Australia, in large, empty countries with homogenous populations. But Britain and France are not California or New York State. These ancient nations cannot be grouped together in a system of rigid separation of powers.
Nor do I think, in any case, that the federal system can be applied to our extremely complex, modern economies. When we discussed devolution earlier this year we were all aware, whatever views we took of the devolutionary problem, of the immense difficulties of dividing the powers between, say, Scotland and the United Kingdom Parliament. Economic planning, whether one is marginally for or marginally against planning, is so widespread and so intricate, and goes so deep, that it is not easy in the modern world to have the artificial division of powers that was the main feature of the great federal structures erected in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
§ Mr. Roderick MacFarquhar (Belper)
The right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery), whose argument 1324 I am following with great interest, lays emphasis on the fact that federalism grew up in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Does he not accept that the nation State is an even older structure, and is perhaps more in need of reform?
Secondly, does he agree, on his devolution argument, that nation States no longer have full control of their economies, and that it is in the wider European context that we have to discuss economics?
§ Mr. Amery
I do not disagree with the hon. Gentleman. What he says reinforces the point that I was going to make. I believe that we are thinking on the same lines. I was saying that I did not think that a federal system could be imposed on the European nation States as we know them, partly because they are too old, their prejudices are too strong, and their interests too complex, and partly because the modern economic trend does not favour the separation of powers which was the main feature of the federal system. Something else will have to be devised.
Equally, the intergovernmental, the purely Europe-of-States approach, seems not to be enough. It has worked only once to my knowledge, and that was in the old Commonwealth—that is up to 1950 or 1955. But then we were dealing with a number of countries brought up very much in the same tradition which had been moving from subordination to equal independence but which had a habit of co-operation. Here we are working with independent countries which are now moving towards interdependence. They have to find their own new constitutional forms. This will not be federal, in my judgment, but nor will it simply be a Europe of States.
Already something of this kind is happening. Historical analogies can be rather boring, but something not unlike the Christendom of the Middles Ages is coming into being. There is the Council of Ministers, which is the Heads of States, the princes, the margraves, the kings of the Middle Ages. There is the Commission itself, rather like the Church, providing the international civil servants and at the same time representing the principle of unity, chiding those who backslide and at the same time coming forward with new initiatives.
1325 But the people's voice is absent. In the Middle Ages that was all right, but in this present democratic age it will not do.
So the issue, in my view, is not the powers of the Assembly but the moral authority which it will have, and the people's voice must be heard if this European movement is to make progress. The authority that the Assembly should have must be devised in the same way as our own authority, and our authority derives from the representative character of our Parliament.
What matters is that the opinion of the Assembly should count—not what its powers are. But the Government should listen, as we all should, to what it has to say.
§ Mr. Spearing
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the authority of this House ultimately rests on the confidence of the electorate in it, just as the authority of the Government rests on its commanding the confidence of this House? In my speech I was attempting to show that the fact that the parties are likely to be weakened by Euro-elections would mean, automatically, that confidence in this House would be reduced, whatever confidence may or may not reside—and I cannot see much residing—in the European Assembly.
§ Mr. Amery
Of course there will be the problem of the relationship between the European Parliament and the national Parliaments. There will be a great deal of creative tension—I believe that that is the term. That will not be a bad thing. It will be good for us—both Government and Parliament—to hear the arguments of the European Parliament.
In these matters it is a great mistake to try to anticipate the way that history will develop and to foreclose too soon results that none of us can foresee. Europe will grow in its own way—and I believe it will be an irresistible way. However, the speed at which it will grow and the constitutional form that it will take will be determined partly by pressures from outside and partly by the interplay of interests and sentiments between the different European countries. We are facing an unprecedented position. Europe's individual nations have not been united since the fall of the Roman 1326 Empire and they are trying to come together to form a community. There are powerful forces behind that movement.
The destiny of that community will depend upon the prudence and foresight with which these forces are guided. Now, in the modern world, that guidance will fail unless it takes full account of the trends of popular opinion. All that I, or any of us, can reasonably seek is to develop a forum in which that popular opinion and the interests and sentiments that underlie it, can be given reasonable expression. That requires a democratically elected European Parliament, however limited its powers. It is for that reason that I give wholehearted support to the principle underlying the Bill.
§ Mr. Ivor Clemitson (Luton, East)
I listened with great interest to the speech of the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) because it was the first pro speech in the debate which was seriously addressed to the matter of principle. We have heard many arguments about the type of system of elections that we should adopt but we have heard little of the case for direct elections, and the right hon. Gentleman addressed himself to that subject.
I thought that it might be useful for someone whose views have changed in this matter to make a contribution. I speak as one who opposed entry into the EEC and who campaigned against our continued membership of that institution during the referendum campaign. I did not do so from the point of view of narrow nationalism, nor solely because of our own economic self-interest.
However, it has seemed to me for a long time that opposition to membership of the EEC as such did not logically and necessarily imply opposition to direct elections. Indeed, it seemed that we could not have it both ways. We could not, on the one hand, criticise the EEC for being a bureaucratic and non-democratic organisation and then, on the other hand, oppose the introduction into the system of the democratic element of direct elections to the European Assembly. That seemed to be a logical argument, and it was deployed by the Liberal Party earlier this afternoon. That seemed to be a consistant position, so why change?
1327 The brief answer is that I have come to the conclusion that the logic in my initial position was not pressed to its ultimate conclusion. If we elect two separate bodies of representatives to two separate institutions, ultimately and logically the system is workable and tenable only in a frankly federal system. The two separate institutions must in the end each have its carefully defined powers, which would be mutually exclusive of one another. If that is what the word "federation" is normally taken to mean, I take that to be federation. An example of that is that the powers of Congress and of the State Governments in the United States of America are defined. Such a system is understandably quite workable, and no democrat could possibly deny that the people should elect their representatives to each of the separate representative institutions concerned. After all, the system is federal.
The conclusion of the logic of the argument with which I started leads inevitably to a federal system, and the corollary of that is that among those who favour direct elections only those who think that the EEC should become a federal system have logic on their side. That is the only truly consistent position on that side of the argument. Those who hold that view could ask "Well, what is wrong with that?" I respect those who are frankly federalist because their position is logical and consistent.
The answer to the question does not lie in the narrow nationalism which, as I said at the beginning, was never the starting point of my own objections to the EEC. It lies in the nature of a body which has as its members only those countries which share a common prosperity and self-interest in preserving it— if need be at the expense of the poor and underprivileged of the world. It lies in the very term "Common Market" itself. The whole ethos of the organisation is summed up in those two words. It is not a commonwealth but a common market.
§ Mr. MacFarquhar
The House will note that the technical term is "European Economic Community", which is far closer to a commonwealth than the usual term "Common Market".
§ Mr. Clemitson
My hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. MacFarquhar) 1328 is at least using the correct term. He will note, I hope, that I have carefully used the term "EEC" throughout and not the totally misleading word "Europe". Quite clearly, the majority of countries and people in Europe are not in the EEC.
I should like to touch on a point that my hon. Friend the Member for Belper made in an intervention a few moments ago. He pointed out that our powers as a country, for example, to control our own economic affairs are limited in many ways. They are, for example, limited by the operation of supranational companies, which are one of the new political factors of the twentieth century.
The key question is, for what reason and purpose is sovereignty—perhaps not in a narrow sense—being limited? The answer so often seems to be, in the case of the EEC, so that we can have imposed upon us solutions to the problems of our partners that make problems of our solutions.
I do not wish to rehearse the whole question of the nature of the EEC and the case for our non-membership of that organisation. All I say is that, if it is argued that the EEC is not the sort of body of which it is desirable that we should be members, it is clearly absurd to promote the development of that body into the full-blown federation which is the logical end of the road of direct elections.
However, given that we are, for the time being at least, members of the EEC, the question arises about how best we can make the policy-makers of that body accountable and how we can curb their worst excesses. Therein lies some difficulty. The obvious difficulty lies in the hybrid nature, if I may use that word, of the constitution of the EEC. We have the Council of Ministers, which is comprehensible, and the Commission, which I find extraordinarily difficult to comprehend. The Commission is neither fish nor fowl. It is in a sense a civil service and yet it is not. It is a political institution and yet it is not. It is a body that the great architects of the written constitutions of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries would never have conceived even in their wildest nightmares. The more that it can be subordinated to the Council of Ministers, the better for 1329 democracy, and the more that the Ministers can be held accountable to the Parliaments whence they came, the better.
The analogy that I found of most use in trying to reach a conclusion on this matter is that of collective bargaining. The EEC can be viable, short of fullblown federalism, only as a body in which a collective bargaining process takes place between the constituent members. If there is to be an Assembly, it can work only if, to continue the analogy, there is a single-channel representation to it—that is, representation direct from the elected Parliaments of the constituent members.
The purpose of the exercise is to achieve the greatest possible accountability of elected representatives. That is what democracy is about. In all this an Assembly can have a useful role, but the attempt to promote greater accountability will be weakened if there are two separate groups of elected representatives each concerned with basically the same matters.
§ Mr. Spearing
It is not a question of basically the same matters. They will be giving opinions on the same draft regulations.
§ Mr. Clemitson
That reinforces my point. It is only if the pincer movement on the policy-makers is conducted in a co-ordinated fashion that there is any chance of their being brought satisfactorily to account.
Such a system is not perfect, but direct elections, within the context of a non-federal system, will not achieve the goal of greater accountability. Nor is it a logically defensible position. Only the federalists have consistency on their side among the protagonists of direct elections. To argue otherwise is to delude oneself.
On what I hope is more mature reflection, my initial position falls on grounds of efficacy and logic. We need to push power downwards; we need also to plan the use of our resources and wealth on a wider scale. Therein lies not a contradiction but a paradox and a challenge. The EEC contributes to neither, and direct elections will do nothing to improve the chances of its doing so. Their inevitable conclusion is either federalism or farce.
§ 7.23 p.m.
§ Mr. George Reid (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire)
The fact that the SNP will be in the "Aye" Lobby tomorrow does not imply our slavish support for the Bill in all its stages or our automatic blessing on Third Reading.
Those of us who live in what some Eurocrats still regard as the great tundra north of Carlisle find two clauses unacceptable. The first is the downgrading of Scots representation compared with other small European nations and the second is the mish-mash of voting methods put forward in the Bill. How the House reacts to and modifies these provisions will be a major determinant of our subsequent voting.
Why does the SNP give its support to getting the measure off the ground? First, we try not to keep bad company, and those voting against the measure will be the "ultras" of both sides—one group devoted to a return of imperial grandeur and the other devoted to a seige economy the like of which is unknown this side of Eastern Europe. We want no part of that.
The second reason is our historical and cultural links with Europe through our universities and our legal system. We have been the doctors, administrators, lawyers and academics of Europe, and this provides us with a European dimension to Scots life that is lacking in our more insular southern neighbour.
§ Mr. Malcolm Rifkind (Edinburgh, Pentlands)
The hon. Gentleman said that the SNP does not want to be associated with the extremists on either side. Has he forgotten that the SNP was associated with those extremists during the referendum campaign?
§ Mr. Reid
The hon. Gentleman should remember that there was a firm qualification on our side that the terms negotiated by London on Scotland's behalf were not sufficient. We said that Scotland must determine her own links with the European Communities. I shall be developing that point in greater depth later.
