§ Question again proposed, That the Bill be now read a Second Time.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ Mr. William Whitelaw (Penrith and The Border)
I can put the Minister of State's mind at rest on one matter—tha he and his Government will not be accused of having rushed this Bill through. They will not be accused of snap decisions. Quite the reverse.
A recital of the history of the Bill makes very sorry reading for the Government and a complete mockery of their claims for urgency now. It also provides proof to our partners in Europe that if Britain fails to meet the target date for direct elections in May-June 1978 the blame will lie entirely on the Government. They will, of course, try to evade their responsibility and, as is their wont, they will blame others for their own failings. But I intend to put the facts accurately on the record.
Fourteen months ago, in September 1976, along with the other Heads of Government in the EEC, the Prime Minister undertook to use his Government's best endeavours to hold direct elections to the European Assembly in May-June 1978. Clearly, at that moment the Prime Minister intended to be as good as his word. In any event, preparations for the necessary Bill must already have been well advanced.
In May 1976, a Select Committee was set up under the chairmanship of the right hon. Member for Dartford (Mr. Irving) to study direct elections to the European Assembly. The Committee produced three reports full of detailed recommendations. It proposed that a very early Bill should be introduced in the overspill of the 1976 Session and that the elections should be held on the first-past-the-post system. Therefore, there can be no doubt that when the Prime Minister gave his undertaking planning for the drafting of 1777 a Bill was already well advanced. Accordingly, its introduction was announced in the Queen's Speech in 1976.
We now know that, once a major political decision had been taken on the system of election, the Bill was neither particularly long nor difficult to draft. Given the necessary ministerial agreement on the principle, it could easily have been ready for introduction before Christmas 1976. But, of course, there was no such ministerial agreement. Instead, there was strong opposition to the introduction of any Bill at all, which led to procrastination—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] —I am glad to have the support of hon. Gentlemen—and delay. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] I am simply pointing out that the Government, who procrastinated and delayed, certainly at the wish of their own supporters, have no right now to come along and tell Parliament "You have got to pass it all very urgently. It has nothing to do with us if we fail to meet the target date in 1978." The Secretary of State knows perfectly well that he is going to try to blame other people if we do not meet the target date in 1978. That is what I will not allow him to do.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Merlyn Rees)
I assure the right hon. Gentleman that it is not in my winding-up speech tonight.
§ Mr. Whitelaw
It may not be, but it can be done afterwards by the right hon. Gentleman or his publicity machine. I know that very well.
Instead of the Bill, we eventually had a White Paper produced as an alibi for decisive action. The White Paper raised again the issues which had been considered by the Select Committee, on which it based its recommendations. Even so, by the time that the White Paper was debated in April this year the Home Secretary could say only that much thought would be needed before legislation. But the Select Committee had already done all the thinking. I suspect that when the right hon. Gentleman made his statement a draft Bill was, already in the pigeonholes of the Home Office.
Thereafter, despite constant promptings from the Opposition, the delay continued to the accompaniment of leaks about ministerial disagreements. Finally, at the 1778 end of June, the Bill appeared, appropriately with a delightful Freudian slip which readPresented by Mr. Secretary Ross",who had, in fact, left the Government some 14 months earlier. Even then, the Bill did not attempt to set out a clear decision on the vital issue of the system of election but, in a most unsatisfactory way, incorporated two alternative systems.
Of course, this constitutional monstrosity could easily have been avoided if the Government had agreed to the suggestion made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon) that the House should be asked to vote on the Select Committee's recommendation for an election on the first-past-the-post system. If that system had been adopted by a majority of the House, it could have been inserted in the Bill. If not, the Bill could have included—without an alternative—the regional list system of proportional representation and, of course, much time would have been saved. As it was, in July the House entered upon the charade of a Second Reading debate of a Bill which could not have got through in the Session and with which the Government had absolutely no intention of proceeding anyway.
Just to complete the absurd farce, the Second Reading of the Bill was actually opposed in the Lobby by six Cabinet Ministers and 26 Ministers, showing how little they were prepared to help the Prime Minister in his best endeavours. The substantial majority of 247 in the Bill's favour was entirely due to the strong support of the Opposition in honouring a commitment to our European partners.
With that history behind him, the Prime Minister had the effrontery to suggest that time now precludes the House from exercising the option on the system of election if the target date is to be met. There is now even talk of an early timetable motion.
The disreputable tactics are laid bare. The Prime Minister will say to his colleagues in Europe "I used my best endeavours, but, of course, the House of Commons denied me the necessary Bill in time." The right hon. Gentleman will then go on to say that it was really the fault of the wicked Tories and of those who wished to exercise a perfectly proper option on the system of election.
§ Mr. Lee
Before the right hon. Gentleman gets his blood pressure worked up any further, will he answer a question? He alluded, in passing, to the question of a timetable motion. In view of the Conservative Party's well-known aversion to timetable motions, which was well and truly demonstrated in the course of the two devolution Bills, may we have an assurance that, if by any chance a timetable motion were introduced in respect of this Bill, the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues would oppose it?
§ Mr. Whitelaw
I was not aware that my blood pressure has risen. But, if that had happened it certainly would not rise again sufficiently to tempt me to answer a totally hypothetical question.
The facts which I have accurately set out expose the Government's assertion for the complete nonsense that it is. Parliament, presented with a constitutional Bill of considerable importance a year later than necessary, must be allowed a genuine choice on an electoral system and a reasonable time for debate. The Government's handling of the Bill and their disreputable tactics need not distract us from the principle behind the Bill.
I support the Bill for two main reasons. First, Britain is a member of the EEC and our membership was endorsed overwhelmingly by a referendum of the British people. We and our partners, through our Heads of Government, agreed that there should be direct elections to a European Assembly, if possible in May or June 1978. I believe that we shall gain more from our membership of the Community and contribute more to it if we enter wholeheartedly into the working of its institutions.
If we were now to draw back from an agreement entered into by our Prime Minister, and if we so frustrated a development supported by all our partners, we should add to the doubts—already too strong—about the genuineness of our commitment to Europe. Surely half-hearted membership and half-hearted acceptance by our partners is certain to give us the worst of every world.
Secondly, it is important for the future of the Community that the European Assembly exercises effective democratic scrutiny over the Commission—and I would say to the Minister of State that 1780 "scruntiny" is the correct world, not "control". There is an important difference between the two. I am convinced that an Assembly composed of delegates from their own national Parliaments will not in the long run succeed in this task. We have already experienced the serious results of the pressures placed on those of our colleagues who seek to serve their constituents in this Parliament and also play their part in the European Assembly.
I know that there are those who will counter these arguments with the view that direct elections to the European Assembly must inevitably lead to a federal Europe. I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) that, though we may disagree profoundly on this issue, as we have done throughout, I personally am as totally opposed to a federal Europe as he and those who think like him are. But, frankly, I fail to follow the logic of their argument. Surely, there will only be a move towards a federal Europe if that is the unanimous wish of the member States of the Community. I can see no evidence of any such desire on the part of the powerful leaders in the Community today.
But one important point arises here, and it was referred to by the Minister of State. It concerns the question of any change in the powers of the Assembly. The hon. Gentleman asked me whether the Opposition agreed with the words of the Prime Minister in his letter to Mr. Ron Hayward. If the Prime Minister was referring to any increase in powers of the Assembly at the expense of national Governments and national Parliaments, most emphatically and with respect I entirely agree with him. But it follows from that that we have to go further than the Minister of State did in describing the Bill.
We must know exactly what the Bill will do and where we stand under previous legislation and this legislation. I do not imagine that anyone is suggesting that we should have another Act of Parliament if the Assembly wished simply to change some of its own procedures. On the other hand, if it were minded to increase its powers at the expense of national Governments or Parliaments, it is unthinkable to anyone that such a change could happen, or could be allowed, without an Act of Parliament 1781 in this House. I should have thought that that was undoubted. If that is the case, it may have to be written into the Bill to make sure that it is so. We ought to know how it will be done and whether, if it be necessary, the Government will introduce a new clause to that effect. No one imagines that it could be otherwise. We simply wish to have it made perfectly clear during the passage of the Bill.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths
Before my right hon. Friend leaves that crucial point, may I say to him that not all of us take the narrowly legalistic view that he and the Minister of State have expressed on this point. If it were to be the case that the Governments of Europe, backed by their Parliaments, were willing to confer upon the European Community greater powers to meet the new challenges that lie ahead of us, that would certainly be an accretion of power to the Community and one that the various Parliaments would have assented to. There is this difference: that if, dynamically, that happens, I hope that our party will support it, even though legally and precisely my right hon. Friend may be right in respect of the powers in the Bill.
§ Mr. Whitelaw
I think that my hon. Friend misunderstands my purpose. I was not seeking to be narrow or legalistic in the matter. If I did not explain myself properly to my hon. Friend, let me try again. If such circumstances as he outlines should arise, making a very clear increase in powers of the Assembly at the expense of national Parliaments and Governments, surely neither he nor anyone else is suggesting that that should not be done by an Act of Parliament here. That is really what I am suggesting, and I should have thought that that was an inevitable fact of life.
I am not saying that a change in the procedures of the Assembly would be something which would affect national Governments or Parliaments, and I should have thought that present procedures were perfectly adequate. But if I we were to go further, to the distance to which my hon. Friend referred, I would have thought that an Act of the House of Commons was inevitable. I cannot see how it could be otherwise.
§ Sir D. Walker-Smith
Perhaps I may invite my right hon. Friend to supple- 1782 ment his reply to my hon. Friend by drawing attention to Article 236 of the Treaty. Any increase in powers of any institution of the Community requires an amendment of the Treaty. That, under Article 236, requires ratification not only by this country but by each of the nine member States according to their constitutional requirements. I think that that makes the position clear.
§ Mr. Whitelaw
I just say "Thank you" to my right hon. and learned Friend. He knows so much more about it than I do that I should not wish to do more than that.
§ Mr. Marten
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way and particularly for what he has said about writing this into the Bill. The reason why many of us like what he has just said is that we fear that under the existing European Communities Act, Section 1 or 2, some extra power might be rustled through under a regulation at midnight with very few Members here. But this makes assurance doubly sure, and I hope that the Government will accept the new clause.
§ Mr. Whitelaw
I now turn to the system of elections. The Minister raises slightly the hackles of an old Chief Whip when he says, grandly, that there will be a free vote in the House of Commons. Frankly, it is not for him to say whether there will be a free vote in the House of Commons. It is a matter for his right hon. Friend the Government Chief Whip and for the Opposition Chief Whip. I have it on the authority of my right hon. Friend the Opposition Chief Whip that we in the Conservative Party will have a free vote on this ocasion. That, perhaps, will answer the hon. Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Mr. Lee) as well.
§ Mr. Whitelaw
I must try to get on. but as the hon. Member for Birmingham, 1783 Handsworth (Mr. Lee) referred to this before I shall allow him to do it again.
