§ 33. Mr. Marten
asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he will discuss direct elections with the French Foreign Minister.
§ Mr. Marten
In view of the increasing unpopularity of the Common Market in both Britain and Denmark, would it not be wise—I mean this as a helpful suggestion—for the Common Market to reconsider the whole question of direct elections? Also, in view of the possible enlargement of the Community with Spain, Portugal and Greece, would it not be wise to consider at the same time the real aims of the EEC today?
§ Dr. Owen
I always take questions from the hon. Member as being asked in a most helpful spirit, particularly on EEC matters. I think that a reconsideration has, in fact, occurred in Denmark. The Danes are taking steps towards meeting the May-June 1978 target date. Every Government must try to seek to carry public opinion with them on any aspect of policy, but particularly on direct elections. That is the British Government's view too.
§ Mr. Jay
Would it not be better to clean up the scandal of the common agricultural policy before we wade further into the Brussels quagmire? Is it not wholly disreputable that, with the connivance of the Commission, 30,000 tons of butter has been sold to the Soviet Union at one-quarter of the price at which it is sold in member States in order to make further profits for a French Communist millionaire?
§ Dr. Owen
I have a great deal of sympathy with what my right hon. Friend has said. I made it clear to the House yesterday that this deal can be criticised very strongly on many different grounds. Although my views do not always coincide with those of my right hon. Friend on EEC matters, I have made it clear that where there are grounds for criticism we will criticise.
§ Mr. Henderson
Will the Foreign Secretary accept that we are encouraged by his views about the common fisheries policy and the results that have been achieved to date? What are his views on the Irish Government's proposal to limit, as a conservation measure, fishing within 50 miles—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I think that the hon. Member's supplementary question comes later. We are discussing direct elections.
§ Mr. Jim Spicer
Is the Foreign Secretary aware that there were some initial difficulties on direct elections for the French? Will he confirm that those difficulties have now been removed, and will he indicate at the same time what other member States within the EEC seem to have problems in their approach to direct elections, other than the United Kingdom?
§ Dr. Owen
I believe it is true to say that the constitutional court's ruling leaves the way open for the French Government to put proposals before their Parliament. They have not yet produced these proposals, and it is true that as yet no member State has passed fully the necessary legislation for direct elections. The Government with the most difficulties hitherto appear to be the Danish Government, and they are reconsidering their position. The promised White Paper will cover the question of the electoral system and will make an assessment of the various systems. At the moment, if we follow the Select Committee's proposals, we will be the odd man out. However, there is nothing against that as there is no necessity for a uniform electoral system.
§ Mr. Whitehead
If it is true that the Commission and a French Communist millionaire are making the EEC more unpopular, is that not all the more reason for hastening direct elections? It would be a total mistake for this party, above all others, to turn its back on the elective principle in these matters.
§ Dr. Owen
I believe in democratic Socialism, and I always have done. I have never believed that it is in the tradition of the Labour movement to turn aside from any democratic process. What we wish to ensure is that the democratic process is reflected in a variety of different ways. I would argue that it should be reflected in the decision-making of the Council of Ministers and in discussion on the Common Market in this House. Most hon. Members would agree that a system of nomination of Members of the European Assembly is not wholly appropriate to the full democratic process.
§ Mr. Hurd
May I press the Foreign Secretary on the matter raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, West (Mr. Spicer)? Can he confirm from his own sources the information that was given in an interesting survey in The Times last week that all other EEC countries, including France, now see their way clear to meeting the target date, both politically and legally? If that is so, will the right hon. Gentleman use his best endeavours to bring this matter before the House without further delay and in a form which would turn to practical effect the broad support that the majority of this House would give to the principle of direct elections?
§ Dr. Owen
My right hon. Friend is not keen for me to be pressed too far. I have already indicated that the White Paper will be put before the House in a matter of a few weeks, and I cannot be dragged into the argument any further. The House will then debate and discuss these issues, on which we have not yet had a full discussion. It is perfectly clear that there are differing views on both sides of the House on this matter, which would mean a constitutional change. We need to carry the agreement of the House as a whole, and that is what we intend to do.
§ Mr. Thorpe
Will the Foreign Secretary take comfort from the fact that we shall have a very good debate on this matter, which is one of the very few issues on which the Government are sure of a majority? That is a very happy change.
§ Dr. Owen
I choose my friends with circumspection. I am very fond of the right hon. Gentleman, who is a fellow 360 Devonian Member, but I will look for support from my hon. Friends on my own side of the House. I am prepared to take time to persuade my hon. Friends, even my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), that it is in the interests of what many of them hold very close—proper scrutiny of the Common Market and of the Commission—to have that scrutiny through a properly elected European Assembly.