HC Deb 07 July 1977 vol 934 cc1436-569


Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [6th July], That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Question again proposed.

4.0 p.m.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Brynmor John)

The first day of this debate initiated a debate revolving around two main themes—the argument in principle and the detailed discussion of the Bill. Whatever one does on this issue one is likely to run into criticism. I hope that in dealing mainly with questions that were asked of the Government about the Bill during the course of yesterday's debate I shall not be thought by hon. Members to be undervaluing the arguments of principle that were then adduced. The Foreign Secretary and I will try to deal with most of the questions that were raised yesterday and I hope, therefore, that we shall not be criticised for not having included issues of principle that would involve me in too long a speech— for which I should be equally criticised.

In many ways I find my position like the erstwhile position of my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, East (Mr. Clemit-son). Though an anti-Marketeer, I have not opposed direct elections. I do not believe that one has to go all the way to a federal Europe to believe in direct elections. In that I do not agree with a number of hon. Gentlemen or my hon. Friends. Future Members will be able to perform a worthwhile function with the powers of the Assembly as they are. Certainly the Government are putting forward this Bill upon the basis of the Assembly's powers being no greater than they are today. It was re-emphasised by my right hon. Friend yesterday that it would need unanimous consent by all members of the EEC before extra powers of the kind foreshadowed, or perhaps feared, in some quarters, could be granted, and that would require the consent of Parliament.

I therefore part company from my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, East when he says that the only consistent supporter of direct elections is a federalist. It seems to me as illogical as saying that the only consistent drinker is an alcoholic. I propose to deal during the next few minutes with the questions about the Bill, and I hope that the mechanics, since they are important, will not be thought more suitable for Committee, because a number of important issues raised yesterday demand answer.

First, there was considerable discussion in yesterday's debate about the way in which the House would come to a decision on the electoral system to be used for elections to the European Assembly. The right hon. Members for Knutsford (Mr. Davies) and Bridlington (Mr. Wood) and others discussed that subject. I believe that by the end of yesterday's debate the matter had been resolved to most people's satisfaction, but, at the risk of compounding confusion, I shall again underline the main elements of the proposed procedure.

I re-emphasise that Clause 3(2) contains a procedural device that makes it possible for the Bill to contain two alternative electoral systems. In normal Bills there is one proposition, but if there were one proposition on one system in the Bill and it were defeated, the whole Bill would have to be withdrawn and a new one substituted. Those hon. Members who were complaining, at intervals of varying frequency, about the time constriction in such debates in view of next year's events should take that into account.

By allowing alternative systems to be considered and debated in one Bill we are saving time by enabling substitution. Once a system has been chosen, we can remove the procedural device and remove from the Bill all the provisions that relate to the system not chosen.

Dr. Colin Phipps (Dudley, West)

I appreciate the reasons why the Government have introduced two methods within the same Bill and I can see that it would expedite matters if we took one out, but are the Government prepared to begin now on the preparation of the boundaries that would be necessary if we had the first-past-the-post system? If those boundaries are not drawn, there is not much point in having two systems in the Bill.

Mr. John

I beg my hon. Friend to have patience. I propose to deal with that. However, I shall deal with matters in the order in which the questions were asked rather than in the order in which interventions come up. My hon. Friend will know that this issue was dealt with pretty fully yesterday, but I propose to deal with it again merely for the sake of completeness and clarity.

I was dealing with the way in which we can expect the debate to take place. We expect that the opponents of the regional list system will put down an amendment to Clause 3(1) to provide for their preferred electoral system and that the debate and vote on the electoral system will take place on such an amendment. That would enable—and this answers one of the points made by hon. Members—the comparative merits of the two systems to be weighed up in the course of the debate and to be voted on.

In the unlikely event that no amendments were suggested to the electoral system provision, the vote would take place on the regional list system. If that were passed, the system would have been chosen and the Government would then put down amendments to remove the procedural device in Clause 3(2) and the associated Schedules 1 and 2. I hope that that gives an adequate and fairly clear picture to hon. Members of how the debate would proceed.

During the course of the debate yesterday my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) raised the spectre of a carry-over of the Bill into the next Session.

Mr. John Davies (Knutsford)

Would the Minister be kind enough to clarify this point? In replying to a question that I put yesterday, the Home Secretary said: we have an amendment drawn up, which we shall assist people to put down."—[Official Report, 6th July 1977; Vol. 934, c. 1267]. Am I to understand that the Government will not put down an amendment, but will jog the elbows of those who are prepared to do so?

Mr. John

It is clear from their advocacy in the Bill of the regional list system that the Government would not put down an amendment against their preferred system. However, upon application in a pre-addressed, stamped envelope any hon. Member who wishes the assistance of the Government in putting down an amendment, for example, to deal with the simple majority system, can have the assistance of the Home Office.

Mr. Paul Channon (Southend, West)

Is the Minister aware that there will be a number of hon. Members on both sides who will be tabling such an amendment tonight which we believe will meet these points? I hope that many hon. Members from both sides will sign it. Can the Minister guarantee that the amendment will be debated at such a time and in such a way that if it were carried it would still be implemented in time for the elections to be held?

Mr. John

I am delighted to know that drafting chores are not beyond the advocates of the simple majority system. However, I repeat that if they want assistance with the nature of the wording, we shall be prepared to help. I cannot possibly foreshadow matters that will depend upon the progress of the Bill, but there is a real choice available. Hon. Members will be able to weigh that real choice.

I was diverted from dealing with the question raised yesterday by my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South. That was the question about the carryover, and this probably bears a little upon the point made by the hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon). If the Bill is not carried to Royal Assent in this Session, it will be necessary to reintroduce it for Second Reading in the new Session, though I hope that our current debates will inform the subsequent progress of a new Bill.

The right hon. and learned Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon) suggested yesterday that one way out of the possible timing difficulties over Boundary Commission procedures would be to introduce a one-clause Bill in parallel with the present Bill. I do not believe that that would be a practical proposition. I do not believe that it would be a one-clause Bill as the right hon. and learned Gentleman suggests. If it were to enable the Commission to determine single-Member constituencies for the elections, that would imply a decision on the electoral method or would at least involve the Commission in considerable nugatory work and expense. It would also involve a final decision on the allocation of seats among Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland as set out in Clause 2. The hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. Reid) gave notice that he did not accept those proposals.

It would also be necessary to set out in such a Bill the detailed procedures for the Boundary Commission to follow and to provide for its expenses to be met. All that amounts to much more than a one-clause Bill. More important, it would require decisions on many of the most important issues on this subject. In the light of these considerations, I cannot believe that its progress would be more speedy than if we debated it with due time for consideration of all the clauses.

Mrs. Winifred Ewing (Moray and Nairn)

Does the Minister agree that my hon. Friend the Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. Reid) made clear on behalf of this Bench that we support the principle of the Bill and, while we want more than eight seats, we shall take the eight if they are offered until we have independence, when the question of parity with Denmark will arise?

Mr. John

That is not what the hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire said. He said that in order to obtain 16 seats Scotland would have to be independent. I should be grateful if the hon. Lady would listen. Few hon. Members can listen and speak at the same time and she is not one of them. The hon. Gentleman made clear that he was going to move an amendment to provide for 16 seats for Scotland. There should be no dubiety about that. He indicated that there would be amendments and debates on the options in Clause 2.

Dr. Phipps

I wish to return to the fundamental point. Some of my hon. Friends said that the matter that I raised earlier was sub judice—I am sorry, I mean ultra vires. But are we not in exactly the same position as we were on the devolution Bill? Many amendments were suggested to that Bill, but the Government were prepared to purchase two large buildings and start equipping them long before the House had decided whether it wanted devolved Assemblies. Why can we not begin the procedures that are necessary for holding direct elections?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Oscar Murton)

Order. The hon. Gentleman may catch the eye of the Chair later. He should not make his speech now.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

My hon Friend was going on ad nauseam.

Mr. John

I was going to say that my hon. Friend's intervention was a reductio ad absurdum. I know that it can be described by one of those Latin tags. My hon. Friend should either have been present yesterday or have read the Hansard of yesterday's proceedings. The essential difference was pointed out by the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten). My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said that there was a world of difference between the statutory form needed for the Boundary Commission and the administrative procedures involved in the devolution Bill.

Hon. Members also spoke yesterday about the timing of Boundary Commission procedures, and I shall try to clarify the situation. For the regional list system no Boundary Commission procedures would be necessary. The proposed electoral regions are set out in the Bill.

If the House chooses the simple majority system, it is proposed that the Boundary Commissions for Engand and Wales and Scotland should follow the procedures set out in Schedule 2. These are widely known as option B in the White Paper. For the initial division into single-Member constituencies the Commissions would be required to publish provisional recommendations and to receive representations on them.

In evidence to the Select Committee on direct elections the Commissions said that such a procedure, with one round of representations but no local inquiries, would take a minimum of 18 weeks from the time of Royal Assent to the Bill. This calculation assumed that the Commissions had given preliminary consideration to the matter in advance of Royal Assent and that their provisional recommendations were published within two weeks of Royal Assent. The rest of the 18 weeks would be necessary to allow representations to be made and considered by the Commissions and for the Commissions to prepare and submit their final recommendations.

It is clear that the initial report of the Commissions would be ready, if this option were chosen by hon. Members, within two weeks of Royal Assent. There fore, the initial shape of the boundary structure in Britain would be known within that time.

Neither the Home Secretary nor I have sought to hide the fact that the regional list system, with no Boundary Commission procedures, can obviously be brought into operation more quickly than the simple majority system. This is a matter for the judgment of hon. Members. One hon. Member put the matter well when he contrasted the need to meet the proposed date with the need to get it right. This must weigh with hon. Members as they consider these matters.

Mr. Tim Renton (Mid-Sussex)

Is the Minister not using the simple threat of saying that we have to decide in favour of the regional list system, because if we do not we shall not have an election under the first-past-the-post system by May or June next year? Does this not go back to the point made by the hon. Member for Dudley, West (Dr. Phipps)? Should not the necessary statutory procedures be started before the Summer Recess so that the Commissioners can get to work on a first-past-the-post system if that is what the House wants?

Mr. John

My answers to the hon. Gentleman are "No" and "No". I am using no threat. I am trying to be helpful by indicating the Government's thoughts and clarifying many of the points that were raised yesterday. The hon. Gentleman is not right to read a threat into that or to imply blackmail. That is no part of my duty or my inclination.

A number of hon. Members mentioned the one-off nature of the elections and the question of subsequent elections. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has explained that the Bill is directed primarily to making provision for the first elections to the European Assembly. The Treaty of Rome envisages that there will eventually be a uniform electoral system in use throughout the Community, and it will be for hon. Members to make their own judgment about whether the Nine EEC States will be able to agree such a uniform electoral system in time for the second round of elections.

If not, the Bill does not limit the time when the particular method of election should expire. If no Community provision were made in the first five years, by the time the second election came along Parliament would have had ample opportunity, having considered the experience of the first round of elections and the method used, if necessary to substitute another preferred method at that stage. So it is a one-off election in that sense.

Finally on this particular part of my clarification of the Bill, I come to the speeches of the hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire, and my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson). They both discussed the allocation of seats to Wales and Scotland.

The hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire said frankly that only an independent Scotland could expect 16 seats. I repeat what my right hon. Friend said yesterday this is a united kingdom and there is a United Kingdom allocation of 81 seats. More seats can be granted to one part of the country only at the expense of the allocation to other parts of the country. The Government have accepted the Select Committee's division of the seats among the component parts.

Mr. George Reid (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire)

I hope that the Minister will accept what I said yesterday, that 16 seats would be possible only with independence. My party would put down an amendment as a mere marker for the future. I have argued that the main purpose of the SNP would be to budge up the representation from eight to 10 or 12. I cited much cross-parly support for that—in Brussels, in the Liberal Party and so on. Given Scotland's geographic position and resources, does not the Minister agree that there should be slightly greater weighting towards that country?

Mr. John

There will be an opportunity to debate this matter, but I notice that the marker talked about yesterday has now become a mere marker. So the hon. Gentleman and his party are retreating steadily on the way forward.

Consideration was given not only to mere proportions and populations but to the geographical difficulties. Although fractions can be tyrannical, the fact is that Scotland is being given eight seats when its proportion based on electorate is about seven and a half seats, and Wales is being given four seats when its due would be 4.07 seats.

But what is not and has not been considered by other members who have asked for extra representation for Wales and Scotland is that England, which on the pure proportion of electorate to seats would be entitled to 67.4 seats, is being given 66 seats. It is losing about one and a half seats.

I say frankly to my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East, whose nationality and, therefore, whose sympathies I share on this point, and to the hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire that, given a total of 81 seats, the proportions given to one part of the United Kingdom can be raised only at the expense of another part. I believe that the Select Committee and the Government have hit upon the right proportions, and they are the proportions that the Government commend to the House in the Bill and that the Government believe are right and proper in all the circumstances.

Mr. Alexander Fletcher (Edinburgh, North)

Did it not occur to the Government when they signed the agreement with the other member States regarding allocation of seats throughout the Community that if they agreed that the Irish Republic should have 15 seats and, on this basis, Northern Ireland should have three, there would be every reason for a strong sense of injustice in Northern Ireland—leaving aside Wales and Scotland? It knows that with half the population of the South it has only one-fifth the representation in Europe.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)

Will the Minister state, as he has for the other members of the Community, the proportionate number of seats on due proportion appropriate to Northern Ireland?

Mr. John

I do not have the exact fraction written down, but it is rounded up approximately from two to three. I believe that it is just over two.

But the hon. Member for Edinburgh, North (Mr. Fletcher) makes a cardinal error in talking about Northern Ireland of assuming that it is a hermetically sealed country whereas it is part of the United Kingdom and therefore has part of the total allocation of 81 seats. The matter has been proceeded with on that basis. Whatever the hon. Gentleman may say about the total allocation, the fact is that we have an allocation of seats that equals those of our major partners within the EEC, namely, France and West Germany.

Finally, the question to be decided tonight is on all hands admitted to be important, and I hope and believe that we shall have a genuine and free expression of the feelings of hon. Members towards the principle of the Bill, because I believe that the importance of this Bill and its consequences to this country demand no less.

I have backed this Bill and I commend it to the House. I do not believe that it is necessary to eschew direct elections because one is dissatisfied with the Common Market. Throughout my speeches on the Common Market in the Referendum Campaign I criticised one feature, and that was the bureaucratic nature of the Commission in Brussels. I believe that with this Bill and these provisions we have a chance of remedying that defect for the future.

4.27 p.m.

Mr. Geoffrey Rippon (Hexham)

The House will welcome the contribution to the debate by the Minister as an original anti-Marketeer who, as he says, now welcomes direct elections. He reiterated the point made by the Home Secretary yesterday that many anti-Marketeers made one of their main lines of criticism in the referendum the undemocratic nature of the Community institutions.

We ought also in this debate to bear in mind, as the Prime Minister told the House last week, that there is no practical prospect of our leaving the Community. It is right, therefore, that we should now be directing our attention to building the sort of Community we want and making a success of our member- ship—something that many Ministers are not particulary concerned about.

Direct elections will enable us to give a new dimension to the work of the Community and will afford an opportunity, which I would have thought everyone would want to seize, of enabling the public to be involved in the policies that we want to put forward in order to build an effective Europe.

We should, therefore, be looking forward to the directly-elected European Parliament—or Assembly, if that term is preferred, because that is what it still technically is—to provide the front line of democratic control over the Council of Ministers and the Commission. The ultimate line is and will remain the national Parliaments which alone can give the Parliament additional powers. Direct elections, as the Minister made clear, will not change the nature of the European Parliament. They will merely give it an opportunity to work more effectively.

Mr. Neil Marten (Banbury)

My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon) said—I do not know whether he meant it—that the European Parliament, as he called it, would exercise control over the Council of Ministers. Is that really so? If so, how would it do it?

Mr. Rippon

I said that it would be the front line of control, not the ultimate line. I said that it would be a front line because it would be calling the Council and the Commission publicly to account in the Assembly for their actions.

Now and for the future, the primary responsibility of the European Parliament is to influence policy at its formative level. That it already does in many important ways. But it suffers from being part-time and from the fact that it is once removed from the electorate. A European Parliament which was strong and confident enough to make its weight felt would be able to fire the imagination and the interest of the electorate in a constructive way. That should be our prime purpose in securing direct elections at this time.

Whatever doubts the Government may have had from time to time about the appropriate date for direct elections, it will be recalled that as long ago as 4th December 1975 the then Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson), reporting on the Summit Meeting in Rome on 1st and 2nd December, in one of those occasional flashes of clarity that he had, plainly said: I made it clear that we accept in principle the commitment to direct elections in the Treaty of Rome. This issue was decided by the referendum".—[Official Report, 4th December 1975; Vol. 901, c. 1932.] Yesterday the Home Secretary reiterated that "the Government accept" Britain's membership and that "the Government accept" that it is now right that we should move towards direct elections. But what is meant by the Government in the context of the Bill and this debate?

In September 1976 the Government freely, and in the exercise of their collective responsibility, entered into an international agreement about direct elections. It was this Government who agreed to 1978 as the date. Incidentally, that was at a time when the European Parliament was suggesting 1980.

The House will appreciate that the conclusion of international treaties and agreements is the exercise of the Royal Prerogative in the conduct of foreign affairs. The Government make up their mind whether, as a Government, they assent to the international commitment into which they propose to enter. If they do, that is an exercise of the collective responsibility by which the Government in substance always commit themselves to use their best endeavours to secure whatever parliamentary approval may be necessary.

My hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Surrey (Sir A. Royle), in his very effective speech last night, referred with great relevance to the Lord President of the Council's reply on 26th May 1977 to the question of dissension in the Cabinet. The Lord President said: It is, of course, true that occasional differences of opinion arise in Cabinet but 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.] In this instance, the moment when the Cabinet resolved those different points of view was when the Government entered into the international agreement of September 1976 and communicated it to the House. That was the time for members of the Cabinet to record their dissent. If, as the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) said, they maintained their dissent, they should have resigned. In other days, as he said, that is what would have happened. If any member of the Cabinet votes against the Bill tonight, he is open to the charge that, by hiding his dissent in September 1976, he misled not only the House but those in other countries who entered into the agreement with the Government in good faith. This is just as important a constitutional issue as the Bill itself.

For Ministers, especially Cabinet Ministers, to breach their collective responsibility by voting against a measure to which they freely committed themselves by international agreement is to call into question the good faith of this and any subsequent British Government. Those Ministers who go into the Lobby tonight against a measure that they themselves promised in the Queen's Speech, in accordance with their own accepted obligations under an international agreement, will be flouting a constitutional practice which is at the core of the way in which we order the relationship between the Executive and the legislative as well as between this country and others.

The anti-Marketeers, whom those Ministers may join in the Lobby, sought a referendum to give the people of this country the right to decide whether we should be willing members of the Community. It will be recalled that the Secretary of State for Energy said that even Parliament must tremble before their verdict. In the event, the result was decisively in favour of our remaining in the Community. The right hon. Member for Huyton was right when he said that the issue of direct elections was decided in the referendum. Since then, however, certain right hon. and hon. Members have consistently tried to undermine the verdict of the people.

I go about Europe a great deal. Therefore, I entirely agree with the view expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Oxon (Mr. Hurd) last night that it is not possible to exaggerate the damage done to Britain's honour and reputation, and, indeed, to our interests, by the way in which certain Ministers come back to the House and smirk about how they have failed to carry out their objectives.

Mr. Bruce Grocott (Lichfield and Tamworth)

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman explain why it is always the question of direct elections that is taken to be the test of one's integrity on this subject? For example, on the question of our obligations under the common fisheries policy and the common agricultural policy, why is it that he and others of his right hon. and hon. Friends can now pretend that they can ignore their formerly held positions in that respect and apparently still retain their full integrity?

Mr. Rippon

It is not the only test, but it is the test before the House tonight. Indeed, the then Prime Minister, as long ago as December 1975, said that that was decided in the referendum. Therefore, everyone in Europe and all Governments with which this Government have dealt have relied on our good faith in the matter. Certain Ministers have involved not only their own Government but the whole of the House and the nation in the squalid performance of their duties in Brussels, which they evidently intend to repeat tonight.

I think that by a large majority the House will tonight repudiate them and support the principle of direct elections, to which we are committed. But support for that principle, which is very important, does not in any way imply acquiescence in the badly drafted contents of the Bill.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

Time and again the right hon. and learned Gentleman has said that the House is committed to the principle of direct elections. Does he agree that the two pages of the Government's popular document and the "Yes" document in the referendum did not refer to that principle? Does he agree that the decision on 20th September expressly provides for ratification by this House? Why does he still say that there is an obligation?

Mr. Rippon

The Government freely committed themselves. Whatever individual Members may do the House as a whole will decide the issue—it is intolerable that Miinsters should represent Her Majesty's Government abroad and freely enter into international agreements and then for a long time hide not only from this House but from those other Governments their intention to do everything in their power, as distinct from using their best endeavours, to try to defeat the purpose of the agreements into which they had entered.

I suggest that, having determined the wishes of the House on the principle of direct elections, the Government should give the House an early opportunity before the Summer Recess of having the promised free vote on the method of election. On 25th April the Opposition, pressed that this should be done. There is no reason for any further delay, unless the House decides to reject the advice of the all-party Select Committee which, as the Home Secretary said, has produced three reports. What are we to do about the Select Committee's reports? Its advice was that we should maintain our present election procedures. It is only if we decide to depart from the Select Committee's advice that we have to weigh all the advantages and disadvantages of the various forms of proportional representation.

Yesterday the Home Secretary said that after the debate on 25th April he had come to the conclusion that we could choose the method of election only if we could see the Bill. We have seen the Bill. I believe that, without further delay, we can now choose in broad general terms which system we prefer.

The Government have not told us why we should not have an early opportunity of a vote on the Select Committee's recommendation that The first past the post system at present in use for Parliamentary elections should be used in the United Kingdom for the first round of elections for the European Assembly. Why cannot that principle be decided? It is no good to say that we can have a free vote and then, if it goes one way rather than another, for the Government to say that we, and not the Government, shall be to blame for any delay.

Mr. John Mendelson (Penistone)

Since the right hon. and learned Gentleman made so much play of constitutional rectitude a few minutes ago on another matter, that of collective Cabinet responsibility, how can he now dare to advance the proposition that, merely because there is a Select Committee report on the subject, the House can ignore, when discussing the major constitutional change of the last 50 years, that the Bill has to be decided before hon. Members can decide the method of election? How can the right hon. and learned Gentleman maintain that with constitutional rectitude?

Mr. Rippon

I accepted the Home Secretary's view that we could not have a vote immediately after 25th April because we could not see the Bill. But now we can see the Bill. We do not need a Bill in this extraordinary form in order to make up our minds which system we prefer.

Are the Government still telling the House and our European partners that whatever choice is made there will be no difficulty in meeting the date of May-June 1978? Or has the Prime Minister already told our European partners at the London conference that it will not be the end of the world if the elections are not held until 1979? It ought to be clear what date we are now committed to with our partners in Europe.

What the Minister of State has said about the Boundary Commission strengthens the case for taking a vote now. We thought that we might help the Government by saying that we should allow the Boundary Commission to start its work, but we are told that we cannot do so by simple resolution or by a Money Resolution. The hon. Gentleman sees difficulties in having a one-clause Bill. Let us make sure that no Select Committee or anyone else does any more abortive work. Let us decide on the method now.

We should remember that even majorities have some rights. Let no one in this country or in Europe be in any doubt that if the Government wish to give effect to the wishes of the House they have the necessary power, means and support to do so. We must remember that our European partners are looking to the House tonight to demonstrate our good faith in international affairs. By a decisive vote tonight in favour of direct elections, we shall be demonstrating that we have a political as well as an economic commitment to Europe. We shall be playing our part in giving the Community a fresh sense of purpose and identity.

I believe that there is support on both sides of the House for the principle of direct elections. We shall test that tonight. I echo the sentiments expressed by the hon. Member for Fife, Central, a fellow Member of the European Parliament. What is at issue tonight is, as the hon. Gentleman said, our good faith and the validity of our membership of the Community. We are seeing one more last-ditch attempt by the anti-Marketeers to undermine the verdict of the British people in the referendum.

I am sure that the majority of hon. Members will vote enthusiastically for the Second Reading of the Bill tonight in order to honour our international commitment. I have also come to the conclusion that we do not like the form or content of the Bill, nor do we like the Government's inexcusable delay in presenting and promoting it. Above all, we do not like the way in which the Government have behaved and continue to behave.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I call the right hon. Member for Dartford (Mr. Irving).

Mr. John Mendelson

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Yesterday at the opening of the debate the Front Bench spokesmen of the Government and the main Opposition party were unanimous in declaring that the Bill raised divisions not between the two sides of the House—this was confirmed this afternoon—but between hon. Members of all parties. I therefore wish to put on record my strongest possible protest at the fact that three hon. Members who are in favour of the Bill have been called to speak in succession today, just as yesterday five hon. Members in favour of the Bill were called to speak in succession. If we do not obtain satisfaction on this point we shall be forced to put down a motion, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Spearing

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I, too, was present yesterday. As my hon. Friend has pointed out, there were five speakers in favour of the Bill before I managed to catch your eye. As the sixth speaker in the debate, I was the first speaker against the Bill, and that was at about 5.50 p.m. I understand that one of the objectives of the Chair is to conduct debates in the best interests of the House so that both sides may be heard.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I am grateful to both hon. Members for drawing the attention of the Chair to this matter. The hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson) raised a similar point yesterday, when I said: 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."—[Official Report, 6th July 1977; Vol. 934, c. 1279.] In reply to the point of order raised by the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing), perhaps I might point out that in order to achieve that balance three hon. Members holding similar views to his own were called consecutively.

The Chair has a difficult problem, because there are three alternatives. As I understand it, some hon. Members do not like the Bill at all, certain others would prefer one method of election, and other hon. Members would prefer a second method of election. The Chair is in a difficult position, but it will do its best to see that a balance is maintained during the course of the debate.