§ Mr. Whitelaw
Oh, dear! It can only be that my voice is a good deal softer than is normally the case. If I have failed to penetrate the hon. Gentleman's ears with the phrase "I now turn to the system of elections", on which my subsequent remarks were based, I can only be sorry and, though I do not think it would be the desire of the House, I shall speak a little louder in future.
I must point out to the House that the Government have already missed one simple opportunity to have a decision on the system of election at the earliest possible moment. I still hope that they will seek to do that as soon as they can.
§ Mr. Steel
I do not see why there should be any "of course" about it, but I am grateful. I respond to the right hon. Gentleman's politeness.
He was making the point earlier, and he has returned to it, that what he is really saying is that the Government should have decided or asked the House to decide on the method of the election before we had decided on whether we would have elections at all. As he earlier has refused to answer hypothetical questions about how we all vote on certain things, what an impossible position that would have made for the House.
§ Mr. Whitelaw
I do not think so, because, after all, it was well announced in advance that we were seeking to meet the target date and that the Prime Minister would use his best endeavours. Therefore, the Government were announcing a Bill on direct elections. I remind the right hon. Gentleman that a Select Committee of the House was set up to consider the question of direct elections. I was suggesting that when the Select Committee had reported, including reporting 1784 on the system that might be adopted, the House should move to consideration of the report and a vote on it. That was a reasonable proposition. However, the House did not do that, and now—
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
What my hon. Friend was saying was that, even if we had voted, when we came to the Bill itself we could not have bound the House before the matter was debated.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. Perhaps the right hon. Member will allow me to intervene for a moment. It is unfair of the House to trespass on the innate kindness of the right hon. Member, who always gives way. I know that he wants to get on with his speech, and he ought to be allowed to do so.
§ Mr. Whitelaw
Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I was trying to say to the right hon. Gentleman that if the House had made such a decision, at least there would have been a reasonable presumption. It would have been sufficient to put the system which they had supported into the Bill as the main system, without another alternative, as has been done in the present circumstances. I should have thought that that was a sensible proposition.
After all, if the House had decided on a first-past-the-post system in voting on the Select Committee's report, there is at least a good likelihood—I should not go so far as to say a presumption—that it would vote the same way on the next occasion, although I could never be sure of that. However, the Government did not do that, so I return to the whole question of the system of elections.
I want to make one major point about this. I do not accept that the choice of the system will make nearly as much difference in regard to meeting the target date for elections as the Minister of State on this occasion and the right hon. Gentleman on previous occasions have said. I wish to make clear why I believe that to be so.
First, I am certain that the difficulties of settling constituency boundaries for a 1785 first-past-the-post system have been greatly exaggerated. I understand some of the points that have been made by the Minister of State and the right hon. Gentleman, but I still maintain that some of the work that has been done by my hon. Friend the Member for Blaby (Mr. Lawson) and by the hon. Member for Farnworth (Mr. Roper) would provide the basis for a sensible discussion of constituency boundaries.
However, I think that the next point is much more important. The Minister of State said that the boundaries under the regional list system are secured in the Bill. That is an interesting point. Does that mean that the boundaries are automatically acceptable as they stand and that there cannot be any arguments on or amendments to them? I cannot see how that can be the case.
Let me give an example. The composition of the South-East Region of England to include Hampshire, Kent, Oxfordshire and the Isle of Wight will lead to considerable controversy and discussion. The hon. Gentleman and others delude themselves if they do not accept that to be a fact. Nor, indeed, must I leave the hon. Gentleman and the Government in any doubt. I might fight a lone battle, but I do not think so. As a Cumbrian Member of Parliament, I do not accept for one second the idea of Cumbria being included, for this purpose, or, indeed, for most other purposes, in the North of England. I should much prefer to be in the North-West, and I have said so on many occasions. I am entitled to my view, just as any other Member of Parliament is entitled to his, and I shall continue to argue it.
§ Mr. Whitelaw
Yes. I am just pointing out to the right hon. Gentleman that I do not believe that the method of a regional list system is all that much easier than first past the post. I am surprised that the Government pin so much of their argument in favour of the regional list system on the speed of that system. I do not think that that is the case.
To sum up, now that the Bill has been delayed for so long by the Government's failures and vacillations I cannot accept that a decision in favour of a 1786 regional list system will automatically enable us to meet the target date or that a decision favouring first past the post will inevitably mean delay. But, whatever the rights and wrongs of that argument, the Government, after all their own delays, owe it to Parliament to give us a free and unfettered choice on the system of election. Therefore, we should make up our minds about our view of the best system of election on the merits of the case rather than in response to what I fear is in danger of becoming a bogus ultimatum.
Tonight, we are deciding on the principle of the Bill. I maintain that the effective functioning of the EEC will depend on a European Assembly which has some effective scrutiny of the bureaucratic functioning of the Commission. Of course, Heads of Government and the Council of Ministers, answerable to their own national Parliaments, have the final and overriding responsibility. But a democratic check on the Commission must be in the interests of the member States. Only a directly-elected Assembly can effectively provide that, as the years of working under the delegated Member arrangements have proved.
We in the Conservative Party have consistently supported the cause of a strong and prosperous European Community. A vote in favour of the principle of this Bill will show that we are standing firm by that conviction. Therefore, whatever may be the double standards and muddle of the Government, I ask my right hon. and hon. Friends to give overwhelming support to the Bill in the Lobby tonight.
§ 4.57 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)
The Minister of State was justified in saying that, as a constitutional measure of the utmost importance, the Bill deserves the protracted attention of this House. We have already learned in other contexts the punishment which attends upon passage of legislation of a constitutional character without the opportunity to consider the implications maturely in the form of a Bill, because those implications often do not appear at first sight or, indeed, until this House has gained a considerable acquaintance with the nature of what is proposed.
We have the advantage from previous debates that the House approaches this 1787 decision with the full knowledge that it is sovereign in the matter. I hope that I can use that word, at least in this context, without arousing controversy. It has been made clear that, although Article 138 of the Treaty of Rome envisages an Assembly directly elected, it is not that Assembly thus envisaged which is proposed in this Bill. Whatever view may be taken of the implications of Section 138—in the last resort, those implications can be decided only politically and not legally—we are not here bound to what is proposed in the Bill either by the referendum result or by our adherence to the Treaty.
What is proposed in the Bill is admitted on all hands to be a step agreed upon in the European Council by the Heads of State, but by the Government of this country expressly ad referendum to this House, whose sovereignty in the matter was admitted repeatedly by the Prime Minister himself to be untrammelled; and there can be no question but that that has been made clear to our colleagues in the European Community.
At all the stages of this discussion, much has been heard about a federal Europe, about whether this is a step towards a federal Europe, about whether those who oppose it are opponents of federalism while those who urge it desire a federal Europe. I believe that these words "federal" and "federalism" are rather unfortunate in speaking of the way in which the Community may develop under the Treaty of Rome, for it is quite clear from the nature of that Treaty that it will not develop into a federation in the sense of a State whose component parts have vested, guaranteed, inherent rights assured to them under the constitution. The intention of the Treaty of Rome, as writ large in the Treaty and declared by those who created it and those who sustain it, is political union in Europe. I will not sharpen that into "a unitary State"; but we all understand quite clearly what is meant, and it is something which, by its nature, is inconsistent with—in the terms of the Prime Minister—"the preservation of the rights of national Governments and Parliaments."
The question to which we should address ourselves is the relationship of 1788 this measure to political unification in the European Economic Community.
It seems to me that those who argue that question in terms of the future, as if it were a matter of speculation, have failed to understand the implication of direct elections. This Bill is itself a declaration that the European Community not only is intended to be, but is already, a political unit. Unless that is so, and unless that is intended, there is no possible meaning or justification of direct elections.
At present those who go to the European Assembly upon the nomination of this House go as representatives of the United Kingdom. They go as national representatives and they sit there along-side other representatives of their respective nations and national Parliaments.
§ Mr. Russell Johnston (Inverness)
Will the right hon. Member agree that hon. Members who go to the European Assembly do not go only as persons nominated by this House, but as representatives of the parties in this House?
§ Mr. Powell
The point that I am making is not in the least degree affected by that. Those who sit here as representatives of our constituencies also sit here as representatives of our respective parties, and we only get elected—or most of us do—because of the party connotation under which we present ourselves to our electorate. Similarly, those who, if this Bill passes, will go to the directly elected Assembly will not go as representatives of or from the United Kingdom, but as representatives of or from their respective constituencies, and they will sit in the European Parliament alongside the representatives of constituencies in all the other component States of the Community to take decisions by majority vote.
There is only one meaning and only one sense in an Assembly derived from the electorate of the entire Community which takes its decisions by majority vote: that is, that the electorate is an entity, not the sum of the national electorates of the respective States, but the electorate of the Community, just as it is the electorate of the United Kingdom which forms the basis of this House.
If that were not so, if this were still to be an Assembly of national representatives, there would be no point whatever in their behaving as a democratic 1789 Assembly arriving at its decisions by a majority vote.
So if we pass this Bill and agree to participate in a directly elected Assembly, we shall have confirmed on behalf of the United Kingdom that we accept the political unity of the EEC as a real and living fact. As soon as the decision is taken, that implication, however obscure or difficult it may appear at the moment, will immediately become as clear as daylight, and we shall be told on all hands that we must have understood what we were doing, and that the very fact of our agreeing to direct elections was a confirmation of the will to political union on the part of the Parliament of the United Kingdom.
From that deduction it would follow that we would be morally and logically committed to follow through the consequences of political union. If we take this step, we are so committed already. That is why the Minister was justified in calling this a step of the utmost constitutional importance, for by it we recognise our electorate as being no more than a segment of this new State or unit—call it what you will—this political union of the EEC.
We were all interested to hear what the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw) said about the entrenched limitation of the existing powers of the Community. Certainly it is something to know that these powers, on the undertaking of the Government and the confirmation of the Opposition, will not be formally extended by a simple resolution under Section 1 of the 1972 Act, but will require legislation of this House—full legislation in all its stages, with or without the guillotine. But I would have thought that logic went a step further, and that the action we are taking under this Bill ought to be made conditional upon the existing powers of the Community, so that our safeguard would be, not merely a substitution of a one-clause Bill for a regulation but the necessity for the country to rethink the principle of direct elections itself if they are to be to an Assembly with powers legally extended by treaty.
I inserted that last qualification for a very important reason. We have been told again this afternoon that the Assembly is consultative, supervisory, advisory and the rest. The Assembly, 1790 under the Treaty of Rome, has certain powers as well. One of these is to accept or reject the Community budget. Another is to dismiss the Commission.
