HC Deb 30 March 1977 vol 929 cc400-3
38. Mr. Arnold

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent discussions he has had with his EEC colleagues on progress towards direct elections.

The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. John Tomlinson)

There has been no recent discussion of direct elections in the Council of Ministers.

Mr. Arnold

Has not grave damage already been caused to Britain's reputation and interests within the EEC by the delay in bringing forward a Bill for consideration by the House? With the possible exception of Belgium, all other countries are well ahead of us in their preparations for direct elections.

Mr. Tomlinson

I do not accept that at all. More damage has been done by Conservative Members being obsessed with the belief that we are doing ourselves damage. The Government's position is clearly understood. In fact, I think that it is more clearly understood by our Continental partners than by Opposition Members.

Mr. Spearing

When the Minister mets his colleagues in the Council, will he make clear that so-called hard-line resistance to the EEC does not encompass opposition to genuine international co-operative measures? Does he agree that no official Government White Paper or statement has outlined any obligation to direct elections at all, and that there is every reason for doubt about this matter?

Mr. Tomlinson

Whereas I agree with the first part of my hon. Friend's observations, I strongly disagree with the second part—

Mr. Spearing

It is a fact.

Mr. Tomlinson

My hon. Friend may have a loud voice but his shouting does not change the fact that implicit in a positive vote in the referendum was a commitment to our treaty obligations, which include direct elections.

Sir A. Meyer

Since the Government's deal with the Liberals irrevocably means a commitment to holding direct elections, will the Minister dispel the unworthy belief that the Government are deliberately postponing a decision on the method of election until it is too late to have any method other than an ignoble kind of gerrymandering to safeguard the Labour Party?

Mr. Tomlinson

That is not even worthy of the hon. Member. It is the Government's intention to publish a White Paper soon and then put the matter to the House.

Mr. Roy Hughes

Does my hon. Friend agree that the British people have no desire to go any further into the quagmire that is the Common Market? They remember the days of the referendum with nostalgia. That was when unemployment was a mere 800,000 and butter was 20p a pound. Unemployment has now reached 1,300,000 and butter is 50p-60p a pound.

Mr. Tomlinson

Much as I admire and respect my hon. Friend, I fear that, even as in the past, his judgment does not accurately reflect that of the people of this country.

Mr. Farr

Will the Minister confirm that there is some perplexity in Britain on the voting pattern in direct elections? Will he explain how anybody can start a system in which the vote of a Member of Parliament from, say, Britain will be worth only one-fifth or one-quarter of a vote by a Member of Parliament from, say, Belgium or Luxembourg in the new directly-elected Assembly? Is that not wrong, and is there not something that the Foreign Secretary can do forthwith in the Council of Ministers before we go wholeheartedly into this scheme?

Mr. Tomlinson

Obviously all matters concerning figures were discussed fully before we entered into our agreement. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman, on reflection, will agree that the figure that he gave suggesting that the vote of a United Kingdom Member will be worth only one-fifth of the vote by a Belgian Member was totally wrong and misleading.

Mr. Jay

Since the subject of direct elections is of major constitutional importance, should there not be a free vote in this House on the principle of direct elections?

Mr. Tomlinson

I note what my right hon. Friend says, but obviously that is a matter for other people than myself.

Mr. John Davies

Does the Minister realise that his reply to his right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) may cause a great deal of confusion, particularly as it conflicts with the robust assertion of the Government's intentions on the whole issue of direct elections? Does he not also appreciate that the Government's unqualified acceptance of the principle of direct elections, enunciated by the Prime Minister, commits the Government beyond all question and should not be subject to subsequent revision?

Mr. Tomlinson

I repeat that that is a matter for other people than myself. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made the position quite clear in his statement to the House.

41 Mr. George Gardiner

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what steps he has taken to ascertain the progress that other EEC member States are making in preparing for direct elections to the European Parliament in May/June 1978; and what has been the outcome of these inquiries.

Mr. Tomlinson

The Government are keeping themselves closely informed of the progress in member States. Some have introduced legislation to adopt the Community agreement on direct elections in accordance with their respective constitutional requirements; but none has yet introduced legislation covering the holding of the elections.

Mr. Gardiner

May not the Minister find himself further behind the preparations of his European colleagues if, in introducing legislation on direct elections, the Labour Government deny the principle of single member representation so as to make enemies of many pro-Europeans, who hitherto have been pledged to support such legislation?

Mr. Tomlinson

No, I do not accept that.

Mrs. Dunwoody

Is not the question of direct elections a matter of monumental unimportance to the European Community? Should we not instead be considering the political implications of the Greek and Portuguese attempts to enter the Community before we bother with any further ridiculous fetishes that will produce a totally unrepresentative Assembly that is incapable of representing the views of the British people?

Mr. Tomlinson

Having answered a number of questions put by my hon. Friend in the European Assembly at Strasbourg, I know her views, but I disagree with her views on this matter as expressed in Westminster as much as I disagree with them when they are expressed abroad.

Mr. Dykes

What are the three main advantages of the PR regional list system of European direct elections?

Mr. Tomlinson

That is a matter for each Member of the House when the proposals emerge.

Mr. Raphael Tuck

A few moments ago the Minister said that it was implicit in the terms on which we joined the Community that there would be direct elections. He did not say that it was explicit. Will he quote any speech or anything in writing from which it can be understood that there shall be direct elections?

Mr. Tomlinson

I should hate to quote from my own speeches, but I can refer my hon. Friend to those if he wishes. If he gave me notice of the question I could find other references as well.

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