Mr. Robin Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Surely the question before the House is not which system of election there should be but simply whether the Bill should have a Second Reading. Therefore, surely there are only two categories of hon. Members—those who favour the proposition that the Bill should be given a Second Reading and those who favour the proposition that it should not. Whether hon. Members favour proportional representation or a first-past-the-post system is not a relevant consideration on Second Reading, as opposed to the importance of an "Aye" or "No" vote on the proposition that the Bill should have a Second Reading.

Mr. John Mendelson

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It has been common ground for many years that it is the particular function of the Chair to make the debate. I say this in all seriousness. Debate can take place only if one point of view is followed by another. By calling in succession yesterday five speakers who favoured one point of view, and three later on, you did not live up to that function, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I submit that you should now call an hon. Member who opposes the motion.

Mr. Skinner

I should like to add to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and to make an additional one.

In view of what you have just announced, Mr. Deputy Speaker, may I take it that the next speaker after my right hon. Friend the Member for Dart-ford (Mr. Irving) will not be the Leader of the Liberal Party, who has just left the Chamber, as Liberal Members usually do?

The other point that I want to raise is, I think, of deep significance. There is a system operating in debates whereby hon. Members with interests in certain matters declare them. According to certain newspapers—in particular the Daily Telegraph today—at least 50 Tory Members of Parliament have their names down on the list to secure one of the £30,000 jobs in Europe. I believe it to be of supreme importance that every right hon. and hon. Member who rises to speak in this debate makes clear whether he or she has an interest. I am expecting you. Mr. Deputy Speaker, to apply that instruction, as is the case on other occasions when hon. Members have interests in other matters.

Mr. Roderick MacFarquhar (Belper)

Is it not the case, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that all those Labour Members, whether for or against the motion, who remained in the Chamber yesterday were called?

Mr. John Mendelson

That has nothing to do with it.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

What the hon. Member for Belper (Mr. MacFarquhar) says is correct.

I think that the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) is looking into the future. Hon. Members who have certain views will no doubt bear in mind what he said. I do not think that it is germane to this debate.

I take the point made by the hon. Member for Penistone. He is an old and distinguished Member of the House in terms of service but I remind him that the Chair must also bear in mind that by tradition Privy Councillors have a certain right of priority within the limits of the time available and of the interests of all hon. Members. The Chair will, therefore, do its best. I hope that the House will allow the Chair to continue to do its best and to see that the balance is preserved.

Mr. George Cunningham (Islington, South and Finsbury)

It should be recorded that the House has never decided that precedence should be given in debate to Privy Councillors. It is true that a former Clerk of the House has recorded that tradition in a book, but it has never had the authority of the House. The House has no Standing Orders that give precedence to Privy Councillors. I hope that the practice will be eroded over the years.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

It is a matter of custom, and if there is to be erosion it will have to be examined on another occasion.

4.51 p.m.

Mr. Sydney Irving (Dartford)

As a former occupant of the Chair, to say nothing of being a Privy Councillor, that is the last argument in which I wish to become involved. However I might redeem myself if I say that I have not applied to go to Europe, along with the entire membership of my party.

The Bill has at last got on to the Floor of the House. It seems a long time since the Select Committee, over which I presided, was set up to consider urgently proposals for direct elections.

I have not been quite as impatient as some hon. Members, because I have been conscious of the difficulties under which the Government have been labouring. I congratulate the Prime Minister and his colleagues on getting the Bill on to the Floor of the House with the Lib-Lab agreement and the Cabinet intact, although I regret the unwillingness of some Cabinet Ministers to accept the doctrine of collective responsibility.

It is important that the elections should be held—first, because they are indicated by the treaty and, secondly, because of the obligation entered into by the Government. Failure in this respect would confirm to many on the Continent our unwillingness properly to commit ourselves to membership of the Community. It would not enhance the Government's reputation for their capacity and good faith to carry out their obligation if the Bill failed tonight.

I do not believe that the proposals are a major step towards federalism in the sense that they involve any real shift of power. They are of a much more limited significance. However, they will provide an opportunity for the British people to involve themselves in European affairs. They could in time strengthen the European Parliament and make the Commission more accountable. These are sound democratic principles, which all hon. Members on the Government Benches should support.

I turn to the first-past-the-post system. The Select Committee recommended an inquiry, and I regret that this is not to take place. However, it is clear that if it did take place there would be inadequate time to enable the elections to be held next year. I urge the Government to instruct the Boundary Commissions to proceed with the work immediately after the Second Reading of the Bill. Yesterday the Home Secretary said that that was impossible. The Minister confirmed that view today. There are no precedents for the Boundary Commissions being instructed before Royal Assent, because there has never been any need for haste.

Some of the oral and written evidence given last year by the Boundary Commissions on this point is illuminating. On 15th July Sir Raymond Walton, the deputy chairman of the English Commission, in answer to questions 382 and 392, made it clear that he thought that they could begin work—although they would need to know the number of seats to be allocated and the principles on which the boundaries were to be determined.

Presumably the Boundary Commissions would act on the assumption that what was in the Bill that was given a Second Reading would go through. No doubt they could adjust accordingly if amendments were made at a later stage. The same points are made briefly in paragraph 15 of the joint memorandum submitted on 13th July 1976 by all four Boundary Commissions.

Mr. Jeremy Thorpe (Devon, North)

The right hon. Gentleman dismissed as a minor matter the fact that the Boundary Commissions would assume that the number of seats would be the same as is contained in the Bill. Surely it is terribly important to know whether there will be 66, 65 or 64 seats for England and whether there will be more than 10 for Scotland.

Mr. Irving

It is not a major matter and does not present an insuperable difficulty for the Boundary Commissions.

There are no precedents for the Boundary Commissions being briefed in this way. But it is a common practice in nationalisation and other measures to set up shadow boards and make other appointments long before the measure receives Royal Assent. I urge the Government to consider that. I make this plea not because I am in favour—but it is reasonable for those who want to consider this method to be assured that it will be a practical proposition if that is the wish of the House.

I started off in favour of the first-past-the-post system. I am now convinced that we should adopt PR for Europe. The simple majority system is relevant for Westminster, where we are electing a Government, but we are not doing that in Europe. We are electing a consultative Assembly. If we adopt the first-past-the-post system just to protect the Westminster system, and our own smaller parties get no representation, there will be a reaction even among Labour and Conservative voters, who will believe that that is not fair. Rather than pressure lessening for PR at Westminster, it would increase if the first-past-the-post system were adopted for Europe.

I am glad that the Government have decided on a deposit of £500 and that the number of the sponsors, including proposer and seconder, should be 50. These were the first thoughts of the Select Committee. Its second thoughts put the deposit figure too high, at £1,000. The Committee also recommended that the sponsors should come from each constituency in the new system, which would have been difficult to operate. I regard the new figures as more satisfactory.

I do not want to take too much time, since other hon. Members want to speak. I hope that the Bill receives a Second Reading by a large majority. However, there is another matter that we should not avoid. I hope that the Bill will make good progress.

Mr. John Mendelson

Everyone is saying the same thing.

Mr. Irving

It is what we believe.

The Government should not shirk their responsibility. They should accept that they might have to consider a guillotine, although this depends on the support in the House. The Bill should not be held up by indefinite obstruction. That is not in the tradition of the House.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I call the right hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe).

Mr. Spearing

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. A few moments ago I pointed out to you that yesterday we had five speakers on one side, followed by myself, one of my right hon. Friends and the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten), followed by my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. Gould). I think that, as the House knows, their views were well known and it was known that they would be speaking against the Bill. A little while ago, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you listened to some further points of order. You have also said that right hon. Members have a certain precedence. I believe that there are two right hon. Members on the Opposition side of the House wishing to catch your eye and I believe that one of them may well wish to oppose the Bill. I therefore suggest to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in line with the points that have been made by my hon. Friends, that if we are to have a debate in which points may be replied to, one against the other, some alternative arrangement of speakers is required.

I should have hoped that the views of those seeking to catch your eye, list or no list—and I do not think that one existed—would be found appropriate to make a debate.

Mr. William Molloy (Ealing, North)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. There is another dimension to this argument, which I respectfully ask you to consider. It has happened a number of times during my service in the House that both Front Benches have been in unison and the leaders of other political parties have joined both Front Benches in unison. This has meant that it has been a very difficult task for Back Benchers on both sides of the House to get their views over or to affect the opinion of the House. If that situation exists now, in which we have the Government Front Bench, the Opposition Front Bench and leaders of other parties in the House all united in one endeavour, and if they are then to follow one another in submitting their views, to the exclusion of those who do not take the same sort of view, the situation will be unfair, in my judgment, which I ask you to accept. It will exacerbate an already unfair situation.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I take note of what the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Molloy) has said.

I assure the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) that if he will bear with me he will find that what I said earlier will be carried out.

Mr. John Mendelson

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. My hon. Friends have just recalled that opinion in this House must be fairly represented in debate. I want to add an additional point, which is that opinion in the country is also divided on this issue. So far, on both days of this crucial debate, five speakers have been called representing only one view of opinion in this country. I suggest that we cannot please ourselves as to whether we allow opinion in the country to be fairly and properly reflected. I am prepared to move a progress motion or a motion to move Mr. Deputy Speaker out of the Chair, if you will allow debate on it, to test this major constitutional issue here and now.

Mr. Dong Hoyle (Nelson and Colne)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Once we are debating this matter and saying that we want a fair balance of opinion in the House, there is also the added difficulty that what is not being represented is the differences of opinion within the constituencies. It seems obvious to me that if the debate continues to take the form it is taking many people will feel that their point of view has not been aired in the House.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

In regard to those points of order, I can only reiterate what I have said before. Every endeavour will be made to allow expression of the varying views of all hon. Members within the time available for the debate. With all due deference, perhaps I may point out that these points of order—which I have fully taken into account and have listened to very care- fully—have been taking up valuable time, and time is not limitless. I shall do my best to meet all hon. Members' views in this matter.

Mr. John Mendelson

On a new point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. May I move that Mr. Speaker be recalled to the Chair so that hon. Members can make submissions to him, as has happened on other important occasions on which a dispute has arisen? I beg so to move.

Mrs. Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)

The hon. Gentleman is wasting time.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The moving of such a motion is not in order. Mr. Thorpe.

5.4 p.m.

Mr. Jeremy Thorpe (Devon, North)

I was in some doubt as to when I would rise to speak. I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for calling me. I shall try to produce a new dimension, which will restore the balance in one way or another.

I am delighted to follow the speech of the right hon. Member for Dartford (Mr. Irving), who was Chairman of the Select Committee and who gave great service as its Chairman. He has an important position in so far as he has changed his mind, as has the hon. Member for West Bromwich, West (Miss Boothroyd), on the form of electoral system which should be used. That is a fact that the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon), who rightly attaches great importance to the Select Committee, will also take on board. [Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson) wishes to intervene, I shall be happy to give way, but I cannot hear him from his sedentary position.

I should like to come later to the right hon. Gentleman's point about the Boundary Commissioners starting work after Second Reading. I believe that there are very great difficulties in that. Even accepting that the right hon. Gentleman wants to get some procedure through, I can see great difficulties there, as I also find in the Minister of State's argument that it would be possible to have proposals put forward within two weeks of the Bill's receiving Royal Assent. I shall come to that matter shortly.

I start by welcoming the fact that we have the Bill, late though it is. I should like to thank Conservative speakers who, one after the other—this has been shot through all their speeches—have expressed their deep appreciation to the Liberal Party for the part that it has played in bringing this about. I exclude, of course, the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten). However, as for all the other pro-Europeans, one always knew that they were magnanimous to their opponents, and it is always rather nice to have that confirmed in debate. If I do not mention each right hon. and hon. Member individually, I hope that they will accept my gratitude expressed collectively.

I shall not argue whether or not we are entitled to vote for an Assembly by election, save to say this: what the referendum decided was that the people of this country agreed that they wished to remain within the European Economic Community.

Mr. Hoyle

Two years ago.

Mr. Thorpe

I do not mind whether it was two years or two minutes. It is a fact that there was a referendum held in this country—principally supported by the anti-Marketeers, who then got rather a shock when they found how out of touch they were with public opinion, which decided that this country wished to remain within the EEC. That meant that it wished to remain in the Community that existed by force of a treaty— the Treaty of Rome.

Under Article 138 of the Treaty of Rome there was an Assembly, which was already in existence. The anti-Marketeers did not pretend that they did not know that it existed. In the second part of that Article there was provision for the elections. That provision was agreed upon by the Council of Ministers —not this House—in September 1976. It is that ministerial commitment that we are being asked to ratify in this House.

There is, therefore, no obligation on any right hon. or hon. Member to vote in favour of it, but there is an obligation upon the Government of the day to honour the obligation into which they entered, and there is, in my view, for those who are supporters of the Common Market, a clear moral obligation to deliver the goods, and I believe that that is right.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

Would not the Government honour their obligation most fully if they introduced the Bill in the form in which it would be most likely to command a majority in the House, namely, with the first-past-the-post system?

Mr. Thorpe

We shall get on to that matter shortly. I do not think that anyone is likely to be able to say what is most likely to be the view of the House until we have had a vote. Unlike the hon. Gentleman, I would not like to prejudge the view of the House in advance of it being expressed.

One asks the question, why do we want an elected Assembly? The short answer is that it has an important job of work to do. [Interruption.] Perhaps the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Hoyle) will contain himself for a while. The great David Lloyd George said that one should never ask a question unless one knew at once the answer that one was going to give to it. On that matter one has only to look at the events of the last few weeks and the statement of the Council of Ministers and its views about the collective action which the Community would take on growth, inflation, and employment, and its position on the Middle East. I may happen to disagree with parts of the statement on the Middle East, but it was an important position for the Nine to take.

I do not believe that any anti-Marketeer could seriously object to the heads of nine nations getting together as neighbours with very close economic links to discuss some of the major problems that face us as neighbours. Nor, I believe, can they honestly say that if there are to be ministerial meetings and meetings of civil servants for the Commission to carry out the decisions taken, it is wrong for the parliamentarians for the same area to get together to discuss amongst themselves those same problems, which is what the Assembly does.

I cannot see why it should be suggested that Ministers and civil servants can meet but that there is something wrong in having elected Members meet. And if there are to be Members of the Assembly, it is better to have them elected than nominated, particularly if one accepts the doctrine that the dual mandate will be the exception rather than the rule.

I give another example of the sort of job the Assembly has to do. One of the most exciting developments in the Common Market is the signing of the Lomé Agreement, whereby the Nine have agreed to link their economies with 50 African, Caribbean and Pacific developing countries. This is enormously important and I want to see it extended. Therefore, I would also like to see a powerful committee of the European Assembly established to push Governments, the Commission and the Community forward. Many of these decisions will ultimately have to be taken in the individual Parliaments, but there is no reason why there should not be a collective view, expressed by parliamentarians of the Nine in the Assembly.

I disagree with the Prime Minister about the target date of May and June next year. He has said that it does not really matter if we do not achieve it. That attitude can be summed up as "This time, next time, some time, never." I believe that if there is a massive majority tonight for Second Reading it should be interpreted as a decision by this House that it wants the elections in May and June next year.

That means that we shall probably have to have some form of agreed timetable, and the readiness to have it will be the real test of the Government's good faith and that of Her Majesty's Opposition. I believe that in the next Session we must see what progress we are making and bring in some form of agreed timetable if there is a filibuster. It is possible that there will be a filibuster. The House always says that it never does such a thing, but it is possible. We might see the sort of thing that we saw on the devolution Bill. I did not vote for the guillotine motion on that Bill because I thought it a bad Bill. Just as the Conservative Government came to an agreed timetable on the European Communities Bill, which we discussed and agreed with them, so the same will have to be done, if necessary, with this Bill.

Mr. Rippon

On the right hon. Gentleman's assumption that we all ought to try to expedite the passage of the Bill, will he give his assurance that when we have a free vote on the method of election the Liberals will happily abide by the results?

Mr. Thorpe

Yes, of course. But we have not voted yet, and after the vote there will be no alternative. It is rather an academic question.

I do not believe that the regional list system is the best available but it has certain advantages. It means that the number of votes is reflected in the seats, so that if a party holds three-fifths of the vote it gets three out of five seats. That is new. The system also gives some choice to the elector among the candidates within his party list. That again is new. It is also, in my view, a system which could, although not necessarily would, be ready in time. Although we may want to look at Schedule 3 and carry out certain amendments, the system is simple.

Its disadvantages are that, although one counts the party totals, if a candidate for a party fails to get the necessary quota, or if he exceeds his quota, those who vote for him will have no way of expressing where they would wish their second preference to go. The elector would get that ability under the single transferable vote system, but not under the regional list system.

The main defect will be that in Northera Ireland, where one cannot have cross-voting and cannot share second preferences with any other party, it will probably split the vote between the SDLP and the Alliance Party, to the benefit of those more extreme on the right or on the left. That is one reason, I suspect, why the Government in their White Paper said that if we were to have the first-past-the-post system for the United Kingdom, we would have to have proportional representation or STV for Northern Ireland.

I wonder why they said that. I think that they accepted their own advice, in paragraph 14 of the White Paper, that the first-past-the-post system magnifies swings. That is something of which every Government approve when they are in power—a magnification of the swings— because they benefit, and of which every Opposition approve when they think that they are about to become the Government. But they both know full well that minorities are very often underrepresented, and that in the case of Northern Ireland it would probably be the Roman Catholic minority. Indeed, it would probably not be represented at all. Therefore, even with the regional list system, I should still like the single transferable vote in Northern Ireland, because it is vitally important that both religious communities and all shades of opinion there should be as accurately reflected as possible.

Mr. Powell


Mr. Thorpe

It has been the polarisation of the Unionist-dominated Protestant clique in the last 40 years which has caused the problems in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Powell

Not in the Common Market.

Mr. Thorpe

If the right hon. Gentleman does not believe that, he will not believe anything.

Mr. Powell

The right hon. Gentleman knows nothing about it.

Mr. Thorpe

What is the position of the Opposition on the question of proportional representation in Northern Ireland if we have the first-past-the-post system for the United Kingdom? Do they accept the Government's view? The right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw) was a little ambivalent in the debate in April. He is the man who reintroduced proportional representation into Northern Ireland and he did not, in the debate, dissent from the wisdom of what he had done. He did not speak as the father, because it was fathered by others, but he spoke as the godfather. He was nevertheless very ambivalent as to whether he would support the system for the European elections. We did not have from him the basso profundo tone that we are wont to expect, but something more akin to the falsetto of his mistress's voice. I hope that we shall hear a little more about where the Conservative Party stands on the question of Northern Ireland and proportional representation.

I cannot understand the enthusiasm of the Conservative Party for the first-past-the-post system for Europe. I would not be so ungenerous as to suggest that it feels such a system to be the best way to get an inflated majority. Nothing like that would cross my mind. I would not suggest that the Conservatives would prefer it because it would take longer than anything else and would therefore ditch the elections, because they are good Europeans, even if it took some time to convert them.

However, many Conservatives are prepared to look objectively at alternative schemes, although not, of course, the right hon. Lady, the Leader of the Opposition. We know her position. She is absolutely rigid. One cannot talk about election systems to her. It is like mentioning the name of Mr. Gladstone to Queen Victoria. Indeed, Conservative Members of Parliament and industrialists who have discussed the subject with her and have favoured a change have come away with very thick ears, as many hon. Members on this side of the House will be prepared privately to admit.

One of the merits argued for the first-past-the-post system is that there would be a close relationship between the Member and his constituents. But there is no close proximity between one Member and 500,000 electors. Again, the problems that the Members of the European Assembly will face are regional. That is why it is better that the system should be on a regional basis. But let us consider the timetable that the Minister of State mentioned. Let us look at what the Boundary Commissioners said.

The Boundary Commissioners said that their estimate of 18 weeks for preparation was on the basis that there would be no preliminary consideration before Royal Assent, that there would be no preparation of papers before it, and no ordering of papers for publication before it. But they said that within two weeks they could arrange publication and display of provisional recommendations, and that there would be four weeks for representations to be made. These could be examined by the secretariat in two weeks and considered by the Commission in a further two weeks. The drafting of the report would take two weeks, and the ordering of maps, printing and submission of the report would take six weeks. I think that the total of 18 weeks for all that work is a wildly optimistic view. They thought that a maximum of about seven weeks would be required for preliminary consideration and publication of papers after Royal Assent. I cannot see how the first-past-the-post system could possibly be completed in less than six months.

The hon. Member for Mid-Oxon (Mr, Hurd), who spoke last night for the Conservative Opposition, said earlier this year that: The Home Secretary had a rather sibylline passage on boundaries in his speech, reflecting an almost similarly obscure passage in the Green Paper, when he said that we might simplify the remit of the Boundary Commission or have other arrangements approved by Parliament. We should put down a marker, even in advance of the Select Committee. I do not wish to be discourteous or to recall uncomfortable memories, but we go for the Boundary Commission with whatever simplifications may be appropriate—not arrangements between the parties or in smoke-filled rooms. Such arrangements are not likely to command the respect which is essential in this crucial matter if the direct elections are to be a success."—[Official Report, 30th March 1976; Vol. 908, c.1222.] I believe that the hon. Member was for option B at the very least, and in my view option B would take six months at the very least.

Mr. Douglas Hurd (Mid-Oxon)

We have always said that we want the Boundary Cominission to play a proper rôle in determining boundaries if we have the first-past-the-post system. The difficulty now about timing is that the Liberal Party has forced the Government to include in the Bill a system which, on present evidence, the House is likely to reject. It would be a pity if, the Liberals having brought the baby to birth, it were to be strangled in Committee.

Mr. Thorpe

The hon. Gentleman does scant justice to the Home Secretary, who in his speech yesterday made it quite plain that he is personally in favour of the system, and I do not know why the hon. Gentleman should question the Home Secretary's good faith. The right hon. Member for Dartford, who is Chairman of the Select Committee, has likewise been converted. There are many in his own Conservative Party who take this view, and he must not automatically assume that everyone is so wedded to the system in which, obviously, he passionately believes. Let us put it to the vote, and we shall see what happens.

I believe, therefore, that the Boundary Commissioners would have very great difficulty in starting work until they knew the number of seats. We do not know whether those for Scotland and Wales would go up or stay as they are. One cannot work out the quota until that is known. We will change in five years to some form of proportional system, anyway, I know perfectly well, because no one in Europe has the first-past-the-post system, and would not be found dead with it. In Europe it is regarded as a crazy system, and part of our archaic system of politics. I cannot see why we should change twice. Why not change to a proportional system now and go most of the way towards what will be the system in five years' time?

The only advantage of the first-past-the-post system is that the results would be so undemocratic and unrepresentative that they would, as the right hon. Member for Bridlington (Mr. Wood) said, discredit the system in this country even more. I must say that there are times when I should not mind seeing that happen.

If we want to get the Bill through, the Leader of the Opposition will have to be far more flexible than she has been hitherto in looking at alternative electoral systems. We must see how we can get this legislation through quickly.

I do not see why British citizens living abroad should not be able to vote. I believe that the change in the deposit figure is right. I do not think that £500 and 50 signatures is very much for a business man to enable him to send brochures free of charge through the post to several million people. We might have to increase the number of nominations.

I take it that we are making the hon. Member for Banbury and the hon. Member for Newham South (Mr. Spearing), whose views I respect, unhappy, but we are trying to have a greater democratic influence in Europe, and for my part I hope that there will be an enormous majority for the Second Reading tonight.

5.24 p.m.

Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)

My hon. Friend the Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson), in the recent exchange of views, quite rightly said that not only opinion in this House but opinion in the country has to be taken into consideration in relation to the debate. The views that I shall put forward today are based upon the decision of the annual conference of the Labour Party.

In January 1976 the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party urged the Labour Government not to commit the United Kingdom to elections for a European Parliament until the NEC and the party conference had had the opportunity to discuss the important implications involved. We then drew up a document in which the NEC put the arguments for and against direct elections. That document was placed before the annual conference of the Labour Party, and the majority of the National Executive Committee urged the conference not to support direct elections. That was carried by a two to one vote. I will quote from the document. It said: The fundamental argument against direct elections stems from an opposition to further integration and possible political union within the European Community and a consequent belief that such integration poses a threat to national sovereignty. It therefore follows that the Labour Party should continue the campaign against direct elections as a manifestation and commitment to greater political union. That was the decision after a democratic discussion and debate at the party conference. I have not always accepted conference decisions—I opposed devolution —but I always made it clear that I was opposing my party conference decision, and I did not pretend anything else. As hon. Members know, I always said that I was arguing against a decision of my party conference. Some of my hon. Friends seem to have forgotten what my party conference decided, and the Government especially forgot. Within a matter of weeks the Government had accepted the position, and it became part of the last Queen's Speech.

I draw the attention of the House to this because there is a vast body of opinion in the country, particularly in the Labour movement, which is opposed to the whole concept of direct elections. It is not a question whether it is to be a regional list or the first-past-the-post method. That body of opinion is opposed to the principle of direct elections, and I am opposed to the principle of direct elections. I make it absolutely clear that on this question I stand foursquare with the decision of my party conference. [Interruption.] Why? Because I think it was right.

I went through the speeches—

Mr. Tom Ellis (Wrexham)

My hon. Friend said that he follows the decision of the party conference on the ground that it was right. What would he have done had he thought it was a wrong decision?

Mr. Heffer

My hon. Friend knows me sufficiently well to know that if I thought it was wrong I would not necessarily follow the conference decision. I have done that before, as the Government have. But there is a distinction between the position of an individual and that of a political party, with a Cabinet which in fact is here because the party has put its members here, not as individuals but to represent the views of the party. It will be very bad for this country when political leaderships, irrespective of who those political leaderships are, totally ignore the desires, the wishes, the convictions and the views of the majority of their party. That must be understood.

Mr. Skinner

Does my hon. Friend understand that what the leadership of the Government is about, as distinct from the party leadership, although the General Secretary has been making noises that, in my view, are not in line with the conference decision, is to get a decision tonight and to hoodwink the Labour Party Conference of 1978, persuading it to overturn a previous decision, although, according to the constitution, it should not be allowed to debate the matter because a decision has already been made, and then, if it can manage to do so, to get a few trade union leaders to support it with a few million votes? Following that, the object is to try to cajole or persuade some of us to support the Bill when it next comes before us—

Mrs. Kellett-Bowman

Address the Chair.

Mr. Skinner

That is the present scenario. My hon. Friend should direct his attention—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I should be obliged if the hon. Member would address his remarks to the Chair.