Our third reason for supporting the Bill is, frankly, political. The SNP has never been frightened to fight anywhere, any time any place, for Scotland's interests, and European elections provide us with a unique opportunity to do so. They are unique because, in the EEC context, only 1331 the SNP can put Scotland first. Members of other parties are tied to the fact that the majority of their votes come from outside Scotland. In Strasbourg the Liberals will have to keep a weather eye open to the response of their laissez-faire Italian colleagues, the Socialists opposite to the pragmatic Social Democratic Germans, and all parties to their Danish colleagues, when they start plundering our fishing grounds.
Hon. Members may say that fishing is a national interest. Precisely. That is why Scotland merits national representation. If hon. Members say that this is an anachronistic position, my reply is that, given the development of European institutions, Scotland still has to catch up on full national status, and there will be time enough for Scots Members to decide which political groups they should join when we have an independent State.
Our fourth reason for supporting the Bill rests on democratic accountability. The only alternative to direct elections is indirect nomination, and we do not want to see the European Assembly become the last refuge for the stately domes of England, a rest home for old party hacks and faithful servants with £150,000 guaranteed in their personal kitty against their retirement. That is not democracy.
Tony Howard summed up the Bill in the New Statesman as:an animal not unlike the proverbial mule— without pride of ancestry or hope of progeny".What could we expect, given the Government that fathered the measure? As usual, they have tried to face both ways— by appeasing their Liberal comrades through the introduction of the regional list and, when that fails, accommodating the Tribune Group with single-member constituencies, when the reality is that the Bill will be got through only with the support of the good old Tories.
Where does the SNP stand in all this? There was a rather silly intervention in Monday's debate by the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes), who, with a cry of "Eureka!", said that he had spotted a non-monolithic view on the EEC within the SNP. That was rich, coming from his side. It is true that we have different degrees of support for the Community of course, as do all parties.
I personally believe that the European Communities are a major determinant 1332 of where Scotland is going constitutionally —and I can claim to have coined the phrase, some months earlier than did the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sillars), that separation has no meaning within the Communities. I agree that the IMF would not have bailed these islands out if the United Kingdom had not been a member of the EEC, backed by Scotland's oil.
The SNP has a watertight umbrella on this issue. Up to independence we shall fight the elections with vigour and determination. Come independence, sovereignty will return to the Scots people. As we made clear in our evidence to the Select Committee:the ultimate relations between the European Communities and Scotland as an independent country can be determined only by the Scots people in the circumstances obtaining at Independence.That means a referendum in Scotland, with two models being put forward—the Norwegian system of associateship with the Communities and the Danish system of being within the Communities. The "circumstances" will clearly have to cover continuing trade with England, since we are each other's largest market, and the response of the EEC to Scotland's oil and fish and our strategic position.
For the second half of my speech, I turn to two clauses to which we take exception. The first concerns the number of seats—eight for Scotland, six for Luxembourg, 15 for Ireland and 16 for Denmark. I do not think that I can be accused of special pleading for Scotland, since our evidence to the Select Committee was for proportionality throughout the Communities. We suggested three seats, if necessary six, for each existing member State, plus one member per 650,000 population. That would ensure that there was no conflict of interest between Merseyside, Tyneside and Scotland. But we were told that the interests of small nation States had to be taken into account. Fine— that goes for us, too. We were told that this meant independence. Exactly.
Luxembourg, with half the population of Edinburgh, will have one MEP per 60,000 population. Ireland, with a population that is 2 million smaller than Scotland, will have one MEP per 200,000 population. Denmark will have one MEP per 313,000. Scotland will have one MEP per 630,000. It is not surprising 1333 that in that situation most Scots will argue forcefully "We was robbed".
For those hon. Members who say that special account has to be taken of small countries' interests, let me remind them of the easy and casual way in which Luxembourg was given its six seats. My source is Mr. Patijn's reply to cross-questioning by myself in the Select Committee on Direct Elections. He said:I went to Mr. Thorn, the Prime Minister of Luxembourg, before I met anyone else. I said 'Mr. Thorn, my suggestion is that no one else gives a damn if Luxembourg has six, five, three, seven or four. What is your number?' He said 'Mr. Patijn, we have in Luxembourg five parties. If every party can get one seat and one extra for the election winner, we are fine.'When I registered some surprise at that, Mr. Patijn said:If we can make Luxembourg happy with six seats, why should you worry?I do worry. Surely I have every reason to worry if seats are being doled out in that casual way. The sooner someone arrives in an independent Scotland and asks what our number is, the better. I give notice that the SNP will table an amendment that will allow Scotland 16 seats. I am quite conscious of course that all we are doing is to put down a marker for the future of what is possible with self-government. I quote the Prime Minister in support of that contention. He said:I confirm that it is only through independence that Scotland will be able to get the same representation as Denmark."— [Official Report, 14th July 1976; Vol. 915, c. 658.]Our main effort during the passage of the Bill through the House will be to budge up the Scottish representation. We can claim some weighty cross-party support. Professor Drever of Dundee University, who is hardly a nationalist supporter, argues that Scotland should have representation "in an identifiable way". Lord Gladwyn warns that Scotland could reasonably expectequality with Denmark and superiority to Ireland.The British Labour group in Brussels suggested a weighted regional allowance of 10 seats for Scotland. The Labour Committee for Europe argued against the "gross disparity" of Scotland getting only eight seats and the "bias" that that would cause against the EEC. It argued 1334 that there should be a minimum of nine seats. The Ulster Unionist Council suggested 12 seats for Scotland. The right hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe), moved an amendment in the Select Committee to give Scotland 10 seats. The Committee in is first report itself argued that theallocation of seats to the United Kingdom should be large enough to provide representation for its component parts not significantly out of proportion to those of smaller member States.That is the crunch. This Bill will get into some tight corners during its passage. By my reckoning there are about 40 hon. Members who, on paper at least, are committed to Scotland having a minimum of 10 seats. I hope that the Government spokesman will not attempt to dodge that issue in his winding-up speech.
§ Mr. Reid
The hon. Gentleman should have marked my words with care. I said that I was putting down "a marker" for the future. I implied that those 16 seats were not possible without independence, but that it was perfectly legitimate for my party to put down that marker. That is the option of independence. I then argued that my main purpose would be to budge up Scotland's representation, ideally towards 12 seats, and that many other hon. Members have discussed the possibility of 10 seats.
I turn to voting systems. Proportionality used to be reserved for those clever chaps at university who presumably could understand it. The regional list system has the advantage that it can be put through the House quickly, but it has certain drawbacks. First, there is no link with a clearly defined constituency. Hon. Members may argue that when the population that is represented reaches 600,000 that hardly matters. That is true only if MEPs double up on Westminster work and the whole range of constituency problems.
I suspect that industrialists, trade unions and local government would rather deal with "their man". They will want a clearly identifiable man with clear channels running through him to the EEC. That is particularly true in terms 1335 of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. It has an enormous terrain and there are vast distances to be covered. It has farming, fishing, oil and a tremendously important strategic position, but no chance of adequate representation unless the region has its own seat.
Secondly, the regional list system concentrates far too much power in the hands of the parties' central committees in deciding who gets the EEC job. It diminishes the rôle of people. If it goes through, within my party I shall canvass the idea of regional primaries.
Thirdly, the size and complexity of voting papers must be considered. After today's talk of vertical and horizontal ballots is it possible that there will be voting in the round—on discs? In any event, with 40 or so names on the paper there will be difficulty. Those persons whose names begin with A will have a decided advantage.
The regional list system might offer genuine proportionality, but why not allow eight votes for each elector as in the old two-Member seats, such as Dundee?
Why not permit eight preferential votes? The answer is that the Government Front Bench will have no truck with cross-voting, which is what that would imply.
I suggest that there is a middle way— namely, single-Member seats plus proportionality. That is contained in the electoral system which the SNP has always advocated—the use of the alternative vote, the system where the voter does not mark the paper with an X but with 1, 2, 3, 4 in order of preference. If a candidate gets 50 per cent., he is elected. If no one gets 50 per cent., the bottom candidate drops out and the preferences are added up until someone has 50 per cent. plus.
It is the system that is used in elections to the Australian House of Representatives. It is very nearly the system by which hon. Members are elected to this House. It was official Labour policy. An AV Bill passed through all its stages in 1930 but it was thrown out by their Lordships in another place. The Labour Party threatened to use the Parliament Act to bring it back the following year and to force it through. Only the economic crisis of 1931 stopped that.
1336 It is interesting that the Liberals favour the use of alternative voting in those areas in which they have fair representation. In the Highlands and Islands they prefer not STV but AV—the very area where they hold Orkney and Shetland, and Inverness. I believe, therefore, that there is a compromise possible between single-Member constituencies and proportionality through the use of the alternative vote, and the SNP will move accordingly.
In conclusion, the referendum was the great constitutional divide in British politics. For England it marked the final and formal abdication of sovereignty. For Scotland it marked the reawakening of a possible independent role as a small north European country. I do not know where European institutions will take us in their gradual evolution. It may be that my grandchildren will end up in a Europe in which power at the centre is balanced by a proper devolution of power to all small homogeneous communities. We may be heading in time for a Carolingian Europe, with England returning to a heptarchy. I do not know, and that day is not here yet.
National sovereignty still means something. Scotland's interests in oil and fish and our geopolitical position necessitate national representation in the Community in our own right. As a start to that process, we want a weighting of representation for the small nations of the United Kingdom comparable to the weighting that has already been granted to the small nation States of the European Communities.
§ 7.39 p.m.
§ Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, Central)
I think that on another occasion the hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. Reid) and hon. Members from his party would be ruled out of order on the ground of tedious repetition. We are getting rather tired of their speeches. Whatever the topic, we get the same old claptrap. It serves no useful purpose. Whatever figure was put in the Bill for Scottish representation, the SNP Members would have doubled it or added on half a dozen. They engage constantly in this auction mart. It does neither them nor the House any service.
No doubt the hon. Gentleman will table his amendment in Committee. I have no doubt that it will be rejected. I suppose that he will return to Scotland to say 1337 how Scotland has been persecuted by the Westminster Parliament. We all know that that is completely predictable. It is completely boring and irrelevant to what we are discussing.
I shall vote for the Bill tomorrow. However, I do not like the shape of the Bill. Still less do I like the delay in introducing it or the manner in which the Government are allowing their Front Bench a free vote.
I think that an outside observer, listening to earlier speeches, would find it hard to believe that we were embarking on a major constitutional measure of legislation, seeking to fulfil an international obligation solemnly and freely entered into and implementing a pledge given in the Queen's Speech just a few months ago.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. Stewart) made the point initially that we ought to be clear about what the vote tomorrow night is about. It is on the principle not of direct elections but of whether we stay in or get out of the Common Market. With one or two exceptions, all right hon. and hon. Members who go into the "No" Lobby tomorrow night will be those who were and still are against our membership of the European Economic Community. We had better not lose sight of that fact.
Despite their protestations to the conrary—if, indeed, there are any—certain right hon. and hon. Members on the Government Front Bench, and on the Back Benches too, have never accepted the clearly declared will of the people emphasised in the decisive referendum in 1975. We have had all kinds of alibis. Not long after the result of the referendum, certain hon. Members were bleating "We was robbed." For one reason or another, because the referendum result did not go their way, they argued that the debate was distorted, that money talked, and all the rest.
The instigator of that instrument—my right hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn), now Secretary of State for Energy—did not foresee those dangers when he argued for the introduction of this constitutional innovation. He found his home-made bomb blowing up in his face, rather like some inefficient IRA operator. It was he who, in his pro-European days—I have quoted this before but it is not too well known— 1338 argued with his customary smoothness and conviction that in order to protect the small man from the big international companies it was necessary to create big international political institutions. That argument is as valid today, if not more so, as when my right hon. Friend put it forward in the first instance.