I am not sure it is necessary to have any Treaty alteration whatsoever in order for a directly elected Assembly of the Community to obtain powers de facto which are very comparable with those of this House. After all, although there are resolutions and even an occasional Act of Parliament as milestones along the way, from the first resolution during the time of Henry V, from which our financial competence and sovereignty are derived, it was not from resolutions or legislation or concessions obtained by legislation that the powers of this House grew until we became the supreme body of this realm. It came from the very practical consequences of our holding the purse strings and from the necessity of carrying a majority in this House. These are the conventions, growing up over the years, which have subordinated the Executive to this House and, through the House, to those whom we represent.
So we should not talk about the powers of the Assembly in a merely legalistic fashion, deriving them from a superficial interpretation of the Treaty of Rome. We should not flatter ourselves that these powers are circumscribed or limited, and that they will remain exactly as they are at present unless and until we and eight other Parliaments decide otherwise. It will not be so. The moment that the right to reject the budget or to dismiss the Commission is in the hands of those who sit in the Assembly by the same right as we sit here, it will be found that those are very far-reaching powers indeed. It will be found that the Assembly has become a body which the Commission will have to obey—whatever the forms under which it obeys—and it will be a body which the Council of Ministers will be unable to defy.
The Prime Minister talked of "the rights of national Governments and Parliaments." What are the rights of Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom? They are the rights which are derived from representation in this House. They are the rights of speaking for the United Kingdom which we here confer. Those are the rights of the Government of this country. But if this Bill ever passes, those rights will be 1791 critically diminished. After this Bill is passed, it will not be we in this House, the national Parliament, who, on matters concerning the EEC, will confer a mandate or give the authority to the Government Front Bench.
§ Mr. Powell
Yes, it will be the people, but the people of the United Kingdom as a small segment, a small minority, of the totality of the people of the European Economic Community. Therefore, I hope that I have the hon. Gentleman with me and against the Prime Minister, presumably, in my assertion that the rights of this national Parliament and this national Government will be ipso facto critically diminished by direct elections.
In the last resort we should not decide this question on any narrow consideration either because we have been boxed in by past actions or votes or because we imagine that the consequences of what we are doing can be limited by formal undertakings or provisions which may be introduced into this Bill. We can only properly answer this question according to whether we individually in our hearts still wish to retain the rights of the Government and Parliament of this country.
Our vote is about nothing less than that, about the continued existence of the United Kingdom as a politically independent nation. Indeed, it will be for or against United Kingdom nationhood itself. We should fall below ourselves if we were to decide this question on any narrower basis.
§ 5.13 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Stewart (Fulham)
The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), to whom we listen with great respect, began by arguing that we were not under any obligation to the Community to pass this Bill and that this House retained its own sovereignty. That is not in dispute because we have the power to say yes or no. But it is also indisputable that any nation which signed the Treaty of Rome and entered the Community knew that the relevant clauses in the treaty envisaged beyond doubt a directly elected Parliament. If the arguments advanced by the right hon. Gentleman about the consequences of a directly 1792 elected Parliament are correct, they would have been as clear to people then as they are now.
I know that it was left to be agreed among the nations concerned what the form of election would be, but I say again, as I have said in earlier debates, that for any nation to enter the Community and to sign the treaty and then to say "We will be not only particular about the form of direct elections but will set ourselves to oppose any kind of direct elections" would be a piece of sharp practice. It would be entering into a commitment which one had no intention of concluding.
One must accept that there is undoubtedly a moral obligation to be co-operative towards direct elections. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Yes, because that follows from membership of the Community. We are all entitled to our opinion. Those who now shout "No" have not been all that infallible in the past.
§ Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)
I have in my hand the "Yes" case for the referendum and the Government White Paper published at that time. Will my right hon. Friend say where one finds reference to any obligation to direct elections in either document?
§ Mr. Stewart
No. there is not one. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] Any hon. Member who takes the trouble to read the Treaty of Rome will find this in Article 138. Moreover, at every meeting I have addressed I have referred to the question of direct elections. I think that generally the audience thought that direct elections were a good idea. I mentioned this when I was able to make myself heard over the organised rowdies who were sometimes to be found on the other side.
§ Mr. Stewart
It was time that these points were made clear. We who believe in the European concept have had to put up with every kind of abuse including charges of bad faith. There are a number of things to be said on the other side.
We are under a moral obligation to co-operate with Europe in a directly-elected Assembly. Europe has been discussing this matter for years. We cannot go on 1793 for ever saying that we can find a better way of handling the matter. A convention has been worked out which has satisfied all the Governments of the Nine. It has satisfied one Parliament after another in those countries.
I took the right hon. Gentleman's further point to be that direct elections must inevitably lead to a union of Europe and to Britain becoming part of the European State, whether that State be unitary or federal. I do not believe that is so. The point has been made and not controverted that one should not increase the powers of the Community as against the powers of national Governments without seeking to alter the treaty, which requires the assent of the Parliaments of the Nine. One can get nine countries to work in closer and closer agreement on many matters and that is what the Community is now doing. It is not a federation or a union, but a community. It is a new animal in the political sense.
Many of the arguments people try to adduce from earlier political forms do not apply today. A group of nine sovereign nations have agreed to act together more closely than nine nations have ever agreed to do before. But one cannot slip into a federation unaware. A decision by a country to cease to be a sovereign State and become part of a larger State, whether unitary or federal is a decision which cannot be made inadvertently. On those occasions when it has been done it has been done deliberately and with the eyes open. It is rarely done in history, but when it is done it must be done in full knowledge. Any idea that by passing this Bill we shall find ourselves on a slippery slope that will land us in a position where we have lost our sovereignty without knowing it will not stand up. It does not make sense.
I think that the time will come when the nations of Western Europe will be one State, but I do not expect to live to see it. I think that in the end it would be a desirable development, but it cannot come about until the people of Western Europe have the definite will to that end. If they have the will, they will pass the necessary legislation, but that will be a decision that they will make and a distinctly different decision from that which we are making today. Therefore, the idea that we are opening the door to 1794 federation or a unitary State by passing this Bill is bogus. It will not stand up logically or historically.
Let me concede this to those who are worried about Europe becoming more and more united. Anyone who considers the history of Europe in this century might be glad to see that. However, if we have a directly-elected Parliament the public will be able to see their own European candidate and vote for or against him. The public will become more aware of the nature and working of the Community, and that will make the public more willing to consider closer co-operation between the European States. It might not be so It might be—as some of my hon. Friends argue—that the more that the public sees of the Community the less it will like it, but I doubt that. To that extent, we may be moving towards closer union because the election campaigns, through their effect on public opinion, will make us more European-minded and nobody could possibly object to that. If that is the way that people react, and if they want closer co-operation with other European countries, they are entitled to have it. I am prepared to wait upon the issue.
Direct elections will help people to understand Europe better and to want closer European co-operation. I am glad to see that we are at last embarked upon a Bill that can get us there. The Government have taken a long time. The Minister said today that it was now difficult to say anything new on this subject. However, I understand that the Home Secretary is to reply to the debate tonight and there is one new thing that he could say. He could answer the question that I have put four times and to which I have not yet received an answer. It is an extremely simple question.
If we were to choose the first-past-the-post system, would it be possible for elections to be held in May or June 1978? Something that the Prime Minister said recently gave us to understand that the answer to that question might be "No", but we should like to hear that stated categorically. Will the Home Secretary also not make his answer just a catalogue of so many weeks to do this and that, because nobody can be sure of the date from which he has started? Will he answer the perfectly simple question 1795 whether, in his judgment, it will be possible to hold elections in May or June 1978 if we adopt the first-past-the-post system? That is a legitimate question.
Some people do not like proportional representation or direct elections. They will have no difficulty. They will vote for the first-past-the-post system because they will hope that that will delay the elections. Those who like both proportional representation and the idea of European elections will vote for proportional representation. Many people, like me, who do not like proportional representation but who are much concerned about the evil results of delay are entitled to know where we stand. I hope that at this fifth time of asking the Home Secretary will answer.
One reason for direct elections is to enable the work of European Members to be done properly. While I was a European Member I did the best that I could. I greatly admire the work that was done by my hon. Friends who were European Members as well as by those from the other place who had the advantage of not having the distractions that we have in carrying out their European duties. However, it is a great burden to be a representative here and in Europe and to do the work as it should be done.
I now come to the matter of increased powers for the Assembly. One thing is certain, and that is that the Assembly's influence will be increased by direct elections simply because Members there will be able to devote the whole of their energies to the job, in the way that the present representative in two Parliaments cannot possibly do. We shall find entering the European Parliament people who will be considerable figures in European public life. The Commission and the Council of Ministers will not be able to brush them off.
That will be a valuable development because there are two respects in which the directly-elected representative can inject into the Community something that is badly wanted. One is a measure of common sense. That would be an antidote to the tendency towards harmonisation for harmonisation's sake. That is a malady that is always likely to afflict the staff of the Commission. The concept, for example, of European beer has 1796 now been abandoned, and not long ago there was a burning-up of several unnecessary projects. There are some people who, if one mentions any subject in the world to them, feel that we must discuss the European dimension. That is why sometimes the Commission in Brussels is overloaded with too many projects at once.
An hon. Member knows how the public feel and that sort of thing tends to make him impatient, to make him want to cut away unnecessary stuff and concentrate on essentials. Many of us have been saying that for some time. Directly-elected Members in Europe will be able to say that with greater force and emphasis.
The other matter in which there will be an improvement will be in the representation of the interests of consumers. The Commission, almost by its nature, is besieged by particular pressure groups, usually groups of producers. The same is true of Governments. It is true that democratic Governments are elected, but any Government is inclined to be worried about what it must do to deal with impressive lobbies of producers. The individual hon. Member is much more likely to voice the view of the consumer because he has to appeal to people as citizens, not merely as producers.
This will be even more true in the larger constituencies of the European Parliament because, although some constituencies that return hon. Members to this House are associated almost entirely with one industry or group of producers, the same cannot be true of the larger constituencies of the European Assembly. No one producer's interest could dominate such an election, and the man who wants to win the favour of the public will have to speak to them as citizens. The public may produce all sorts of things, but it is entirely made up of consumers who are interested in prices, in avoiding monopolies, in the proper description of goods and value for money. That is an interest that has never yet spoken loudly enough in the Community—although I am glad that, thanks to some of my hon. Friends, we can claim credit for having managed to make that voice louder in recent years. Directly-elected Members, with the time and energy that they can give to their work, will be able to inject the consumers' voice into the Community.
1797 I return to a point that was made earlier and that is the effect of holding an election. Our country is still far too insular. That is a point that one notices when one comes into contact with European colleagues. We are still far too inclined to think that we know the right answers to everything. The younger generation is less subject to that fault than the older one, but when Europe is discussed on election platforms and when the best way of looking after British interests in Europe is considered—and that does not simply mean digging our heels in and making the hardest bargains that we can—that will involve considering how to get on good terms of understanding with our fellow Europeans. That will introduce into our politics a better-informed, larger and more generous dimension. For that reason, and the many others that I have mentioned, I shall support the Bill tonight.