Mr. Skinner

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I take exception to the fact that when I, as distinct from others, turn my back upon the Chair I am called to account—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The hon. Member should not take exception. I can assure him that there is no view held by the present occupant of the Chair, of any other occupant, that affects him more than any other hon. Member. The Chair is fair and impartial always.

Mr. Heffer

I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) has a great deal to commend the point of view that he puts forward. I am sure that some people have that manoeuvre at the back of their minds.

Mr. Skinner

All this lot on the Government Front Bench.

Mr. Heffer

I turn to what took place during the referendum campaign. This morning I spent a considerable time—it was not particularly pleasant—going through the speeches of the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) when he was Leader of the Opposition and right up to the end of the campaign. I also went through the speeches of the previous Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson), and the speeches of Mr. Roy Jenkins, who is now the President of the Commission. We have been told that direct elections were understood. We have been told that if we voted "Yes" in the referendum we were voting for direct elections. I have looked through the speeches and I find that the right hon. Member for Sidcup probably made more speeches than anyone else in the House on why we should remain in the Common Market. He talked about the defence of Europe. He talked, incidentally, about mountains of butter. He talked about every conceivable subject, but he never talked about direct elections. Not once did he mention them.

The only possible reference to direct elections—it is very oblique—was made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton. I refer to his speech in Cardiff on Wednesday 4th June, the night before the voting.

Mr. Skinner

He covered everything.

Mr. Heffer

My hon. Friend is right. In fact, he covered everything except direct elections.

The only possible reference—it is the only one that I can find in all the rather lengthy speeches that occupy a huge box in the Library—is that when my right hon. Friend said that it was best for Britain and Europe"— that is, best for Britain and Europe to be in the EEC— because our renegotiations gave a powerful stimulus to the movement for greater political —that means, democratic—control of the Market's institutions". Before anyone rushes in to say that my right hon. Friend meant direct elections, let me make it clear that he meant nothing of the kind. In his other speeches, in the statement that he made in the House on renegotiation, and in the White Paper on renegotiation, he said that we had strengthened the position of the Council of Ministers and the Heads of Government by bringing them together and that in future they would be much stronger in relation to the Commission. He spoke about strengthening democracy, and the issue of direct elections was not involved. It was not mentioned in the White Paper, and the only reference is to be found in Command 6003. I am sorry to have to refer to the document but it is important that I do so. It states: The Heads of Government of the Community countries at their meeting in December 1974 expressed themselves in favour of the introduction of direct elections to the European Assembly by universal suffrage. It was however made absolutely clear by the United Kingdom that 'Her Majesty's Government could not themselves take up a position on the proposal before the process of renegotiation had been completed, and the results of renegotiation submitted to the British people'. Did the Government take up a position after renegotiation had been completed? The truth is that they did not. Stage by stage, step by step and manoeuvre by manoeuvre, we find ourselves being put in a position in which we are told "That is not important; we are not discussing that." We were not discussing direct elections and now we are faced with them.

We are told that our powers will remain precisely the same. We are told that 20 years will elapse before there will be any change. What will happen when the Bill is enacted? Instead of our powers being strengthened, this House will be reduced to a sort of county council. We shall then be told "You must have known that when you were discussing direct elections". That is the truth. That is what is happening. Stage by stage we are being manoeuvred into something that is contrary to what the British people wanted and contrary to what they accepted when they voted in the referendum.

I have looked through the dreadful documents that were put in front of us during the referendum campaign. There were two in favour, one coming from the pro-Marketeer group, and the Government paper that was supposed to be neutral but which was in favour. Finally, there was the one that was against the proposal. I shall not bother the House by quoting from them, but there was not a word about direct elections. That issue did not enter into any of the arguments contained in the documents.

Why did not the paper that was against the proposition include a reference to direct elections? Such reference was omitted because the Government's views in the White Paper were accepted. The statement of my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton in the House was accepted—namely, that it was not an issue. It was accepted that it was something to which we were not tied and that it was not something that we should have to accept in future.

Tonight we are asked to take a decision on principle. I urge the House to vote against the Bill. I urge my hon. Friends, who may be bamboozled by the concept that we are strengthening democracy—

Mr. Skinner

It is the money actually.

Mr. Hefier

My hon. Friend sometimes gets right to the heart of the problem. I do not believe that any hon. Member who believes in the concept is concerned with money.

Mr. Skinner

That is the concern of some hon. Members on the Opposition Benches.

Mr. Heffer

I honestly believe that there are some who believe direct elections to be right as a matter of principle. I wish to argue, if my hon. Friend will restrain himself, that as a matter of principle.—[Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I hope that the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) will be able to continue his speech.

Mr. Heffer

I hope that my hon. Friends will not be bamboozled by the argument that this measure will strengthen democracy. If we really wanted to strengthen democracy, if we really wanted to turn the Assembly into a Parliament, we should have to agree on the principle of a totally united Europe—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Yes, hon. Members may boast about that. They had better tell the people about that. Stage by stage they have obtained what they wanted, but they have not dared to tell the people. One or two hon. Members have, of course, argued honestly about this, but that has not been the position of the majority of the pro-Marketeers who have taken us step by step along this road. I do not think that the British people want that sort of situation.

Mr. George Cunningham rose

Mr. Heffer

I am sorry, I shall not give way because I am just concluding.

My honest opinion is that if the British people, after these years of being in the Common Market, again had the opportunity of deciding whether they would be in or out and not led by the nose by three party leaders, or by the Press and the other media—which during the entire campaign made it very difficult for those in opposition to put their opposition— because of the unmitigated disaster that it has been, the British people would now come out.

5.41 p.m.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)

Many hon. Members who have spoken in this two-day debate have sought to draw a distinction between the decision of principle, which, it is claimed, will be the subject of tonight's vote, and the question of method, which, they argue, can be considered later in Committee. Indeed, the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer)—although I agree with almost everything else that he said—sought to draw the same distinction between the general aim of introducing direct elections and the particular method of election embodied in the Bill.

I believe that this is a distinction without a difference, and that the House is already discovering that the essence of the question lies in the method of election. Indeed, it could hardly be otherwise, for if this is a Bill to establish direct elections, examination of how the elections which are to be direct are to be conducted must be at the heart of the matter and must decide our view as to whether it is desirable—nay, whether it is even practicable—for direct elections to be instituted at all.

As these debates proceed from the Second Reading through the Committee stage—if there is to be any Committee stage in this Session—and as they proceed again after an interval of some months, we shall find that the very nature of the Community itself and the nature of this decision of principle are gradually illuminated as we investigate the alternative methods of election that have been proposed.

It is not, in my view, that the House, by a cunning device of the draftsman, has been presented in the Bill with two alternative methods, one of which is right and the other of which is wrong. The House has been presented with two methods of which both upon examination prove to be unacceptable and to be travesties of parliamentary representation as anyone in this country can understand it.

Those who object to the regional list system and intend to vote it out are, in my view, justified in doing so; but so are the Government justified in resisting the alternative proposal and the consequences of the first-past-the-post system.

I examine the two alternatives in a little more detail. I do not think that any hon. Gentleman can seriously contemplate without grave aversion the notion of political parties drawing up lists for regions and those lists then being elected en bloc—allocated in slabs as it were— in proportion to the votes cast for various parties. There can, I suppose, be nothing more offensive to our whole idea of representation than the notion of voting for a party and not a person and for the person to be allocated by the party. It flies in the face of all the traditions which have been built up through the history of this House.

Nor is it representative in the sense in which we are accustomed to regard representatives as responsible to those who elect them. There would be no means of relating that bloc of elected persons to any section of the electorate who elected them. Are we to be told that it is the one or two off the top of the Liberal list who are to be responsible to the Liberal electors and the three or four off the Labour list who are to be responsible to the Labour electors? Clearly not. But to whom then are the various Members to be held responsible? Will they, as was sarcastically asked of the 12 peers created under Queen Anne to pass the Treaty of Utrecht, answer through their foreman like a jury? After all, they are a bloc of Members representing a slab of the country. Presumably they will act in some way collectively.

Mr. John Roper (Farnworth)

I am not quite clear whether the right hon. Gentleman is putting up a straw man or describing what the Government propose. What the Government propose is quite different from what the right hon. Gentleman has suggested. Electors will vote for individuals and not for slabs of parties.

Mr. Powell

Yes, but those who will be elected will not be elected as a result of those electoral votes attached to individuals. They will be elected as a result of a computation of all the votes cast for party candidates. There will therefore be no such nexus as is the very essence of this place, no nexus between the person elected and those who elected him, no ascertainable channel of responsibility.

But then, if we turn to the alternative, the case is scarcely, if at all, better. Members are to be elected by constituencies of 500,000 approximately, give or take a few thousand, and the constituencies will be so large that the Government are not the only ones who have recognised that the reflection of political opinion in this country through first-past-the-post elections will be grossly distorted, will be a travesty of the actual pattern of electoral opinion, even as it stands at the particular moment. If any hon. Member doubts that, let him ask himself whether he would like to accept the result, for the Government of this country, of the expression of political opinion in elections conducted on the basis of constituencies of 500,000.

Nor can there, even so, be any real link between the individual Euro-Member and those 500,000 electors. We are told that this is to be a consultative Assembly. But we know, through experience late at night, what are many of the subjects on which those Euro-Members, we are told, will be consulted. They are matters which come home just as intimately to men. women and children in this country and which affect as differentially different constituencies and different areas and interests in this country, as do the subjects which we debate and decide in this House. Painfully, therefore, would be felt the impossibility of relating the responsibility of the Euro-Member to this inconceivably vast individual constituency of 500,000 persons with, in many cases, nothing whatever in common amongst its electorate. This is very different from the constituencies which send hon. Members to this House and whose natures determine the nature of the Assembly which is gathered here.

But what is to be the political composition of the 81 Members elected by the first-past-the-post system? There was a remarkable passage in the speech of the Home Secretary yesterday of which I am not sure even he himself recognised the full interest and importance. He said: Without the use of a proportional representation electoral system … 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."—[Official Report, 6th July 1977; Vol. 934, c. 1256.] That is a profoundly interesting statement. Evidently, in the view of the Government, the representation ought to be a representation of the balance of power as it is expressed in this sovereign Parliament. Of course, it will not be, and it could not be. It lies in the nature of things—and not just in this system— that there will be perpetual difference, or only rare and accidental congruence from time to time, between the balance in the 81 elected persons and the balance in this House of Commons. I shall come back to that in a moment when I come to consider the implications of the proposal for what is mistaken for an extension of democracy.

What the Home Secretary, however, did not observe was that it is not merely under the system of first-past-the-post that this intolerable contradiction between two expressions of political opinion in this country will arise. It also happens under a proportional system. As the European and the British elections will not take place at the same time, we shall inevitably, as a result of direct elections, have discordant expressions of what are supposed to be the political views of this country. Nor, under either system, will they be the views—it would be unrealistic to imagine such a thing—of the electorate about certain Euro-matters. They will be—the system in Clause 3(1) calls aloud for it—expressions of party opinion on internal British politics at a given moment.

So we set up a representation totally devoid of the human, parliamentary characteristics of representation here, but guaranteed to be in discord with the sovereign representation of the views of the British people as it exists in this House.

There is no escape for hon. Members from these difficulties by saying that this is a "one-off". In any event, it is not a "one-off". The Minister of State today put this right very clearly. There is nothing in this Bill—there may be amendments considered in Committee later which would make it so—which limits it to one election, after which it will cease to have effect. We understand that there will be elections, under the decision of September last year, every five years. So until a different system is introduced, whatever system goes into this Bill will continue for Euro-election after Euro-election.

Let not those who think that they will satisfy their compunctions by voting out Clause 3(1)—my hon. Friends and I will be amongst those who will help to do that—suppose that thereby they will have salvaged and preserved the good old British parliamentary system for the Euro-elections of the future. These very hon. Members claim that they are supporting this Bill in accordance with the spirit of our membership of the European Economic Community, if not actually in verbal obedience to the Treaty of Rome. The right hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe) was correct to say that this Bill is not in pursuance of Section 1(3) of Article 138 of the Treaty of Rome. It is in pursuance of the Decision of Ministers taken on 20th September 1976— 15 months, incidentally, after the referendum.

Do they seriously imagine that the European Assembly, which they believe can endow their European Community with virtues which at present it lacks, will, in the process of time, be elected by the principle of first-past-the-post? Of course not. If it is to be elected on a uniform system, in accordance with the Treaty of Rome, that will be a Continental system.

The serious error which lies behind so much of the talking and thinking on this subject is the idea that, simply by electing representatives, we achieve a kind of extension of the parliamentary democracy of this House. What we achieve in fact is a negation and a contradiction of democratic control over what is done in the name of the British people.

Does anyone imagine that 81 persons elected by either of these grotesque methods to form part of an Assembly of 400 odd, possessed of such powers as they have already or may arrogate to themselves and having the oversight of all the matters which come before the Council of Ministers, will secure greater control for the British people than we can exercise in this House, through Ministers, over the decisions of the Common Market? It will have the opposite effect. It will cut out and short-circuit, by a necessary logic, the power of this House. It will mean that, on every subject which arises, we in this House will be told that this has been considered already, that it has been passed, that it has been approved, by that very Assembly which we in this House under this Bill have set up to provide control for the British people. We in this House will be asked "Who are you—you minnows who are merely elected to the British Parliament—to stand up now and say that you want to mull over these directives, policies and all the rest of it which come out from the EEC?"

This is a step which it is a pure illusion to suppose democratises the EEC. It reduces even that element of parliamentary control and democracy which that institution already has.

So, of course, this is a debate about British membership of the EEC. We cannot help that. There again, the right hon. Member for Devon, North was very helpful. It is not so much a debate about what people thought they were voting on at the referendum two years ago; it is about the principle of the matter. It is about what the Community is and what our membership of it means.

Towards the end of his speech, the Home Secretary said yesterday: We are in Europe to stay and it is time that this House put its mind to elections for the European Assembly."—[Official Report, 6th July 1977; Vol. 934, c. 1261.] The right hon. Gentleman said: We are in Europe to stay". With the greatest possible respect, neither the Home Secretary nor any other man can or dare say that. It is not what the Government said to the people when they were asked to vote at the referendum. Then, they said: The British Parliament in Westminster retains the final right to repeal the Act which took us into the Market. …"— these are the Government's words, the words of their legal advisers, words written up before the face of Europe— Thus our continued membership will depend"— even in the event of a "Yes" vote— on the continuing assent of Parliament. It is the question of the "continuing assent of Parliament" which is being raised in every speech that will be made at every stage of this Bill; for this Bill, which compels us to explore the nature, the possibilities and the implications of a directly elected European Assembly, will reveal to more and more how incompatible that form of association with the European continent is with our institutions, our freedoms and all that we value most.

It is not the Home Secretary who got this right, but the Foreign Secretary. He got it exactly right in his words of 15th June. I am sure that those words were very carefully chosen. He said: It may well be that the British people and this Parliament, as they have every right constitutionally to do, may wish to reassess the question of British membership."—[Official Report, 15th June, 1977; Vol. 933, c. 386.] So they may, and nothing can prevent it. Nothing can deny them that right. No claim of morality, nothing said against us, can trench upon that right.

Part of the process of reassessment begins with this Bill, as it reveals over the coming months to this House and to the electors who have created it what it means to be part of the EEC and that the nature of the EEC itself is incompatible with democratic control over the things that govern their lives.

6.2 p.m.

Dr. Colin Phipps (Dudley, West)

There is much in what the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) has just said in his analysis. I agree with much of it, and other supporters of the Common Market will also agree. There is a major difference, however. The things that the right hon. Gentleman fears are, in many cases, the same things as I hope for.

I am unashamedly in favour of a united Europe. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) was a little unfair to many of us who, over the years, have made it clear that our reason for being here and what we hope to see is a united Europe. My right hon. Friend the Member for Dart-ford (Mr. Irving) said earlier that it was known that I was in favour of a federal Europe of which the United Kingdom was a member. This has always been my hope, and I have never shirked from stating it. The same applies also to many hon. Members on both sides. To speak of a subtle and insidious process of lulling and gently sweeping the British public into Europe is to do less than justice to many hon. Members.

Mr. Heifer

I have never denied that there are individual hon. Members on both sides who have made their position absolutely clear. I am making my comments on the basis of the literature and material that has been issued on this question.

Dr. Phipps

I know that my hon. Friend takes that point of view. The debates in this House have made it quite clear where the Labour Government stand and where many individual Ministers and members of the Government stand.

It has been suggested that the referendum is something that is not binding, and therefore should not be considered in this matter. I am perfectly prepared to take that point. I did not vote in this House for a referendum. I believed, and still believe, that it was for this House to take a decision on whether we should enter Europe. I did not vote for a referendum and I made it quite clear that I would not be bound by the result. To me it is this House that makes a sovereign decision, and that is what will happen tonight.

We do not have to discuss the referendum. This House is about to take another sovereign decision on direct elections. I do not pretend that that decision is anything to do with the result of the referendum. That result will not make me vote for direct elections this evening. I shall vote for them because I believe that it is the sovereign duty of the House to decide what it wants. I believe that membership of the EEC is vital to us, and the future of the EEC is vital to the future of the world. I see direct elections as a means of securing the united Europe that I seek. Therefore I shall vote for them and I hope that many other hon. Members will do the same.

Those who vote against direct elections will do so because they are fundamentally opposed to the concept of a united Europe. That is perfectly acceptable, and in those circumstances it is perfectly acceptable for them to vote against direct elections in order to prevent us from moving in that direction. Having said that, I believe that if there is a vote showing an overwhelming majority in favour of direct elections there will be many hon. Members on both sides who will have to consider seriously the points raised by the right hon. Member for Down, South about the nature and form of the electoral process.

Recently I have become a convert to proportional representation. I became a convert not for European elections but for elections to this House. I think that proportional representation to this House would, to some extent, decrease the power of the Executive in favour of the Back Bencher, and I think that this is a good thing.

For Europe, the arguments for PR are overwhelming. It is not merely a question of fairness of representation of the country as a whole, but the purely practical considerations as well. If we had the first-past-the-post system which produced in the South-West not a single Liberal or Labour Member and in the North-East not a single Liberal or Conservative Member, or in the country as a whole not a single Liberal Member, would this be acceptable? Conservative Members who are thinking of opposing PR but who are anxious to see our continued membership of the EEC, as I am, must realise that if they opt for a system that produces an obvious imbalance in the representation of this country in Europe it will play directly into the hands of the anti-Europeans.

Mr. Molloy

Of course there is a great deal to be said for proportional representation, but does not my hon. Friend agree that there are Europeans—many Italians, for example—who think that they have an almost perfect system of PR? Yet all they have got from it is the fact that they have not had a stable Government for 30 years.

Dr. Phipps

I take my hon. Friend's point. I have heard all the arguments against proportional representation that are based on the results that it produces in the government of the various countries. But we could find examples of that under any system of dictatorships of the Left, Right or Centre—examples of all systems producing good and bad Governments. Many European countries have systems of PR and they are not noticeably worse governed than we are. In fact, I suspect, that some are better governed. It is not the system that produces good or bad Governments.

If Conservatives insist on the first-past-the-post system this may produce a system of representation to the European Parliament that will defeat the very objectives that they hold dear, namely, our continued membership of that institution, and its success.

Let me turn to the argument of those Labour Members who oppose PR. I am not among those who believe that a system of PR would necessarily result in the Labour Party doing badly. Indeed, I think that the Labour Party would do much better than many people believe. I do not hold the view that there would be only a 20 or 30 per cent. poll. I expect the British electorate to be as interested in European elections as they were in the referendum. I do not expect the Labour Party to do particularly badly, but it ill becomes many of my hon. Friends who are in the forefront of attempts to widen democracy within the Labour Party—a matter with which I have great sympathy—to seek to deprive the British electorate of a greater extension of democracy in the election of their representatives to Europe.

Mr. Hoyle

My hon. Friend mentioned a widening of democracy within the Labour Party. How does he equate this with the giving of greater power to the party political machine? Surely, that is a negation of democracy rather than a strengthening of it.

Dr. Phipps

I do not understand the argument which my hon. Friend is advancing on this matter.

Mr. Hoyle

I am suggesting that the regional list system will strengthen the party machinery because the electorate will not individually select the candidate but will vote for a list put forward by the political parties. Indeed, the candidate who tops the poll might not even be elected in the end.

Dr. Phipps

I understood my hon. Friend to be suggesting the strengthening of the party political machine within the Labour Party by the process of extending democracy in the Labour Party. I am sorry if I misunderstood him.

Let me turn to the system of election which we should use. I am very much in agreement with the right hon. Member for Down, South that the proposed proportional system has many defects. Among its major defects appears to be not only the enormous advantage possessed by a "Mr. Abrahamson" in the electoral list, because he would also appear at the beginning of it, but the fact that it opens up a primary system which I suspect would lead to members of individual parties fighting each other at an election rather than fighting members of an opposing political party.

Let us suppose that in one area one Labour candidate under the PR system may be returned, although there may be seven Labour candidates on the list. The net effect may involve seven Labour candidates fighting each other rather than fighting Conservative or Liberal candidates. This appears to be a weakness in such a system. I would prefer the single transferable vote system, which would allow a Labour voter to put candidates in order of preference—candidate No. 1 to candidate No. 7. In other words, he would instance those members of his own party whom he wished to represent him in Parliament.

If we must retain the current system, I suspect that the only way we shall achieve some fairness is by following the Finnish system. I understand that that system involves an additional box which includes purely the name of the party. There are objections to such a course. I agree with the right hon. Member for Down, South that it is an unsuitable way of voting in a democracy to vote merely for a party.

If we are to retain the system, we need to provide for the person who does not know any candidate's name. He may know nothing at all about the various candidates who are put before him, and he may put a tick against the first Labour man because he wishes to vote Labour. In other words, he will choose the most convenient and easiest course. If there were a box marked "Labour" he could tick that box and choose in that way. That would have the same result in respect of total votes cast for each party in establishing the proportion of seats. But we should not back a ridiculous situation in which the first candidate on the list is much more likely to be elected than is any other candidate. One could have a situation such as that outlined by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham), in which a member who had not received a single vote of preference was elected. If we are to have a system that also needs to include a little box entitled "Labour" or "Conservative" or whatever it may be. I would prefer to move to some form of STV.

There is one element in the PR system which has not been discussed by Ministers—namely, that there appears to be no limit to the number of candidates which can be put up by individual parties. If the vote is for an individual, I see no reason why even in a seven-seat region there could not be 77 or 700 candidates. If each were approved by the party concerned, I find it difficult to see how we, as legislators, could restrict political parties in the number of people they put up. I can see that parties will find great difficulty in deciding whether to reject the eighth man or woman if no restriction is placed on the numbers in the list. That eighth person would have a strong argument for saying "I believe that I can fight a campaign in this election sufficiently good to give me enough votes to enable me to be one of those elected." That would be a difficult argument to counter.

Therefore, I see great difficulties in the proposed PR system which is being advanced by the Government. I would prefer the STV system, or possibly even the block list. But that is subject to the kind of patronage to which many of us on the Labour Benches are opposed since political parties would make a list in order of preference.

My final point I mentioned a little earlier, when I intervened in the speech of the Minister, but he did not give a satisfactory answer. Although I prefer the PR system I accept that many people in the House continue to prefer a first-past-the-post system. I believe that we must be prepared for both eventualities if we are to hold the direct elections on the date when they are due to be held in other European countries. To say that we cannot do anything before Royal Assent is given to this legislation seems to me to fly in the face of the sovereignty of this House. Surely we can do what we like. If we wish to have a Boundary Commission to examine the matter we can let it do so. It is not beyond the wit of 635 adult men and women to decide that this is what is to be done.

I commend most strongly to the Front Bench the suggestion that if, tonight, there is a major vote showing that it is the will of the House that we should have direct elections to the European Parliament, irrespective of which of those methods is chosen, we should devise machinery that will allow the Boundary Commission to begin its work, and to begin that work soon.

6.18 p.m.

Sir Derek Walker-Smith (Hertfordshire, East)

I shall be referring later to some of the interesting points raised by the hon. Member for Dudley, West (Dr. Phipps), including the suggestion which he advanced in his concluding remarks.

I wish to present my observations to the House on three matters relevant to the Bill and indeed to this debate. They relate to the degree and nature of the commitment to direct elections, the effect of direct elections on the powers of Parliament and the mechanics of direct elections as reflected in and provided for in this Bill.

I have already referred in this House on previous occasions to the first two matters, in particular in my speech in the debate on 29th March last year. Therefore, to some extent I shall be summarising, recapitulating, and amplifying in regard to those two matters.

The EEC Treaty envisages progress to direct elections after a period of membership by designation and contemplates that in acceding to the Community all member States associate themselves with and accept that concept. It follows from this that every adherent to the Community accepts obligations to work to that end—that is to say, to the institution of an appropriate form of direct elections for the European Parliament.

There is, of course, no commitment in law to bring it about at any specified time. However, there is a clear and continuing commitment to consider proposals until an acceptable form has been achieved, and procrastination would bring no diminution of that duty. That is the position in law under the treaty.

More recently, a further element has been injected in respect of the time factor, because the Government have agreed a target date of 1978. That date, again, is not a commitment in law. It does not derive from the treaty, because that is silent as to time, nor does it bind this House; but it does involve the good faith of the Government and therefore of the nation in whose name the Government speak overseas. On our reputation for good faith depends our standing and position both in the Community and in the wider world outside.

There is, therefore, a clear obligation on member States in law to accept the principle of direct elections and to work constructively towards the implementation of that principle. There is a further obligation, that is not expressed in law but which derives from good faith, and it is to do our best—which is the English translation of "use our best endeavours"—to achieve a satisfactory method by 1978. If, having done our best, we can- not meet that date, that is that. Lex non cogit ad impossibilia. However, we must do our best. We cannot do more than that; but we must not do less.

I come now to the matter of powers. I recognise that there are real apprehensions that direct elections will mean an increase of power for the European Parliament with a corresponding decrease in power for the House and perhaps further erosion of national sovereignty. I respect those apprehensions, but I believe them to be groundless for the reasons that I gave in more detail in my speech to the House on 29th March 1976.