I turn now to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. Ten years ago or thereabouts he was the Government Chief Whip who whipped us through on a three-line whip in favour of entry into the Common Market.
We have had some interesting changes in dispositions on this matter. I make no complaint about that. However, the argument will go on. Whether the Bill is passed or not, the anti-Marketeers will still campaign against our continued membership of the EEC, but the onus is on them to convince people that there is a viable alternative.
I am not as enthusiastically pro-European as many of my right hon. and hon. Friends, but I firmly believe that there is no viable alternative for this country to pursue. The longer this debate goes on, the greater the degree of uncertainty that will be generated and, therefore, the greater the likelihood that our economic and political problems will continue and increase.
If my right hon. Friends who are now in the Government and who, presumably, will vote against the Bill tomorrow had the courage of their convictions, they would have resigned. Does anyone really believe that on an issue such as this in the Parliamentary Labour Party men of the calibre of Ernest Bevin, Nye Bevan, Stafford Cripps, Attlee or Gaitskell would not have taken the honourable course and resigned their portfolios? These comments need to be made in the House as well as upstairs and outside.
I turn from those parenthetical remarks to the Bill. It is a marvellously generous invitation to filibuster. If I were an Opposition Member, I should love the prospect of the Bill going into Committee of the Whole House, just as I should love the prospect of a Bill on House of Lords reform and the devolution Bill going to a Committee of the whole House.
I remind my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House that we are now 1339 more sovereign than he is. We have a good deal more power, because of the nature and composition of the House, than we normally have when there is an overall clear majority for one party or another. If the Bill gets stuck in Committee, other Bills can get stuck in Committee. There are quids pro quo in all this, and the leader of the House had better understand that when we get to the next Session.
I believe that in producing the Bill the Government, to quote their phrase, have used their best endeavours to ensure, first, that the Bill does not reach the statute book much before Christmas 1978; secondly, that consequently there can be no European parliamentary elections before the autumn of 1979; thirdly, that before that eventuality there will be a General Election in the United Kingdom; and, fourthly, that that would mean a further delay of at least a year, taking us into late 1980 even if that General Election returned the Government with a substantial overall majority heavily committed to direct elections as a high priority piece of legislation. If that is the possible scenario—I may be wrong, and I hope that I am—what will be the effect on our European partners and on our standing in the forum of world politics? In my view, it would be disastrous.
It is relevant—my right hon. Friend the Member for Fulham touched on this point—to ask the Government whether they seriously intend to enact this legislation in the next 12 months come what may. It should not be too much to ask the Government to make a declaration of intent in winding up the debate tomorrow night. They must give that assurance. I repeat, a lot of that other legislation will depend on the nature of the reply to that question which has been posed by various of my right hon. and hon. Friends. If the question is answered either unsatisfactorily or not at all, we shall suspect that the Bill is another piece of cynical window-dressing backed by no serious intent or conviction. The fact that these questions can be asked at all is a measure of the suspicion and bad faith that the Government have engendered in this area over the last 12 months.
I shall vote with the majority tomorrow evening, because—I agree with the hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire here if on nothing else—it 1340 is part of the demoralisation—a horrible word—of institutions in Europe, and I am in favour of democratisation wherever we can engage in it. If I failed in that respect I should be accused of being a party to reneging on treaty and international obligations into which we have entered voluntarily.
I visualise a prolonged Committee stage. I shall support the proposition of proportional representation by means of the regional list if for no other reason than that the Labour Party had better accept that the first-past-the-post system would result in a massacre for us. The result would be a disaster for my party if we adhered to the timetable and the principle of first past the post.
Most hon. Members realise that every system of voting always has disadvantages, absurdities and anomalies. I do not know of any system which is free from them. They are less important than the problems that are likely to arise from the nature of the jobs of Members of the European Parliament, their roles and their relationships with constituents, their parties and the House. These problems must be worrying to hon. Members who have been in the House for any length of time. Although this is a major step into unknown territory, we can argue about the likely results.
It has been argued that this measure is a step on the road to federalism. I do not mind if it is. Indeed, I think that it might be. I am not objecting to it. Federalism is not a dirty word. The inevitable and desirable consequence of democratic elections to the European Assembly will be that its Members will demand, and get, more power. To that extent it will reduce the sovereignty of this Parliament. However, let no one exaggerate the sovereignty of this legislature. One of the problems is the great and developing gulf between the power of the Executive and the powerlessness of the legislature. To my knowledge, we have done little to redress that balance in the last quarter of a century. I am not afraid of that situation. We have to look at the problems of sovereignty and legislative power in the proper context of the nation State.
It is interesting that some of my hon. Friends, generally speaking members of the left-wing who think that they are international Socialists, are more parish 1341 pump than the humblest parish councillor. They think that we can solve the problems if we get off the world.
Fundamental problems are incapable of solution in a purely national context. One of my hon. Friends talked about fluted bottles. But let us suppose that we got out of the Market. It might take upfluted bottles and then say to us that we must not send bottles to them unless they are fluted. We shall dance to their tune whether we like it or not. That is why we joined NATO, the United Nations and all kinds of international institutions. We understood at the end of the war that our international role could be played only through international institutions.
§ Mr. Spearing
What my hon. Friend is saying is true in terms of international co-operation. We are all supporters of the United Nations and the various alliances and arrangements that we have made. What we object to is the supranational authority in which package bargaining takes place across the board.
§ Mr. Hamilton
If my hon. Friend believes that package bargaining does not take place in the United Nations, for instance, he is deluding himself. Whatever the organisation, whether it is the Labour Party, the Tory Party or the Boy Scouts, argy-bargying takes place. We have probably lost the JET project because of the stubbornness of the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food about other matters. When one joins an international institution, that is how things operate. [Interruption.] We had better live in the real world. My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) keeps chuntering.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Myer Galpern)
I hope that the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) will not continue a dialogue with his hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing).
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I am concerned about other hon. Members who are anxious to take part in the debate.
§ Mr. Hamilton
I have been waiting all the time to speak, and I am about to conclude. I do not want to run away 1342 from my hon. Friend. We have to participate in this kind of exchange. The Chair should not intervene too much. If I give way to my hon. Friend, that is my business.
This is a challenge to the House to face up to the issues in their proper international context. I do not know what the end product will be, but I believe that we simply cannot contract out of this international development. We had better resolve at this time to get on and make these things work according to our standards. To try to pretend that we can get out and pursue our nationalistic course and thereby find solutions to our problems is living in cloud-cuckoo-land.
§ 7.57 p.m.
§ Mr. John Stokes (Halesowen and Stourbridge)
I should like to take up many of the aspects mentioned by the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) in his interesting speech. However, in view of the time and because I have been sitting here since the start of the debate, I shall refrain from doing that.
I consider the Bill to be bad, whether one is in favour of direct elections or not. It has little to do with the good of the country and everything to do with the attempt of the present Government to cling to office. A better title to the Bill would be "Lib-Lab Pact (Continuation) Bill".
The choice of proportional representation or our system of voting has been put in quite cynically. If by any mischance proportional representation were adopted, with all the threatened risks to our system of voting, the Labour Government would bear a heavy responsibility. The Bill is badly drafted and will need substantial amendment. It is full of muddles, absurdities and anomalies. If it is given a Second Reading tomorrow night I confidently expect that it will be lost in the sands in the same way as the Scotland and Wales Bill was lost. I certainly hope that there will be no question of a guillotine being introduced for such a vitally important Bill.
I want to concentrate on direct elections. I have always been a loyal and steady supporter of this country playing its part in the EEC, but I cannot support direct elections to the European Assembly. I realise that the Assembly has few powers and that its proceedings are not, 1343 in general, in conflict with those of our Parliament. But I am sure that the character and powers of the European Assembly are bound to change in time, as a result of direct elections. Elected representatives have an ingrained habit of demanding the fullest powers.
That, I believe, is one of the lessons of history. I have no doubt that eventually an elected European Assembly will lead to a fully federal Europe, which I do not want to see, at least in my own lifetime. If we go to our constituencies and try to arouse some interest in this subject, we shall find that there is no demand whatever for direct elections. We understand that the cost of them, in present money, will be at least £10 million each time and, of course, with inflation that will increase.
I wonder also how many of our constituents will take the trouble to vote, with the huge constituencies and the new arrangements, whatever they may be. The constituencies certainly will be too large for the representatives to have any real relationship with the electors, and that, of course, will be something entirely new in English history.
Some people have mentioned the salaries of the new Members of the European Assembly, which, we are given to understand, may be four or five times the size of our own salaries. That will make British Members of Parliament here seem very poor relations, and in an increasingly materialistic society this is bound to make people look unfavourably on our own Westminster Parliament in comparison to the European Assembly, with its much richer and more prestigious Members.
I have always wanted, in company, I believe, with most of my countrymen and certainly in company with the ideals of Churchill, Adenauer and de Gaulle, to have my country represented in the EEC by a Minister responsible to this House and not by politicians with no connection what ever with us and who, in time, will bypass this House and will certainly become deadly rivals to us.
The composition of this Assembly will not, of course, correspond in party-political terms to the composition of this House, and that alone may cause endless conflict, quite apart from the natural rivalries which there are bound to be.
1344 But my greatest fear arising from the Bill is something that has not so far been mentioned by any speaker in this debate —the inevitable weakening of our own national pride and patriotism, which will result from so much power and influence being taken from this Parliament and being passed on to the Assembly in Europe. I believe that a sound national patriotism must be the basis on which all Government policies are founded. Take away this foundation and all will fail or wither away.
I feel that some of my colleagues— some of them young men in a hurry—in their over-enthusiasm for the European Assembly, may need reminding that the Tory Party alone is the national and patriotic party of this country. If we are to agree to the Bill, which in my view means, in the end, giving up our own nationhood, with its incomparable history and traditions, political life will cease to have any meaning or purpose in this historic and still envied Chamber.
Patriotism in this country is not dead; the Jubilee gave us a glimpse that it still burns brightly in the hearts of millions of the Queen's subjects, if only it can be aroused. I feel, therefore, that there are grave dangers if we give up our loyalty to this Parliament of the United Kingdom in favour of some vague and ill-defined European notion. People, after all, must know what they love, and must feel that they belong to it.
I understand that one day we may be able to revive the ideal of Christendom, but not, I think, in our lifetime, or in the lifetime of my children or my children's children. For all our common Christian heritage in Europe, there are still profound differences between our way of life in this country and that on the Continent, and these differences may reach breaking point if Spain, Portugal, Greece and Turkey become our partners in the EEC. Certainly the addition of those countries, with which we have much less close links than we have, say, with France and Germany, will utterly alter the character of the Community.
I have always regarded the EEC as a grand alliance that underpins NATO and that with the United States of America is part of the Western bastion against Russia and the Warsaw Pact countries. It means, in political terms, that France and Germany will never fight again. In 1345 personal terms it means to me that my son will not have to fight in a European quarrel, as I did and as my father did before me. This, it seems to me, is a noble ideal and far transcends the shortcomings, for instance, of the common agricultural policy.
But by passing the Bill we cannot suddenly dissolve our British heritage, as some people want us to discard our British passports overnight. It seems to me mad to suggest such a thing. Nor do I believe that our constituents will understand or follow it. Surely we must be true and faithful, giving our loyalty to our own country first, before, perhaps a long time hence, merging this loyalty in a larger European concept. These are some of the dangers to which direct elections are bound to lead us.