§ Mr. Marten
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The right hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. Stewart) has, as always, made a most interesting speech. However, it became confusing when he mentioned Members of Parliament because it was difficult to understand whether he meant Members here or there. As the Bill is concerned with the European Assembly, could we please refer to Members in Europe as Members of the Assembly rather than as Members of Parliament? That would help clarity.
§ Mr. Stewart
I must admit that I sometimes used the phrase "Member of Parliament" when I should have said "Member of the Assembly", but it was clear from the context which I was referring to.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Julian Amery (Brighton, Pavilion)
I start by congratulating the Leader of the House on bringing forward this debate immediately after the five days that we have spent debating devolution. In that time we have talked about what will happen if we devolve powers from this Parliament to a subordinate Assembly. Now, we are talking about giving powers to an external Assembly.
Nothing has been more interesting than the diversity of view that has emerged in the devolution debates on where devolution will lead. Some believe that it will 1798 lead to separatism; others that it is the only way to preserve the integrity of the country. Some see it as the first step towards a federal solution. The prospect of involvement in an external Assembly is even more obscure. We have far fewer precedents to guide us than we have with devolution. We cannot tell whether it will lead to federation, confederation, union, or some other system.
In my judgment, there are imperatives which lead us to take the step proposed in the Bill. When I first joined the European Movement on its foundation in 1946, I was a great believer in what later came to be called a Europe of States. I would like to say why. At that time, the old British Commonwealth, with the later addition of India, Pakistan and Ceylon, seemed an extremely effective political force in the world, even though it was based only on intergovernmental operations.
Yet when I look back, I wonder whether the Commonwealth system might not have endured a good deal longer if there had been a Commonwealth Assembly of some kind. Of course, we had the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, with delegations from Commonwealth Parliaments, but if we had had an elected Commonwealth Assembly, would we not have created on a broader base that Commonwealth patriotism which existed only among a fairly élite section of all the Commonwealth countries?
Since then, we have had the Europe of States, that I wanted to see for some years, and it has been a great disappointment. There have been great crises in East-West relations, in the Middle East and Southern Africa, and there has been the world recession. But we have to confess that, whatever solutions we should like to have seen to these problems, the voice of Europe has counted for very little. As I go on my travels, whether in America, the Middle East or the Far East, I am conscious of the impotence of the nation-State of Britain and the indifference that most people have for the opinions of the European Community which are not clear and are not made manifest.
Is it possible to correct this? We have to ask ourselves—what is an Assembly? It has a double function. One is to scrutinise the executive actions of the 1799 Council of Ministers and the Commission, but that is not the most important function. I have been in the House for nearly 25 years and I judge that what we have done in the scrutiny of legislation has been less important than what we have done in the expression of opinion in expressing the opinions of the public whom we represent or m the leadership that we have given to public opinion.
The most important function of an Assembly is to express and lead opinion. However restricted the powers of the European Assembly may be, it can play a very important part in the formation of opinion.
There is not in the mass of our people or in the mass of people in any European country the European patriotisrn that is necessary if Europe is to emerge—in a confederal, federal, inter-State, Union or any other system—as a coherent force in a world dominated by super-Powers.
I do not believe that we can any longer create this European patriotism simply by agreement between Governments. That could be done in the age of princes and the strong Governments that we knew even between the wars; but today we have to carry the people with us, and I do not see how this is to be done except by direct elections that bring the man in-the-street into direct contact with the conduct of European affairs and make him think as a European.
Joseph Chamberlain, of whom the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) and I have recently written, once said that he wanted his countrymen to "think imperially". We now want them to think not just as British subjects but as Europeans. I can think of no other way of bringing this about than by having them cast votes for a European Assembly candidate who will be answerable to them and will be able to educate them and tell them about the problems facing that Assembly.
The system of election is a secondary consideration; but I believe that we would be wise, at the outset, to use the first-past-the-post system that we know. This is what the country understands, and the process of conversion to proportional representation, even if it were right—I have grave doubts about that—would be something new for people to understand.
1800 Another reason in favour of the first-past-the-post system is that it has been quite clear in the House that our views on Europe cut right across parties. There is no Labour Party or Conservative Party view. I am not even sure that there is a Liberal Party view. Candidates must be personally answerable, and not answerable for a non-existent policy of their party. They must be able to justify what they stand for personally.
I return to my original question. Where will all this lead? Nothing is more natural than for politicians, whose tenure of office is limited, to try to anticipate events and impose a pattern on the way that history will develop. But nothing is more foolish than to try to foreclose options that are open and that will grow in their own way.
We are dealing with very ancient nations who are making a conscious and deliberate effort to come together. This is not something to be compared with the 13 colonies of the United States, or the constituent parts of Canada or Australia. This Europe will grow in its own unpredictable way. I suggest that it will develop and leave behind it constitutional forms that are not federal or confederal, but rather something that we do not yet know about, but which, with God's blessing, will give it the strength to help it go on and preserve that European civilisation, which is what we want it to do.
§ 5.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Russell Johnston (Inverness)
I am happy to follow the speech of the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery). Clearly, we have many differences of view about many of the productions that we wish to see produced on this stage, but I think that we are agreed about the stage on which they should be produced.
The House might well expect my right hon. Friend the Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe) to be involved in this debate but, regrettably, he has had to take his son to hospital. I make a personal point on his behalf to obviate any questions that might otherwise have been raised about his absence.
Inevitably, in a short contribution, which it must be because so many hon. Members wish to speak, we are required to make some reference to the logical consequences of Community membership as we see it, but I do not propose to 1801 embark on arguments about the validity of that membership or its continuance. The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), to whom I shall refer throughout my speech, stated in the debate on 7th July 1977So, of course, this is a debate about British membership of the EEC. We cannot help that."—[Official Report, 7th July 1977; Vol. 934, c. 1479.]He did not pursue that matter much today, but I say to him "Yes, we can help that." This is not a debate about British membership of the European Community. It is a debate about whether and in what ways we wish to change the characteristics of one of the institutions of the Community of which we are members. Specifically, it is a debate about whether we wish to see representatives from this country who will in future go to the European Assembly or Parliament—I do not want to argue about what it should be called—either nominated by the parties as they are now, or directly elected, and, if they are to be directly elected, how they are to be elected.
The form of the elections is not only the most controversial matter facing us this evening but one which will, I suspect, determine our ability to meet the deadline set out in the agreement of the Council of Ministers and the Government of 20th September 1976. I wish to spend most of my time today on that, but I also feel that on Second Reading it would be wrong not to deal to some degree with the principle of whether we should have direct elections at all. In this regard the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) quoted, in the last debate on this subject, on 7th and 8th July 1977, a Labour Party National Executive Committee document, which to me seems to present the most coherent and cogent argument against having direct elections that I have been able to find. Therefore, it is appropriate to quote it.
The hon. Gentleman read the following paragraph: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."—[Official Report, 7th July 1977: Vol. 934, c. 1469.]1802 That is the argument as I understand it. The trouble with that argument and my attempt to refute it is that I agree with it. That is the basic problem. I want that to happen and I agree that it would be desirable if it happened. I am not against political union.
There is a second and equal problem, in that this is a variant of the basic argument about being in the Community at all. Some people argue that anything that makes the Community better or progresses it is undesirable. I do not want to pursue that now, because I suspect that it is an increasingly theological argument.
The third point, which was made by the Minister of State at the beginning of the debate, is that the European Assembly or Parliament is an advisory Assembly. It is very important to emphasise this to all those who may be suspicious, doubtful or hesitant about this matter. It is an advisory Assembly and will remain an advisory Assembly, whether or not I want it to remain so, for as long as the Council of Ministers fails to reach unanimous agreement that it should have different powers. I shall return to this in connection with remarks made by the right hon. Member for Down, South. However, that is the situation. Those are the facts, and I ask hon. Members not to omit them.
§ Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe)
Does the hon. Member agree that there is tremendous pressure in the Assembly for majority voting, and that those who are honest and straightforward in their attitude towards direct elections say that one reason why they want direct elections is that they want to move as fast as pussible towards majority voting, so that when directives come before the Assembly they can be accepted in their entirety?
§ Mr. Johnston
I accept that. But no change in the principles of the operation of the existing rules can be undertaken without the unanimous agreement of the Council of Ministers.
§ Mr. Johnston
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be brief, because I know that Mr. Speaker has asked for short speeches.
§ Mr. Dykes
I agree that the hon. Gentleman is correct in saying that it would be impossible to have additional powers without the unanimous agreement of the Council of Ministers. Does he agree that it needs only one of the member States to produce a clause opposing the granting of such powers, as the French have done, for there to be full protection and a double protection against their being given without a unanimous decision of the Council of Ministers?
§ Mr. Johnston
I had intended to refer to the French situation and the French constitution, but I no longer need to do so. An advisory Assembly concerned to give advice on board policy must base that advice on political considerations, because it will be concerned with the resolution of national claims in a fair fashion. I do not want to make an argument about the EEC, but the basic argument is that one is essentially trying to work out fair solutions to problems that individual countries cannot deal with by themselves. It is a question of whether we do it that way or leave it to jungle competition.
The matter requires the involvement of political interests in an evidently just fashion and of the public at large, which does not happen now, in the knowledge that they can control this exercise of influence, as they do not now. Therefore, they should concern themselves with what happens and knowingly exert pressure. That is the great gap at present. We have Members of the European Parliament—I am one and the hon. Member for Crewe (Mrs. Dunwoody) is another—but the public at large barely know what we are doing, however much we may individually try to convey to them that we are there, because we are not directly responsible to them and they do not feel any direct relationship between what we do and what they may wish us to do.
§ Mr. Johnston
I am speaking for myself—I cannot do otherwise. I am therefore arguing that the Bill will give the British people the opportunity to exercise influence, and an interest in doing so, that they do not at the moment have.
Again I turn to the right hon. Member for Down, South because, if he will per- 1804 mit me, I intend to use him in some degree as a foil. In the debate on 7th July 1977, he said:Does anyone imagine that 81 persons elected by either of these grotesque methods—the two methods proposed by the Government—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 decision of the Common Market?—[Official Report, 7th July 1977; Vol. 934, c. 1479.]That is the argument that he puts. That is the argument which leads me directly to the question of systems of election.
First, the Parliament has no capacity or ability in any way whatever to arrogate power to itself. That is not possible without the agreement of the Council of Ministers, representing individual Governments. Secondly, if one is talking about the capacity of individual people to exert influence in the increasingly complex world in which live, if they are able to elect persons directly to a European Parliament I contend that this gives them another dimension of influence. To suggest, as the right hon. Member for Down, South appears to do, that they should have influence through Ministers is, in my view, not enough.
The House is faced with two alternative propositions. The first is the regional list, which ensures rough party proportionality, but with individuals at the lower end of the list owing perhaps more to the party itself than to themselves for their election. The second proposition is the traditional first-past-the-post system in 81 huge constituencies.