Those apprehensions derive from a misunderstanding of the constitutional position and a failure to grasp the wholly different constitutional position that obtains in the parliamentary institutions of Britain and the Community. In Britain we follow the principle of the sovereignty of Parliament. Parliament is supreme and its jurisdiction is unfettered and unbounded. That principle was enshrined in the old saying: Parliament can do anything except make a man a woman, or a woman a man. It is true that the marvels of modern surgery have rather eroded the striking nature of that example. However, the principle remains the same. It is the principle of the omnipotence of Parliament.

Similar considerations do not apply in the Community. There is no principle in the Community of the sovereignty and the supremacy of Parliament, and the consequences of a fundamental change in the method of election and the expansion of membership must be viewed in the context of the constitutional position that actually obtains there—not on a notional superimposition of quite different British constitutional principles.

In Britain the powers of Parliament are a matter for Parliament alone, but that is not the position in the Community. The Community, unlike Britain, operates under a written constitution. It is an institutionalised Community with three political institutions—the Council of Ministers, the Commission and Parliament—as well as a fourth, non-political institution, the European Court of Justice. Each institution has its powers defined by treaty and cannot exceed them or encroach upon the powers of the other institutions. The powers of the Parliament are clearly defined in Article 137 of the Treaty which says that it shall exercise the advisory and supervisory powers which are conferred upon it by this Treaty. The interpretation of those powers is a matter for the Court of Justice under Articles 164 and 173. It follows, therefore, that just because the European Parliament becomes directly elected in future it could not extend its powers at the expense of the House of Commons or other national Parliaments or, indeed, of the other institutions of the Community.

The European Parliament cannot confer upon itself a law-making function that it does not have under the treaty, or transfer to itself the law-making function that the treaty conferred upon the Council of Ministers, who are answerable, and should be responsive, to their national Parliaments. The European Parliament is not a law-making body.

However, it does not follow that because the European Parliament does not have power, it does not have influence. Although it is not a law-making body, it is a law-shaping body, and that is a function that it discharges by scrutiny and discussion—in the presence of representatives of the Commission—of the draft regulations and directives en route from the Commission to the Council of Ministers as the law-making body. That gives the European Parliament an influence on the formative stages of legislation which, unhappily, is lacking in this House. The European Parliament exercises that function within its existing powers which were conferred by the treaty. Direct elections will not add new powers. What they can and should do is to enable the European Parliament better to discharge those duties that it already has.

There can be no addition to the powers of even a directly-elected European Parliament against the will of national Parliaments including, of course, this House. Any increase in the European Parliament's powers would mean an adjustment in the allocation of functions contained in the treaty. That would involve an amendment to the treaty which would bring into play the requirements of Article 236; that is, ratification of any amendments: by all the Member States in accordance with their respective constitutional requirements. I now wish to say something about the mechanics of direct elections. The form of the Bill is somewhat curious and it perhaps calls for prefatory comment. The Government wish to keep their options open—at any rate between the two main possibilities—and so there is in the Bill Clause 3(2) which refers to a possible resolution by the House after the passing of this Act". It is, on the face of it, somewhat Gilbertian. It is envisaged that Parliament will laboriously give effect to a Bill including the regional list system, and then—after the concurrence of both Houses and Queen's consent—the House by a unicameral resolution would reverse the corporate decision of Parliament. That is how the Bill stands. It is a constitutionally odd and perhaps not wholly dignified position.

The matter calls to mind the American Congressman who ended his speech, when he was seeking election, with the words: and those, gentlemen, are my sincere and profoundly-held sentiments. But, of course, if you don't like them, I can easily change them. We are now told that the Government would look upon an amendment with acquiescence. The Home Secretary said twice yesterday that if Clause 3(1) were approved—presumably he meant in Committee—Clause 3(2) would fall. Of course, that is not the position. Clause 3(2), logically, need not fall, because the wording in 3(2) refers to a different period of time. It is prefaced by the words: after the passing of this Act. As drafted, it provides a locus peni-tentiae for the future. Its deletion could come about only by an amendment— which is now hypothetical—by an unidentified sponsor and with an unpredictable result.

It would have been better to hold discussions at the formative stage, on a Green Paper basis, and to seek then to arrive at a consensus, or at least to define the parameters within which decisions should be taken.

If we give a Second Reading to the Bill it will be without commitment to either of the suggested procedures, although we shall be committed to the principle of direct elections and the choice between two specified methods. Prima facie, there will be a presumption in favour of the regional list system which is specifically enacted in the Bill, but there are obviously merits and drawbacks in both systems and, in my view, a fairly close balance between them.

The Assembly constituency, with its first-past-the-post system, has in its favour that it is a less radical departure from our traditional system and gives a greater degree of local or quasi-local election and representation. Of course, the personal rapport between a Member and the electorate, which is such a basic and valued part of the constituency pattern in this House with more than 600 Members, cannot fully or perhaps even satisfactorily be reproduced when Members are representing the far larger constituencies that will be required if there are only 81 Members.

The regional list system would result in a fairer representation between parties, at least on a strictly mathematical basis, and probably a more balanced and appropriate mix of Members suited for the work of a Parliament that operates a system that is quite different from our method of work. However, that would be at the expense of local representation. The regions would be large and some composed of disparate elements. There would be less scope for local election and selection; and diminished direct contact between the elected Member and his electors could diminish interest in what might be regarded as a remote Assembly.

We must also consider the time factor. This is not conclusive because there is no legal obligation to conclude by a specified date, but it is an important factor having regard to the commitment entered into by the Government on behalf of the nation and the moral obligation arising from that.

The advantage here clearly lies with the regional list system because the electoral regions are already specified in the Bill in Clause 4 and Schedule 3 with the voting procedures set out in Schedule 4. There are no post-Act procedures required with that method. Once the Bill is on the statute book, only the logistical items in Schedule 4 would stand between us and readiness for direct elections.

With Assembly constituencies the picture is different. First, there will have to be a House of Commons resolution, and this cannot be brought in until the Bill is on the statute book. Then the Boundary Commission must submit its report to the Home Secretary with recommendations for the 79 Assembly constituencies in compliance with the requirements of Schedule 2(9). The Commission must then publish a Notice of Recommendations and take into consideration the representations that may be made within one month of the publication of the Notice. It is true that no local inquiries are needed on the 1949 and 1958 Acts model, but we do not know how long it will take the Commission to consider representations. The Home Secretary mentioned a minimum of 18 weeks. We do not know how many representations there will be, but there is certainly nothing in the history of the Boundary Commission to give them a reputation for precipitancy or intemperate haste in these matters.

Finally, the Home Secretary will have to lay a report before Parliament with a draft Order in Council to give effect to it. Parliament in this context means not just the House of Commons but both Houses.

If we had to go through all these stages, the target timetable could not reasonably be met, and the Boundary Commission is not in a position to start work without express statutory authority. An hon. Member said earlier that surely the House could do something about that, but all that we can do is to put an Act on the statute book through all the normal legislative processes. There is no doubt that the powers enjoyed by the Boundary Commissions and the scope of their authority as defined under the 1949 and 1958 Acts do not extend to these activities.

There are merits and demerits in both systems. Neither is perfect, but nor is our present system in the House. Indeed, it is manifestly imperfect. Not only does it give rise to the mathematical imbalance of representation between parties complained of by advocates of proportional representation, in an argument that obviously has some intellectual force, at any rate from the point of view of abstract principle; but it results also—and this has nothing to do with theory or learned argument about proportional representation—in gross and indefensible inequities in the distribution of seats and a completely distorted and unfair pattern of representation of electors.

Hon. Members who want evidence for these views need look no further than the Home Secretary's Answer to one of my Questions about a month ago in which he set out the 20 largest and 20 smallest constituency electorates. My constituency is not the largest, but I represent 93,627 electors—41.7 per cent. more than the electoral quota and many more electors than the three smallest constituencies put together—all of which, curiously enough, are represented by hon. Members opposite. The Leader of the House also represents only 36,864 electors—35.4 per cent. less than the electoral quota.

Mr. Molloy

The right hon. and learned Gentleman is correct in what he is saying, but such situations have occurred in other Parliaments and have been corrected by the Boundary Commission. Notwithstanding the imperfections of our system, is it not infinitely preferable to having one Member trying to represent 500,000 constituents?

Sir D. Walker-Smith

It is much better to have a smaller electorate than to have Members trying to represent 500,000 electors. I said earlier that this was a disadvantage inherent in both the suggested schemes. The hon. Gentleman claimed that past Boundary Commissions had cured disparities, but that is not so. The gross disparities have continued for year after year. The principal Act dates back to 1949, but, despite intermittent pressure since then, Governments have not seen fit to do anything about it.

These being the inequalities and disparities of the distribution and representation in our present system, we cannot approach this problem on the basis that, because something is new or different from our present procedures, it is ipso facto unsatisfactory, since our present procedures are patently unsatisfactory themselves, at any rate in the distribution of seats.

Whichever course we take will involve significant variations of our present pattern and procedures, though the regional list system will obviously involve a wider variation and more radical change. We have to devise new methods for a new situation and for elections to a Parliament different in size, function and method of working from our own. Basically, I think that either of the two postulated systems, although not perfect, could work reasonably satisfactorily.

I see, therefore, the choice of procedures as primarily a practical matter, a matter of giving effect to the principle of direct elections in a workable and democratic way. It is a matter in which the wishes of the electorate should be taken into account. But the Bill has been published for barely a fortnight, and there has been little time for Members to ascertain the views and the preferences of their constituents. I am sure that every hon. Member would wish to be more fully informed as to the wishes of constituents on a matter which concerns them so closely.

I conclude, therefore, by saying that the choice of systems is primarily a practical matter which should therefore be considered in an atmosphere of cool and constructive analysis rather than passion or dialectic.

The principle here is the principle of direct elections as such in an acceptable and convenient form, not in any one specific form. The rest is a matter of mechanics and method. The principle of direct elections, I would think, is rooted in the philosophy of representative institutions in a democratic society, in the requirement of a direct nexus between the electors and the elected. It is to that principle that a Second Reading of this Bill will give expression.

6.42 p.m.

Mr. John Prescott (Kingston upon Hull, East)

Let me make clear at the outset that I speak purely for myself on this matter. I say that since I have the honour of being elected what is euphemistically known as the leader of the Labour delegation to the European Assembly, and that delegation reflects the divisions which exist throughout the Labour Party.

The vital principle of the Bill involves the election of representatives to the Assembly of the European Community. The right hon. and learned Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon) made considerable play of the fact that the division of opinion within the Labour Party somehow reflected upon Britain's credibility abroad. But Britain's credibility is harmed as much in Europe by actions such as that of the right hon. and learned Gentleman, who came to the Assembly having accepted a negotiated fishing agreement and then began to renounce it in his first speech there. Clearly that sort of behaviour does no good to our credibility.

Mrs. Kellett-Bowman

That is not a fair representation of what took place at the European Parliament. My right hon. and learned Friend gave a clear and factual history of the fishing agreement, as everyone who was present at the time agreed.

Mr. Prescott

I shall leave hon. Members to read the record of that Assembly debate and to draw their own conclusions. If I am wrong there is time before the debate ends tonight for me to be corrected.

There is a distinctive difference between an Assembly and a Parliament. Various hon. Members have spoken of the European Parliament when they mean a European Assembly. To me a Parliament is a legislative body, and by definition, as was pointed out by the right hon. and learned Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith), the body we are now concerned with is an Assembly. Parliamentarians have ascribed to that Assembly the title Parliament, and that is one of the dangerous illusions that may become accepted as a fact as we proceed towards direct elections. The hon. Member for Mid-Oxon (Mr. Hurd) argued that there was little legislative power available for the establishment of a Parliament and he asked therefore why people were afraid of this body bringing a federal Europe into being.

I have always been opposed to the development of a federal Europe, and that opposition is shared not only by so-called anti-Marketeers. Therefore, to that extent, let me enlist the aid of my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) and what he said in 1971. Of course, times change and so do the speeches. My right hon. Friend said that when Europe went federal there would be an elected Assembly for the whole of the EEC. I assume that that meant that a Parliament might be created with the establishment of a federal Europe. That is probably correct. I am not against elections to a Parliament, but they are distinctly different from elections to an Assembly.

I speak today on the basis of two years' experience in the Assembly. That experience confirms for me that it is an Assembly in the full consultative sense of the word, and that it is not a Parliament. It has no powers beyond the powers of being able to reject the budget or dismiss the Commission. Conservative Members have put down a motion to censure the Commission, but a censure motion such as that is rather like the hydrogen bomb. Everyone is reluctant to use it. When it has been used no one has scored a direct hit. Censure motions have proved to be miserable failures, and therefore the argument that they are an effective sanctioning power is not supported by experience.

On another occasion the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) suggested that these were the levers of power of the sort that led to the establishment of a Parliament, and that the next step was to establish authority. This is bound up with the moral authority which it is suggested direct elections will give to the Assembly.

Any proposal to develop a federal Europe—and I stress that I am against that—has at its heart the essential prerequisite of economic and monetary union. This includes a common decision-making body, a central bank with a single currency, the free movement of capital and labour and the harmonisa-tion of taxes and so on. Those are the objectives that supporters of the European Federalists' Movement have set themselves.

Clearly, those who believe that all that could be achieved by 1980 must have been living in cloud-cuckoo-land. Economic circumstances have changed considerably in the last few years, and events have moved against harmonisation and economic and monetary union. This was recognised by the late Tony Crosland when he addressed the Assembly upon Britain's assumption of the presidency of the Council of Ministers. He said that we were beginning to witness economic divergence not convergence, the latter being essential for economic and monetary union. He said that divergence increased the disparities in the standards of living and economic performance of the various countries concerned.

If one accepts, as I do, that our economic problems are not of a cyclical nature but are much more fundamental, and that they are equally evident in other countries with central economic and monetary systems, one is forced to accept also that those countries have been unable to deal with the central problems of unemployment and inflation.

This explains why the Tindemans proposals for a half-way house—a two-tier Europe—have been rejected by the Council of Ministers and the Assembly. I thought that when I first went to the Assembly I would be arguing against a federal Europe. However, I discovered that everyone wanted to forget Tindemans because it highlighted the reality that, with some nations getting richer and others getting poorer, the half-way house concept created far more political problems than the European problems it was designed to solve. One could therefore argue that the collapse of the Tindemans proposals has seen also the collapse of the timetable for progress towards economic and monetary union for this decade. If one accepts that divergence, and not convergence, is taking place, clearly, as Mr. Crosland said, it may prove necessary for individual countries with similar problems to desynchronise some of their harmonisation.

I hope that the House can understand why I deploy this economic argument. It is central to consideration of what the Assembly will control. A Parliament controls a nation's economic affairs. That is what we seek to do in this Parliament. If we are to expect a European institution to deal with problems at a European level, we must consider whether it has the necessary basic legislative powers before we endow it with the moral authority which it must have to control those events.

In the debate in Luxembourg yesterday, in which I took part and made some of these comments, both Presidents Jenkins and Simonet reiterated their desire for direct elections so that Europe could deal with the problems that it faces. They believe that the election of Members will give moral authority and political support to the Assembly to deal with these economic problems and their grave political and social consequences.

What are those immediate problems? There is the global problem of inflation and unemployment. But there are also industrial problems—shipbuilding, steel and textiles—with which Europe has to deal. We have too much capacity in these basic industries. Britain has tried to reduce its capacity in steel production. Europe wants to do it at a European level.

Somewhat ironically, for someone who believed in the import restriction solution—we were called the supporters of siege economy during the referendum— it comes hard to discover that we have embarked upon European protectionism. I do not know what the difference is between European and national protectionism. The argument may be that with European protection it is more effective, but that was not the argument in the referendum. The argument was that import restrictions and protectionism were not acceptable solutions.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Myer Galpern)

Order. I am sure the hon. Gentleman appreciates that what he has been saying is not relevant to the matter under discussion.

Mr. Prescott

You place me in difficulty, Mr. Deputy Speaker. However, I recognise what you say. Perhaps I may attempt to explain why these matters are relevant, as my colleagues agree, and I may even convince you.

We are talking about the control of our own society. The European Commission believes that, by having directly elected Members, we shall be able to achieve that kind of control. It is important to realise why the Commission believes this and why it is a strong advocate of direct elections.

We must recognise the realities of economic life. If we want to cut back capacity in industry, the only real authority for such action is the national Parliament. If the argument is that social contracts contribute to reducing inflation, only the national Parliament can implement that kind of political acceptance and control. Whatever may happen in 20 or 30 years, at the moment such action is beyond the political mechanism of control in the EEC.

The reality of the Assembly, as defined in the Treaty, is as a consultative and advisory body. By electing Members to the Assembly, we shall feed the dangerous illusion that it is a Parliament. Indeed, it has already got that impression now. We must make up our minds about the role of the Assembly.

From where does the Assembly get its power? It gets it from the treaty. The hon. Member for Mid-Oxon said that the extra powers for a Parliament would require a change in the treaty. Any changes in the treaty have to be agreed by the national Parliaments so that is a proper control.

However, under Article 235 of the treaty, if the Council of Ministers agree on a particular industrial strategy—a classic example is the regional policy— it may extend its influence into an area not mentioned in the treaty. But it has by definition extended the treaty by the back door, because the Ministers have agreed to extend its influence in that area.

I do not want to spell out how it should have been counteracted. I did that in an article in Labour Weekly. The power of decision-making needs to lie with national Parliaments. Therefore, if the Assembly does not have legislative power, it is likely to become a democratic facade for the Commission. The Commission will make proposals and the Assembly will merely be consulted.

If the Commission wants to give power to the Assembly and to make it a Parliament, it could, without changing the treaty. It could share part of the legislative process with it under its consultative advice status. Instead of just listening to the voice of the Assembly, it could get it to share in the legislative process. By doing that, the Commission would, at a stroke, give the Assembly some share in its legislative power.

The Commission will not do that. It wishes to keep power to itself. It wishes to increase its power. It wishes to use the Assembly as a powerful elected representative European voice against the power of the Council of Ministers in which national Parliaments are directly repre- sented. In that way it will seek to reduce the influence of national Parliaments in the European decision making process.

Mr. Roper

My hon. Friend has referred to the legislative power of the Commission. Presumably he is going further than just those areas in which the Commission has power to decide. I assume that he is using the expression "legislative power of the Commission" as meaning its power to make proposals to the Council of Ministers rather than its power to carry them into effect.

Mr. Prescott

That is a fair point. The Commission wants to increase its power. President Jenkins would like to be president. That is not my idea of the Commission. It should be more of a secretariat. I have expressed my views on that matter elsewhere.

I turn now to the obligation to hold direct elections. The right hon. and learned Member for Hertfordshire, East has referred to the arguments from the Floor of the House on Article 83. The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that there was no time limit on the obligation. There is clearly an obligation, but it is an obligation for uniformity. I have heard arguments from both sides of the House. On balance, I accept that there is an obligation under the Treaty to hold direct elections at some time. It may be when Europe decides that it wants to be a federal Europe, if that is its choice, and to establish a Parliament. One could justify that as the obligation under the treaty. In that sense, there is an argument, but that is not the only point that I would take into account.

Clearly views change from one party conference to another, but on this matter there is a party conference decision on which we must make up our minds. Which is against direct elections. In addition, there is the referendum result. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) referred to the document produced by the Government which talked about other Governments, as well as the British Government, not wanting to weaken their Parliaments any more than we would want to weaken ours. In my judgment, to embark on the election of Members to the Assembly without adequate controls is one step towards weakening our own Parliament.

But I take the view that we must have regard to political realities. There is the reality of the Lib-Lab deal and the vote tonight, which is reasonably predictable.

I am a strong believer in strengthening national Parliaments. I have spelled out in different articles how that should be achieved. We should make it clear that we have not embarked on a federal Europe or extra powers for the Assembly, that the elections will not take place in 1978, that the House of Commons Select Committee be strengthened to subject Ministers in the Council of Ministers to parliamentary approval and veto and that there will be a limit on the financial resources to the EEC of no more than 1 per cent. of VAT.

Those in the Labour Party who are opposed to direct elections to this Assembly will not be able to stop them. I have said, and I believe, that they are inevitable, but I appealed to members of the Cabinet to make controls a condition. Today we have a free vote. Hon. Members must make their own decisions. This is a fundamental constitutional matter and we have a free vote, but on an Assembly without adequate control over its development.

I believe that we have embarked upon a matter over which we have no control and that it is a step in the direction of a federal Europe in which I do not believe. I shall therefore vote against the Bill tonight. However, being realistic, I regard it as inevitable that direct elections will take place. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) said, and as I predicted in Labour Weekly, we have embarked upon a certain scenario. Lib-Lab deals, conference decisions in October and a second direct elections Bill will make direct elections inevitable. But one can hope that recognition of the need of controls will come before we have the second Bill in the next Session—which one will have to support, as the gesture politics of tonight will be over. The challenge for those who still oppose a federal Europe is to find an alternative strategy, on which I have made my contribution, in Britain's adjustment to its rôle in Europe.

7.0 p.m.

Mr. Malcolm Rifkind (Edinburgh, Pentlands)

Unlike the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott), I shall vote for the Second Reading, but I accept two of the fundamental propositions put forward by those who are hostile to the Bill.

I accept that it is totally bogus to say that the referendum two years ago somehow gave a mandate for the principle or the reality of direct elections. The right hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe) and other hon. Members try to draw a link between the referendum and the Treaty of Rome, but that flies in the face of political reality. We should all accept that when they voted in the referendum the electorate were voting for or against our continuing membership of the Community, and very few of them were in any way expressing a view on the principle of direct elections. In any event, the merits of the arguments in favour of direct elections are sufficiently strong to ensure that we should not have to fall back on such a tenuous argument as the consequences of the referendum.

The other aspect on which I agree with those who are hostile to the Bill is that what we are considering is in no way a mere technical change in the nature of the European Assembly. I do not believe that it is possible to argue that we are talking merely about whether the inconvenience presently suffered by by hon. Members of this House and Members of other national legislatures, shuttling between their national Parliaments and Strasbourg, would be remedied by the Bill. Nor can it be argued that we are talking simply in terms of making the European Assembly slightly more representative or slightly more able to supervise what the European Commission is doing.

Whether we are for or against the Bill, we should at least acknowledge the fundamental importance of the change that it will involve. For the first time in the history of Western Europe we arc envisaging the establishment of a directly elected European Parliament—

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop


Mr. Rifkind

—Assembly or Parliament, as my hon. Friend wishes—elected on the basis of universal suffrage, and with substantial powers and responsibilities for a large part of Western Europe. No one can argue that that is of minor importance, or that it was finally resolved in the referendum on the EEC two years ago.

It is clear that once it is directly elected the Assembly will be qualitatively different from the present European Assembly. It will be very different from the Council of Europe, Western European Union, the United Nations or any other international organisation. We shall be talking about an Assembly with the direct mandate of the constituent countries, not simply an informal alliance of nation, States or national Governments.

Nor do I believe that it is possible to argue that the establishment of a directly elected Parliament is not an important step towards the political union of Europe. I entirely accept that the mere establishment of such an Assembly will not create a federal system. It will not create European federation or European confederation. There will be no European Government. The Assembly will not have legislative powers. Its powers will be very restricted. Nevertheless, directly elected membership of a European Assembly brings us one step nearer a United States of Europe. That may be a good thing, as I believe, or it may be bad, but the fact that it will happen is something that no hon. Member can reasonably deny.

Major consequences will flow from the decision taken by this House and other national Parliaments on this question. For example, with a European Assembly that is for the first time directly elected, the sum of the corporate identity thereby created will be far greater than its parts. The Members elected to it will only partially think of themselves as the representatives of the countries that send them there. They will increasingly think of themselves as European Members, with interests that are not necessarily identical to those of the Members of the national legislatures of the countries from which they come.

Most important, a directly elected Assembly will for the first time involve the peoples of the Community in the whole concept of a united Europe. For the first time, the electorates of the respective countries making up the Community will have a direct ability and opportunity to influence the decisions taken in Europe, and they will be able to exercise that choice in a manner that bypasses national Governments and national Parliaments. Whether we like that or not, it is a major step towards a political union of Europe. That is something of which not only the House but the country should be aware when this decison is being taken.

There is one major factor that we cannot know, irrespective of the decision taken on this Bill and irrespective of the decision taken on a directly elected Assembly. We cannot know the time scale in which a United States of Europe, or some greater form of politico-economic union, will come about. I have no objection to our moving towards a politically united Europe, but I do not believe that it is desirable or feasible to think in terms of such a unification of Western Europe coming about in the political lifetime of anyone now in the House, let alone in the next 10 or 20 years.

When we are considering direct elections to a European Assembly we are at least establishing the sine qua non of a united Europe. It is a fundamental requirement if we are to move towards political union. But the pace at which the peoples of Western Europe move in that direction will be determined not simply by Governments or Parliaments but by the attitude of the populations of the various countries that make up the Community. Anyone who sought to hasten that movement faster than public opinion—I use that expression in its best sense—would tolerate, would destroy the European ideal and reverse the process.

I do not believe that political union of Western Europe is inevitable, that it is a historical necessity. It could easily be reversed, but I believe that the establishment of a directly elected European Assembly is a necessary first move in that direction.

I can understand and respect those who will vote against the Bill because they know what might ultimately happen if it were to go through. The House—and particularly people outwith the House who, unlike ourselves, do not regularly debate these matters—should be aware of what we might be embarking on, so that people may come to a rational, clear, knowledgeable decision when they make their views known.

I briefly turn to the speech made yesterday by the hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. Reid), because it raises a matter of some importance. I was amused and entranced by some of the hon. Gentleman's observations when he began his speech. He said that the Scottish National Party would vote for the Second Reading because: 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 siege economy the like of which is unknown this side of Eastern Europe. We want no part of that."—[Official Report, 6th July 1977; Vol. 934. c. 1330.] The hon. Gentleman had conveniently forgotten that at the time of the referendum on our membership of the EEC perhaps not the hon. Gentleman but certainly his party allied itself entirely with both those extremes that he was so pleased to condemn yesterday.

I was also interested and amused when, near the end of his speech, the hon. Gentleman remarked that 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 rôle as a small north European country."—[Official Report, 6th July 1977; Vol. 934, c. 1336.] That observation might be correct, but anyone reading the speech would not realise that the SNP campaign for a "No" vote in the referendum was overwhelmingly rejected by the Scottish electorate.