There is no urgent need for these elections. The EEC has got on perfectly well without them for nearly 20 years—and what is 20 years in the lifetime of Europe? I am sure that we can wait another 20 years without any grave problem. There is no urgent need for the elections, and we should not have them.
To my mind, the most important thing to which we ought to be addressing ourselves now, and which ought to be a concern of the EEC, is the need to work towards a common foreign policy. That is much more important than the mere matter of direct elections. Let us try to consolidate the EEC gradually, step by step, on firm foundations, and let us also try to carry public opinion with us at every stage. I do not believe that the British public are yet ready for an elected European Assembly. I am certainly not ready, nor, I believe, in its heart of hearts, is the Tory Party.
§ 8.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Phillip Whitehead (Derby, North)
I had hoped that the hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Stokes), whose speeches, suffused as they are with the imperial afterglow, always entertain and enrich the House, would have been persuaded of the virtues of an enlarged and developing Europe by some of the suggestions that have come from the Opposition side of the House. We have heard those, such as the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery), who have said that we were restoring 1346 the Europe of the Middle Ages—the ideals of Christendom to which the hon. Gentleman referred. Another hon. Member said that we might be moving back towards the kingdoms of the heptarchy. But none of this has been enough to persuade the hon. Gentleman that there might be something in the idea of direct elections.
I think that the hon. Gentleman is confusing the idea of direct elections and what the peoples of Europe might do with the elected representatives whom they will send to the European Parliament with ancient notions of loyalty and a visceral sense of national identity, which will be in no whit diminished by the developments in Europe that we are likely to see in our lifetime.
After 20 years or more of the European Coal and Steel Community, Euratom and the Common Market, we have not seen Germans any less German, the French any less French or—as some would say with regret—the Italians any less Italian than they were immediately after the war. What is happening is that the peoples of Europe are attempting not to submerge their identities but to merge as best they can their common interests in collaborative ventures, by conciliation and discussion rather than by war and rivalry as in the past, to advance the common interests of Europe and, indeed, mankind.
Therefore, the first thing that we should ask ourselves in this debate is whether that common interest for all of us as Europeans is advanced or hindered by this proposal. Second, how can we consider the undoubted fact that power is moving both up and down from Westminster? We may not like that fact, but it is happening, and quite irrespective of this constitutional proposal. Westminster just happens to be too big for some things. Hence our arguments about devolution, all the arguments over the years about the relative powers of local government, and also, therefore, the arguments which we are having about supranationality and what form that takes when we consider our elected representatives and the organisations which govern our lives.
I do not happen to feel that we shall progress towards a federal Europe. I would actually prefer it. I am by instinct a federalist. But it is far more likely that 1347 the nation States of Europe and the way in which the EEC has developed will take us in a confederal direction. I would therefore say to my hon. Friends, some of whom are absent, who have spoken eloquently today that there is no question of this country being led through one hoop at a time, as my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. Gould) said—negotiation, entry, direct elections, federalism, each time the next one following automatically, with the poor deluded electorate never able to look up and see the direction in which we are moving. That is a fallacious view of how the electorate has judged this great argument and how it will see its interests and the national interest as we enter the next stage of the evolution of Europe.
I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test said that we wish to, and should, develop and strengthen if we can the institutions of Westminster for dealing with the problems raised by entry to the Common Market— as though that were on all points in conflict with the notion of strengthening democratic accountability within the Community itself. That is quite wrong.
I commend to my hon. Friend in his absence the thoughtful piece of another hon. Friend of ours, my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott), who is the leader of the British delegation to the European Parliament. He outlined in an article in Labour Weekly, from the point of view of an anti-Marketeer but also from the point of view of his experience within the European Parliament, what will happen after direct elections and the way that that might go. He has been able to see that this is a bilateral approach, that we should be strengthening the institutions of Westminster and looking at Committees with powers of scrutiny and extending the scrutiny that we have over the activities of the Commission and of the Council of Ministers, but that at the same time we should be saying that there is a rô1e for an elected Assembly, whether at Luxembourg or Strasbourg or whatever.
In his article, my hon. Friend said:It could control its own budget and the distribution of resources set aside for the development of agreed European policies. It could establish its own Public Accounts Committee and auditors to investigate money spent on European policies. It could develop a more effective committee system, such as that 1348 in the United States Congress, to supplement investigations, checks and democratic accountability on all matters of public concern in the community.My hon. Friend went on to talk about the investigative rôle which the Committees could have:The growth of multinationals, the scandals of Lockheed, oil company payments in Italy and missing uranium ore have all shown that national Parliaments are not in any position to check the growth of a new and marked development of corporate power.I endorse every word of that.
I have had many arguments with my hon. Friend about the question of Europe and whether we should accede to the EEC, but from the standpoint of his contribution within the European Parliament he has been able to see the rôle that it should have. I think he sees that the extra muscle that the Parliament needs can come only from democratic representation, from those people being sent there by the electorate and that electorate sending them there with the additional urgency and force of people who wish to see an accounting made, who want a first-hand explanation of the absurdities of the CAP, the buttermountain and the wine lake, who also want to know who has been on the gravy train, where the money has gone and what the national and international scandals have been which this Westminster Parliament, for all its vaunted sovereignty, has been remarkably lax in following up.
That is the charge that I would make to those of my hon. Friends who have spoken, on the whole, in moderate terms in this debate. We have had none of the "scorched earth" policy which seems to be advocated by some of my hon. Friends who are talking about coming out of the Community altogether. To those who have put the strict constitutional argument, I would say: "Do you want accountability or not? If you do, will you accept for one moment"—ex hypothesi, as my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test would say— "that there are areas in the supranational level where this Parliament simply is not adequate to follow up and thrash out all the issues which concern our constituents and that they need in this respect to be served by their directly elected representatives at the Luxembourg Parliament?"
§ Mr. Spearing
Is not my hon. Friend reinforcing the very arguments which my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. Gould) made earlier? He is saying that, in order to achieve accountability, we must have an elected Assembly. But is not that, in effect, a federal State which is democratic? Does is not mean that the Economic Community will work only in that way?
§ Mr. Whitehead
No, it does not mean that at all. It means that there will be power in that confederal setting and there will be accounting, just as there is at various other levels.
I would say to my hon. Friend and to others who have taken the line in the debate that there would be a clash between the representatives of the European Parliament and of the national Parliaments that to some degree they are right. But that is true of the extension of democracy into every sphere. There are clashes of interest between the national Government and local government. This Parliament has lived through the arguments about Clay Cross. This Parliament is at the moment confronting Conservative-controlled local authorities asserting a different sort of power and sometimes asserting or claiming a different sort of sovereignty against Westminster about what the Secretary of State can do and what the elected local government can do.
I do not regard that tension and clash as at all a bad thing. It is built into a democratic system that power is exercised at different levels and that the people exercising it are held accountable to those who are themselves the same electorate. One man, more than one vote, is the important thing in this instance. One has a vote for one's county council and one will have a vote for a regional assembly if there is devolution, and there will be voting for the Westminster Parliament. Why not also a vote for an elected European Parliament? There is no logic against it.
Those who have pressed their logic a little further and who see this proposal taking us down all these terrible paths must accept that a diet of pressed logic, like a diet of chopped logic, is not very wholesome. Those who see it this way are standing in the light of the democratic process. They may not realise it 1350 —they may think that they are asserting the ancient traditions of the Westminster Parliament—but they are preventing our electors from having the kind of scrutiny which they might have by having their directly elected representatives in the Luxembourg Parliament.
§ Mr. Whitehead
I wish, frankly, that we were moving in a federal direction. As I said, I think that it will be confederal and that it will not move any further than that.
I depart from the Government on the question of the method to be used. I can understand why this has been put in the Bill. It is no shame or disgrace to say that, when the agreement between the Liberal and Labour Parties exists, the option of the regional list should be put into the Bill and given all the force—it will not, I fear, be very much—which endorsement from the Front Bench can carry.
However, I believe that it is in this country's interests and in the interests of everyone here—even hon. Members from the Liberal Party—who considers the matter carefully not at this stage to embark on the introduction of the regional list system before there has been much more consideration of whether it really is fairer to use some form of proportional representation rather than the first-past-the-post system.
In our earlier debate on the White Paper, several hon. Members said with some force that we had had no Speaker's Conference on electoral reform. We have had various proposals in the past which have been chopped and changed according to the electoral conveniences of the moment. That is no good way to introduce the kind of proposals which are in this Bill and which would then be used, whether we like it or not—it is disingenuous to suggest that things would not develop this way—as a precedent for the introduction of some form of PR for the Westminster Parliament. Of course they would. We all know that. That is one of the reasons why the proposal is in the Bill in this form.
Almost no constitutional proposal for altering the method of election has come about because of a perfect belief in greater representation and a fairer share of the 1351 vote. We all know why the Labour Government in 1931 brought in the alternative vote proposal; we all know why there is the single transferable vote in Northern Ireland. Incidentally, I think that that has not achieved all that was claimed for it. I looked with some interest at the results of the elections in the Republic of Ireland last week. The STV system there produced almost exactly the same result as the first-past-the-post system would have done, but with two small differences. It took two days longer to count the votes, and the most outspoken and courageous member of the minority party, the Labour Party, Dr. Conor Cruise O'Brien, was defeated, whereas he would not have been defeated on the first-past-the-post system.
This is something upon which the Liberals should reflect. I have heard it suggested that the National Front might well stand to gain under any STV system. We have to be careful. Professor David Butler has produced figures to show that if we had the system proposed in the Bill the representation—based on the October 1974 figures—would differ significantly only in the presence of Liberal representatives at Luxembourg. It would not much alter the proportions of the other minor parties elected. We must be careful about introducing a constitutional change purely in order to accommodate a single party, however worthy it may be and however much its support is valued and cherished by the Government.
I support the Lib-Lab agreement. There will be much common ground between the two parties, and not merely in the matter of escapology and in the interest of clinging together to survive. It will be in a radical programme which can be put forward next year. But I say seriously to the Liberals that these proposals are not necessarily part of it. They go too deep in altering the relationship between the Member and his constituents, in altering the power of those who select a candidate and are closely linked with him thereafter when he is elected, not to control him but to undertake a reasonable dialogue with him, such as they should have even in the larger constituencies provided for the European Parliament. If one introduces this system, one strongly introduces the power of the caucus. I do not believe that the party apparatus would agree to 1352 that single vote for any individual candidate in the kind of way set out in these proposals over any long period of time.
I hope that the Government will be able to tell us, in the event—which I anticipate —of an amendment being moved to strike out Clause 3 and the three appropriate schedules, at what point they expect that the Boundary Commissioners will be able to set out on the preliminary work involved in producing the 81 individual constituencies. That will be needed if we use the first-past-the-post method. I accept that that would mean a delay of at least a year but the Government should be honest and tell us. They must expect that that will be the outcome and that we will come out of all this with the first-past-the-post system some time early next year. Therefore, they must anticipate that we are talking of direct elections in 1979 and not in 1978.
Again, what, if any, shared rôle do the Government see for the directly-elected representatives in the Westminster Parliament? Will there be a Joint Committee? Will they be sent to the House of Lords? What is to happen? There is nothing in the Bill about it, and we should know before we decide upon the Bill and what form it should take.
§ 8.35 p.m.
§ Sir Anthony Royle (Richmond, Surrey)
My views are well known. I have spoken in practically every debate on this subject in the past 18 months. I have only two points to make now, although I agree with much of what the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) said.
I wish to speak mainly about the delay in bringing the Bill forward. My right hon. Friend the Member for Knutsford (Mr. Davies) made the point that the Government have delayed unreasonably in bringing the Bill before the House. It is not just nine months or 12 months—it is over 18 months since the Government started talking about bringing in a Bill for direct elections.