The arguments against the first-past-the-post system are, first, that it would produce wild distortions of political representation. That point has already been thoroughly made by many hon. Members. Secondly, it would delay the whole exercise. The right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. White-law) argued that, in some way that I must confess I do not quite understand, it was possible quickly to reach agreement on 81 constituencies but that the regions as proposed were highly controversial and in his own experience and 1805 knowledge Penrith and The Border was not in the proper region. I do not think that his argument stands up.
A decision in favour of a regional list would enable us to meet the deadline to which this country, through the Government, is committed—this, after all, is the point that the right hon. Member for Down, South made. To those who say that it does not matter if there is delay, that it does not really matter whether the elections are in May or June 1978, or in October 1978 or in June 1979, I say that it does matter, and that it matters very much. I remember very well when I went as a delegate, a nominate, to the European Parliament in January 1973.
§ Mr. Johnston
I am quite prepared to call it an Assembly if that is what the hon. Gentleman wants me to do. The fact that I am trying to persuade him to my view admittedly shows the triumph of hope over experience. Nevertheless I propose to proceed in my efforts.
§ Mr. Douglas Hurd (Mid-Oxon)
The hon. Gentleman has made a statement which the Prime Minister has refrained from making—that if we accepted the regional list system we would meet the timetable. What assumptions is the hon. Gentleman making about the number of days in Committee on this Bill, the date it goes to the Lords, when it comes back from the Lords, and the date of Royal Assent, given that the Government have refused to give priority to the Bill?
§ Mr. Johnston
I do not think it appropriate for me to be drawn into these details. I wish to conclude in a short time. If the House were happy that I should speak for an hour, that would be fine, but the House would not be happy. It would not be fair for me to go into such detail.
I will simply say that when I went to the Assembly in 1973, the great thing that struck me was that all the Europeans were saying how wonderful it was that the British were there, because they were bringing a great and long valuable experience of democracy. I cannot emphasise too strongly to those who feel that the national interest is the important thing, 1806 and the only important thing, that the British national interest in the European Community will be severely damaged if Britain is the means of delaying these direct elections.
§ Mr. Johnston
They have agreed already to a national list, and to go ahead with the matter. That is fundamentally important. I personally do not believe that there is such a thing as the national interest in the proper sense of the word. What is it? Is it British Leyland? Is it the textile industry?
It seems to me extraordinary that the right hon. Member for Down, South, who is smiling seraphically or demoniacally behind me, should talk so much in these debates, and will probably do so in the debates ahead, about the national interest and at the same time talk about the United Kingdom national interest in a situation in which we are talking deeply about devolution and the fact that that national interest, even on a geographical basis far less than a sectional basis, is by no means a unified thing.
I think that it is not a question of national interest but of human interest, of what is the fair thing to do. If one thinks in terms solely of national or sectional interest, one is liable to reduce one's chances of getting fair treatment for whatever problems one has.
In turning to the question of the regional list proposition, again I quote from the right hon. Member for Down, South. In his speech on 7th July he said: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.Later, he said: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 in the very essence of this place, no nexus between the person elected and those who elected him, no ascertainable channel of responsibility."—[Official Report, 7th July 1977; Vol. 934, c. 1475–6]I know perfectly well that the theory of this place is that people vote not for parties but for persons. The right hon. Gentleman has properly enunciated this proposal, but the reality that hon. Members know is that the vast majority of the British electorate engaged in the British General Election vote for party 1807 labels, they vote for idiots, dolts and clots—[Interruption.]—because they have the appropriate label hanging round their necks. That shows that, whatever the fine and democratic theory, the majority of people in this country give priority to a furtherance of a broad interest, which is what a party interest is, rather than simply the furtherance of a very good individual. I am sorry, but that is a fact. The right hon. Gentleman may be right on the question of desirability, but what I have just said is a plain fact.
As to the question of nexus and contact, I flatly deny that to be the case. I do not know exactly what happens to other hon. Members in other parties but I should have thought that it is not very different from what happens to me. The hon Member for Walton knows perfectly well about this because I have heard him talking of it. The fact is that if the Liberal Party supports this, that or the next thing, or opposes this, that or the next thing, I, as a Liberal Member of Parliament, am blamed for it, and I take the responsibility. That is a fact, and the idea that there is no nexus, and that there would be no link in the regional context between the party members elected and their responsibility, is really not true at all.
I believe that the regional list gives an opportunity which would not otherwise be provided for fair regional balance and also for fair geographical balance. Last weekend I was at the meeting of the Federation of Liberal Parties in Europe, held in Brussels. I have here a vast number of telegrams on this issue. People should remember that, if the representation from Britain is unbalanced, it affects adversely not only the people in Britain but the whole composition of the European Assembly and the way in which it can effectively represent Europe. I believe that the Bill is about a better Europe, and that this means a better Britain, a better England, a better Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and a better hope for all the electorate of the European Community.
§ Mr. Speaker
We have three hours left before the winding-up speeches. If every speech is as long as the last one, there will be time for only nine more speeches. That would be grossly unfair to the other 1808 16 hon. Members who are hoping to catch my eye. Therefore, I appeal to hon. Members to be brief.
§ 6.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)
The hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Johnston) will forgive me if I do not follow his speech too closely, although I intend to refer to it in the course of my brief remarks. In deference to your request, Mr. Speaker, I have decided that I shall not deliver the speech that I had in my mind when I entered this Chamber. Instead, I will address my remarks to what has been said already.
It seems to me that the debate so far has centred around the future function of an elected Assembly of the European Communities. There has been a lot of talk, particularly in the early part of the debate, between the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. White-law) and my hon. Friend the Minister of State about the Assembly's advisory and supervisory powers, its scrutiny, and the way in which its Members may provide information or gain information and perhaps get it from the Commission. In other words, we are talking about interposing between this House and the Council of Ministers an entirely new level of political milieu, just as we have been discussing the same thing for Scotland in regard to the proposed Assembly in Edinburgh. But I submit to the House that the people who go to the European Assembly will not be accountable even in the way in which the proposed Assembly Members in Edinburgh will be, because, while there are duties in the European Assembly, and while Members may make speeches, when it comes in the end to the actual matter of decision-making that will be the duty, I understand, of the Council of Ministers.
Those who talk about democratic control—this includes my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Mitchell)—and those who say that we must democratise the Community forget that while the European Assembly may have influence, its de jure power may be limited and may not in fact exist to any great extent.
At this point I refer particularly to the remarks of the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell). What the right hon. Gentleman said exposed the 1809 point made by my hon. Friend the Minister of State. This is also something to which the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border had better listen. If he wants some logic, here it is. What the right hon. Member for Down, South was saying, surely, is that power is not necessarily—we as politicians know this—a matter of de jure powers but of de facto facts.
We know how it works in ordinary politics. Very often in the history of this House, as the right hon. Member for Down, South pointed out, we get our standing orders and our Bills after the political facts are clear. That has been the history of this House over the Executive, and many people hope that that will be the future of the Assembly over the Council. That is why the constitution is written in the manner in which it appears.
It is no good anyone in this House saying that we shall have to pass an Act giving permission for this to happen. That is what we were told about direct elections We were told that it was all right, because the House would have to pass a Bill. Now we are asked to pass it, as the hon. Member for Inverness says, for the reason that if we do not we shall be letting down ourselves and the rest of the Community. That is the way in which the Community operates. It does not operate in the straightforward political way in which we try to operate in this country.
There was mention earlier of money. It may surprise the House to know that the powers of the European Assembly were changed, only on 6th June this year, because Article 203 of the Treaty of Rome has been amended. This will not be found in the Library or in Government offices. I have asked the Minister concerned to send out an amendment to the article and he has not done so. Anyone looking at a copy of Article 203 will probably find that it is the old one, unamended. It has been superseded by virtue of the very power which made this House superior to the Crown and on which the Assembly will try to build its power in future.
We know that clever parliamentarians are able to do this sort of thing, but my complaint is that it was done in a clandestine way. Hon. Members have already 1810 said that we shall have to pass a Bill to let the Assembly have the power. But it does not work like that. How did the Assembly get the extra powers over the budget which it has had since June of this year? How did it go through this House?
Apart from myself and the right hon. Member for Down, South, I do not think that there is a single hon. Member who remembers how it happened. The right hon. Gentleman and I were here late at night on 8th–9th December 1975, when the Order in Council relating to the definition of treaties went through this House. There was no reference in it to the Treaty of Rome. It was not even mentioned in the schedule. It was only possible to know about this by looking at Cmnd. 6252, which set out theTreaty amending certain Financial Provisions of the Treaties establishing the European Communities.That Order in Council, which I have in my hand, went through the House. It amends Article 203 of the Treaty of Rome. There are, in fact, two pages of amendments. That is what the Assembly of the European Community will be using in future.
I will not read it out because of the shortage of time, Mr. Speaker, but it is, in effect, a tennis match between the Assembly and the Council as to the powers over the budget. I see that the hon. Member for Mid-Oxon (Mr. Hurd) is nodding. In other words, the powers which hon. Members are arguing that we have not got are in fact already there, and the House did not know about it because the way in which the Community works arid gains power is in its very essence clandestine.
§ Mr. Spearing
By stealth, as my right hon. Friend says.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. Stewart) was honest in saying that the "Yes" campaign and the Government's own White Paper said nothing about any obligation to direct elections. The clandestine nature of the way in which this very debate, and this so-called moral obligation, has come about is a first-rate example of how the whole things works. If it works like this 1811 in respect of the United Kingdom, it will work like that for the triangle of the Commission, the Council and the Assembly.
The basis for this was in an earlier White Paper—Cmnd 4715. I commend it to Opposition Members. It was published in 1971, during the Administration of the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath). Paragraph 72 describes the membership of the European Parliament and states thatThe European Parliament's present role is largely consultative.We went into the Market by clandestine means. The right hon. Member for Sidcup took us in on a mandate for "negotiation, no more and no less" and with the wholehearted consent of people and Parliament. He did not get the wholehearted consent of the people. That was a clandestine exercise if ever there was one. Unfortunately, my own Government in their renegotiations, and in their misleading White and Blue Paper, did not mention direct elections at all. That is a second clandestine step that we have taken. The third one I have already mentioned.
The Government have been forced to bring this measure before the House because I have no doubt that unless they do then the powers that they have in the Council to get things through and the co-operation which they get from their colleagues in the Community will be to the disadvantage of Britain. Unfortunately, my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson) used the phrase "best endeavours". What he should have said was that the British people did not know about this. He should have said: "I have no mandate. I must put it in front of them." That is what my right hon. Friend should have said, but I am afraid that he did not.
My hon. Friends in the Government are, therefore, on a hook, because they know that unless they produce this proposal and show some willingness, Britain will be disadvantaged. It is the package deal again. That is the way in which the Community works. The clandestine pressures started at the time of the right hon. Member for Sideup and there have been three or four other stages since.