Mr. Reid

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will agree that we did so on the grounds of Scottish interests, which were not adequately served in the renegotiations. I think of fishing, where our view has been borne out, energy and so on. There is a legitimate case, surely, for Scotland's seeking independent membership of the EEC along the developing lines that the hon. Gentleman has indicated.

Mr. Rifkind

The hon. Gentleman and his party were perfectly entitled to campaign as they did in the referendum. I was pointing out that as the Scottish public decisively rejected their views they should not suggest that the referendum result was a great victory for the nationalist cause and that it made the prospects of independence far more attractive for the people of Scotland. A party that prides itself on being the voice of the people of Scotland was decisively rejected by them on the one occasion that the people had an opportunity to express a view on that matter. The House and the country should be aware of that.

I turn to the point that the hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire was carping about yesterday—the total representation to which Scotland should be entitled. The figure of eight seats for Scotland is exactly justified by the position of Scotland within the United Kingdom and it will not be against the interests of Scotland in the Assembly.

The hon. Member referred to Luxembourg. He said that it would have six seats because in a discussion between the Luxembourg Prime Minister and a Commissioner the Prime Minister was asked how many seats he would like— four, five or six. He was told that he could have whichever he preferred. That little anecdote exactly and pleasantly shows how irrelevant it is whether Scotland has six or nine seats. Luxembourg was given the choice of number of seats because it would make no difference to the real power of Luxembourg within an Assembly of 400 members.

Mrs. Winifred Ewing

Does the hon. Member accept that it is impossible for a small independent State to function as a member of the Community unless it has at least six seats? That was probably the reason why it was irrelevant whether Luxembourg had four or five seats. A State could not fulfil a meaningful r61e with less than six.

Mr. Rifkind

For once, I agree with the hon. Lady. I am willing to accept that Scotland should have six. I would not mind if it had 10 or 12. There are more important things to do than to quibble about whether Scotland has 10 or 12 seats because it would make no difference to its influence in the Assembly.

If we are faced with the choice of an independent Scotland with 16 Members or as part of the United Kingdom with a combined force of 81, I know what would produce results in the Assembly which would ensure the interests of the people of Scotland. Most fellow Scots would agree with that.

I turn to the electoral system. I make no apology for saying that I am a strong believer in the desirability of a regional list. I have three reasons for that belief. First, I believe that the European Assembly, unlike this House, will to a large extent not be dealing with the individual problems of constituents but that a great proportion of its time will be taken up on international, national or regional matters. A method of election that is based on regions is therefore sensible.

Secondly, we cannot ignore that the regional list would at least create the extreme probability of being able to honour the Government's commitment to have direct elections during 1978. I am well aware that this commitment was not entered into by Parliament or by my party. A pledge was given in the name of the United Kingdom. It is a pledge that will rebound, fairly or unfairly, on the integrity of the United Kingdom if it is not honoured. The other countries will not blame the wicked Labour Government. They will say that once again Britain is dishonouring a commitment and failing to live up to a promise.

If we envisage an electoral system that is unlikey to last beyond the first election, the regional list or some form of PR is preferable. If an election were held now on the first-past-the-post system it is probable that not one Liberal would be elected. It is also extremely likely that there would be a derisory number of Labour Members. Some of us will view that scenario with unmixed glee. There are attractions in an Assembly deprived of members of the Labour Party.

If we were choosing a European Government, or if there was a European Government elected from the Assembly the Right-wing/Left-wing balance would be of significance. If the Assembly were to have legislative power views on a party basis would be a prime factor. But that does not apply. For the first few years the Assembly is to be a deliberative and persuasive body, not one that is fundamentally political.

The consequences of the Assembly being overwhelmingly represented by one party would be harmful to the cause of Europe. If I were an anti-Marketeer I should be delighted at an electoral system that would deny Labour any representation in the Assembly. As Mr. Roy Jenkins said, we know that the number of unreconstructed anti-Europeans is more substantial in the Labour Party. There is a struggle within that party about whether Britain should remain in the Community at all. I wish to see the pro-Europeans within the Labour Party win that campaign. I wish the issue of membership to be resolved in both parties. I am conscious that if the Labour Party is deprived of a significant and reasonable body of members in the Assembly it will simultaneously be deprived of a strong pro-European representation at its conferences, councils and on other bodies.

We are not electing a European Government or a legislative body. It is in the interests of all those who believe in the European ideal that both major parties and minor parties, have adequate representations.

I shall certainly vote for the Bill. I shall not vote for it as a technical improvement or as a minor change in our constitution but in the knowledge that we arc embarking on a major constitutional innovation and that we are on a path that might lead to political union in Europe. That does not frighten me, but I do not want to see it within too short a time. It is a step that this House can take. It is an action of which it will not be ashamed, or which it will regret.

7.18 p.m.

Mr. William Molloy (Ealing, North)

I have listened to or read most of the speeches that have been made in this debate. It seems that we are getting dangerously near the position of being concerned simply with the election and selection of MEPs without looking at what they are going to race for. They might win one of the most dangerous booby prizes imaginable.

We must ask, what are these elections for? What will people do when they get there? What authority will they have? Will it be too much or none at all? We should direct our minds to these things because they are part of a fundamental constitutional issue.

I welcome the statement by the Minister of State welcoming genuine and free expression. That also means genuine and free opinion being recorded in the Lobby later.

I was sorry that this contrasts so much with the attitude of the Conservative Party with its imposed three- line Whip. It is easier to impose a three-line Whip on the Tories than it is on democratic Socialists. It is like comparing the vivacity of the national optic of this side of the House with the dull stare of the Tory glass eye. People will take note of this. There is a more rebellious spirit on the Labour side compared with the obsequious and sycophantic attitude of the Opposition.

Mr. William Whitelaw (Penrith and The Border)

Before the hon. Gentleman goes further—

Mr. Molloy

I have a bit more to say. I have not finished with the right hon. Gentleman or his colleagues. However, I shall give way to the right hon. Gentleman a little later, as he is one of the very few Front Benchers who immediately gives way when at the Dispatch Box. I shall be glad of the privilege of giving way to him.

On an issue of this importance to all our parties and all those whom we represent here, I firmly believe that every Member of the House of Commons ought to have the right to express his views. He will then be answerable not so much to a party caucus or the Cabinet but to the people he represents in the House.

Mr. Whitelaw

The hon. Gentleman must not go too far along a road that has no substance at all. After all, I was Chief Whip of the Conservative Party for six years. What he was saying is founded on absolutely no fact whatsoever. Furthermore, he will find that some of my right hon. and hon. Friends will almost certainly be voting against the Bill tonight. Therefore, I do not know what the hon. Gentleman was talking about.

Mr. Molloy

I know what I am talking about. What I have said will loosen some of the Tory chains and may induce more Opposition Members to vote against the Bill now that their party dares not punish them for it after what the right hon. Gentleman has said. I believe that I have made my contribution to democracy in one move.

Mr. Ioan Evans (Aberdare)

If, as the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw) said, a three-line Whip has no effect, why has the Conservative Party put a three-line Whip on this important constitutional issue?

Mr. Molloy

No doubt we shall have some explanation of that remarkable attitude within the next hour or two.

What I want to ask is this: what the House has not done is to ask why we are to have these elections, if the House so agrees, and what sort of organisation the prospective Members of the European Parliament will be going to, and for what purpose. This is fundamental. There are some who argue that they are glad that it is only an Assembly and will not have too much power. There are those who argue that it is pointless for MEPs to go there because they will have no more power. All that it appears they will have is great big fat salaries, much greater than those of any Members of this House for all the hard work that we do.

I do not think that these are particularly good reasons for us to be concerned with these things. There are many that are opposed to it and many that are against. Some of us are content and other are not content.

There is one particular point that I wish to put to the House. I hope that I shall have an answer from the Government tonight, because it is a fundamental point. I want to refer to Article 4 of the agreement signed in September 1976. I shall go over it slowly so that it can be noted and passed to the Foreign Secretary or whoever is to wind up the debate.

We have been talking about the new MEPs being able to have relationships with other Governments and other countries and organisations in this country as well as their 500,000 constituents. How can that submission be maintained when it is now understood that MEPs shall not be bound by any instructions and shall not receive a binding mandate? What is much more important, however, is that if any one of them becomes a chairman of a committee or is a member of a committee—therefore, to be free, he must not be a member of a committee and certainly cannot be a chairman—the recommendation is that such future Members of the European Parliament, so-called, should not enter into direct contact as MEPs with governmental or other national authorities.

I find this an extraordinarily serious situation. I should have thought that my right hon. and hon. Friends and Opposition Members would want to know precisely what is meant by that. Does it mean, for example, that an elected Member of the European Assembly could be committing some sort of offence if he were to have discussions with a Member of this House or a Minister here, or indeed, any British industrial organisation, the CBI, the TUC or any other organisation of that calibre that belongs to these islands? That point certainly needs to be cleared up.

It seems to me that the power of the Commission will be maintained and that the Commission will be much more powerful than any of the political groups. Therefore, once again, we must look at that aspect.

I have had some experience of the existing European Parliament. I ought to repeat what I have said in the House previously. The British delegation as a whole, Tory and Labour, have certainly fought very strenuously to bring democratic rights into the Assembly. They have succeeded on a few matters, but on the majority of things they have been bashing their heads against a brick wall, despite sterling endeavours.

What will still happen—this has not yet been referred to in this House—is that all the political parties in Europe will contribute to their political organisations, as they do now. The officials of those organisations already have a remarkable amount of authority. That might be maintained. Therefore, we could have the situation as it exists now, I understand, in which, for example, the appointments of rapporteurs to any particular committee will be decided not by the MEPs but by the secretaries of the particular groupings to which they belong. It is not so much that this is anti-democratic but that it is very dangerous.

MEPs will not be in a position to have any regard to the attitudes of this Parliament. What is more, they will not even be able to have access to the Council of Ministers. I find this a remarkable situation. I suppose that in the House of Commons, if we want to do so—we have done so on occasions—we are able to let various Ministers know the strong feelings on particular matters. No doubt that has had an effect. I shall not bore the House with the deails of when it has been effective. That is the unified voice of the House of Commons.

However, if we try that in future, if the Bill goes through as it stands, Ministers will say "It is not a matter on which hon. Members of this House should approach me. It is a matter for the Member of the European Parliament." What I want to know is this: if the MEP approaches the Minister, will he fall foul of the agreement to which I have referred?

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

Also, of course, under the regional list system, an hon. Member will not even know who his regional Member is, so he will not be in a position to go to his regional Member.

Mr. Molloy

That is another addition to the argument, which makes it not so much an absurdity as a dangerous situation. I do not want to poke fun at it. I am frightened of it, and the House ought to take more cognisance of its effects. No national party manifesto will exist for the MEP to work to. He will be an expensive, non-political adornment to an imitation Parliament and, what is worse, he will be providing a front for the world's most powerful bureaucracy.

As the Council of Ministers changes from one six-month period to the next, all that the Commission's massive number of bureaucrats have to do if they run into a little trouble is to talk the matter out for a couple of months until they get another lot in, so the real power will still be in their hands.

That is the sort of thing to which I should have thought even those who believe in some form of European unity should address themselves, as should those who have been opposed to some elements of the EEC and the European Parliament. What has not been said a great deal during this debate is that it is very wrong of people to assume that just because some of us have grave apprenhensions about the European Parliament and were very worried about Britain joining the EEC, we are somehow or other anti-European.

Unless we take great care, we might find ourselves in the dangerous situation, after the so-called direct elections, of great animosity rather than of cooperation, and it may not be possible for the national Governments to intervene to cool things down. Rather than such elections creating European understanding, there is the possibility of the reverse being the case.

It will be argued that the supranational aspects of Community policy will move to greater harmonisation, integration of laws, diminution of national sovereignty and, ultimately, federalism. But if those fine ideals are not achieved, and there is a degree of sourness and misunderstanding, our Members of the European Assembly, expected to represent our nation, will discover that they cannot after all set about the achievement of these wonderful desiderata, and instead will find themselves part and parcel of some form of agreement which we in this House will not be able to undo because they will have failed to convince their European colleagues that such agreement would be harmful and deleterious. Therefore, we must try to find escape clauses, not merely for Great Britain but for the unity of Europe, so that no such dangerous situations can be created.

It is not so much a question of direct elections as such as of what they are for. Do we believe that one person can maintain liaison with 500,000 people of this realm that he is supposed to represent, or with all the massive organisations which exist here and with which, despite the regulations, he must have some form of consultation? It is not on. We have moved loo rapidly and much too dangerously for an ideal which, though wonderful in itself, has blinded us to the grave dangers which exist if we accept it too lightly. There is great danger in creating a bogus Parliament to the detriment of this sovereign body, Britain's Parliament, because in no way would it enhance democracy in Europe.

7.34 p.m.

Mr. Hugh Fraser (Stafford and Stone)

I assure the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Molloy) that I shall vote against the three-line Whip of my party if it is introduced, although I remind him that it is a Whip for attendance here rather than for voting in a special way.

Direct elections have been described by both Front Benches as a great leap forward in democracy. We heard the same thing in the early stages of the devolution Bill. Doubtless the Second Reading of this Bill will be carried by some majority, but the more one reads the Bill the more difficult it becomes. We shall have the same situation as we had with devolution. We are, indeed, running over the same ground. The right hon. Member for Down. South (Mr. Powell) rightly said that the whole trouble is that for the political system of the Common Market to be effective and democratic it must go federal. That is the unfortunate fact that neither Front Bench will face. Indeed, the only supporter who has faced that fact today has been my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind), with whom I totally disagree but who, in an honourable and honest speech, said that this would lead to a united federal Europe.

As far as the good governance of Europe is concerned, I believe that the direct election, independent of national Parliaments, of Members to sit in the European Assembly will merely destroy the power of the national Ministers in the Council of Ministers, will heat up the power of the Commission and the bureaucrats and will next year, for example, cause the most appalling difficulties in the European mechanism. Next year, 40 million tons of American surplus wheat will come on to the market. What will happen to the common agricultural policy then? Let us think of the difficulties that will be faced by the Ministers in charge.

Inevitably, also, the people who will be elected will be from extremist parties. The Scottish National Party, for example, thinks that it will sweep Scotland. What surprises and amazes me is the patriotism of the extreme Left in this country on this matter, because, on the face of it, they should really be voting for these elections, as their counterparts will be in Europe.

The simple point, made many times in the debate, is the question of the democratic relationship of our people to their Members of Parliament both here and in Europe. It was well made by the hon. Member for Ealing, North and it has been well made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Maudling). It comes down to the fact that, independently of whom is elected, there has to be a clear distinction between what the European Member and what the local Member represent, and the only way in which that can be done is by a federal constitution.

I ask both Front Benches whether they are in favour of the movement towards a federal system. Until they have answered that question they are merely bluffing this House with a system which they must know, if they have any brains at all, is moving inevitably towards a federal Europe. I believe that that should be opposed by the House. It is a movement not just because people like Lord George Thomson have said that it will happen; nor is it a movement just because Mr. Tindemans has said that it will happen; it is not just because there is a respectable European background for it through people like the late Kudenhove Kalurgi and M. Schuman, who did and do believe in a United States of Europe. It is now institutional, and inevitably so, because there is only one way in which this thing can develop and that is in a federal way. If the two Front Benches want a federal Europe, let them say so. I shall vote against the Bill for that reason.

My friends within the Conservative Party have pushed out propaganda saying that the Conservative Party will now in Europe make a great alliance with like-minded, middle-of-the-road, Right-wing parties. Let us look at the history of Europe. Europe has only ever been united by persons believing in discipline, in force—if need be, military force. We have talked about the Medal of Charlemagne for Europe. I am not sure whether he did unite Europe, but two people certainly succeeded. One was Napoleon Bonaparte and the other was Adolf Hitler. So doubtless there will be a Hitler Bursary and a Napoleon Award. Doubtless that would sharpen up some of the thinking on the Front Benches.

I remind my friends in the Conservative Party also that when they talk of the great Right-wing parties of Europe united as a bulwark against Communism, against Bolshevism, against Socialism, whatever it might be, the parties which will win these elections will be the disciplined parties, not the old Conservative parties like the Dutch Christian Historical Union. The winners will be parties with total disregard for national interest, and I do not believe that there is such a Right-wing party today.

But there are extreme Left-wing parties which will go straight across the board. The polls will be no higher than 20 per cent. or 30 per cent.—almost meaningless. I assure my right hon. and hon. Friends that the danger—and it will grow—is that here is a federal instrument made for the Left-wing parties to use, in precisely the way in which, during the 1930s, Hitler outmanoeuvred the Centre Party and the Stahlhelm in the Reichstag and was in power within three months.

I advise my right hon. and hon. Friends who see this as part of a great Conservative crusade for Europe to read a book by Dr. Rauschning called "Die Revolution Des Nihilismus". I shall send them a few copies—in English, because I know what marvellous linguists they are.

By passing the Bill this House will be embarking on a most dangerous road. It is a road which can only lead to federalism and all the dangers which that entails. The Conservative Party may well be embarking not on a road to achieve a Conservative Europe but on one which will give the extreme Left the option of taking over.

7.42 p.m.

Mr. John Roper (Farnworth)

I was glad that the right hon. Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Fraser) addressed the final part of his remarks to his colleagues on the Conservative Benches. I am not, therefore, obliged to follow him for too long in commenting on his remarks.

I should, however, tell him that it is not necessarily quite as easy as he thinks to achieve co-operation between Left-wing parties within Europe. As my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) and others who sit on the National Executive Committee of our own party know, our relations with the Confederation of Socialist Parties within the Community are certainly difficult to handle.

The idea that there is a united Left axis in Europe at the moment is, unfortunately —I repeat, unfortunately—not true, any more than it is possible to persuade Christian Democrats that they ought to have anything to do with Conservatives. This certainly applies in the case of Christian Democrats from Italy and the Netherlands. I think that the German Christian Democrats are prepared to talk to the Conservatives in their country some of the time.

When the right hon. Gentleman said that this was a step towards federalism, he was in one sense technically right. If one is going towards a federal Europe, this is a necessary step along the road. What it is not is a sufficient step. As has been made quite clear, further steps of a much more substantial nature will have to be taken, and they will require the consent of the House. I happen to hope that we shall move in that direction, as I have made clear over the years.

When President Giscard d'Estaing returned to Paris last Thursday from the Summit meeting, he said quite clearly on the French radio that in his view the institutions of Europe would be fixed and frozen as they are now, and that he did not envisage any significant change in the foreseeable future.

Although the German Chancellor talks on occasion about uniting Europe, when it comes to giving any further power to the Commission, he is as resistant to this as anyone in this House. He is extremely resistant to the movement towards greater powers for the supranational organs of the Community.

I think that we shall have, for the foreseeable future, inter-governmental cooperation between nine member States. The most important development since Britain has been in the Community has been the development of the European Council, and the meeting together of the Heads of Government and Heads of State. This makes it quite clear that it is an inter-governmental organisation rather than a supranational one.

I shall concentrate on one or two matters to which not much attention has been given so far in the debate. I have spoken in previous debates on many of the major themes and do not wish to repeat what I said then.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), in a number of interventions today, suggested that Members of this House should declare their interests in speaking in the debate. Presumably, by that he meant that they should declare whether they intend to stand for the European Assembly or to allow their names to go forward. Presumably, that in turn was because he has read reports in the Press, as many of us have, about the relatively high salaries which it is said are to be paid to the members of the European Assembly once it is directly elected.

I deal with this before turning to some of the more substantial matters because in talking to my constituents I find more concern and interest in the sort of salary to be paid than in the more substantive issues which have been debated today.

I have always believed that Members of this House should be paid properly. We shall have a chance later tonight to move a little way in that direction. But I certainly feel that a substantial discrepancy between the salaries paid in this House and those paid in the European Assembly would be extremely unfortunate. I was glad to note that it appears from the Press comment that this was also the view of the Heads of Government when they met in London last week. I hope, therefore, that it will be possible for the report from the European Parliament, which suggested salaries of £30,000 plus expenses, to be buried at a very early stage. I believe that it would be right for Members of the European Parliament to continue to be paid at the same sort of level as that of Members of their national Parliaments.

Mr. Powell

This is a matter which the Assembly itself will decide, so how can we bury the question at this stage?

Mr. Roper

I was suggesting that the European Parliament should bury the report. It might be a matter—this, I gather, was discussed at the meeting of Heads of Governments last week—which the Council of Ministers will itself have to agree. Just as the Assembly has to agree to the part of the budget which is the responsibility of the Council of Ministers, so has the Council to agree to the part of the budget which is the responsibility of the Assembly. I believe that there is some influence that national Governments, and therefore national Parliaments, can have in this matter. That is why I believe it is worth while pursuing it a little further this evening. I suggest that for the time being members of the European Parliament should continue to be paid at the levels at which they are paid—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I doubt very much whether the amount to be paid by way of salary to the people elected as a result of the passing of the Bill is a matter of concern to the House at this stage. It is a matter for the European Assembly when it has been properly constituted.

Mr. Roper

I hear what you say, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and will bring my remarks on this aspect to a close very quickly. But it seems to me that it would be possible for this House to introduce a new clause or in some other way to give an instruction to Ministers, who will be taking part in the Council of Ministers, on what the salaries should be. As I have indicated, I believe that salaries should be kept to the levels of those paid in national Parliaments, plus expenses on a published basis, as compared with the rather unsatisfactory position at the moment, in which people have great difficulty in finding out what expenses are paid.

This may appear to be an irrelevant or a niggling point, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but it is an aspect which is considered by many of our constituents to be of great importance. That is why I have referred to it.

Concerning the method of election, I favour—and I hope that the House will favour—the regional list system, but I think that we have to be realistic about this matter. Certainly from my arithmetic it would appear at the moment extremely unlikely that the House will agree to a regional list system. I think that we should consider what we shall do if we turn to a situation in which we have 78 constituencies in Great Britain and another system in Northern Ireland. It has been suggested that we should use the normal process for Westminster parliamentary seats—namely, by asking the Boundary Commission to do its work. It has been suggested that that will take about four and a half months.

Surely it is right to ask why we have used the mechanism of the Boundary Commission in Schedule 1 and Schedule 2. It is obviously appropriate to use it in deciding our own seats in the House of Commons, and it is appropriate that we should have an independent, impartial body that makes those decisions, but would it be inappropriate for us to revert to the position that existed in the nineteenth century when the House decided the boundaries of parliamentary seats?

It is right that we should have an outside body to determine boundaries, but I am not convinced that the argument that applies to this House necessarily applies when we are devising boundaries for a quite different purpose—namely, for 81 constituencies that may not be represented by hon. Members of this House.

I wonder whether the parallel lies closer with local government boundaries than with Westminster parliamentary boundaries. I think I am right in saying that we decided local government boundaries in the London Government Bill, and certainly we did so in the Local Government Bill 1972. We decided them in this House in a schedule. When we are determining the boundaries for the European Parliament we are making a decision that will not directly affect hon. Members who sit in this House but a different body. Why is it not appropriate for us to follow the same procedure that was followed in the Local Government Bill—namely to include in a schedule the 78 constituencies in Great Britain—Northern Ireland would not be covered by this—that would be created by grouping together the 623 constituencies in Great Britain? To take that course would require quite a small amendment to that first paragraph of Schedule 1 and then a new schedule laying out the European constituencies that we desire.

As I have said, that would arise only if the House were to decide against the regional list system, which I prefer. Almost certainly it would take us rather longer in discussion in this House than by referring the issue to the Boundary Commission. However, it would save a great deal of time in comparison with the four and a half months or six and a half months that we have been told the Boundary Commission would take.

The only option open to us if we decide against the regional list system and if we wish to meet the target date of the first half of 1978 and thereby not delay our European colleagues, is to follow the precedent, which I believe is a good one, of the Local Government Bill. That is the method of putting the constituencies into a schedule to the Bill. We would be able to agree them here without the necessity of reference to the Boundary Commission. I hope that the House will give consideration to that suggestion when these issues are discussed in Committee.

My hon. Friend the Member for Walton spoke about taking into account the decision of the Labour Party Conference. Naturally I have thought about that. Despite what my hon. Friend said, I shall be supporting the Bill tonight. It is a minor but important step forward. Obviously we may reach further forward towards some form of confederalism in future. However, at this stage this is a necessary step along that road, although far from being a sufficient one.

7.55 p.m.

Mr. Robin Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton)

At 10 o'clock tonight Mr. Speaker will hold up the Bill in his right hand and say: "The Question is 'that the Bill be now read a Second Time'." It will not be a theoretical question about whether one is or is not in favour of direct elections. Those who attend the House regularly will know that that issue was debated on 20th and 25th April.

I am happy to say that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition gave the whole House her advice about what to do on Second Reading with a bad Bill. On 13th December 1976, when speaking on the Second Reading of the Scotland and Wales Bill she said: The thing to do with a bad Bill is to say so fearlessly, as I have done, and vote against it, as I shall do."—[Official Report, 13th December 1976; Vol. 922, c. 1007.] That was the advice that she gave to the House. It was constitutionally excellent advice. It was practical and commendable advice and I intend to take it tonight.

If we want to get direct elections as quickly as possible, I do not believe that there is much doubt that it will be necessary to have an enabling Bill and a Money Resolution to enable the Boundary Commissioners to get on with the work before we go into the Summer Recess. Of course, as the Home Secretary said, it would not be a one-clause Bill. It would have to be slightly longer than that. However, if we want direct elec- tions as quickly as possible—namely by the date aimed at next year—and I do so want, I believe that we shall need an enabling Bill and a Money Resolution on the statute book before we rise for the Summer Recess.

Paradoxically, if we want to ensure that direct elections are delayed as long as possible, or that they do not happen, it may be that the best tactical advice would be to give the Bill a Second Reading. It is so constitutionally objectionable, so complex and so demanding of such time-consuming amendment that it is the most efficient instrument for delaying direct elections that it is possible to conceive.