In the debate on 25th April, I pointed out that we had had a Green Paper in April 1976, a two-day debate in March 1976, a debate on the Adjournment on 12th July last, a debate on 7th February, and a debate on 25th March on a motion moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Devon, West (Mr. Mills). Then we 1353 had the two-day debate in April. The Select Committee was set up on 13th May last year. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Oxon (Mr. Hurd) and I were members. The Committee produced three reports. All this has taken place in the last 18 months and the Government have done nothing until now about bringing a Bill before us. Yet today the Prime Minister had the nerve to try to justify the delay.
The Prime Minister cannot justify it. If there is delay in the Bill going through the House he cannot put the blame on the Scottish National Party, or on the Ulster Unionists, or on the Conservative Party, or, indeed, on Back Bench Members of his own party, because the delay has been caused by the Government in their efforts over the last 18 months to avoid bringing this important legislation before the House.
As recently as the Spring Adjournment debate on 26th May, I raised the question of the delay with the Leader of the House. We had read in the Press that he was the leader of a faction in the Cabinet deliberately stopping the legislation from being published and coming before the House. He replied:… it is no mystery that what Cabinets do is to argue about the different points of view, resolve them and communicate the result to the House."—[Official Report, 26th May 1977; Vol. 932, c. 1639.]But there is no mystery about the Cabinet argument in this case. The mystery is that it was not resolved. One can only describe the six Ministers concerned in Peking terms—perhaps they would be called there the "Gang of Six". They brought about the delay to the Bill, and as a result betrayed a pledge by the Cabinet in the Queen's Speech at the beginning of this Session. In that speech they agreed to say that the Government would bring in this Bill, yet, when the crunch came in Cabinet, they told the Prime Minister in no way would they support him and they wished for a special arrangement whereby they could vote against the Bill, although I understand that they are not to be allowed to speak against it.
All this has caused great distress to many of us who are passionately keen that this country should fulfil its obliga- 1354 tion to use its best endeavours, which the Prime Minister promised our friends in Europe we would do, to get the Bill through in time to play our part in electing directly to a European Parliament Members from this country as is to be done in the other countries of the Community.
§ Sir A. Royle
My hon. Friend talks about an Assembly, but I have always talked about a Parliament. I know that my hon. Friend always likes to call it an Assembly—
§ Sir A. Royle
The fact that the Government call it an Assembly has no influence at all on me. Over the last two or three years the Government have constantly changed their terminology with regard to what it should be called. However, the terminology is not very important.
The second point that I wish to raise is the question of the system that the Bill includes. I should like to speak briefly on this point. My position with regard to the system is quite clear. I wish to see the Bill become law. I am not particularly worried whether we have a first-past-the-post system or a PR system. It is more important that we should have directly-elected members to the European Parliament or Assembly.
However, if I had the choice I would prefer a first-past-the-post system, because I believe that it maintains and strengthens the link that is very important at present between the constituencies and the members of the European Parliament. I would prefer the first-past-the-post system, although I am not adamant on that point.
But I do believe that if we are to get the Bill through the House there must be a fair choice. I would support the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridlington (Mr. Wood). We are not in agreement about a system, particularly as I understand that he is enthusiastic about PR for the Westminster elections, to which I am opposed. But I believe that my right hon. Friend made a fair point when he said that we must have a fair choice. I do not think that we are getting a fair choice under the Bill as drafted.
1355 Twice in interventions this afternoon I raised the possibility of the Home Secretary informally asking the Boundary Commission to start work immediately. We were given evidence in the Select Committee that this could be done. No one is suggesting that there should be a formal instruction to the Boundary Commission. All that is being suggested is that the Secretary of State should say to the Boundary Commission "Would you now informally start the work necessary to delineate the boundaries for constituencies in case the House of Commons decides to vote for a first-past-the-post system and not for a PR system?" The Home Secretary, in an earlier intervention, made it quite plain that there is no statutory reason to stop the Boundary Commission from starting this informal work forthwith.
The only worry that the Home Secretary had—[Interruption]. There is no legal point against it. The Home Secretary made it quite plain that it would not be illegal for the Boundary Commission to start work straight away. The only problem is the small amount of money that might need to be spent during that period.
If that proves an insurmountable problem, and the money cannot be voted by the House in time for the Boundary Commission to start its informal work, there is another alternative that the Government can consider—to bring before the House a motion that is quite clear, so that the House can vote on the system before we rise for the Summer Recess.
If it is not possible to do it by voting on the clause in this Bill it is perfectly possible, within the next 10 days or fortnight, for the Government to table a form of words that enables the House to vote on a straight motion on whether we have a PR system, as indicated in the Bill, or a first-past-the-post system. The House will then make its decision. If it votes for PR, there is no problem. We go ahead with PR in the Bill and the Bill is again introduced in the autumn so that we can go ahead with a regional list system Bill.
If the House votes for a first-past-the-post system there is again no problem. That will give an instruction to the Secretary of State to allow the Boundary Commission to spend the small amount of money necessary to start informal 1356 work. When the Bill comes before the House again on Second Reading in the autumn much of the work will be completed and it can go through and the boundaries can be devised well before elections take place in June next year.
§ Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop
I hope that my hon. Friend is not overlooking the small matter of the Money Resolution. Is he proposing that a Minister can give informal consent for public money to be spent without a Money Resolution?
§ Sir A. Royle
If it is not possible for the Minister to act without a Money Resolution, along the lines that my hon. Friend has suggested. I suggest that there should be a debate in the House on a motion. Following that motion, if the House agrees on a first-past-the-post system, a formal Money Resolution can follow, which will enable the Boundary Commission to start work. It is a very simple procedure. I cannot imagine why the Government are making such heavy weather over it.
§ Mr. Budgen
Is it not the case that a review of boundaries, or the setting up of the Boundary Commission, is a legal system that has a number of steps to it? If the first steps are taken without authority, would that not vitiate later steps? Could it not be argued in the courts that the initial steps were ultra vires?
§ Sir A. Royle
There is no question of taking steps. Parliament would give authority by passing the Money Resolution. The Boundary Commission is sitting at present. There are three members who are Boundary Commissioners, and under them is a large body of devoted and hard working people, who are looking at the Westminster constituency boundaries. They could spend the next two or three months devising boundaries for this important European election.
It is quite clear to all of us that if the Government had stuck to its original target to bring this Bill forward a year or 18 months ago there would have been no problem. Because the Government delayed and prevaricated we are now faced with their putting forward this tardy Bill and putting a choice in front of the House. But, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bridlington said, it is a bogus choice.
1357 It is up to the Home Secretary to ensure that we have a fair choice. I hope that the Home Secretary, for whom most of us on the Opposition Benches have great respect because he is an honourable man, will put this matter right when he winds up the debate. I hope that he will offer us the opportunity of reaching a decision on the system before the Summer Recess.
If he does this he can feel that when tomorrow night comes and the House gives a massive majority for the Second Reading—as I have no doubt it will— that majority came after an honourable debate, and from the certainty that we can come to a fair decision on the system by which people will vote for their first directly elected Members of the European Parliament.
§ 8.33 p.m.
§ Mr. Roderick MacFarquhar (Belper)
I sympathise with much of what the hon. Member for Richmond, Surrey (Sir A. Royle) has said. I have attempted to suggest to my right hon. Friend, the Leader of the House that it would be desirable to have a decision on the system of election before the Summer Recess. I hope that some result will come from the efforts that a number of us have made to try to persuade the Government on this matter.
I welcome the Bill despite the delay, which is deplorable. I welcome it because the Bill, together with the legislation going through the Parliaments of the eight other member States, will provide full democratic supervision, if not control, of the European Commission, European legislation and the European Council of Ministers. I welcome it also because, quite frankly, I see it as a further step towards the creation of European political unity—federation, if one likes—although obviously there are many further steps to be taken before such an objective is achieved.
I shall confine my remarks to two aspects—the questions of the system to be used, and the timing. I am not formally wedded to any system of election. It seems to me that the vital element in the debate is that the election should take place and take place on time. I am not particularly wedded to any system for the election, because it is clear that this is a once-off event and there will be a change 1358 in the future. Therefore, it does not matter if we have a first-past-the-post system because it is likely that this will be changed next time round.
It is quite clear that if there is to be harmonisation—and that is the declared objective—none of the other members of the Common Market will move towards our system. It is much more likely that we shall move towards proportional representation.
I also believe—it is worth asserting this again—that if there is a single-Member constituency in, for example, my county of Derbyshire and one Member is elected to the European Parliament for Derbyshire, that person will appear to some degree to be a greater figure—a colossus —bestriding the eight or so Members of the Westminster Parliament representing parts of the county of Derbyshire. It will come to a situation in a single, definable constituency where the European Member, so to speak, is regarded as the senator with greater prestige than is enjoyed by the mere congressman, the ordinary Westminster Member.
I am in favour of the PR system because I believe that the long-term direction of European affairs will be towards a regional Europe, and certainly towards a greater strengthening of the regions by means of devolution in Britain and various other countries. However, this is a long-term process, and it would not worry me too much if the PR system were not adopted this time round.
I turn to the subject of timing. It does not matter in the abstract whether direct elections are held this year, early next year, late next year or even in the 1980s. What matters is that, if after 20 years of argument and delay the Nine finally come together to agree on a date, it is vital that that date should be kept. If it is not kept in one nation, whatever good reason there may be within its Parliament, and if there is some slippage of three or six months, who is to say that there will not be further slippage in another nation for other good parliamentary reasons or, indeed, domestic reasons? The danger is not that we shall postpone the process for six months but that, by backing away from the timetable finally and painfully agreed between the Nine, it will lead to a distant postponement for as long as 20 years.
1359 I disagree with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, who intervened earlier to say that it did not matter when the elections were held. I would add that, if there is any chance of delay in this country alone in holding elections on time, it will be essential for the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary immediately to agree a new joint date for elections to the European Assembly. I was glad to see that when that point was mentioned earlier both of my right hon. Friends nodded agreement. I hope that means that, if slippage appears to be taking place in Britain, an immediate attempt will be made to reach agreement with our EEC partners for a new date for European elections. I hope that there will be no need for postponement.
I hope that all those who vote "Aye" on the Bill tomorrow will think carefully in Committee before lightly voting amendments or adopting tactics which may so easily delay the passage of the Bill, because that will mean that the elections cannot take place on time. The crucial issue is to have direct elections to the European Parliament and not to seek temporary or minor party advantages from the passage of the Bill.
I assume that the Government are serious about passing the Bill and that, therefore, they will introduce at the beginning of next Session, when the Bill comes before us again, a timetable motion to facilitate its progress. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I trust that when that occurs the right hon. Member for Knutsford (Mr. Davies) will not be as coy as he was today and that the Opposition will also vote "Aye" when the guillotine motion comes before us.
Despite the sparse attendance in the Chamber during most of this debate, I believe that this is a historic occasion. The approval of the Bill in principle will rank historically with British accession to the EEC and the referendum of 1975 as marking another decisive stage in the integration of Britain and Europe, an integration which has already virtually eliminated the danger of a recrudescence of the old internecine wars in Europe. That is why I shall be voting "Aye" tomorrow night with a glad heart.
§ 8.44 p.m.
§ Mr. George Gardiner (Reigate)
I shall not take up the detailed points made by 1360 the hon. Member for Belper (Mr. MacFarquhar). I think that my points of agreement or disagreement will become clear as I develop my own argument.