The right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) is taking her party into 1812 the "Yes" Lobby tonight on a three-line Whip. They are voting "Yes" for federalism, for a unitary State or for a combination of that. They will be voting "Yes" to taking away the powers of this House that were given to it by the British people. There will be a Tory majority tonight for this Bill.
§ 6.13 p.m.
§ Mr. Fergus Montgomery (Altrincham and Sale)
I hope that the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) will forgive me if I do not follow most of his argument, except to say that he makes great play about the fact that during the referendum nothing was said about direct elections. The hon. Gentleman was one of the leading lights of the Keep "Britain Out" campaign. I am certain that during that campaign he emphasised to the people that our staying in Europe would mean direct elections. However, the people did not heed the hon Gentleman's warning and were therefore in favour of having direct elections.
I have the feeling that we have been here before. We had a Second Reading debate on this subject on 7th July this year. That was quite a noteworthy date—7.7.77—and it was quite a noteworthy debate. At the end of the debate the Bill got a Second Reading by a majority of 247, but what might have been forgotten is that half the Parliamentary Labour Party, including six Cabinet Ministers, voted against the Second Reading. That perhaps explains the delay that the Government have experienced in introducing this legislation.
Reference has been made several times about the Prime Minister using his "best endeavours" for the elections to be held by the target date of May-June 1978. That will be difficult, whatever system of election we decide upon, because of the dilatoriness of the Government in giving this measure a higher place in their list of priorities.
I am not as enthusiastic about the Community as certain other of my right hon. and hon. Friends. But I came to the conclusion that there was no viable alternative. To reinforce that view we had a referendum in 1975, although I was unhappy with the idea of having referenda brought into our system of government. We all know that the referendum was the brainchild of the Secretary of State for Energy who 1813 believed that by means of the referendum the British people would opt to leave the Community. Once again, the right hon. Gentleman misjudged the mood of the British people.
Having voted overwhelmingly to stay in the Community I believe that it is our duty to try to do everything to make the Community work. There is a great deal to be explained. The people of this country simply do not understand the absurdities of the CAP and they are baffled when they read in the newspapers of butter mountains and lakes of wine. Surely it makes sense to have democratically elected representatives at the European Assembly, because those representatives will be answerable to the people who elected them? Therefore, I am in favour of direct elections.
But the vital question in this debate is how these elections will actually take place. To discover this, I looked at Clause 3 where we are given a "choice" between the regional list system, which the Government want and which the Liberals regard as second best if they cannot have STV, and the first-past-the-post system which is familiar to every voter in the country. I said that we had a "choice". I use that word in inverted commas, because there has been a subtle propaganda campaign emanating from the Lib-Lab pact that if we want direct elections by the target date of May-June 1978 the regional list system would have to be used.
I personally do not think that we have any chance of having these elections by the target date. The Government bear full responsibility for failing to introduce this measure in sufficient time.
On Tuesday I watched the "Tonight" programme on television. I heard Mr. Christopher Mayhew, a former Labour MP and now a prominent Liberal supporter—I do not know whether he was talking as an individual or as a spokesman on behalf of the Liberal Party—waxing loud and long about the necessity of meeting the target date for direct elections. What he was inferring from that programme was that those of us who want direct elections must support the regional list system.
A few moments ago the hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Johnston) implied that this was the only way that we could 1814 achieve the target date. But we also heard my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Oxon (Mr. Hurd) tell us that he could not see how it was possible to get this legislation through all its stages in time to meet the target date. In addition, the Minister of State told us that it would take a minimum of 18 weeks for the Boundary Commission to report. Therefore, the prospects of having an election under the first-past-the-post system become much more difficult.
I am not prepared to change our electoral system for something else unless I am convinced that that change is for the better. In this country we have a system whereby Members of Parliament are responsible to those who elect them. I believe that the direct contact between Members of Parliament and their electorate is a good thing. People should know exactly who their representatives are at the European Assembly because they would have a man or a woman whom they could contact to put their views on what was happening at the Assembly.
On the other hand, the original list system has many defects. Those people who are hankering for a change should think seriously before they proceed. I live in the North-West Region, and according to the Bill we are to have nine representatives covering Cheshire, Lancashire, Merseyside and Greater Manchester. We should contemplate the size of the ballot paper because presumably there will be nine Conservative candidates, nine Labour candidates and nine Liberal candidates. There could even be nine National Front candidates, not to mention Independents.
That is confusing enough. But let us consider the South-East where there will be 14 representatives. Presumably there will be 14 candidates for each of the parties. I suggest that would mean having a ballot paper the size of a tablecloth.
In the North-West, 4.6 million people will elect nine representatives But each of them will have only one vote. They will be allowed to vote for only one particular candidate.
Some years ago in this House, certainly prior to the 1950 election, we had dual representation for certain towns. There were towns such as Sunderland, Oldham, Bolton, Preston, to name a few.
1815 They had two Members of Parliament and everybody in that constituency was given the right to two votes and two Members of Parliament were elected. I cannot see why, if we are to have nine representatives who represent us according to the regional list, we should not be allowed the chance to vote for nine of the people who appear on the list. That woud give people a chance not just to vote for a party but to vote for an individual. With nine representatives covering a vast region there is the danger of remoteness.
I hope that whoever is replying for the Government will try to explain what happens should there be a vacancy in the European Assembly if we have the equivalent of what would be a by-election in the House of Commons, if one of the representatives at the Assembly should die or should resign. The system, as I understand it—am open to correction—is that one goes back to the original election results and takes the next person in line. But what happens if that person in the meantime has died, has left this country or has changed his mind and does not want to sit in the Assembly? I have never heard such nonsense in my life. I hope that this will be explained more fully before the Bill goes much further.
§ Mr. Russell Johnston
If the hon. Gentleman proposes that in a nine-member constituency individuals have nine votes, that could well mean that, for 35 per cent. of the vote, we could have all nine members elected for one party for the constituency. Surely that is not fair.
§ Mr. Montgomery
All I am saying is that if there are nine members we should at least have the chance to vote for the nine people on the list. The hon. Member for Inverness represents the Liberal Party. It is always pleading that it is the party of the individual, the party which is against the big battalions. Surely, with nine votes, people would have more chance to vote for individuals and the chances are that, with a single vote to elect nine members, a person will vote for a party rather than an individual. If that appeals to the Liberal Party I am glad that I am not a member of the Liberal Party.
1816 How much easier it would be to have a first-past-the-post system. I am also opposed to the regional list because, as the Home Secretary made clear in the debate earlier this year, it is perfectly possible under this system to have somebody who would poll the highest number of individual votes in the region and still not be elected because his party had not received a sufficient percentage of the total votes cast. If that were to happen people would find it very difficult to comprehend and to accept.
There is one final argument that I have to put against the regional list system and that concerns the power and the patronage that I think would be placed in the hands of party headquarters. There are reports that our representatives at the European Assembly will have a salary of about £25,000 a year, at a low rate of tax and with substantial expense allowances. The high salary will be paid because our partners in the Community pay their representatives more than is paid in the House of Commons, and the salaries for the Assembly have to take this into account.
For somebody living in this country a salary of £25,000 a year, plus substantial expenses, would be riches indeed. We have to ponder exactly the power that would be exerted by party machines on representatives who do not always toe the party line. It would be very nice for those people in what I call the "my-party-right-or-wrong" brigade, but it would be very difficult for representatives who have independent minds and who would be valuable members of that Assembly. To be dropped from a party's regional list would be political oblivion for the representative who dared to step off the party line. I do not want to see more power concentrated in the hands of the party machine, but I believe that that would be a consequence of having the regional list system
You did ask, Mr. Speaker, that hon. Members should be brief. I realise that there are a lot of hon. Members who wish to speak in this debate, and I know only too well the frustration of sitting through a debate and not being called. In fact, the debates in which I was never called were always the debates in which I was to make the most brilliant speeches. All my brilliant speeches ended up not being 1817 made and became tiny bits of paper in a wastepaper basket.
I hope that the Bill will receive a Second Reading tonight and that when we reach Clause 3 in Committee sanity will prevail and the regional list system—concocted by the Government to appease their Liberal allies—will be deleted from the Bill.
§ 6.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Douglas Jay (Battersea, North)
I understand the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw) to say that he agreed with the Government that no increase in the powers of the Assembly should be made without full legislation in this Chamber. If that is so, I hope that whoever speaks from the Opposition Front Bench later tonight will undertake to support us in ensuring that that safeguard is written into the Bill. As my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) has already pointed out—the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border did not seem to know this—an increase in the power of the Assembly was made last summer in the matter of control over the budget, and there was certainly no full legislation in the House to validate that. Therefore, I think that we are entitled to have our anxieties on this point.
My hon. Friend the Minister of State said today that from the Government's point of view there would be a free vote on the method of election to the Assembly, because it was a matter of great constitutional importance. He also said, in another part of his speech, that the Second Reading of this Bill was a matter of great constitutional importance. It would seem to follow that there ought to be an equally free vote on the Second Reading this evening.
I am glad that my hon. Friend the Minister of State did not argue that there is an obligation on us under the Treaty of Rome to introduce direct elections. There is, of course, no obligation in the Treaty—I think that that ought to be made clear—on member States to introduce direct elections, still less to do so by a particular date. Article 138 of the Treaty of Rome lays one obligation on the EEC Assembly and one on the Council. It lays no obligation on member States. The obligation on the Assembly, is to: 1818draw up proposals for elections by direct universal suffrage in accordance with a uniform procedure in all Member States.The obligation on the Council is "acting unanimously" tolay down the appropriate provisions which it shall recommend to Member States for adoption in accordance with their respective constitutional requirements.That is a recommendation, and, of course, a recommendation under Article 189 of the Treaty is not binding on anybody. It is, therefore, entirely open to member States—I hope that we are all agreed about this—and their Parliaments to accept or reject these recommendations as they think fit.
Indeed, strictly speaking, the present proposals are contrary to Article 138 of the Treaty of Rome. The Treaty requires the election to be in accordance with a uniform procedure in all member States. The present proposals clearly do not involve such a uniform procedure. There is, therefore, no treaty obligation involved here. If there had been, the Community would hardly have continued for 19 years without carrying it out.
We have had references to the referendum. There is certainly no mandate for direct elections, either from the referendum or from the electorate in any General Election in this country. The Government's referendum manifesto—it is usually the winning side's manifesto which is considered to give rise to a mandate, not the side which loses the election—made no mention whatever of direct elections. Presumably the Government's decision to omit any reference to direct elections in that manifesto was a deliberate one and not due to the author having forgotten to put it in. Not only does the referendum manifesto, if we take even a casual look at it, not mention direct elections; but the whole theme of it is to assert the primacy of the national Parliaments. It says, for example,No important new policy can be decided in Brussels or anywhere else without the consent of a British Minister answerable to a British Government and a British Parliament.It also says, of course:Thus our continued membership depends on the continuing assent of Parliament.Those were the assurances on which the electorate voted in the referendum. Therefore, to introduce the sweeping constitutional change involved in direct elections with no mandate, and despite the 1819 assurances given at the time, is, in my view, a very dubious attitude towards the electorate. If that is not so, why were direct elections not mentioned in the responsible referendum manifesto?