The device—that is what the Minister has called it—that he has put into the Bill is constitutionally unacceptable. I refer to the proposal that we should give a Second Reading to a Bill that is in a form that we do not want, that it should pass through its stages in the House, receive Royal Assent after going through another place and then be overturned by a vote in this place. So the Record copy of the Bill that resides in the Record Office in another place, and in the Public Record Office, being endorsed by the Clerk of the Parliaments as the form in which the Bill received Royal Assent—it is that which the courts accept as being the law of the land— would be unamended. Lo, the Government would then hold that it was not the law of the land because of the uni-cameral motion passed pursuant to Clause 3(2).

However, the Government tell us that they want us to give a Second Reading to the Bill as it stands and that in some way they will suggest an amendment, which will not be a Government amendment but one that they hope someone will table. The Home Secretary said quite wrongly—he has said it several times—that the decison was taken on firm advice that that was the only way to get the two methods of election into one Bill. If he was given that advice, he should change his advisers. There are many other ways in which it might have been done, but I shall not consume the time of the House by reciting them tonight.

The right hon. Gentleman then said: Once a decision has been taken one way or the other, Clause 3(2) falls from the Bill …". —[Official Report, 6th July 1977; Vol. 934, c. 1267.] Obviously the right hon. Gentleman is confusing clauses with amendments. Subsequent amendments fall if an earlier amendment is passed with which they are incompatible. However, we are talking about a clause and it will have to be amended by a quite separate amendment, as it does not fall. Everything else that goes with the regional list system throughout the Bill—it permeates practically the whole of the Bill—will have to be taken out by individual amendments, with the almost endless debates that will accompany them.

If, therefore, one wants to get direct elections on to the statute book, the steps to be taken are quite clear. There should be an enabling Bill with a Money Resolution immediately after. The House can then take a decision—it need not do it on the basis of this Bill at all—on whether it wants a first-past-the-post system or a regional list system. That can be put in the form of a motion before the House without any Bill whatever before the House. Once this has been done, an enabling Bill on that basis can go through. This existing Bill should then be withdrawn and thrown away with its endorsement—"presented by Mr. Secretary Ross"—as a curiosity of parliamentary history.

What should then be introduced is a Bill which is only in the form that the House has decided by resolution. That will be infinitely quicker to pass through the normal processes of the House than dealing with a Bill which the House wishes to get rid of and which the Government have already said will have to be got rid of following the decision taken on Clause 3(1). That must be the touchstone of hon. Members voting tonight.

If they want direct elections in the timespan which the Government gave a commitment to use their best endeavours to achieve, hon. Members should vote in the "No" Lobby tonight to deny this Bill a Second Reading. The Government can then put to the House in one day the question whether there should be direct elections on the basis of a regional list system or of single-Member constituencies —first-past-the-post. That decision having been taken, the Government would then know which Bill they want to introduce before the House.

Many things are difficult to believe, but it is difficult to believe that this Government are so incompetent that they have not actually got a Bill in draft to bring in direct elections by a regional list system and another Bill in draft to bring in direct elections by single-Member constituencies—a first-past-the-post system. Whatever view one may take about the European Assembly, I cannot see any persuasive argument in favour of the proposition that it is better that individual electors should not know who their representative is in the European Assembly than that they should know who their representative is.

Wherever we have the multi-Member seat the buck does not stop anywhere in particular. When the buck does not stop anywhere in particular, one has broken the golden thread of what is known as responsible representation. One cannot have responsible representation if those represented do not know who it is who is charged so uniquely with the responsibility of representing them.

This must be the fundamental principle of parliamentary democracy, whether it be in this Chamber or in the European Assembly.

Mr. Powell

Or Northern Ireland.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

Or, indeed, Northern Ireland—an option which is denied in this Bill to this House. That is not one of the options offered in the Bill. That could lead to yet another set of amendments.

Except possibly for those who went totally to disrupt any elections to the European Assembly, I hope that the House will vote convincingly to deny this absurd Bill a Second Reading tonight.

8.4 p.m.

Mr. John Mendelson (Penistone)

I am particularly glad that some hon. Members who contributed to the latter stages of the debate, such as the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind), and who spoke strongly in favour of the Bill, addressed themselves to the basic problem of principle involved. I welcome that particularly because I believe that the country has been given a completely false and misleading impression by the first three and a half hours of debate yesterday afternoon and today.

All the speakers during that time were in support of the Bill and concentrated almost entirely upon the details of the mode of election. The provincial editions of newspapers go to bed, as they say in Fleet Street, just before six o'clock and carry only the speeches from right hon. and hon. Members who are firm supporters of the Bill. That is a travesty of real parliamentary opinion as every right hon. and hon. Member knows it to exist both in this House and in the country at large.

The officers of the Common Market in Brussels recently commissioned a new survey of British opinion on our membership of the Common Market. It reported two days ago. As broadcast on the most reliable of our BBC services, the World Service, the survey shows that there is now just a majority against our membership—40 per cent., and a percentage just below that in favour. That is the change of opinion that has occurred amongst the British people since the referendum.

In that situation it is a travesty of parliamentary debate for hon. Members who are for the Bill not to concentrate the majority of their time, particularly on Second Reading, on the principle, on trying to persuade the electorate that they, too, should support it. Similarly, if hon. Members are against the Bill they should try to persuade the electorate why they also should be against it. This is not a matter of shadow boxing or of academic constitutional interest. It was responsible for my intervening on several occasions—which I do not normally do —on a point of procedure concerning the conduct of the debate. It is of real political importance at present that the House of Commons should properly mirror opinion in the country on this vital matter.

There are, for instance, several hon. Members on the Liberal Bench who have made their speeches and have then left the Chamber. They lecture us on both sides of the Chamber not only on what we ought to do but on how we ought to present our arguments, yet having been called and spoken they then disappear and take no further part in the proceedings of this House.

It is often said on the Liberal Bench and in the Liberal Party throughout the country that Parliament is becoming more and more an assembly that is no longer regarded as a central political forum in this country. I do not go along with that. I believe that they are exaggerating, for reasons that I shall come to in a moment. But surely those who do believe that the decline is serious ought, first, to be present during our debates and, secondly, to be in favour of properly representing the opinion of people in the country when a debate takes place.

I do not go along with them, because I believe that they are deliberately exaggerating the decline of our parliamentary institutions and deliberately misrepresenting the effect of our electoral system purely for shoddy party purposes.

I wanted to challenge the former Leader of the Liberal Party, the right hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe) —I regret that he is not present—on the speech that he made during the two-day debate a few weeks ago, when we first discussed this matter. The right hon. Gentleman said in clear terms that he was much more interested in getting a system of PR than in getting a Bill passed for direct elections to the European Assembly. That is why I use the words "shoddy party political purposes". The right hon. Gentleman tried to wriggle out of it, but Hansard will show that he said it.

The serious discussion of the mode of election will come later. Today is only a curtain-raiser for that. But at the outset of my remarks I want to concentrate on the substance of the Bill.

It is clear that the Government, in introducing this Bill, have not got public opinion behind them. I do not make very much of the decision of the Labour Party conference. The Prime Minister could say that there are other hon. Members in this House who sometimes believe that it is the duty of Parliament to give a lead and not always just be the obedient servant of any motion that has been passed somewhere. But if the Government wish to do something that is urgently needed— say, on employment or on investment— and there is no Labour Party conference authority for it, surely the Government have the right to go ahead. However, when we are dealing with a major constitutional change, there can be no such justification.

When my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary was opening the debate I asked him, as he claimed the authority of the Labour Party's election manifesto for the principle of the Bill, where he got the authority for a Cabinet recommendation to this House to introduce a system of proportional representation. He got it from nowhere. It is quite clear that it was cooked up recently for reasons that we have to examine very carefully.

Having said that, I hasten to say that I do not single out my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. He speaks for the Government on this matter, and it is one which goes far wider than just a departmental document.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)

The hon. Gentleman asked where the authority came from, and I can tell him. It came from the absent right hon. and hon. Members. It came from the Liberal Party.

Mr. Mendelson

That may be the hon. Gentleman's explanation; it is not mine. I do not believe that simplicity is always the essential element of truth. I believe that the true answer is a little more complex than that. No one in his senses will deny that the Liberal Party is presenting itself to the country as the master of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the tribal chief of the Prime Minister. No one will deny that the Liberal Party presents my right hon. Friend as its own little poodle. The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) may eat that, but I do not accept it. One Liberal Member who parades himself as his party's economic spokesman goes about the country saying that, in the light of trade union conference decisions this week, we need immediately a statutory wages policy. The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds will not see my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister rushing to accept the Liberal Party's proposal. Therefore, I do not accept his simple explanation. It is more complex than that, for a number of reasons, none of them legitimate, in my opinion.

What I am about to say is no more favourable to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister than is any suggestion coming from the Opposition. However, I believe that it is nearer the truth. For a combination of reasons, the Government have persuaded themselves that it would be a good idea to have a system of proportional representation in this piece of legislation. I believe that they have no right to do that without first having put that change before the electorate in a General Election. They have no right to do that without having tried to get all-party agreement for such a change before putting it into a Bill. That is what I consider to be the proper constitutional course for any Government. It does not matter whether we speak of a Labour Government or of a Conservative Government. We speak of a British Government, which must conduct themselves at all times in accordance with our constitution. They have no right to make such a change. For that reason, I am prepared to join in voting against the recommendation to introduce a system of proportional representation.

I come back to the Liberal Party, and why its present stance has nothing to do with the Common Market. It should be exposed. At a recent discussion at the Liberal Assembly of Scotland, the Leader of the Liberal Party was criticised for not having demanded the introduction of a system of proportional representation in the United Kingdom as the price of continued support for this proposed legislation. His reply to the delegates of that Assembly was that they must not be silly and that they could not get everything at once. That is the true explanation of the attitude of the Liberal Party. Therefore, it is no good my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary saying in good faith that he does not intend to introduce such a system for elections in the United Kingdom. For the Liberal Party, it is a step towards the introduction of such a system into this country, and Conservative Members had better look out if they are in principle opposed to the system, because they have no business to vote for it in this piece of legislation.

Right hon. and hon. Members may ask why I am so completely opposed to that system. In an intervention yesterday, during the speech of the Leader of the Liberal Party, I suggested that historians were agreed that, especially before the 1939 war, over a period of between 30 and 40 years systems of proportional representation in various European countries had always led to a multiplicity of political parties—as many as 28 in a number of cases—and that the result had been the downfall of democratic parliamentary systems and their replacement by dictatorships.

That is the most serious of all the reasons why I am opposed to a change in our system.

It has been argued that it is time for a change. The Liberal Party argues that. To my regret, though in a different context, Lord Hailsham, for whom normally I have a great deal of respect, argues it when he says that democracy in this country is going to the dogs. The two arguments have in common the fact that the Labour Party has been in office too often during the past 15 years. That is what they do not like about it. That is a legitimate reason for being unhappy, and I can understand it But it is no reason for changing our electoral system without considering the consequences.

A system of proportional representation deliberately avoids clear responsibility for what has been done by any Government. I assure my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary that I should prefer to face electoral difficulties for the Labour Party if, in a General Election, there has to be a change of Government than to tamper with our system merely because we think that it might do us some good.

But that is not even the position. It is essential that we should be clear-headed about this. I do not believe that it is predetermined what the outcome of any election will be. All that I know is that the Liberal Party hopes to climb to power through the destruction of our electoral system and that it is interested only in achieving that aim and purpose.

On the substance of the Bill, a great many arguments are being advanced in various of the European Assemblies, of one of which I have recently been a Member. Each of them puts one aim before all the others. All of them say that at present the European Assembly is not capable of overruling the Council of Ministers.

At present, as the House knows, the Council of Ministers is both the legislature and the executive of the Common Market organisation. I regard that as the only safeguard for the British people. At present, there is virtually only the common agricultural policy, with its great disadvantages for the British consumer. Because of that, what stands between our consumers and their being railroaded by decisions in the Common Market which are against our interests is the Council of Ministers and each individual Minister in his respective Council. Moreover, parliamentary sovereignty in this country can be defended only by the Council of Ministers. It cannot be defended in any other way.

I turn to the speech yesterday of the right hon. Member for Knutsford (Mr. Davies). I am glad that he is present now. The right hon. Gentleman has an excellent record, not only in this House but among many of us who have known him over the years, for accuracy and for not deliberately trying to mislead his audience. Therefore, I cannot bring myself to think that he tried to mislead us yesterday. I can only put it down to a disagreement on facts that can be resolved in good faith. He said that Britain was now the only country in the EEC which had serious difficulties about the adoption in its Parliament of legislation on direct elections. That is profoundly incorrect— I choose my words carefully.

I have an original document here. It is the Bill on direct elections that was passed by the French Assembly. I hate using French in this Chamber, but I am as near to doing so as I have ever been. This document is now an Act. In it the Prime Minister was forced to introduce—because of the parliamentary position—a section that is not in our legislation. I would like the Home Secretary to know that in Committee I and some of my like-minded colleagues will seek to introduce a new clause to the Bill which will have the same effect as this section in the French document.

This section, which is now part of the law of France, makes special provisions in two paragraphs, and I paraphrase them. They say, in effect, that at any time in the future if the European Assembly, directly elected, were to introduce any measures directly or indirectly to add to its powers, expressly or by implication, that legislation and that addition to its powers immediately would be null and void as far as France was concerned.

Mr. Powell

The hon. Member may be interested to know that he need not wait for his new clause, because on the Order Paper tomorrow he will find an amendment to the first line of the Bill in the names of my hon. Friends and myself exactly to that effect.

Mr. Mendelson

As the French say, the game has not yet been played. We shall see who is first at Mr. Speaker's Table at one minute past 10 o'clock tonight. As I have said before, wisdom does not reside in any one particular group of hon. Members, and I welcome the news that the right hon. Gentleman has just given me.

This provision means that the French have, by legislation, excluded any addition to the powers of a future European Assembly. There is no such provision in our Bill.

Why have the French done this? The right hon. Member for Knutsford did not give us the true facts. We must ask ourselves why the Prime Minister of France introduced this particular additional article into the Bill. He did it because a count had been taken in the French Assembly on the day before the Bill was introduced—not on the day before the vote was taken, but before introduction. The President of the Republic called a special council of Ministers at which he took the Chair. At that meeting it was decided that in view of the decision of the Constitutional Council of France—the Council of State—and in the light of the absence of a majority in the French Parliament for direct elections, this provision must be put in. How on earth can the right hon. Gentleman justify his statement that there have been no parliamentary difficulties in any other country of the EEC over this legislation?

Even after the French Prime Minister had introduced this provision into the Bill a majority in the French Parliament still said that they would vote against direct elections. Under their semi-authoritarian constitution the President then said that if there was no majority in Parliament to pass the legislation, the Bill would not be put to it. That is how democracy works on this business in the French Assembly.

Mr. John Davies

The fact is that the Parliament in France could have challenged the Government, if it had been prepared to do so, on a motion of confidence. For that reason the Parliament did not challenge the Government and the draft statute was put forward. That is a fact—the hon. Gentleman has made the point that I was seeking to make yesterday. There is now no legislative impediment to France's election of Members of the European Parliament as it exists today.

Mr. Mendelson

I leave it to the judgment of the House. If that is the same as saying that there have been no parliamentary difficulties in any other country but Britain, after the right hon. Gentleman has accepted my story, I shall rest content.

There is still no majority in the French Parliament for this legislation. But they are still not using the rather shabby argument that this country would be in disgrace if it did not pass this legislation. The French are proud of their tradition that if they do not want to do a thing, they will not. That used to be our tradition in days gone by.

Mr. Rippon

What the French Government are saying is that they have committed themselves to direct elections and that it is a treaty obligation. If Parliament had dissented from this view they would have made it an issue of confidence. The British Government should do the same.

Mr. Mendelson

Happily, we do not have a constitution like the French. The reason why they have such a constitution is their experiences of the Third and Fourth Republics, in having 24 or more parties. We have not got that sort of constitution and the Government cannot do what the French Government do. The French President said that as there was no majority for the Bill, Parliament could overthrow him and put in a Communist-Socialist Government. The majority of Members of the French Parliament did not want to do that. If Opposition Members read that as support for direct elections, they are welcome to join together on this level.

Mr. Marten

I suggest that the answer to all these arguments may well be that if the Gaullists or Chiracians get back, the first thing they will do is to repeal the Bill that was forced through against their will.

Mr. Mendelson

That remains to be seen. The right hon. and learned Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon), as official spokesman for the Conservative Party in this debate, has not put the true facts. The fact is that there is a majority against direct elections in the French Parliament even after certain provisions that are not in our legislation have been introduced. When some of my hon. Friends and I seek to table a new clause in Committee on this matter we shall see whether my right hon. Friends the Home Secretary and the Foreign Secretary will accept or reject them.

I turn finally to the relationship between public opinion and the vote tonight—

Mrs. Kellett-Bowman

The hon. Gentleman has taken 25 minutes.

Mr. Mendelson

After that intervention, I intend to speak for 27 minutes— and it will be just enough to allow me to make my final point. The hon. Lady must also appreciate that I am probably the last speaker against the Bill, and that is an opportunity that must not be missed.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I have listened carefully to the hon. Member for Peni-stone (Mr. Mendelson), and I must tell him that in that forecast he is 100 per cent. wrong.

Mr. Mendelson

I gladly accept the correction.

Let me deal finally with the relationship between this piece of legislation and public opinion, which is perhaps the most important aspect of the whole subject.

A number of hon. Members will support the Bill and a number will oppose it, and the debate will start in earnest when that has happened. Dangerous suggestions have been made in various parts of the House, which I fear may be repeated by the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw) in winding up for the Opposition. He will try to entice the Home Secretary into what I consider to be a wholly unconstitutional procedure, namely, asking the Boundary Commission to begin its work without knowing what will be in the legislation and what or might not be passed. I am glad that the Government have stoutly resisted any such suggestion and have given good reasons why that cannot be done.

I warn the Government against any weakening on that score, because it would be regarded by many as a breach of the constitution. It is a serious decline in political honesty on the part of the Opposition for the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham to make the suggestions that he has. If he is in such a hurry, he will have to learn to wait until Parliament has decided—and that process will begin tonight.

8.32 p.m.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St Edmunds)

I shall try to be somewhat briefer than was the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson), because I know that other hon. Members wish to take part in the debate.

Some extravagant statements have been made in the House in the last half-hour, and there are two with which I should like to deal. One was made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Fraser). He suggested that those of us who favour the unity of Europe can be likened to Hitler or Napoleon. In my view, Hitler would have had far less chance to plunge Europe into war if in the 1930s there had been the same European Community as we have today.

The second statement with which I should like to deal is the imputation by the hon. Member for Penistone that tonight the House should reflect the opinion of the country. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that far, but my view of the opinion of the country is somewhat different from his. However, I find such a claim astonishing, coming, as it does from the Labour Benches, when the Labour Government's policies have been repudiated by public opinion in the last year in every test of public opinion. We have only to recall the by-elections at Walsall, Workington and Ashfield, and we shall shortly have the result at Saffron Walden. Therefore, the hon. Gentleman was extravagant in his claim that he reflects public opinion, because he does not.

I support the Bill, and I shall say briefly why. I have lived a great deal of my life overseas, and I believe that the weaknesses of Europe have arisen from the divisions within our Continent. I have seen this Continent, of which I am proud to be a member, incapable of influencing the pattern of events in Africa or the Middle East. I have seen this continent unable to take decisions on great issues of war and peace, which to a great extent are decided in Washington and Moscow. The time has come when Europe must recover its strength so that our influence in the world may once again be effective. I know no way in which that can be achieved by the European people, including the British, unless there is European unity.

I support the Bill because I believe that the European Community, whatever view one takes of it, for or against, is one of the greatest and most imaginative political ideas of my generation. My generation is old enough to have come in at the end of the Second World War. I believe that Europe is an inspiration to very large numbers of people, and this point has been totally missed by many hon. Members in this debate.

I believe that the European Community ideal is far from being fulfilled, and that to some extent it has lost its impetus and perhaps its direction. It has become bureaucratic in many areas, particularly in agriculture and energy, in which the Commission has done badly, but I do not believe that the criticisms which rightly can be levelled at the Community and the Commission are any reason to run away or to quit. They are reasons for seeking a new initiative and impetus—and that new impetus will come with direct elections to the European Parliament.

Another reason is that I served for four years in the Council of Europe, as did the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer). No doubt he will agree that they were interesting years but that the Council of Europe is a European talk-shop and frustrating for one reason above all else—and that is that it lacks the authority that its Members require. The European Parliament will obtain the authority that is needed to validate the work of its Members only when it has the authority of direct elections.

I want the European Parliament to have greater authority. It should have more authority over the budget and over those pan-European questions that are larger than those that can be dealt with by any single national Parliament. It is absurd to say that energy policies across the whole of Europe can be dealt with exclusively in national Parliaments. Some matters transcend frontiers and are pan-European and transnational. Only a European Parliament elected on a European basis could deal with those questions.

I now come to the details of the Bill. I much prefer the first-past-the-post system and I shall strongly support that system throughout our debates. I confront—as I suspect many other hon. Members do—a number of dilemmas. Although I vastly prefer the first-past-the-post system, I should rather have any system than no Bill, and I may well have to face that dilemma. I also want to see direct elections in 1978, but, because of the delays, the choice that many of us may face may well be between a system that we dislike but elections in 1978, and a system that we prefer but elections in 1979. I hope that that choice will not come, but I believe that it will and I have not yet reached a conclusion on it.

Mr. Heffer

What would happen if the dilemma occurred in the House that we had a Bill with no system?

Mr. Griffiths

I suppose that that is possible, but no doubt the Government would draw their own conclusion. If there were no method of achieving the object of the Bill, it would, for all practical purposes, be dead.

I was grateful to the Home Secretary that, following the lucid intervention of the former Foreign Secretary, the right hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. Stewart), he at long last made clear that which he had not made clear when the Opposition spokesman raised the matter. That was that an amendment will be brought before the House so that a clear decision can be taken on the first-past-the-post system before Clause 3 is disposed of. It is important that that amendment should be brought forward and decided before we come to the matter of the regional list.

The vote on the first-past-the-post system should come first and that on the regional list second. That was what I understood the Home Secretary to have agreed following the intervention of the right hon. Member for Fulham. I should be grateful if the Minister replying to the debate tonight will confirm that that is the position.

In the end, Europe will not be united by institutions or by constitutions but by the unity of people. The other day I met a young woman in Aachen. Her name was Lore Gewecke. I asked her where she was going for her holidays. She said "the beach". In her father's day the only beach that anyone living in North Germany could go to was that little portion of the north German shore which was all the beach that the Germans of the day knew. Today that young woman, like many others all over Europe, in saying that she is going to the beach, means that she will go to any place where the water laps up against the shores of the European Continent. It makes no difference whether it is in Spain, Germany, Holland or France. Such people think as Europeans. They travel down the highways of Europe thinking in European terms. If hon. Members opposite are incapable of doing that, they are merely displaying their lack of understanding. The new generation that is arising in Europe thinks European—even if hon. Members opposite do not.

Throughout Europe, there is a new group emerging who might be described as the hyphenated generation. There are Euro-Germans, Euro-Frenchmen and some, though not so many, Euro-British people. I welcome the process. It is bringing together a new generation of people who will eventually create Europe, and it is for them and their future that I shall support direct elections to the European Assembly.

8.42 p.m.

Mr. Doug Hoyle (Nelson and Colne)

The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) spoke not so much like someone devoted to Europe as like a European fanatic. His words reminded me of the vision of Europe that we were given before the referendum. We were told that everything would be fine as long as we stayed in the EEC; all our economic problems would be solved; we should be given a new impetus. It has not happened. The hon. Gentleman admitted that the EEC had become a bureaucratic institution, yet he insisted that we must continue to tighten our links with Europe. I am sure that his speech warmed the heart of many hon. Members, but many of us who are democrats—and my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson) made a powerful speech on this subject—believe that democracy starts at home and we see direct elections as a weakening of democracy.

The new powerful force in the House —the Liberals—have not been here for most of the debate. Of course it is not here but in the rooms and corridors of this place that they have been exercising their power. I share the view that if proportional representation is introduced for European elections, there is no doubt that it will be used for Westminster elections before long. Although there are only 13 Liberal Members, they are becoming almost as powerful as the 12 Apostles led by Jesus Christ. They can do things that we in the Parliamentary Labour Party can never hope to get done.

The Prime Minister has said that it would not be an unmitigated disaster if we did not get direct elections in 1978. I do not know why we are rushing into this when we have a Labour Party Conference decision that is overwhelmingly against direct elections. Why could we not have waited for this year's conference and introduced the Bill in the next Session? Perhaps the Government hoped that by getting a decision from the House they would be able to twist a few arms. They have not been very successful trying to do that over phase 3 of the pay policy and they may not be any more successful over direct elections. I know that many people will resist their overtures.

How can it be termed democratic to have constituencies of 500,000 electors? How can the Members representing those constituencies be representative of the people? The danger in the Bill, as some hon. Members have admitted, is that it is a step towards a federal Europe. Of course it is. I have listened to arguments which have said "We do not need to worry about that because it will not have many powers. After all, it is only an Assembly." There have been those honest enough to admit that it is a necessary step in the direction of a federal Europe.

First, we were tied to Europe by a thread. Now we have the ropes binding us, and the chains are coming on. So it will be more difficult for the British people to reverse the decision. Any sane person who looked at these decisions from outside would wonder what had happened to the British people in taking this kind of decision. He would wonder why the British people should be attempting to tie themselves more closely to a Community which had in no way served the purpose of that people.

I recall the pamphlets at the time of the referendum, as do some other hon. Members. They were saying at that time that food was not much dearer because we were in the EEC. They said that investment would result from our entry into Europe. Instead of investment coming here, a lot of it has flowed from Britain to Europe. The investment in this country is stagnant. The pro-Marketeers said that it would be a great opportunity to solve our unemployment problems. Instead, unemployment is still rising.

A lot has been said about the rôle of the British people. What is certain is that opposition to the idea of the Common Market is growing in this country. Only recently—I agree that it was in the North-West—Granada Television held a poll. That poll showed that, on being asked whether Britain had benefited from being in the Common Market, only 25 per cent. of those asked thought that we had benefited, against 72 per cent. who thought that we had not benefited in any respect.