However, I shall comment on the hon. Gentleman's desire for a guillotine motion on the Bill when it is brought before us again next Session. That is several hurdles away.
I remind the hon. Gentleman that when judging any guillotine motion hon. Members, particularly Opposition Members, must have regard not only to the Bill being guillotined but to whatever the guillotine is making way for. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to strengthen his argument, I suggest that he has a word with his right hon. Friends and makes sure that no other legislation is presented in the next Session that would make it difficult for us to abide by his wishes in that respect. However, that is not the argument that I seek to develop.
This is a very peculiar debate. We call it a Second Reading debate but we know that it will not lead to any meaningful Committee stage or any remaining parliamentary procedures this Session. It is not surprising, therefore, that most of us choose to define the debate and the vote tomorrow as being purely about principle, and we feel considerable freedom in defining what that principle is. We see it as a vote on the principle of whether there should be direct elections to the European Assembly. I and many other hon. Members will vote in accordance with that belief.
I can well understand the arguments of other hon. Members who look at the Bill, see the way in which weighting is given within it to a novel electoral system, and regard tomorrow's vote as a vote on the principle of a system. It will not be altogether surprising if some hon. Members take that view, but I shall not.
The question of timing runs through all these arguments. It is sad that we should be having our first discussions on the Second Reading of the Bill at this stage when we should have made a start so very long before. My hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Surrey (Sir A. Royle) referred to a period of 18 months, but in an even shorter span we had a commitment in the Queen's Speech and a report from a Select Committee. There was nothing to stop the Government 1361 bringing in a Bill earlier. The Bill could have passed through the House and the other place by now if the Government had adopted the suggestion of starting the Boundary Commission process. That opportunity has been lost and we are now considering this measure belatedly.
That being so, it is unacceptable that we should weigh up the Bill and the proposed electoral system contained in it under any shadow of a deadline. I rather welcomed the remarks of the Prime Minister in this regard this afternoon—something that I am not often able to do. The right hon. Gentleman's remarks probably require more careful study, but as I understood them they indicated that we were unlikely to be held to the May-June deadline if that would circumscribe greatly the choice that the House wished to make on an electoral system.
I believe that when we look at the Bill we shall quickly realise that we have missed that deadline already. Right hon. Members on the Government Front Bench have said this afternoon that we have effectively missed the deadline if we wish to go ahead with 81 separately-defined constituencies recommended by the Boundary Commissions. I think that we have also missed that target date if we choose the proposed regional list system with proportional representation.
Is it really considered likely that the Bill will pass through all its parliamentary stages by next March? That is probably the earliest that it could be achieved. Is it then suggested that we should have two months in which to set up our election machinery and choose candidates? Presumably regions will be given some democratic say in selecting who goes on to their lists.
Is all that to be done in two months, including the mounting of an election campaign and explaining the new system to the electorate? Of course, it cannot be done. I think it would be wise of us to recognise now that May-June next year is no longer a feasible target. We have the time in this House to work out the system which suits us all and the country best, and also to get away from the argument as to who will benefit most under which system.
I have no doubt that in an election under a simple majority vote system con- 1362 ducted now the Labour Party would suffer very badly. Any reading of the opinion polls or other indicators suggests this. But if these elections are pushed a little further into the future it becomes a much more open question. I should certainly not claim that any particular pattern of voting support is permanent or constant. By getting away from the obsession with the May-June deadline, we shall get into the clear on that argument as well.
Some of my hon. Friends have sought to establish that the question whether we should have direct elections—the issue of principle on which most of us will be voting tomorrow evening—and the question of the method to be employed are totally separate questions. With respect, I beg to differ from that argument. The two are not totally separate, and in a number of regards they are bound up together. Those of us who have always advocated direct elections to the European Assembly wish those elections to be held—particularly the first time in this country—in a manner which commands the maximum of public understanding, the maximum of public support and the maximum of public participation in them.
For this reason particularly, I strongly urge that we should go for the familiar system of simple majority voting, otherwise I am afraid that the criticism, which has increased over recent months, of our membership of the Community would be given added fuel. People would be presented with a system that was totally foreign to them—an alien system. They would be convinced that it had been foisted on them by the Commission or by someone else in Brussels, even though we in our stupidity had chosen it here. The cause of Europe and of the direct elections to the European Assembly would, I submit, suffer in consequence.
There is a second argument. When advocating these elections, many of us have always stressed that what we want is for people to have their own representative in the European Assembly—the man or woman to whom they can go to put their case and have their interests considered, either at the pre-legislation stage or thereafter in the European Assembly.
That is very important to people in this country, because that is the electoral 1363 tradition here. Indeed, it is a very honourable tradition. It is one that has maintained the two oldest democracies in the world, in this country and in the United States of America. I will not bow to those who say that we really should not allow ourselves to be an odd man out in Europe simply because our European partners, for reasons which are very sensible for them, have found it convenient to adopt a different system and because they have traditions which are different from ours. I respect theirs. I believe that we have a right to ask them also to respect ours. I believe that, with explanation, they would be only too ready to do so.
Furthermore, this is an argument which will go on beyond the first round, because there will then be considerable discussion between us on what is to be the best common system if we are to have one. I should wish a very strong element of single Member representation to be retained in whatever emerges from that.
There is a third argument which the Leader of the Liberal Party touched on earlier this afternoon. He mentioned an argument that I have advanced elsewhere in this connection. That is the great fear which I have in the regional list system as proposed in the Bill of the power of patronage which it confers on the central party machines.
For reasons which many will argue in this House, we are to have representatives sent to the European Assembly drawing salaries in the region of £25,000 a year or more. I am not entering into the argument as to whether that is the right figure, but it is the consequence of joining any Assembly with European partners who are used to that level of parliamentary salary in their own national institutions. They will not accept anything much below that figure. Think, in British terms, what a great weapon this puts in the hands of central party machines when they come to drawing up the lists of favoured candidates for the different regions. One has there, in one's gift, in many cases a guaranteed five-year salary of £25,000 a year-plus, at low tax rates and with comparable expense allowances.
That is a very powerful weapon of patronage that is being put into central 1364 hands. It will be only too easy towards the end of a five-year term, if one of the Members of the European Assembly is inclined to step out of line, to start leaning on him and say "Of course, it will be very difficult. The list is being drawn up soon. We would like to see you on it, chum, but it will be very difficult unless you obey the crack of the whip."
The Leader of the Liberal Party said that this was no different from what happened now, and he cited the example of a former hon. Member of this House who represented Lincoln. But that bears out what I am saying because, without entering into arguments on what happened in Lincoln, for one reason or another the hon. Member who represented that seat lost the confidence of his local "selectorate". It was not an edict from above which said "You will not stand as Labour candidate for Lincoln in the next election." Whatever trouble there was, it began locally for that hon. Member. That is a safeguard which many of us here have.
Many in the House—this is the experience of a great number of my colleagues who have been in this place for far longer than I—have had their disputes and differences with own Front Benches, but they have known that they can go back on their own local organisation and their own selectorate and justify to them what they have done.
That admittedly is on a basis of one constituency as we understand it, and as proposed under the simple majority system we would have constituencies made up of some eight or so seats. But one would still have a local body to whom the Members of the European Parliament could go to to justify what he had done, and he would not need at every stage to justify himself to his central party machine.
§ Mr. Rifkind
My hon. Friend is implying that under the Bill as it now stands it would be the central party machine that would decide who was on the regional list, but surely it is much more likely that, if there were the regional list system proposed in the Bill, it would be the regional party machine, which would be a smaller operation, which might or might not be worse, and which would be more local to individual candidates.
§ Mr. Gardiner
I cannot accept that it would be a smaller operation. It would become a much bigger one. I have drawn a comparison between a selectorate in one constituency and a larger, more amorphous selectorate in a group of eight constituencies. It would become bigger and more amorphous still if one worked up to the regions. Neither is it the case on either side of the House that the established party organisation exactly corresponds to the regions proposed.
§ Mr. Budgen
May I reinforce the point that my hon. Friend has made about the even greater dangers of the local hierarchy having the right to appoint regional representatives? At least, if it were decided by the party organisation at the centre, there would be 20 to 30 people making the decision, whereas if it were decided at a regional level there would be four or five people who could be easily squared with perhaps a couple of knighthoods and two CBEs.
§ Mr. Gardiner
I take my hon. Friend's point. I do not know whether any party would set up such a small number of people to make the selection, but I can see great danger along the line. I return to my basic point about the weapon of patronage that could be far more easily exercised and wielded from the centre, and that is dangerous. It would, indirectly, be dangerous to the House also, and that I am not prepared to contemplate.
§ Mr. Marten
If the local association, or whatever body, started behaving like that because a Member of the European Assembly had done the wrong thing or voted the wrong way, it would be in direct conflict with Article 4(1) of the Council's decision on direct elections:Representatives shall vote on an individual and personal basis. They shall not be bound by any instructions and shall not receive a binding mandate".If the local association did that, the selectors could be taken to the European Court, which, I am sure, would declare them to be out of order.
§ Mr. Gardiner
That is an intriguing argument but I doubt that it would prevent the kind of leaning process that I have described and I doubt whether in some party caucus it would count a great deal to start waving the provisions to 1366 which my hon. Friend has just drawn our attention.
As an hon. Member from the South-East, I must object strongly to the proposed regional groupings, even on the regional list system. I can see that it may make certain sense to have a region defined as Northern England with Cleveland, Cumbria, Durham, Northumbria and Tyne and Wear having five seats. Rather more justifiable is the region defined as East Anglia containing Cambridgeshire, Norfolk and Suffolk with three seats. However, it is a constitutional abortion to bring into the South-East Bedfordshire, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Essex, Hampshire, Hertfordshire, the Isle of Wight, Kent, Oxfordshire, Surrey, East Sussex and West Sussex with 14 Members—and forming it into a thick girdle around Greater London, which would have 10 seats. If one wishes to establish regions in which the people will be able to have some kind of identification with their elected Members, one must do something different from that.
We already see the dangers of regional democratic organisation when we look at the GLC. If one stops any Londoner in the street and asks who is his GLC member, I doubt whether one in 10 would be able to answer. That is what happens in merely Greater London. Here it is proposed that we should have 14 Members, elected through this peculiar system, representing this vast band of the country and this large population. That is just not acceptable.
The Prime Minister usefully began to ease us away from the time constraints hanging over us if we choose one system rather than another. My broad conclusion from our debate is that it is far more important to get our system right—to get a system that will command popular support and obtain easy popular participation —than to rush through a system that we have never subjected to proper scrutiny and which accordingly would do grave harm to the European cause.
I shall have no hesitation in voting on the point of principle in favour of a measure to produce direct elections to a European Parliament and nothing more. However, if the Bill keeps anything like its present shape when it is reintroduced in the autumn, I can see only grave danger ahead for it.
§ 9.6 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Blenkinsop (South Shields)
The hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Gardiner) intimated that he had been in the House only a relatively short time. It feels very much longer.
The Bill is important, although I think that there is profound disinterest in the country about whether our delegation to Strasbourg is directly elected or, as at present, nominated and therefore indirectly elected. The implications of the Bill are important. Its rejection would be seen as casting further doubt on the sincerity of the intentions of this House to remain in Europe after the country had made its decision only a short time ago.