Thirdly, I hope that we are all agreed that the agreement reached by the Government in September 1976 to introduce direct elections by a certain date may bind the Government, but it does not bind Parliament or the British electorate. The Government had no authority whatever from Parliament or the electorate to reach such an agreement. Of course, they can recommend such elections. They are entitled to do that to us here, but no more. Frankly, I tell them that if they persist in trying to impose party Whips on this matter, all that they will do is devalue the Labour Party Whip in future. I certainly do not see why Labour Members should be bound by a Liberal Whip—even less than by a Labour one.
On the party aspect of this matter, there is no dispute that the Labour Party conference has twice decided to oppose direct elections. The national executive document approved by the Labour Party conference last October stated quite unambiguously:We reiterate yet again our opposition to Direct Elections.I would not argue that that is any more totally binding on a Member of Parliament than are the arbitrary decisions of the Government. But, when it comes to party Whips, it is a matter to which we should give a little attention.
Fourthly, direct elections are being advocated by their principal supporters on the ground that they are a major step towards merging this country into a political union of one sort or another, whether it be called a federal State or a unitary State. I agree that the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) is strictly right in saying that the EEC is more a unitary State than a federal State. But that is wholly contrary to the spirit of the Prime Minister's letter of 30th September to the secretary of the Labour Party. That letter declared, for instance, that one primary aim of British policy should bemaintenance of the authority of national Governments and Parliaments".1820 That is the very antithesis of either the unitary State or the federal State which the supporters of direct elections seek.
Does anyone really deny that the principal supporters of direct elections regard them as a step towards a federal or a unitary State? In this connection, I quote the European Movement, about which we heard from the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery). The European Movement is, after all, the high priest of this whole movement and the drive behind this policy. In its publication called, oddly enough, "Facts" of September 1976, the European Movement said—and it must be a "fact", I suppose—that in two years, which means in 1978,member countries of the Community will elect their first European Parliament. This historic decision represents the first real step towards the creation of the United States of Europe".That is, the European Movement says, the purpose of the whole exercise.
Following that up, Lord Thomson, who was recently a Commissioner in Brussels, writing in Lloyds Bank Review of July this year, added:From the moment of Direct Elections, the 'European' MPs will, with rare exceptions, cease to be colleagues "—he means, of British Members of Parliament—and become rivals, whose powers can be increased only by those of national Parliaments diminishing".That, of course, is the truth of what is in the minds of those who support direct elections.
On Lord Thomson's own admission, the purpose and the effect of pursuing thsi Bill will be to weaken the British Parliament and, incidentally, to weaken the United Kingdom as a result of weakening this Parliament. It will merely intensify the damage which has already been done to this country economically in fisheries, agriculture and in many other ways which I have not time to mention by our membership of the Community.
Yet the British public are quite clearly no more anxious to join a federal or unitary State than they are to have their fishing industry ruined or the price of their food forced up to artificial levels. The electorate have never authorised any move of this kind. Indeed, a move towards federation is contrary to the referendum manifesto; it is contrary to 1821 the Prime Minister's letter; and it is contrary to the decision of the Labour Party conference.
The right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border twice used the word "disreputable" about the Government. Therefore, I assume that it must be a parliamentary word. It seems to me that the attempt to push this Bill forward in these circumstances, with no mandate or authority from the electorate, is just another attempt to introduce a sweeping constitutional change by stealth, without the elementary honesty of admitting what one is doing.
If anyone wants this country to be merged in either a federal or a unitary State, let him say so openly and bring that proposal before the electorate. But the device of constitutional change by stealth inherent in this Bill is, in my view, just one more disreputable fraud in this long story of deception. It deserves a straightforwdard rejection from any honest Member of this House.
§ 6.37 p.m.
§ Mr. William Craig (Belfast, East)
I think that all of us find it easy to respond to honest differences of opinion, but when differences of opinion are extended to the point where they disguise the reality of the issues we become a little concerned.
I feel very conscious that in my generation of politics we have embarked upon one of the most interesting ventures in the world, which is the recognition by the nations of Europe of their common interest in Europe.
The recognition of our common interest does not necessarily mean that it should lead to a political unity of Europe. As we argue this point, do not let us forget the common interest. We have 19—soon to be 20—parliamentary democracies of Europe doing a worthwhile job in the Council of Europe. We have nine in the Economic Community. We have seven in Western European Union. There are strong differences of opinion and approach in all those organisations, but they exist because of the need to uphold the common interest of Europe.
I do not find the EEC as it stands now a totally satisfactory body. I am sure that it will not continue to exist in its present form. My prediction is that it will not move to a federal State of Europe. But it exists, and it is serving 1822 a purpose. Our problem is how to make it work to the best advantage in Europe and to the best advantage of the United Kingdom.
I do not quite follow the argument that there is no obligation to have direct elections. It seemed implicit to me from the Treaty of Rome that sooner or later we should be confronted with the call for direct elections to the Assembly. However, we have a duty to argue how best to do that, and I must confess that I have considerable reservations about the present Bill and the present approach. As I weigh that reserve, I must weigh what the consequences would be in terms of the standing of the United Kingdom with its neighbours in Europe.
I hope that no one will think that I am facetious as I develop my argument, but many outside the House would say that we are a House of humbugs and hypocrites. Probably we would all be angry if we heard that said. We would resent it, or at the very best we would feel uneasy. However, we would all have to confess that we can be impudently inconsistent and impressively illogical.
It so happens that in the past fortnight we have given one of our masterly performances in both directions while considering important constitutional Bills. Clause 1 of the Scotland Bill stated the obvious if the Bill was read as a Bill. It talked very much about the unity of the United Kingdom. It talked a great deal about the sovereignty of Parliament. We now have a Bill before us in which those issues are of equal relevance, but the Bill is deficient in a sense in which the Scotland Bill was not. That is because there is a question mark over the sovereignty of Parliament in terms of a European Assembly.
That question must arise because it is not a matter of devolving power. To a limited extent we have transferred power. Some will argue that Parliament cannot transfer power irrevocably, but certain power has passed quite decisively outside our control. We are now dependent on a Council of Ministers and on an Assembly to look after the national interest. It seems sensible that while the Council of Ministers looks after the national interest there should be directly-elected representatives of the people to look after the bread-and-butter issues that affect them very much stemming 1823 from European Economic Community decisions—for example, the butter mountains and wine lakes.
It is at this stage that my reservation grows. We have the people's representatives as such operating at a level at which they can look after the people's interests. They can and must inevitably come into conflict with the representatives of the nation. Surely that is not a good thing.
The right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw) helped us with his positive proposal in terms of any enlargement or extension of the Community. Surely some similar proposal should be inserted in the Bill to guide the people's representatives in the Assembly and to allow them to understand their position if they should come in conflict with the decisions of this House. It would be absurd if by a resolution or some other measure a firm decision was taken in this Parliament and we found the representatives of the United Kingdom in the Assembly going in the opposite direction.
The bones of the argument that seem to be developing are not what we elect these members for but how we elect them. It is in an area of argument that gives some credibility to those who regard us as humbugs and hypocrites. I find it astonishing that after almost 10 days of talking about the unity of the United Kingdom we should have different forms of franchise in a Bill to elect members to the European Assembly. I believe in direct elections, but I shall not vote for any Bill that says that one part of the United Kigndom votes in one way and another part votes in another way. That is a totally indefensible position for any Government to put the House in, and I am dismayed that there has not been much stronger protest from both sides of the House. We cannot talk one way one week and another way the next week.
§ Mr. Craig
I shall not say that the SNP may do it. We can all do it, but we do it at a cost. That is a cost that we should not be prepared to pay.
1824 As for my part of the kingdom, I hope that the franchise, whichever form it takes, it will be on the same basis as that which applies to the rest of the kingdom. All this malarkey about a different state of affairs in Northern Ireland is no excuse or justification for what is being done.
I believe that a proportional representation system is the best form of election to any Chamber, but I do not believe that any country should reach the position where there are two forms, or perhaps, three, of franchise operating within it. Our people are clever and able and they can grasp the issues. However, from the experience that we have had in Northern Ireland, where we vote in United Kingdom elections on the first-past-the-post system and for certain Northern Ireland bodies on an STV system, the use of different systems causes a great deal of confusion.
I should like to see us maintain the first-past-the-post system for the time being, or until such time as we reach a decision on a comprehensive scale for the franchise for all elected bodies relating to the government of this country. I am sure that that will be in our best interests. I lend my weight to those who advocate the merits of the modified party list system where there is the benefit of single-Member constituencies. That system can be manipulated to allow one election to do several jobs.
In the meantime, I feel that the House has a duty to get on with the business of honouring its obligations. There must be direct elections, and I commend the first-past-the-post system in the situation in which we now find ourselves. I shall not vote for the Bill's Second Reading because of the unfair and illogical discrimination against Northern Ireland.
§ 6.48 p.m.
§ Mr. John Roper (Farnworth)
I agree with a great deal of what the right hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Craig) said in his opening remarks, although I think that he would have to admit that the Government's proposals for the regional list system would give a similar system of voting in Northern Ireland and in the other parts of the kingdom. As that is the preferred system in the Bill, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman, even at this late stage, will reconsider how he intends to vote.
1825 As my hon. Friend the Minister of State said, it is difficult to be original in this debate, particularly for those who have spoken on the subject before. However, in view of what has been said, certain points need to be reiterated.
What are the principal reasons that have led us to consider the Bill? Why are direct elections being proposed at this time? I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) that they have not been proposed at this moment merely because of that which is contained in the Treaty of Rome. The relevant passage has been in the Treaty for about 20 years, and until now nothing has been done. I do not believe that this action is being taken as a backdoor approach to federalism or supranationalism.
A directly-elected Parliament—no one will dispute this—is a necessary component of any more closely integrated political decision-making process. However, in at least three of the countries of the Community, and perhaps four, it is clear that both the Governments and the major political parties are firmly committed against federalism as an immediate political objective. I speak of France, the United Kingdom and Denmark, where the parties are opposed to steps being taken at this stage, or in the foreseeable political future, in the direction of a federal Europe, let alone the unified State of which the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) spoke.
Any such move, even if it were contemplated, would require new decisions of each of the Governments. It would also involve an amendment to the Treaty that has been signed by each of the Parliaments. The possibility of such a move is now less likely. It will still be unlikely after the passage of this measure, as it was at the time that Britain became a member of the Community and as it was at the time of the 1975 referendum. If one travels in the Community one finds that the momentum towards a federal Europe is very much less strong than it was in the earlier years of the debate.
However, I believe that there are a number of good and practical reasons why we should move towards direct elections. First, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. Stewart) pointed out, it will mean that there will be more effective 1826 debate throughout the Community on European issues, not only among those who will vote and will therefore be forced to consider European issues before doing so, and not only in the media, but in all the political parties of the Community. That will apply both at a national level and, in some cases, among the families of European parties, at a European level, too.