Mrs. Kellett-Bowman

Does not the hon. Member agree that there is a very strong feeling in the intermediate areas of the North-West that the Government are pocketing for their own purposes money which should be going to the region? There is a feeling that they are not implementing the doctrine of additionality which is intended by the Community to help parts such as the North-West, which could benefit substantially if the Government of the day did not cheat.

Mr. Hoyle

I am pleased to see the hon. Lady back here and making her usual kind of intervention. But the total help that we are getting from Europe is peanuts. I think it amounts to about two miles of motorway. What we want is what the people of the North-West and the other regions want, and that is meaningful policies that are under our control and that we can direct.

There is some doubt as to the attitude of the EEC towards REP at the moment. That needs a lot of clarification, but that will not solve the problems of the regions. In the hon. Lady's area in the North-West 72 per cent. of the people think we have not benefited. Only 42 per cent. thought that we should stay in, against 53 per cent. who thought we should come out.

There is a lesson here for the Labour Government, because more people said that they were likely to vote for the Government if the Government took a positive line in opposition to the Common Market than if they did not. Of the Labour voters who were polled, 37 per cent. said that they were more likely to vote for the Government if the Government took a positive line that we should come out of Europe. The opinion of the North-West usually becomes the pattern for the whole country. In Grimsby the people have had enough of the Common Market fishery policies. They know the effects that those policies have had on that constituency.

It does not matter, therefore, what we decide in this House. A growing number of people in Britain are saying not only that they do not want the ties with Europe to be strengthened but that they want to come out of Europe. They are looking for someone to take that lead. If we on the Labour Benches are not prepared to do it, they will look for other standard-bearers. That is why it is absolute nonsense to discuss ways and means of trying to get closer to the concept not only of Europe but of federal Europe. It will make it more difficult for us to take the kind of decisions that I know the hon. Member for Lancaster (Mrs. Kellett-Bowman) wants us to take in the North-West by pumping in more aid and certainly reducing unemployment. It will bring no comfort to my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) or to the unemployed on Merseyside if we go ahead with this absolutely stupid step that we are proposing to take tonight.

I have already said that I am completely opposed to direct elections. We should not be considering whether direct elections should be held in 1978 or 1979. We should be considering scrapping the whole concept and looking at ways and means of again testing the opinion of the British people whether they still want to stay in the Common Market.

8.52 p.m.

Mr. D. E. Thomas (Merioneth)

I oppose the Bill for two reasons. First, I do not take the view that repeating the European nation State model on a totally continental basis is a true extension of democracy. Inevitably, democracy is tied up with the problem of the scale of the institution. We have seen a decline— this is part of the whole devolution argument in the United Kingdom—in the quality of answerability as the scale of the unit increases. I do not see how it will be possible for a directly elected European Assembly to affect the lives of ordinary citizens in a way which will be beneficial to them, because of the distance between the representative and those whom he seeks to represent. I sec the development of the political structure inevitably following the basic economic structure of the Community. It will institutionalise the possibilities for large multinational companies and free market forces to operate more effectively on a trans-European basis. It is not an extension of real democracy.

Beyond that, Plaid Cymru is particularly opposed to the treatment that Wales receives in the Bill. This point has also been advocated by the Labour Party in Wales, by the absentee Liberal Party and even by certain Conservatives. There should be an increase in the number of seats to be allocated to Wales.

The Select Committee on Direct Elections to the European Assembly, in its first report, stated that any formulation should be such as to make it possible for the United Kingdom's allocation of seats to be large enough to provide representation for its component parts not significantly out of proportion to those of the smaller Member States (with the proviso that Luxembourg should be treated as a special case). The Select Committee, and the Bill reflecting the Government's thinking, does not achieve that objective. Wales is to have four seats, which means one seat for 520,000 electors. Luxembourg is to have one seat for 60,000 electors, but that is a special case. Ireland is to have one seat for 200,000 electors; Denmark, one seat for 313,000 electors; and Scotland, one seat for 638,000 electors.

I stress that the allocation given to Wales is totally inadequate. Plaid Cymru. in line with its argument for full national status, will argue for national representation. We shall support amendments in Committee, for which I hope we can get cross-party support, to enable the representation for Wales to be rounded up. It would appear that representation for Scotland and Northern Ireland have been rounded up, whereas for Wales it has been rounded down.

For both those reasons—because we do not believe that repeating the nation State model on the European scale represents an extension of real democracy to the peoples of Europe and because we consider the representation for Wales to be totally inadequate—we shall oppose Second Reading of the Bill tonight.

8.55 p.m.

Mr. Tom Ellis (Wrexham)

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson) that we should be discussing the fundamental issues and principles involved in the Bill. I was a little sorry that my hon. Friend spent the major part of his speech discussing the relative merits of the two electoral systems that it contains.

I followed closely the argument of the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell). Like my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, West (Dr. Phipps), I agree with much of what the right hon. Gentleman said. The difference between the right hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend is the same as the difference between the right hon. Gentleman and myself. In other words, the right hon. Gentleman resists, and might even be fearful of, the consequences which he says might occur as a result of direct elections to the European Parliament. I and my hon. Friend not only welcome those consequences but are anxious to channel them into the best direction for the well-being of the people of this country and Europe. I say, with the greatest respect to an eminent senior Member of the House, that I believe that I and my hon. Friend adopt an attitude of realism while the right hon. Gentleman adopts an attitude of romanticism. I shall try to justify that claim and that allegation by developing an argument in a moment on a specific example.

I wish to make it clear that individual hon. Members have been quite open about what they wish to see in Europe. I have made my position clear. The complaint of my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) was about the official documentation and literature.

Of course there will be an increasing clash between this House and a directly-elected European Parliament. There is already a clash between the European Parliament, delegated, impotent and derided though it is, and this Parliament. Those of us who serve in both Parliaments see it clearly. The European Assembly is fighting to become a Parliament. It is on the attack, and however impotent and however weak it is, the attack has been launched, from however weak a base. However strong a bastion this House is believed to be, it is on the defensive. Hon. Members have clearly seen the clash coming, but I think that it will be for the good of the people of Europe.

One of the basic reasons why I support the whole concept of European community is simply that I believe that the classical nineteenth-century European nation State is outmoded. I cannot put it any more bluntly or baldly. I could spend much time elaborating this argument, and I could refer to a book published only a fortnight ago by Tom Nairn. I do not want to sound presumptuous, but it is a brilliant historical analysis. The book is called "The Break-up of Britain" and opens with a chapter called "The Twilight of the British State". It is rather a harsh and abrasive book which will be a bitter pill for many people to swallow but it is important that we should study it and realise exactly what is happening and why.

Mr. Heffer rose

Mr. Ellis

I cannot give way to my hon. Friend. I want to make a clear, coherent, logical argument—

Mr. Heffer

My hon. Friend has got it wrong. He has misunderstood the book.

Mr. Ellis

I merely make the point that the nineteenth-century nation State is so outmoded that something must be found to replace it. It seems to me that the only practicable proposition is to go along with this European venture. No one knows where it will take us. It will not necessarily be federalism. It may be something that we have not thought of yet. In politics one is obliged to travel, and I always feel that it is better to travel hopefully.

I give one illustration of why it is important and why I disagree entirely with the right hon. and learned Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith), who seemed to think that it was simply a matter of institutions, of jiggling them about, and that nothing would change. He is profoundly wrong. The European Court is already in certain narrow sectors becoming a federal court within the existing institutions.

Ralph Dahrendorf summed it up when he said: The first community is dead. Long live the second community. In the first 18 years of the Community, when we all went along in the wake of the great American engine and prosperity was all over Europe, simple institutional measures were adequate. We were able to rely on a bureaucracy and everyone was happy. It came to an end on 15th August 1971 when the Nixon Administration went protectionist. Other things have happened since then. That is why now we must have a political Community.

One case illustrates exactly what I mean. On Wednesday the Commissioner responsible for steel made a statement about the steel industry. We all know that the steel industry in this country and in Europe is in a serious position. I do not think that we all appreciate how desperately serious is the position. The Commissioner said that the Commission was to introduce a variety of proposals in an attempt to rescue the steel industry. He spelled out the various proposals, including many that are well known to hon. Members. He said that he was anxious to take along with him the trade unions, managers, owners and Governments so that the directives that the Commission planned to impose would be accepted. The Commissioner has considerable power under the Paris treaty over the iron and steel industry.

I can visualise the time arriving when, for the good of the steel industry, the Commissioner becomes cruel to be kind and imposes directives that will prove to be difficult pills for Governments to swallow. The Commissioner could demand that a steel works must close. He would be working within his legal rights. He could make that demand and the Government concerned could say "Not on your Nellie". The Commissioner could then take the Government to court. The court could rule in the Commissioner's favour. The Government could then say again "Not on your Nellie". That would produce a political crisis and the Community would be in a make-or-break situation. That event could occur in respect of steel. It could also happen as a result of difficulties in other industries. The engineering, shipbuilding, airframes, aero-engines, computer and machine tools industries are in serious situations. We are trying to compete with the multinational sector.

I give another example from regional policy. Paris is the most developed region in France. It occupies 2 per cent, of the area of that country, contains 19 per cent, of the population and takes 54 per cent, of economic capital investment. That is not because of the perverse, mal-administration of the Fench Government. It is because that Government can do nothing about it, any more than this Government can do anything about regional policy.

I can give an example of what I mean. A large multinational company may say that it wishes to build in London. The Government says that it may not do that and offers grants as an incentive to build elsewhere. That company may then say that it will build in another country if it cannot build in London and it eventually establishes itself in London. It is the duty of all hon. Members to try to correct that situation where we as a nation and Government are impotent. In the European Parliament we are introducing a kind of parliamentary control and authority which will lead to a genuine European Parliament. We shall rue it if we fail to go ahead with that policy.

9.5 p.m.

Sir John Eden (Bournemouth, West)

Like the hon. Member for Wrexham (Mr. Ellis), I, too, want to turn back briefly to the speech of the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell). He made his position abundantly clear. He is against the Bill because, as he spelled out for us during his remarks, he is against United Kingdom membership of the European Economic Community. In that, of course, he is joined by many other hon. Members in all parts of the House who have habitually spoken and voted against our being members of the Community.

The fact is that they are seeking to continue the argument that they lost in the referendum in the hope that in time they may be able to reverse the decision then taken by the overwhelming majority of the people of this country.

I am not afraid of the Assembly. I am not in any way frightened of the European Parliament. I am not afraid of its advisory or supervisory powers, nor am I afraid of any development of them that may arise. They will not do damage to this Parliament. They will not in any way affect the degree to which we in this Parliament control Ministers who take the ultimate decisions in the Council of Ministers. They will not prevent this House from continuing to examine and to scrutinise European directives and legislative proposals which come from the Commission. They will not, as the right hon. Member for Down, South claimed, cut down this Parliament. They will certainly not subvert scrutiny.

The elected Assembly of the European Community may, hopefully, prevent some of the nonsenses and spare us from some of the trivia for which the Commission has from time to time been responsible, and we here may have to adapt some of our own policies in respect of legislative proposals emanating from the Commission in Brussels. That is probably something that we ought to be considering in any event.

However, I am quite certain that as the Assembly develops or as its composition changes as the result of the passage of this Bill and the direct election of its Members, so we shall find that, far from subverting and undermining our authority in the national Parliament, it will effectively complement it.

I want to turn briefly to the question of the method of election. I agree here very much—and only on this point— with my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop). He spoke most effectively about the representation and responsibility that goes with the first-past-the-post system. I agree very much with him that we should strive to preserve the golden thread of responsibility between electors and elected. I am sure that he was right to emphasise that point and I support him in what he said. I believe that the Government are wrong in putting forward as their favoured choice the regional list system in the Bill.

The right hon. Member for Down, South did the House a great service by drawing its attention to the part of the Home Secretary's speech in which he referred to the possibility of differences of view between the Assembly in Europe and this Parliament and the Government of this country. The right hon. Member referred to that part, which I shall not repeat. However, in the same paragraph the Home Secretary said: Furthermore, the credibility of the British delegation in the European Assembly might well be undermined by such a result."—[Official Report, 6th July 1977; Vol. 934, c. 1256.] But the fact is that it will not be a British delegation. We have a delegation now. The purpose of the Bill is to make it possible for delegates to become elected representatives of the people. They will not be delegates of the Government or even of this Parliament. They will be elected representatives of the people.

If that reference by the Home Secretary is in any way indicative of the attitude he brings to bear to this subject, I hope that, as a result of the debate, he will think again and change his whole approach. What he should be seeking to ensure, as a result of the enactment of this or similar legislation, is that the voice of the people is taken more into account as a result of the direct part that they will have in sending representatives to the Parliament of Europe.

If that happens, I believe that the European Parliament or Assembly will more truly become the focal point in the formulation and development of European opinion. No doubt it will further develop the practice of calling the Commission to account. Perhaps it will develop new practices, such as the establishment of specialist committees to examine Commis- sion proposals in greater depth before they go forward to the Council of Ministers. Whatever detailed form they may take, I have no doubt that new parliamentary procedures will develop. I have no doubt, either, that those Members of the Assembly elected from individual constituencies in the member States will ensure that they increasingly come to reflect the wishes of the people who will send them there. I am sure that they will exert a most beneficial influence on the Commission which will effectively complement the influence that we exert in this House on the Ministers who attend the Council of Ministers.

I make the plea that we do not try to achieve overnight what it has taken other Governments and other Parliaments and other people already many years to approach. We must recognise that, with our membership of the Community, we shall have to experience a very long-drawn-out, continuing and evolutionary process of working with our neighbours in Europe. But the practice of working together, however difficult, offers the prospect of greater prosperity for all our people and a peaceful solution to some of the most pressing international problems. Even though the practice may be difficult, with that possibility and that prospect before us, the attempt is very worthwhile, and I have no doubt that by sending elected representatives from this country to the European Parliament we shall be assisting it considerably.

9.14 p.m.

Mr. Alan Lee Williams (Hornchurch)

Those of us who have argued the case for European integration have never denied that it would imply some loss of parliamentary sovereignty. I do not find that such a terrifying prospect that I need apologise to the House for it. The right hon. Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Fraser) evoked memories of Hitler, Marxism and Bolshevism in raising the spectre of federalism. He was over-icing the cake. This modest Bill gives effect only to some tentative steps towards democratisation of the European Community itself.

For the purposes of the debate, I have been looking at various articles written by people who have been concerned in the last 15 years with integration. Herman Kahn, back in the 1960s, erected 88 possible European futures. The late Alastair Buchan erected six different possible European futures, It is interesting that not one of these possible futures included federalism. There is more to the argument than that, and I believe that the opponents of integration have concentrated on federalism because they feel that this is the way in which they can somehow or another frighten the British people into believing that their sovereignty, in the real sense, will be lost.

I believe firmly that if the European Assembly can have an infusion of real authority, which a directly elected Assembly will give it, it will be possible for parliamentary democracy to be extended in Europe.

Difficulties arise now over the unaccountable power that is undoubtedly held by bureaucrats, and everyone agrees that this is wrong. I would argue this case in respect of the Commission. Indeed, I would argue it in respect of the Council of Ministers, which is in no real sense accountable to this place. It is an illusion for hon. Members on either side to imagine that the Council of Ministers is really answerable to Parliament. Only in the most theoretical sense is that so. We know that in reality this is not the case.

It seems to me, therefore, that this timid, modest Bill is a step in the right direction, so that we can democratise Europe and, above all, move forward to integration, and ultimately, I believe—I make no apology for this—towards a democratic federal Europe.

9.13 p.m.

Mr. Jim Spicer (Dorset, West)

Of necessity, this will be a very truncated speech. I follow very much along the line indicated by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) in terms of the regional list. It is a miserable system, which none of us should look at.

In the South-West we shall be given six Members for Cornwall, Devon, Somerset, Dorset, Avon, Gloucestershire and Wiltshire. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that those six Members, once elected, will have no individual responsibility. They will be chasing each other round that region, irrespective of party, each of them trying to make the best of whatever publicity opportunities come his way. I certainly could not vote for such a system.

Equally, I find myself in a difficulty concerning the first-past-the-post system. I cherish the link between the Member of Parliament and the constituency and would hold very strongly to it. At the same time, I can see that there would be considerable difficulties in trying to find universal agreement.

In my evidence to the Select Committee I made it quite clear that there might come a time in this House when we would need to find a compromise. I am horrified that the Government have included in their Bill the very worst possible system—[Interruption.] — the regional list, which even their friends in the Liberal Party, through their leader tonight, have admitted is the worst possible system. The right hon. Gentleman indicated that he would much rather have another system.

Mr. Thorpe

I did not.

Mr. Spicer

What was said—

Mr. Thorpe rose

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine)

Order. Only one hon. Member may occupy the Floor at one time. [Interruption.] Order. Mr. Spicer.

Mr. Spicer

With the greatest respect, the right hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe) ceased to be the Leader of the Liberal Party some months ago. The right hon. Gentleman—

Mr. Thorpe

The hon. Gentleman mis-quoted what I said.

Mr. Spicer

The right hon. Gentleman is not the Leader of the Liberal Party.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Perhaps the hon. Member for Dorset, West (Mr. Spicer) will address the Chair.

Mr. Spicer

I apologise profusely, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

This is a strange way to end a speech, but I do so by taking up the remarks of the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson). I fully endorse his remarks about the Liberal Party and the absence of Liberal Members from their Bench throughout most of the debate.

9.21 p.m.

Mr. William Whitelaw (Penrith and The Border)

I shall not start my speech by seeking to come between the right hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe) and my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, West (Mr. Spicer), or by indulging in pacts of any sort. As my speech proceeds I do not think it will be found that there are many pacts about me. I shall develop what I have to say in my own way.

Nothing that we have had in the debate and nothing much that has been said has changed my view that the history leading up to the introduction of the Bill portrays a pretty squalid saga of the Government's lack of decision, their prevarication, internal dissension and delay.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Surrey (Sir A. Royle) said yesterday, it is over 18 months since the Government started talking about introducing a Bill for direct elections to the European Assembly. There has been a Green Paper, a White Paper and various debates. On top of all that, a Select Committee was set up on 13th May 1976 under the chairmanship of the right hon. Member for Dartford (Mr. Irving). The Committee produced three reports full of detailed and clear recommendations. It proposed that a very early Bill should be introduced in the overspill of the 1976 Session and that the election should be held on the first-past-the-post system.

The truth is that the Government paid little or no attention to the work of the Select Committee. Of course, they will say "We published the White Paper early in 1977." That is true, but the White Paper only raised again the issues that had been considered by the Select Committee and on which it based its recommendations. Throughout the April debate on the White Paper and yesterday the Home Secretary talked as if the Select Committee had never made detailed recommendations. By April he had progressed only to the position that he thought that much thought would be needed before legislation.

As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon) said today, the House could have been asked last Session to debate and vote upon the Select Committee's recom- mendation for an election on the first-past-the-post system. If that had taken place, the Government would have known on which system to base their Bill. If the House supported the Select Committee's proposal, the Government could have drafted their Bill on the first-past-the-post system. If it had voted against it, the regional list system or some other proportional representation system would clearly have been the will of the House.

Why did the Government not take that course last year? I realise that the Home Secretary was not then in his present position. However, we are entitled to an answer from him on behalf of the part of the Government that he and the Prime Minister represent. We know that the other part of the Government would say that such a course would have impeded its determination to frustrate the Bill altogether. In view of all the muddle and confusion about methods now. why is it too late to take that course today? Is that not the answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop), who wants to see a decision taken on the system before the Bill is produced again, as presumably it will have to be, in the next Session of Parliament under this Government, if there is one?

Why cannot the Government table a motion now to accept the report of the Select Committee? If that were done and if there is to be another Session of Parliament with this Government in power, the Bill could be introduced in accordance with the decision that the House took on that occasion. Surely we are entitled to a clear and specific answer from the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs on that point. I do not know what the answer is myself, but I hope that the right hon. Gentleman does. It seems such common sense that I cannot understand why the House does not proceed along those lines at once.

The failure is all the more surprising because of the Prime Minister's clear undertaking in September 1976, along with our partners in the EEC, to use the Government's best endeavours to hold direct elections to the European assembly in May-June 1978. No doubt he meant it. No doubt he believed that at least he would have the support of his Cabinet colleagues. Certainly they would appear to encourage him in that belief for they agreed to the Queen's Speech. Or perhaps the Queen's Speech, too, was one of those occasions on which the Prime Minister decided that collective responsibility need not apply.

But if so, he did not fulfil even his extraordinary new doctrine because he did not tell us. And so, perhaps, if there is another Queen's Speech, and if they are still locked in the embrace with the Government, the right hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel) and his hon. Friends had better look around to see what the position on collective responsibility is in the Cabinet for the next Queen's Speech, if there is one.

However, we are still entitled to presume that even in this Government the Cabinet do collectively support the Queen's Speech. Thus it would appear that the opponents of direct elections in the Cabinet hit upon a subtle trick to neutralise the Prime Minister's best endeavours which, I am quite certain, were absolutely genuine. "Ah", they said, "we cannot introduce a Bill on direct elections until the measure on devolution is through the Commons". What a remarkable assertion! After being concerned one way or another with the business of this House for about eight years, I have never heard of a more unjustifiable assertion. Indeed, it is a well-known principle of business management in this House—alas, all too seldom achieved by any Leader of the House— that the important Bills in the Government's programme for any Session should start before Christmas. So what on earth was this new idea?

Much play is now being made of the phrase "best endeavours". But the account of the Government's legislative efforts surely cannot be construed by any reasonable person as living up to a modest standard of endeavour.

Yesterday the Prime Minister decided to change ground. The delay he said, has been part of the process of getting people to understand the necessity for the legislation. Persuading is, of course, part of democracy. How right the Prime Minister is. But as my right hon. Friend for the Member for Mid-Oxon (Mr. Hurd) said last night, the Prime Minister spoke yesterday of persuasion as though he had spent his time stumping the country advocating direct elections. If he has, he must have been doing it by stealth or with strict instructions to his public relations machine to ensure that in no circumstances should one single word of his advocacy be produced to anyone at any time.

I have a great regard for the Prime Minister's public relations expertise and, therefore, I believe that if he had wished his persuasion and his advocacy to reach a wider section of people in this country he would have achieved it. But, alas, we have heard nothing of it.

Of course, I suppose his persuasion has been of a very much narrower order. It has, in fact, been in what I suppose can reasonably be described at any time as the "semi-secrecy" of his own Cabinet. He has been seeking to use his persuasion there but, alas, it does not seem that his persuasion, even in that narrow and comparatively small circle, has had a very outstanding successful or beneficial result. Rather, I fear that this has led him to a disastrously weak decision which I trust and believe will prove to be entirely uncharacteristic of him. Nevertheless, if his Government survive for long enough, I believe that he will live to regret the day when he introduced a very dangerous precedent.

The Prime Minister's decision to abandon collective responsibility in his Cabinet will weaken his own authority, which, as he will realise, does not worry me unduly. But it will also weaken Britain's standing amongst our allies, especially amongst our partners in the EEC. I think that that should be a matter of great concern to us all.

By no stretch of imagination can Cabinet Ministers voting against their own Government's Bill be interpreted as a Prime Minister using his best endeavours —[HON. MEMBERS: "Where are they?"] Therefore, much as I respect the right hon. Member for Dartford. I cannot agree with him when he congratulates the Prime Minister on having kept his Cabinet intact. It will not look exactly intact at 10 o'clock tonight.

Before the Prime Minister moves from his avuncular mood into a threatening one, which I thought that he showed signs of doing yesterday, I trust that he will realise that his record and that of his Government leave him with no right to accuse anyone in any part of this House of preventing the Government from meeting the target date or preventing direct elections. He has forfeited that argument. I thought that he was coming to it yesterday. Before he does, let me assure him that there will be a blockbuster in the way, because I shall not let him get away with that one. The Government's own tactics and manoeuvring have already brought about the delay. To them must go the blame.

But the way in which the Government have handled the introduction of the Bill and the obvious imperfections of the Bill itself must not be allowed to obscure the fact that a major and important issue is at stake. Britain is by treaty a member of the EEC and, quite exceptionally, our membership was endorsed overwhelmingly by a referendum of the British people. The Prime Minister, as he is constitutionally entitled, in Britain's name gave a commitment to our European partners on direct elections. Of course, that commitment was given subject to Parliament's approval. I accept that immediately. Of course, Parliament has the undoubted right to withhold that approval. But if Parliament were lightly or frequently to exercise that right, Britain's international standing and reliability would be gravely threatened and probably seriously undermined.

That argument will not convince those who continue to be opposed to membership of the EEC and who refuse to accept the result of the referendum. They are perfectly entitled to do that. I am equally entitled to say that in my view they are going the best way about ensuring that Britain gets the worst of both worlds. However, that is their undoubted right if that is their determination.

But it is surely a compelling argument to those who believe in our European position but who have doubts about the importance and value of direct elections. There are those of us who believe in our membership of the EEC and in direct elections but who are unhappy about the way in which the Government are proceeding on this Bill. For us, there can be no doubt that, if we want to see direct elections to a European Assembly, we must vote for a Bill the principle of which it is to provide them.

I do not want to see direct elections as a means to furthering a federal Europe. Unlike my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind), I am against a federal Europe. My right hon. Friend the Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Fraser) tells me and others that if we are against a federal Europe but in favour of direct elections we are in a stupid position. I do not accept that. I cannot understand that argument. I have always been of the view that there is no reason why we should proceed to a federal Europe if the countries concerned do not wish to do so.

I see no evidence at all that the leaders of any other EEC countries passionately wish to do so. Both President Giscard d'Estang and Chancellor Schmidt have made it quite clear that they do not wish to proceed on this course. If that is so, I cannot see why on earth we should be forced in that direction.

I want direct elections because I believe that they will give greater democratic control of the Community. I do not believe that that can be provided under the present system of membership. Nomination as a system has broken down. I do not believe it can work, bearing in mind the strain on hon. Members who are trying to do a job here and a job in Europe. They cannot do both jobs and I do not think it right that they should be expected to do so. That is why I want to move towards direct elections.

A directly-elected Assembly could be an aid to national Parliaments in dealing with Community bureaucracy. I am not impressed by any analogy between duties of Members of that Assembly and our duties. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith), with his considerable experience, convinced me of the total difference between the powers of this Parliament and the powers of the Community Assembly.