I support the Bill as confirmation of our wish to work with our colleagues in Europe and, above all, of the wish of hon. Members on the Government Benches to work in co-operation with Social Democrats in Europe for common objectives that cannot be achieved in other ways. I pay tribute to the work of my hon. Friends in Strasbourg and elsewhere who have been seeking to get agreement and understanding with our colleagues in many European countries on a whole range of issues on which we have deep concern and wide differences of approach. On the common agricultural policy, for instance, I welcome the fact that my hon. Friends have done a great deal to try to understand the position of the French and other nations and to try to get them to understand our position. I hope that in that way we shall move towards the amendment of the elements of the CAP that are most distressing and damaging to us. That is how some headway can be made.
Directly elected representatives would be that much stronger in such regular interchanges. I have heard much criticism about the strengthening of the Assembly, but I should welcome such a move. I do not share the view of some of my hon. Friends that this is an automatic step towards federation. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) that we are more likely to move towards some form of confederation. Nevertheless, a strengthened Assembly would be of real value against the danger of having too much power in the hands of Commissioners or the Council of Ministers.
1368 From both points of view I welcome the purposes that are enshrined in the Bill. It seems that those of my hon. Friends who are attacking those purposes and some hon. Members who have spoken against it from the Opposition Benches are seeking a completely unreal restoration of the United Kingdom's power position of the past and the disposal of economic power that we then possessed. Sooner or later we must wake up to the fact that those days are past. To my mind the realities insist that we exert our influence through Europe and do not neglect that opportunity.
I dislike the attempt that is made in some areas of this place, and sometimes in the country, to impose responsibility upon the Common Market for all the difficulties and failures that we suffer. Although we recognise that many absurdities and weaknesses are enshrined in some of the practices of the Common Market, it is equally clear that we shall never cure our own problems if we try to use the Common Market as an excuse for weaknesses in ourselves that we must face ourselves.
It is dangerous to try to maintain that all increases in food prices are due entirely to Common Market action. Those who take that line would face a severe awakening, I believe, if they had their way and we were to come out of the Common Market. I believe that we should find that world prices have changed. The bargaining situation that we would face would be very different from that which existed in the days of our ancient past.
I do not feel strongly about the form of direct elections. The regional list system has some natural attractions, and not only in a party sense. It seems that the representations that are likely to be made to those who are our representatives will come less from individual electors and far more from the representatives of organisations, of industry, trade unions, local authorities and many other bodies. For that purpose it seems that a regional basis of representation is solid and sound. For my part that would be a natural attraction to the passage of the Bill.
I share the view of many of my hon. Friends that it is important that the Bill is passed with relative speed. Our Government have given an undertaking that 1369 this measure will go through. We should live up to that undertaking.
§ 9.14 p.m.
§ Mr. Nick Budgen (Wolverhampton, South-West)
As my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr. Gardiner) said, there are two main questions to be considered in this debate. The first is the objective of instituting direct elections to a European Assembly. The second is the means chosen, namely, proportional representation by a regional list system. My position may be wrong, but it is simple. I am opposed both to the objective and to the means. I have no difficulty in deciding that tomorrow I shall vote against the Bill.
In my general approach to the European Community I share the general attitude put forward so well by my neighbour —my hon. Friend the Member for Hales-owen and Stourbridge (Mr. Stokes). I have always been a supporter of the European ideal, because I believe that Europe should be an alliance of nation States, not a union, and certainly not a federal union. I hoped most of all that the EEC would concentrate primarily upon foreign affairs. I believed that ultimately it might well have an important function in defence matters.
In foreign affairs, I should have hoped that the kind of EEC that I should like to see would have had an important role to play in solving, for instance, the Cyprus problem.
In defence matters, it may be that in our lifetime we shall see the final withdrawal of American troops from the Continent of Europe. In that event, the EEC may have a role to play.
I do not wish to see the Community fritter away its strength on activities in which no Government should engage. Indeed, I thought that a good example of the way in which politicians are prepared to pass the buck to or try to saddle the European Community with functions for which neither it nor, indeed, any Government is suited is to be found in the Prime Minister's speech on 29th March 1976 when, as Foreign Secretary, he said:I want to see the Community, which is constantly evolving, concentrating on some of the real issues of importance. I press it, apart from this matter, to consider the prob- 1370 lem of unemployment in its European context. We know what the future is likely to bring. We know what the situation will be. How can the European Community help to overcome the problem of unemployment? Ought it not to be looking at the nature of unemployment in the Community, whether it is cyclical or structural; to what extent it is structural; to what extent trading policy should be modified; to what extent industrial restructuring should take place to stimulate investment; and how competition policy affects declining industries?—[Official Report, 29th March 1976; Vol. 908, c. 917.]Plainly, the Prime Minister—Foreign Secretary as he then was—did not have in mind many of his son-in-law's splendid lectures on the difficulty of reconciling union monopoly power with the 1945 commitment to full—I should argue over-full—employment. The Prime Minister is typical of those who wish to foist on to the European idea functions of government that no Government and no Parliament can sustain.
Most of all, I am opposed to the objective of instituting direct elections to the European Assembly for the reasons so eloquently put forward by the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. Gould). I agree with him that the essence of the argument is the loss of sovereignty through the way in which the institution of direct elections will rob this Parliament of its supremacy. It is important not only for this institution but because this institution is the expression of our nationhood. In my view, the hon. Gentleman was right to regret the potential subordination of this Parliament to any form of federal or incipiently federal organisation in Europe.
The hon. Gentleman was also right to point to the near certainty that direct elections will lead to an increase in the power of the Assembly, from that to an increase in the power of the Commission and necessarily—for it is the other side of the coin—to a reduction in the power of the Council of Ministers—Ministers who are directly responsible to our national Parliament—and to a reduction in the power of this Parliament. For those reasons, I have no difficulty in voting against the Bill.
I hope that my many right hon. and hon. Friends who have been fellow travellers with me, if that is not too offensive an expression, in supporting the European ideal will consider two propositions which often occur in their 1371 speeches, for I believe them to be contradictory propositions. The first is the argument that we have signed the treaty and therefore we must carry out every detail of the treaty. The second proposition is that the Community is an evolving relationship. If it is that simple and we have signed the treaty and we are bound by every jot and tittle that have emerged from the EEC since it was formed, why are we bothering to consider the Bill?
It is plain from Article 138(3) that this is a preliminary matter. We must have another go at this constitutional problem, because it was ordered—I do not say that offensively—by our European bosses when the Assembly was established that the Assembly should draw up proposals for direct elections in accordance with procedures that were to apply to all member States. That means that when we have been through the agony of two years of discussion we shall still not have done enough. We shall have to adopt a uniform proposal for the whole of the EEC.
If we consider these two contradictory propositions, how do we apply them to the extension of the Community? There are Community documents which suggest that any nation State that conforms to the basic criteria of democracy is entitled to be admitted to the Community. This would mean that we are bound to allow Greece, Spain, Portugal and, ultimately, Turkey into the Community. Do we want the Community to be changed from being one that is primarily directed towards the English Channel and the Atlantic to one that is primarily centred on the Mediterranean? If it is an evolving Community, we in this country are entitled to take a broadly Gaullist view.
§ Mr. Jim Spicer (Dorset, West)
My hon. Friend the Member for Wolver-hampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen) said at the beginning of his speech that he accepts a European attitude and conforms to that in a much wider form than the narrow confines of the European Community. He now seems to be making the opposite case and asking whether it is right for the House to restrict itself in this way. He seems to be saying that we should go beyond these confines. Is my hon. Friend a European in the broad sense of the word or is he not? In the last 48 hours the Community has accepted that we should establish links with the Nordic Council and ask it to join us.
§ Mr. Budgen
I am hoping that the European Community will evolve primarily as an alliance and a force in foreign affairs. I am hoping that it will give up many of its more detailed functions and bureaucratic interference, particularly in the free market for agricultural produce—although there is no free market for agricultural produce—and the method by which it bodges and botches up a totally rigged market. Now that we are in the Community we are entitled to do our level best at every stage to say what we believe to be the ideal towards which we are progressing.
We need not worry every time about whether everybody agrees with us. We need not worry about the moral blackmail of being out of step with Europe. We should take no notice of those who say "Will you not feel terribly ashamed if you do not have elections at the same time as everyone else? Will you not feel awful when your European Whip says that you are not representing a democratic country?" As a democratic nation we might be a shade more robust than that. We might be able to say that we are good Europeans but that we have a different concept of what Europe should seek to attain.
I suggest, therefore, that unless we allow the European Communities to evolve slowly, by a process of no doubt very uneasy haggling, negotiation and renegotiation, they will finally break up, because at present the highly formal structure of the European constitution is typical of the Continental countries' predilection for a written constitution which, at the time that it is created, seems ideal to deal with every situation that man can envisage but which inevitably is found to be defective in the face of changing conditions.
We in this country, on the other hand, have a preference for a largely unwritten constitution, with the enormous advantage that it can be changed for the evolving circumstances with which we in this nation State have to deal.
Of the two contradictory propositions, I would ask my European friends to recognise most of all that the doctrine that the EEC is an evolving and developing entity is the more important. If it is not allowed to evolve and develop, sometimes by shedding one function, 1373 sometimes even by reducing the powers of one part of its constitution, it will die. It will die because of its absurdities. Evolution and change do not always mean expansion, or the addition of more civil servants and bureaucrats. They may mean a reduction in powers. They may mean that the European ideal is concentrated on perhaps only one issue in one year. But if the Community is to survive it must change and concentrate on essentials and not upon mere bureaucracy.
§ 9.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)
That very written constitution to which the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen) referred is one of the safeguards against the expansion of the powers of the Community, which the hon. Gentleman says that he favours. It is surely this that the Gaullists in France have latched on to following the ruling of the constitutional court to seek to limit the competence or the willingness of their own country to limit the powers which might accrue following direct elections.
The hon. Member talked in a somewhat contradictory way of being in favour of the European ideal and yet seeking in some way to limit that European ideal to questions of foreign affairs and defence. Surely he would have to concede that the range of powers of any Foreign Office or the competence of any Foreign Minister now extends far beyond the narrow foreign policy that the hon. Gentleman seems to be seeking to define and includes questions of foreign trade and industrial questions which are far wider than the chancellories of Europe concerned themselves with in the past.
Inevitably, in international negotiations on the foreign trade side there is bound to be, therefore, an overflow into fields of industrial, economic and social policy. It is wholly unrealistic of the hon. Gentleman to seek to define foreign and defence policy in quite such a narrow way.
I personally shall vote for the Second Reading of the Bill. I am struck very forcibly by the fact that those who are against direct elections are those very people who were against our accession as such. The actions that we now see and 1374 the speeches that we have heard during this debate have been in part a rearguard action by those who have never wanted to accept our accession to the European Community and will seek to put every possible obstacle in the way of the development of our relationship with that Community, in such a way, indeed, that they will seek to deny to this country many of the benefits which could accrue to us from our accession.
If the Bill did not receive a Second Reading, that would be seen symbolically, both here and in Europe, as a rejection of our accession per se and a refusal of this Parliament to accept the endorsement in the referendum of our membership of the Community. It is quixotic that those who claim to be so concerned about safeguarding our liberties in this House seem unconcerned about extending our democratic control over the Community, which is gaining greater competences of its own, and concentrate solely on a means of control via the Council of Ministers, with all the problems which my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) is, properly, quick to point out.
I see no necessary connection between direct elections and an extension of powers of the Community, which the Gaullists in France have been quick to point out. Even if the powers of the European Assembly were to remain much as they are, I should favour importing a greater democratic element into control of the Communities.
I accept too, as I think do most hon. Members who also attend the European Assembly, that the work load is becoming increasingly intolerable for one Member to carry out, both here and in Europe, and that that is bound to have an adverse effect both on his contribution in the House and on his relationship with his own constituents.
The fear of federalism, which has been mentioned by many of those who are against direct elections, is in my view unfounded—particularly so now, because we are at the dawn of the enlargement of the Community. I accept some of the points made by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West about the possible incompatibility of Greece with what one expects will come from the Community. I believe that it was 1375 Metternich who said that Asia began at the Landstrasse Hauptstrasse from Vienna. The more that the Community is enlarged to include countries of both different traditions and different rates of economic development, the more impossible of realisation will become the wilder dreams of some of the founding fathers of Europe, and of their sons—whether they be economic and monetary union or anything else.
I therefore assume that most of those who are sceptical about the ever-closer union of the European peoples, as foreseen in the Preamble to the Treaty of Rome, becoming a federation will welcome the fact of enlargement because the addition of those extra, frequently lame, members is bound to hobble the progress of Europe in a federal direction. In any event, I can see no real prospect of the federalist bogey coming into effect.
There are two considerable problems of representation, particularly the difficulty of ensuring the link between the Member and his constituents, whatever form of electoral system is to be adopted —something that is very much on the lines of our own system. In what way, for example, given the fact that the European Community is largely now a European agricultural community, will people from our industrial areas and inner cities relate to what is happening in Brussels unless there is a substantial transformation of the priorities of the Community? Just as there is a great yawn in the country at the moment about the prospect of direct elections, I can see it being difficult, whether the elections be in May-June 1978 or whenever, to excite the interest of people on the estates in my industrialised constituency since the Community impinges on them, they would argue, save in food prices, relatively little. On the other hand, one can see that those representing agricultural constituencies will be lobbied by their farming interests, because Brussels has a clear role in agriculture.
The links with the House of Commons will also have to be looked at very carefully. Whether the issue could be linked with reform of the Second Chamber I know not, but the prospect at the moment is dark and unsatisfactory.
I am in two minds about the voting system. I accept that the first-past-the- 1376 post system is likely to lead to considerable unfairness, particularly to the Liberal Party, and that is a very cogent point. Probably I shall vote nevertheless for the first-past-the-post system, because, as we will have to harmonise by the time of the second set of elections, I am reluctant to impose upon our people two unfamiliar systems in successive elections. It is unlikely that the complex system now proposed will ultimately be accepted in harmonisation.
My last point concerns the representation that has been offered to Wales. I do not accept the Welsh National Party's view. It states that, in comparison with Luxembourg, Wales, which is one-eighth the size of Luxembourg, is to have two fewer seats. That accepts the idea that Wales is or should be a self-governing country with the same representation as that of Luxembourg. However, it is significant that among Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, Wales is the only one whose representation of seats is rounded down in terms of the percentage of population.
For example, Northern Ireland, with 2.1 per cent. of the population, is to have three seats, and Scotland will have seven. They are rounded up. Wales, with 41 per cent. of the population, is to have four seats. That must be accepted on the basis of a strict mathematical formula, but in terms of representation it will prove very difficult for the Boundary Commissioners, given that our four rural counties, Clwyd, Dyfed, Gwynedd, and Powys, account for two-thirds of the land area but only about 36 per cent. of the population. Yet, if they are to get two seats, with the other two seats given to the more populous Glamorgan and Gwent, there will be a great disproportion of population. It should be possible for Wales to have two seats for the rural areas and three for the industrial areas, as a rough proportion, if it were accorded five seats. I ask the Government to think carefully about the representation in Wales and, from the standpoint of effective representation, increasing the number of seats in Wales from four to five.
§ 9.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Douglas Hurd (Mid-Oxon)
On this side of the House there has been pretty general support for the principle 1377 of the Bill, but it has been shot through with a strong sense of grievance about the way in which the matter has been handled up to now. My hon. Friends have made the point, and I would not have returned to it now had it not been for the Prime Minister's remarks in the debate which seemed to me to be crafty but untenable. He managed to scatter a large number of misconceptions in a remarkably short time. He said "We have procedures which take a long time." That is true. It is precisely because of that that the Select Committee worked so hard a year ago and urged at the end of last summer that there should be a Bill, not in the spill-over of 1977 but in the spill-over of 1976. The Prime Minister spoke today of the need of time for persuasion as though he had spent his time stumping around the country advocating direct elections. The fact is that the delay has been for the sake of delay, in the hope that the difficulties would go away.
As so often happens, delay has in fact increased the difficulties, with the result, as many of my hon. Friends have pointed out, that we are drifting into a dangerous situation with the Bill. It is often now discussed in terms of the Lib-Lab pact because, unfortunately, that is the way that political issues are so often discussed. It may be true that the Liberals played some part in bringing the Bill actually to birth, but it is a sad commentary that it needed the Liberals to get part of the Government to fulfil an undertaking which the whole Government gave at the time of the Queen's Speech in November.
What is certain is that from now on, when we are concerned with voting on the Bill and its clauses, Liberal votes are really irrelevant. The Bill will carry with the votes of my right hon. and hon. Friends, or it will not carry. Yet up to now no care or concern has been taken of our views and our genuine judgments and preferences on this matter. The Government must change their habit of working with regard to this matter. If they leave out of account the kind of views expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr. Gardiner), they are running into grave difficulties. A change of tack and habit is now required if the Bill is to carry.
1378 The dangers are obvious. The first is the one set out by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridlington (Mr. Wood), that when it comes to the point the House will be told that it does not have an effective choice. If Ministers begin to use that argument, they are in for very severe difficulties over the Bill.
There is the wider danger that we shall simply stumble into chaos over the Bill, as we did over the Scotland and Wales Bill, under the leadership of a Leader of the House for whom chaos almost seems to be the natural element in which he swims. To reduce this danger, I suggested during the speech of the right hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel) that it would be sensible for the House to have an opportunity this month to indicate by a vote what system it actually preferred. The right hon. Gentleman properly replied that it would be wrong to vote on the system before we voted on the principle. That was not what I was suggesting.
If the Bill is read a Second time, it will be perfectly proper for the Government to find the means of enabling the House to vote on the system before we go away for the Summer Recess. At least the Government can then draft a Bill knowing what system the House will prefer, and possibly the Boundary Commissions, which are already established by statute, can turn their minds mean-while to the kinds of problems which arise. The difficulties about this have been carefully rehearsed, but I hope that the Ministers who will reply tomorrow will examine sympathetically the suggestion made by my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Surrey (Sir A. Royle).
I turn to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten). There can be no need for my hon. Friend to defend his right to maintain his views. It would be impertinent for anyone to challenge his right after all this time, and it would certainly be entirely pointless. I hope, however, that my hon. Friend will not continue to use the argument that everyone who supports the Bill must be federalists or crypto-federalists. There is an ample and conclusive case for those of us who are not federalists to support the Bill.
My hon. Friend mentioned the polls. I knew that someone would, and my 1379 hon. Friend is best qualified to do so. It is not surprising that the European Community will have to carry a share of the general disillusionment which is widespread. There is no lack of people, including people on the Government Front Bench, who wish to increase the share of the burden by the Community. I am sure that my hon. Friend will recognise and rejoice in the fact that the European Community is a great deal more popular than the Government. Perhaps he will also observe that opinion polls show that people like the idea of direct elections to the European Parliament—in other words, they favour the principle of the Bill.
Of course, it is true that people are not chatting about it enthusiastically in pubs and on street corners up and down the country. It is not a matter for great debate in the High Street. However, when it is put to people and they are asked whether they would prefer an elected or nominated Parliament, they usually reply that they would prefer it to be elected. That is a fairly admirable and basic instinct which I would have thought my hon. Friend would support.
§ Mr. David Steel
Since the hon. Member is citing opinion polls, would he also add that the majority of people would like proportional representation as well?
§ Mr. Hurd
That is the danger of referring to polls at all. But I did not start it.
The core of this debate rightly has been the powers of the directly-elected Parliament. The hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr Spearing) always is able and always will be able to produce quotations which show that many people who support direct elections, particularly in Europe, do so because they believe that they are a step towards federalism.
What the hon. Member is increasingly unable to show is how a directly-elected European Parliament will get the additional powers which these people believe it should have. I think that this is most unlikely, and recent events in France, Denmark and this country make it particularly unlikely, that additional powers will be granted in the foreseeable future. I believe that this will be the next big debate on Europe. But, if it is wise, the European Parliament will not push this for five or 10 years. The 1380 answer that this House will give in years to come will depend not on what we say now but on what happens in Europe and the feelings about Europe between now and then.
§ Mr. Spearing
Does not the hon. Member realise that many of my hon. Friends are saying that even with the existing powers there can be a drift in this direction? Take, for example, the Channel Tunnel. Suppose that the Assembly decided to put in or take out moneys for that scheme. The decision would be more likely to be made there than in the national Parliaments.
§ Mr. Hurd
If the hon. Member believes that, he will believe anything. That is a most unreal preposition. It is quite unreal to believe that by putting something into the budget the European Parliament could decide on the Channel Tunnel. We are light years away from that situation.
The hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. Gould) produced a much more sophisticated analysis of this. He said that it was not so much a matter of legal powers but of increasing influence. But the influence of the directly-elected Parliament lies in its power to make Commissioners and Ministers uncomfortable and to place burdens on them. That is absolutely correct. We have argued that on many occasions, and I think that it is a good thing.
This House has enormous powers, even though some of us are worried about the decline of its influence. We are not properly organised—in fact we organise ourselves poorly—and we are very resistant to any changes that would increase our influence. The European Parliament may not organise itself well and increase its influence. We do not know. But it is on that question and not on the question of legal powers that its influence will depend.
The EEC is a partnership, as was made clear by my right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery), who answered in advance many of the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen).
The system of the Community accepted in this House and in the referendum is not a federal system, nor is it a loose system of alliances as described so glowingly by my hon. Friend. It is a partner- 1381 ship in which decisions covered by the treaties are taken on a European basis— proposed by the Commission, approved by the Council of Ministers—in which there is a national veto, and then executed by the Commission. It is not a federal procedure, but it requires an elected Parliament which is able to do things at the centre of the Community—such tasks as cross-examining Commissioners, which national Parliaments cannot do. It will not replace but supplement and complete work which we in this House and the other national Parliaments will have to go on doing in checking and stimulating our representatives on the Council of Ministers. That seems to me to be the democratic case under the present Community system for direct elections, and it has nothing to do with federalism. This is the principle of which most of us on these Benches are enthusiastically in favour.
There is another point I should mention, and it concerns the influence and strength of our country in Europe and elsewhere. This was the starting point of the speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Stokes) which was powerful and compelling. It was a starting point which everyone on the Opposition Benches will probably share—namely, a concern for our national standing, our self-respect and the respect in which we are held by others, including the keeping of our obligations.
In the last week or so I have visited three other Community capitals and I have heard many people on a much humbler level than that of Foreign Secretary or Prime Minister but at levels at which occasionally one gains a clear glimpse of what people feel is going on. It is hard to overstate the harm that we have done ourselves in the Community in the past year or two. I do not wish to attribute blame, and, indeed, it would be silly to attempt to do so. But if anybody believes that some of our Ministers have been serving our national interests—and here I am not talking of European interests—by the way in which they have been carrying on, such people should travel a bit and listen a bit.
It will be a long road back. It will be a long road before we can make progress towards a common foreign 1382 policy which my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West favours, and before we can build up again our strength and influence in Europe. I believe that a powerful majority for the Bill in the vote tomorrow night will be an essential first step along that road.
§ Debate adjourned.—[Mr. Bates.]
§ Debate to be resumed tomorrow.