I do not intend to repeat the arguments in favour of the first-past-the-post system which I made in the debate on the White Paper on 28th April. Neither system is perfect, and, in answer to the right hon. Member for Devon, North, I recognise all too well and too clearly the problems that will arise with Northern Ireland if we proceed with the first-past-the-post system. But as I said before my conclusion on Northern Ireland is that if, as essentially part of the United Kingdom, it is taking part in a United Kingdom election, it must do so on the same basis as the rest of the country. To do otherwise, despite all the difficulties involved—of which I am only too well aware—could easily raise unjustifiable fears about our determination in Northern Ireland. That would be totally unjustified and absolutely unfair, but it is a danger. I stand wholly by these words. To paraphrase the right hon. Member for Devon, North, they come from the full-throated belly of a large man and not from any other source at all.

I think that the position in a strictly Northern Ireland election is different, but essentially these are matters that can be discussed—if the House gives the Bill a Second Reading—at Committee stage. Tonight we are dealing with the Second Reading and with the principle of a Bill to provide direct elections to the European Assembly. This is the fulfilment of an undertaking given by the Prime Minister on behalf of the people of this country.

On that basis, and for those reasons, I ask my right hon. and hon. Friends to vote for the Second Reading tonight. By doing so in great strength we shall earn from our European partners a respect for consistency and reliability—a respect that this Government and that Labour Party have forfeited beyond recall, to the great detriment of true British interests.

9.39 p.m.

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Dr. David Owen)

The right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw) has huffed and puffed but essentially he has supported the principle of a Bill for direct elections, which I also believe the House should support—

Mr. Walter Clegg (North Fylde)

Would it not be possible to command the presence in the House of the Leader of the House, who, in effect, voted for this Bill in terms of the debate on the Queen's Speech?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The hon. Member knows that that is not a point of order for me.

Hon. Members

Where are the rest of the Cabinet?

Dr. Owen

The mood of the House reminds me of the debate that took place in this House when on 28th October 1971 the issue of our membership of the EEC was decided by the House as a whole. Then, as tonight, many were exercising their judgment as individual Members of Parliament. The House is no worse for being in that mood when deciding whether to support an issue of principle. That is the issue that is before us tonight.

The right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border made a great deal of the voting intentions of various Members of the House. [HON. MEMBERS: "Where are your Cabinet supporters? "] The right hon. Gentleman when Leader of the House in 1971 surprised everybody by a last-minute bid to achieve a free vote on the issue of principle at that time. Therefore, it does not behove him to give us great lectures now on the issue of a free vote.

Mr. Whitelaw rose

Dr. Owen

I know what the right hon. Gentleman is about to say. [HON. MEMBERS: "Give way."] I shall give way in a moment. I do not want to mis-judge the right hon. Gentleman. He will say that on that occasion it was a free vote for Conservative Members of Parliament. But The Times wrote at that time: The reason for the volte face is to be found in the reckoning by Whitelaw and Pym that the Government must gain more on the swings of a free vote than they will lose on the roundabouts.

Mr. Whitelaw

I am sorry to interrupt the Foreign Secretary, because I know that there is not a great deal of time left for him to contribute to the debate, but he will remember that the whole of the Cabinet collectively voted on that occasion for Britain's entry into Europe—and that blows his argument out of the water sky high.

Dr. Owen

The House was told, as the right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well, that there was a free vote on that occasion. He also knows that the issue of principle was decided by many people on the Opposition Benches exercising their right—[HON. MEMBERS: "Where are all the Cabinet?"] Right hon. and hon. Members who have come into this debate without having heard any of the arguments might at least listen to the arguments on a serious issue. [HON. MEMBERS: "Where is Wedgie?"] Those same right hon. and hon. Members—[HON. MEMBERS: "There he is."]

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Dr. Owen.

Dr. Owen

Not for the first time, and I suspect that it will not be the last time when this issue of Europe comes before the House, Members of Parliament will exercise their individual judgment. I do not apologise for that. I argued for a free vote on this issue in 1971 and I am content that this issue will be decided by the House as a whole.

I shall tell our friends in Europe who are watching this debate that there ismore chance—[Interruption.] The opposition of the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) is well known, but the Government's commitment to use their best endeavours to put this legislation on the statute book in time to reach the May-June target is clear. It is known that the commitment to elections in May-June 1978 is political, arising from successive meetings of Heads of Government in Paris and Rome in December 1974 and December 1975. That timetable was reinforced in the agreement that was signed by my predecessor last September. Nevertheless, we have made clear to our partners in Europe the difficulties that could arise in the United Kingdom about meeting the deadline.

As the Prime Minister pointed out yesterday, the Government have never underestimated the difficulties that face any constitutional Bill in the House. We have always recognised that adequate time is needed for full consultation and consideration of the important issues involved in this legislation. We do not apologise for the fact that there has been a Select Committee report and time to debate a White Paper, that considerable consideration has been given to the method of election, and that two alternative methods have been put before the House.

We have made it clear that we shall recommend—and we have recommended —the regional list system. During the negotiations with our European partners last year we sought a derogation allowing for continued nomination should we not be ready to hold elections in May-June 1978. However, our partners preferred an agreement under which the first elections would be held simultaneously throughout the Community. They also agreed that the target date should be a matter of best endeavours rather than a legally binding commitment and that the election itself should be fixed when all the member States were ready.

The Prime Minister intervened in the debate yesterday to say that it would not be the end of the world if it proved impossible to be ready by 1978. The right hon. and learned Member for Hexhan (Mr. Rippon) wished to have this explained. The Prime Minister made it clear and I made it clear that we shall use our best endeavours. Those who believe that the Government will not use their best endeavours make a great mistake. However, there are important issues that the right hon. and learned Gentleman should consider. He drove through the House legislation concerning the European Community at a time when many people felt that the House had inadequately debated all the important constitutional issues. It is difficult to drive through constitutional legislation when there are hon. Members of differing views on both sides of the House. We all know that this legislation will be examined with care, as it should be, and that it will be difficult to get it through and on to the statute book in order to meet the suggested May-June target date, but we shall try our best.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman must recognise that this matter will be decided by the whole House. I hope it will be seen tonight that there is a clear and decisive majority in the House for the principle of direct elections. At a later date we shall have an opportunity to determine—and again hon. Members will exercise their individual judgment—the method of election. The right hon. and learned Gentleman, claimed that he has a long record of support for the cause of European unity. That is a cause to which I also subscribe but the right hon. and learned Gentleman will not serve that cause by ensuring a form of election to the European Parliament that will give a completely distorted result in the political system of this country. That is one of the serious issues that will be decided in Committee on the Bill. We shall decide whether we can get a fairer system. [HON. MEMBERS: "When?"] Some hon. Members on the Opposition Benches have constantly pressed us to allow the decision on the method to be taken in advance of the legislation. It has been significantly obvious on many occasions that the Government are quite right to insist that the Bill should be judged as a whole. One portion of the Bill cannot be abstracted; the Bill must be seen as a whole. For instance, Clause 2 determines the number of seats and the distribution of the 81 seats. There have been interventions in the debate from a number of hon. Members from Scotland and Wales and from the right hon. Member for Down, South about the distribution of the seats.

This is an important issue, which will have to be decided in Committee. The House has never had a serious opportunity to discuss the concept of a regional list system and I make no apology for bringing this issue to the House, first in the White Paper and now in the Bill. I believe that there are positive merits in such a system that have not been fully examined. I believe that it will produce a fairer result in the Assembly elections when they take place, and that is important.

The fact that it is a different system from the first-past-the-post system that we have for General Elections is a merit, because it will emphasise that the European Assembly is not this Parliament. My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) said that a lot of the descriptions of the Bill and the language used in the debate were based on a false premise that the European Assembly is a Parliament. It is not. When we elect a European Assemblyman, he will not be a Member forming a majority for a Government. The Assembly will be a consultative and advisory institution, with limited powers, particularly on financial measures.

We shall be adding to the democratic control of the Commission and much of the bureaucracy in Brussels.

The right hon. Member for Down, South and a number of my hon. Friends have claimed that by directly electing the European Assembly we should be weakening democratic control. That analysis would be correct if we were dismantling the controls in this House, but we are retaining and strengthening those controls.

Mr. Hugh Dykes (Harrow, East)

Would the Foreign Secretary remove the lecturing tone from his voice and confirm that the implication of his remarks a few sentences ago is that there must be time to meet the target date for elections under a first-past-the-post system?

Dr. Owen

I was foolish to give way to the hon. Gentleman. I was dealing with the serious point of democratic control. Anyone seriously interested in this subject, whether for or against the Bill, will be concerned about democratic control. We are not reducing the democratic control of the Council of Foreign Ministers, the Ministers going from this House to Brussels, or reducing the limited powers that we have over the Commission. We are attempting to add to these controls.

In the European Assembly yesterday, Commissioner Gundelach was questioned by British Members about the North Sea herring ban. They were able to exercise the democratic control over the Commissioner that we in this House are unable to exercise. It has been claimed that this power is insufficient. I am not claiming that the powers of the Assembly are strong. What is being decided in the Bill is a modest advance in attempting to achieve some increase in the control of the bureaucracy in Europe. [Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. We shall make no progress unless the Foreign Secretary is allowed to continue with his speech.

Dr. Owen

The issue behind the Bill is important. Direct elections will be a modest but important addition to the strengthening and development of the EEC, but I do not pretend that the mere passage of the Bill or the mere introduction of direct elections will make a dramatic change in the development of Europe.

I know that some of my hon. Friends are deeply concerned about the threat of federalism. They believe that because of the argument of legitimacy given to members of the European Assembly by direct elections, there will be an increase in the powers of the Assembly. There will be no increase in the powers of the European Assembly unless they are voted for in this House.

My hon. Friend the Member for Peni-stone (Mr. Mendelson) referred to the decision of the French Parliament in relation to its ratification Bill, which is now law, which provides that any modification of the existing powers of the Assembly which have not been ratified and if necessary incorporated in a revision of the French constitution should have no effect on France, and the same shall apply to any act of the Assembly which without involving any explicit modifications of those powers would go beyond them in practice.

The fact is that the French, who have a simple majority system for their national elections, though done in two stages, have introduced a form of proportional representation for the European Assembly. They have made certain that there will be no increases in the power of the European Assembly unless specific provision is made for that in the constitution. We have no written constitution. The only way in which we can extend the powers of the European Assembly will be when such a proposal comes before this House specifically, and it will be for this House to control the exercise of those powers—

Mr. Alexander Fletcher rose

Dr. Owen

I will not give way. I have deliberately kept my speech to 20 minutes in order to allow more Back-Benchers to participate in the debate.

Some of my hon. and right hon. Friends are concerned that we shall be making a step towards federalism. I cannot make it clearer than I did in the speech when I was describing the White Paper, that this Government do not believe in a federalist Europe. This Government will not allow an extension of powers in a federalist direction for the European Community. We believe in playing a full part as members of the European Community. In this case we accept the obligation to use our best endeavours to introduce a system of direct elections which would apply across the Community as a whole. We will honour that obligation. We will use our best endeavours

to meet the target date, but we cannot commit the House to constitutional reform. We can only attempt to get this legislation through.

It may be that in the last few years this House has reached the stage where it cannot get constitutional legislation through without some form of timetable motion. I believe that that would be an undesirable event. Equally, however, we cannot have a situation in which the Government can never get a constitutional Bill through because of filibustering and an inability to reach constitutional reform.

The House must strike a fair balance between giving enough time to consider seriously these important issues, but also to allow the possibility of constitutional reform to be enacted in a reasonable period of time. I trust that when the Bill comes before the House it will be treated in that way both by those who oppose it as well as those who are in favour.

The Bill gives the House an opportunity to make an important decision on the method of election. I recommend it to the House in principle, in favour of direct elections, and I recommend that when the time comes we should have the regional list system as offering the fairest way of achieving representation in the European Assembly which will represent the views of this country as a whole.

Mr. Alexander Fletcher rose

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Michael Cocks) rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.

Question, That the Question be now put, put and agreed to.

Question put accordingly, That the Bill be now read a Second time: —

The House divided:Ayes 394, Noes 147.

Division No. 189] AYES 10.01 p.m.
Abse, Leo Bagier, Gordon A. T. Biggs-Davison, John
Adley, Robert Bain, Mrs Margaret Bishop, Rt Hon Edward
Alison, Michael Baker, Kenneth Blaker, Peter
Amery, Rt Hon Julian Banks, Robert Blenkinsop, Arthur
Anderson, Donald Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (Heywood) Boolhroyd, Miss Betty
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Bates, All Boscawen, Hon Robert
Armstrong, Ernest Beith, A. J. Bottomley, Rt Hon Arthur
Arnold, Tom Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torbay) Bottomley, Peter
Ashley, Jack Bennett, Dr Reginald (Fareham) Bowden, A. (Brighton, Kemptown)
Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne) Benyon, W. Boyden, James (Bisn Auck)
Awdry, Daniel Berry, Hon Anthony Boyson, Dr Rhodes (Brent)
Bradley, Tom Gilmour, Sir John (East Fife) Lawson, Nigel
Braine, Sir Bernard Ginsburg, David Le Merchant, Spencer
Bray, Dr Jeremy Glyn, Dr Alan Lester, Jim (Beeston)
Brittan, Leon Godber, Rt Hon Joseph Lever, Rt Hon Harold
Brocklebank-Fowler, C. Golding, John Lipton, Marcus
Brooke, Peter Goodhart, Philip Lloyd, Ian
Brolherton, Michael Goodhew, Victor Lomas, Kenneth
Brown, Sir Edward (Bath) Goodlad, Alastair Loveridge, John
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Gorst, John Luard, Evan
Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W) Gourlay, Harry Luce, Richard
Brown, Ronald (Hackney S) Gower, Sir Raymond (Barry) Lyon, Alexander (York)
Buchanan, Richard Grant, Anthony (Harrow C) Lyons, Edward (Bradford W)
Buchanan-Smith, Alick Grant, John (Islington C) Mabon, Rt Hon Dr J Dickson
Buck, Antony Gray, Hamish MacCormick, lain
Bulmer, Esmond Grieve, Percy McCrindle Robert
Burden, F. A. Griffiths, Eldon Macfarlane, Neil
Butler, Adam (Bosworth) Grimond, Rt Hon J. MacFarquhar, Roderick
Callaghan, Rt Hon J. (Cardiff SE) Grist, Ian MacGregor, John
Campbell, Ian Grylls, Michael McGuire, Michael (Ince)
Cant, R. B. Hall-Davis, A. G. F. MacKay, Andrew James
Carter, Ray Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury) MacKenzie, Rt Hon Gregor
Cartwright, John Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife) Maclennan, Robert
Chalker, Mrs Lynda Hampson, Dr Keith Macmillan, Rt Hon M. (Farnham)
Channon, Paul Hannam, John McNair-Wilson, P. (New Forest)
Churchill, W. S. Hardy, Peter Madel, David
Clark, William (Croydon S) Harrison, Col Sir Harwood (tye) Magee, Bryan
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Harvie Anderson, Rt Hon Miss Mallalieu, J. p. W.
Clegg, Walter Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy Marks, Kenneth
Cocks, Rt Hon Michael Havers, Rt Hon Sir Michael Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)
Cohen, Stanley Hawkins, Paul Marshall, Michael (Arundel)
Coleman, Donald Hayhoe, Barney Mason, Rt Hon Roy
Cooke, Robert (Bristol W) Hayman, Mrs Helene Mates, Michael
Corbett, Robin Healey, Rt Hon Denis Mather, Carol
Cordle, John H. Heath, Rt Hon Edward Maude, Angus
Corrie, John Henderson, Douglas Maudling. Rt Hon Reginald
Costain, A. P. Heseltine, Michael Mawby, Ray
Crawshaw, Richard Hicks, Robert Mayhew, Patrick
Critchley, Julian Higgins, Terence L. Meyer, Sir Anthony
Cronin, John Hodgson, Robin Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove)
Crouch, David Holland, Philip Mills, Peter
Crowder, F. P. Hooson, Emlyn Miscampbell, Norman
Cunningham, Dr J. (Whiteh) Horam, John Mitchell, David (Basingstoke)
Davies, Ifor (Gower) Hordern, Peter Montgomery, Fergus
Davies, Rt Hon J. (Knutsford) Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Moonman, Eric
Dean, Paul (N Somerset) Howell, David (Guildford) Moore, John (Croydon C)
de Freitas, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Howell, Rt Hon Denis (B'ham, Sm H) Morgan, Geraint
Dell, Rt Hon Edmund Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk) Morgan-Giles, Rear-Admiral
Dodsworth, Geoffrey Howells, Geraint (Cardigan) Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Hughes, Rt Hon C. (Anglesey) Morris, Michael (Northampton S)
Douglas-Mann, Bruce Hunt, David (Wirral) Morrison, Charles (Devizes)
Duffy, A. E. P. Hunt, John (Bromley) Morrison, Hon Peter (Chester)
Dunn, James A. Hurd, Douglas Movie, Roland
Dunnett, Jack Irving, Charles (Cheltenham) Mulley, Rt Hon Frederick
Durant, Tony Irving, Rt Hon S. (Dartford) Neave, Airey
Dykes, Hugh Jackson, Colin (Brighouse) Neubert, Michael
Eden, Rt Hon Sir John James, David Newton, Tony
Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke) Janner, Grevllle Normanton, Tom
Elliott, Sir William Jenkin, Rt Hon P. (Wanst'd & W'df'd) Nott, John
Ellis, Tom (Wrexham) Jessel, Toby Oakes, Gordon
Emery, Peter John, Brynmor Ogden, Eric
English, Michael Johnson, James (Hull West) Onslow, Cranley
Ennals, David Johnson, Walter (Derby S) Oppenheim, Mrs Sally
Ewing, Mrs Winifred (Moray) Johnson Smith, G. (E Grinstead) Osborn, John
Eyre, Reginald Jones, Alec (Rhondda) Owen, Rt Hon Dr David
Falrbalrn, Nicholas Jones, Arthur (Daventry) Padley, Walter
Fairgrieve, Russell Jones, Barry (East Flint) Page, John (Harrow West)
Faulds, Andrew Jopling, Michael Page, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby)
Fell, Anthony Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith page, Richard (Workington)
Finsberg, Geoffrey Judd, Frank Palmer, Arthur
Fisher, Sir Nigel Kaberry, Sir Donald Pardoe, John
Fitt, Gerard (Belfast W) Kaufman, Gerald Parker, John
Fletcher, Alex (Edinburgh, N) Kellett-Bowman, Mrr blaine Parkinson, Cecil
Fletcher-Cooke, Charles Kershaw, Anthony Pattie, Geoffrey
Fookes, Miss Janet Kilfedder, James Penhaligon, David
Ford, Ben Kimball, Marcus Percival, Ian
Forman, Nigel King, Evelyn (South Dorset) Perry, Ernest
Fowler, Gerald (The Wrekin) King, Tom (Bridgwater) Peyton, Rt Hon John
Fowler, Norman (Sutton C'f'd) Kitson, Sir Timothy Phipps, Dr Colin
Fox, Marcus Knight, Mrs Jill Pink, R. Bonner
Freud, Clement Knox, David Prentice, Rt Hon Reg
Galbralth, Hon. T. G. D. Lamborn, Harry Price, William (Rugby)
Gardiner, George (Reigate) Lamont, Norman Prior, Rt Hon James
Gardner, Edward (S. Fylde) Langford-Holt, Sir John Pym, Rt Hon Francis
George, Bruce Latham, Michael (Melton) Radice, Giles
Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian (Chesham) Lawrence, Ivan Raison, Timothy
Ralhbone, Tim Sinclair, Sir George Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.
Rawlinson, Rt Hon Sir Peter Skeel, T. H. H. Vaughan, Dr Gerard
Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn (Leeds S) Small, William Wainwright, Richard (Colne V)
Rees, Peter (Dover & Deal) Smith, Cyril (Rochdale) Wakeham, John
Rees-Davies, W. R. Smith, Dudley (Warwick) Walder, David (Clitheroe)
Reid, George Smith, John (N Lanarkshire) Walker, Rt Hon P. (Worcester)
Renton, Rt Hon Sir D. (Hunts) Smith, Timothy John (Ashfield) Walker, Terry (Kingswood)
Renton, Tim (Mid-Sussex) Speed, Keith Walker-Smith, Rt Hon Sir Derek
Rhodes James, R. Spence, John Wall, Patrick
Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon Spicer, Jim (W Dorset) Walters, Dennis
Ridley, Hon Nicholas Spicer, Michael (S Worcester) Ward, Michael
Ridsdale, Julian Sproat, lain Warren, Kenneth
Rifkind, Malcolm Stainton, Keith Watkins, David
Rippon, Rt Hon Geoffrey Stanbrook, Ivor Watt, Hamish
Roberts, Michael (Cardiff NW) Stanley, John Weatherill, Bernard
Roberts, Wyn (Conway) Steel, Rt Hon David Weitzman, David
Rodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks) Steen, Anthony (Wavertree) Wells, John
Rodgers, Rt Hon William (Stockton) Stewart, Ian (Hitchin) Welsh, Andrew
Roper, John Stewart, Rt Hon M. (Fulham) Whitehead, Phillip
Rose, Paul B. Stott, Roger Whitelaw, Rt Hon William
Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight) Stradling Thomas, J. Wiggin, Jerry
Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey) Strauss, Rt Hon G. R. Willey, Rt Hon Frederick
Rost, Peter (SE Derbyshire) Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Royle, Sir Anthony Tapsell, Peter Williams, Alan Lee (Hornch'ch)
Sainsbury, Tim Taylor, Teddy (Cathcart) Williams, Rt Hon Shirley (Hertford)
St. John-Stevas, Norman Temple-Morris, Peter Williams, Sir Thomas (Warrington)
Sandelson, Neville Thatcher, Rt Hon Margaret Wilson, Gordon (Dundee E)
Scott, Nicholas Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery) Wilson, Rt Hon Sir Harold (Huyton)
Scott-Hopkins, James Thomas, Mike (Newcastle E) Wood, Rt Hon Richard
Shaw, Giles (Pudsey) Thompson, George Wrigglesworth, Ian
Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert Thorpe, Rt Hon Jeremy (N Devon) Young, Sir G. (Ealing, Acton)
Shelton, William (Streatham) Tinn, James Younger, Hon George
Shepherd, Colin Tomlinson, John
Shersby, Michael Tomney, Frank TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich) Townsend, Cyril D. Mr. Frank R. White and
Silvester, Fred Trotter, Neville Mr. Ted Graham.
Sims, Roger van Straubenzee, W. R.
Allaun, Frank Foot, Rt Hon Michael Mikardo, Ian
Ashton, Joe Forrester, John Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbrlde)
Atkins, Ronald (Preston N) Fraser, Rt Hon H. (Stafford & St) Miller, Mrs Millie (Ilford N)
Atkinson, Norman Fraser, John (Lambeth, N'w'd) Mitchell, Austin Vernon (Grimsby)
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich) Freeson, Reginald Moate, Roger
Bell, Ronald Fry, Peter Molloy, William
Benn, Rt Hon Anthony (Wedgwood) Garrett, John (Norwich S) Molyneaux, James
Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N) Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend) More, Jasper (Ludlow)
Bidwell, Sydney Gilbert, Dr John Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)
Biffen, John Grocott, Bruce Newens, Stanley
Body, Richard Hamilton, James (Bothwell) Noble, Mike
Booth, Rt Hon Albert Harrison, Rt Hon Walter O'Halloran, Michael
Bradford, Rev Robert Hatton, Frank Orbach, Maurice
Buchan, Norman Heffer, Eric S. Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Budgen, Nick Hooley, Frank Ovenden, John
Butler, Mrs Joyce (Wood Green) Hoyle, Doug (Nelson) Park, George
Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P) Huckfield, Les Pavitt, Laurie
Canavan, Dennis Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Pendry, Tom
Carmichael, Neil Hughes, Roy (Newport) Powell, Rt Hon J. Enoch
Carson, John Hutchison, Michael Clark Prescott, John
Carter-Jones, Lewis Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln) Richardson, Miss Jo
Castle, Rt Hon. Barbara Jeger, Mrs Lena Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock)
Clark, Alan (Plymouth, Sutton) Jenkins, Hugh (Putney) Robinson, Geoffrey
Clemitson, Ivor Kelley, Richard Roderick, Caerwyn
Colquhoun, Ms Maureen Kilroy-Silk, Robert Rodgers, George (Chorley)
Cook, Robin F. (Edin C) Kinnock, Neil Rooker, J. W.
Cowans, Harry Lamble, David Ross, Rt Hon W. (Kilmarnock)
Cox, Thomas (Tooting) Lamond, James Ross, William (Londonderry)
Craigen, Jim (Marvhill) Latham, Arthur (Paddlngton) Sedgemore, Brian
Crowther, Stan (Rotherham) Leadbitter, Ted Shaw, Arnold (llford South)
Cryer, Bob Lee, John Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Cunningham, G. (Islington S) Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough) Short, Mrs Renée (Wolv NE)
Davidson, Arthur Litterick, Tom Silkin, Rt Hon John (Deptford)
Davies, Bryan (Enfield N) Loyden, Eddie Sillars, James
Davis, Clinton (Hackney C) McCartney, Hugh Silverman, Julius
Deakins, Eric McCusker, H. Skinner, Dennis
Dean, Joseph (Leeds West) McDonald, Dr Oonagh Snape, Peter
Dormand, J. D. McElhone, Frank Spearing, Nigel
Eadie, Alex McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C) Spriggs, Leslie
Edge, Geoff McNamara, Kevin Stallard, A. W.
Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun) Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Stoddart, David
Evans, Fred (Caerphilly) Marten, Neil Stokes, John
Evans, loan (Aberdare) Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)
Ewing, Harry (Stirling) Maynard, Miss Joan Taylor, R. (Croydon NW)
Flannery, Martin Meacher, Michael Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Mendelson, John Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)
Thorne, Stan (Preston South) Wilson, William (Coventry SE)
Torney, Tom Winterton, Nicholas TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Walker, Harold (Doncaster) Wise, Mrs Audrey Mr. Max Madden and
Watkinson, John Young, David (Bolton E) Mr. Bryan Gould.
Wellbeloved, James

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[Mr. Snape.]

Committee tomorrow.