This is quite clearly already obliging political parties to work out, in some cases for the first time, coherent approaches towards the Community which go beyond the biased platitudes which have served for too long in too many parties as the excuses for the absence of proper policies towards the Community. Perhaps more important is that it will force political parties to work out the relationships between policies they put forward at national elections and for national Governments, and the policies they propose at European elections for the future of the Community as a whole.
Secondly, without in any way increasing the legal powers of the Parliament, there is no doubt that direct elections will give an authority to the European Parliament—or, if the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) insists, the European Assembly—to exercise its existing powers more effectively. I believe that this scrutiny and control of the Commission and the dialogue which can take place between the Assembly and the Council of Ministers will provide a more effective complement to the work of national Parliaments which must, of course, continue.
However, the European Parliament will be able to do something which no national Parliament can achieve. It will be able to serve as a focus at a European level for public debate on the major issues facing the Community. With great respect to my hon. Friends who serve in the Parliament at the moment, I believe that it will be able to do that more effectively and with more authority after it has been directly elected.
§ Mr. Spearing
If what my hon. Friend said is correct—and he may well be right—is it not a fact that because such scrutiny, discussion and access would take place in the European Assembly rather than in this House, two MPs would be taking up the same subject and not only would there be confusion but this House 1827 would have lost its powers and there would be a trend towards the unitary State of which the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) spoke.
§ Mr. Roper
I know that my hon. Friend holds that view, but I believe that the functions of the national Parliaments and of the European Parliament and its committees will usefully complement each other. There is no reason to assume, particularly while the Council of Ministers operates as it does, that that would be the case, and that there would be an important rôle for national Ministers attending the Council of Ministers.
The third reason why direct elections arc now necessary and should be proceeded with is that a directly-elected Parliament will free its Members from their commitment to national Parliaments. While that may create some of the problems referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) and the right hon. Member for Belfast, East, I believe that it will enable Members to give their attention to the activities of the European Parliament. Those who have taken part in the proceedings of the Assembly will agree that the dual mandate has not proved satisfactory for Members of this House.
§ Mrs. Dunwoody
Why does my hon. Friend think that when a Member is elected to represent a constituency which is 10 times the size of existing constituencies he will be less involved with what happens at constituency level? Why does he think that such Members will be better informed about the political system if they have no direct contact with the national Government? Surely they will become increasingly isolated.
§ Mr. Roper
My hon. Friend suggests that such Members will have more to do with their constituencies, and I am sure that they will. However, they will not have the responsibility for a constituent in the sense that a Member of a national Parliament will have that responsibility. European Members will be freed of the obligations which at present bring them back to Westminster when the Whips require them to return. That makes the situation altogether unsatisfactory. I agree that there will be a problem to ensure 1828 that such Members are properly integrated into the political life of their parties, and I am sure that that is a matter for the parties to deal with in the same way that they ensure that the Members of any other Parliament are so integrated.
Inevitably, however, as we saw last week, the Whips consider that Westminster must take precedence over the activities in Luxembourg and Brussels. That has meant an unnecessary amount of exhausting travel for the Members of the European Parliament. Those Members are often forced to miss important debates in Europe in order to be back in this House. If the European Parliament is to do its existing job properly it requires, as this House does, that its Members should devote the overwhelming majority of their time to it.
I come to the system of election. I strongly support the proposals that the Government have put forward in the Bill for the regional list system. I believe that that system is right because the European Parliament does not have the task which this House faces of building a majority. This House is representative of opinion, and therefore the system of PR which would not be right for this House would prove appropriate for the European Parliament.
I believe that there is likely to be a move very shortly towards a system of proportional representation throughout Europe. I believe that the chance of our being able to persuade the eight other members to move to a first-past-the-post system in individual constituencies is very remote. Therefore, we should be moving in the direction in which we shall ultimately have to go.
This system will enable the House to complete the Bill in time to meet the proposed timetable. I trust, therefore, that the Government will propose, and that the House will agree to, consideration of the appropriate clauses of the Bill as soon as possible in order that a decision can be taken at the earliest possible stage on the system of election. That decision should be made before Christmas, if possible.
But if the House decides on the first-past-the-post system I hope that it will carefully consider whether there is a need for the whole procedure of the Boundary Commission. In July I tabled amend- 1829 ments to the original Bill to the effect that the House would determine the 78 constituencies, leaving aside for the moment the question of Northern Ireland. I was therefore rather interested to read the comments of one of the authorities on electoral procedure in this country. Dr. David Butler of Nuffield College has written:If we are to have first past the post elections, there is no virtue in delimiting European constituencies through the boundary commission procedure, appropriate and just though it is for drawing up Westminster constituencies. There are no fine lines to be drawn, no delicate decisions about whether a particular ward or parish most properly belongs with the West or the East Division.After considering the boundaries I drew up and another set of boundaries that he drew up with a former president of the Liberal Party, he says:Granted the political geography of Britain, it would be difficult to devise 81 seats that conformed to the first three principles yet proved an effective gerrymander in favour of one or other of the parties. And if anyone tried it would be very easy to show the endeavour up for what it was.I do not expect my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to reply to the difficult question whether the House could itself draw up the boundaries. Obviously that question does not arise if we vote, as I hope we shall, in favour of proportional representation. However, I hope that he will keep an open mind on this option. I believe that if we were to be so foolish as to reject the regional list system, it would be an option to which the House should give its careful consideration.
The decision tonight will obviously be a major step forward for this country and, I believe, our partners in the Community. Therefore, I hope that the House will give the Bill a Second Reading by an even larger majority than it was given in July and that we shall proceed speedily to complete the Committee stage.
§ 7.1 p.m.
§ Mrs. Winifred Ewing (Moray and Nairn)
I understand that when the great constitutional change in Scotland and England took place in 1707, when the two countries entered into a common market, the House of Parliament in Scotland was packed with Members and the streets were full of people eagerly awaiting the news. The attendance in this House tonight does not seem to indicate 1830 that a great constitutional change is being debated.
We are concerned with making a forum, to which we send nominees, more democratic. It is a simple proposition. We are not arguing whether we should or should not have entered the Common Market. It is no secret that the Scottish National Party campaigned against Britain's entry into the European Community. We were not successful, because the separate Scottish result was 57 per cent. for entry. That is a fact of life with which we have to live.
I cannot follow the argument that making the forum to which we send nominees more democratic will inevitably lead to political union or to a federal system in Europe. That argument is often repeated by people who regard it as gospel. However, they have not yet explained to my satisfaction how it will come about without our noticing it. The right hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. Stewart) dealt with this matter adequately when he explained that the change either to political union or to a federal system could not take place inadvertently.
Scotland would like to see in Europe a confederation of self-governing States, Scotland being one of them. That cannot happen inadvertently.
Direct elections to the European Parliament were fully debated at the SNP's summer conference. We decided to take part in direct elections to the European Parliament. Whatever method of voting may be adopted, the SNP is confident of winning about six of the eight seats.
There is not much public interest in direct elections to the European Assembly. At least, that is my experience. I suggest that it is dangerous to have a political institution in which there is so little public interest. It is dangerous to have an institution with so many powers and with the public, on the whole, knowing very little about it. That may be largely their fault, or it may be partly the fault of the media, because it is expensive to maintain representatives of all the various newspapers at the European Parliament.
I believe that if we have direct elections instead of sending nominees, there will be much greater public interest. That follows logically, because people will have votes to cast. The average man is 1831 sensible. He will want to know what he is casting his vote for, what the impact of his vote will be and to what kind of institution his representative will be sent. As long as the political institution exists, it should have a lot of attention paid to it. After all, the price of freedom is eternal vigilance. Where there is no interest, there cannot be much vigilance over what goes on in the European Parliament. Such interest will be stepped up considerably by direct elections.
There is a genuine feeling among people in Scotland that they have always been part of Europe. After all, Scotland has a European system of law quite distinct from the English legal system. That makes the Scots feel very European when it comes to legal matters. Scotland used to look to Europe for its allies in older times, for obvious reasons with which I shall not bore the House. We may perhaps have to look to Europe again. At any rate, Scotland has a historical background of alliances with Europe. We had joint citizenship with France until General de Gaulle cancelled that right in comparatively modern times. I repeat, there will be a considerable upsurge of public interest in direct elections to the European Parliament.
The right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) said that the move to direct elections would weaken this Parliament. Again, I do not know that I quite follow that argument. I should need it spelt out in more detail. Is the argument that this House will lose powers of scrutiny? I should like the Minister to deal with that matter in his winding-up speech tonight. Will this House lose control over legislation from the EEC? Will it in some way opt out of its present desire to scrutinise such legislation? I ask the Minister to deal with that point when he replies to the debate.
§ Mr. Julius Silverman (Birmingham, Erdington)
If this House does not appoint Members to the Assembly, obviously it will have less influence than it had before.
§ Mrs. Ewing
The people, who are more important than Members of Parliamen, will have more power because they will be making the decision.
§ Mrs. Ewing
I believe that if the people are allowed to choose who should go to Luxembourg instead of leaving it to the Prime Minister to decide, that must be an increase in democracy. It must give more power to the people and, admittedly, less power to Members of Parliament.
§ Mr. Spearing
Does the hon. Lady agree that, although the Assembly would have a great deal of influence, it would not have the power that this House should have?
§ Mrs. Ewing
The fact that the hon. Gentleman makes that statement does not make it true. I do not follow this particular argument. I do not think that this change will or can come about inadvertently, to use the word used by the right hon. Member for Fulham.
I turn now to the effect of direct elections on the European Assembly. I believe that that Assembly will look for more powers at the expense of the Commission. It does not control the two executive arms, the Council and the Commission. In my opinion, the Commission is too powerful—for instance, in the way that it initiates legislation in the Assembly. I think that after direct elections we shall see Members of Parliament attending the European Assembly not one week a month but on a more full-time basis. Naturally, such Members will wish to use their time to work. They will want to control and, I suggest, to seek to initiate legislation in that Chamber.
§ Mrs. Ewing
As a Member of the European Parliament, I find it frustrating when, on the way back on the charter flight, I read in the Financial Times that the EEC has decided X or Y when in fact it has decided no such thing. It is unsatisfactory to be a Member of such an Assembly indefinitely. One can put up with it in the short term, but it is not 1833 sensible to send representatives as a kind of charade. The people should elect full-time Members to do a workmanlike job and, as far as possible, to exert more control over the Commission and the Council of Ministers.
The dual mandate is possible only on a short-term basis. I have travelled to Strasbourg and been whipped back, as have many others, to vote in this House. Many Members have found a conflict in time. It may be known to the House that I have tried for a long time in the European Assembly to get an amendment of the common fisheries policy. There is to be an important fishing debate at the next Assembly meeting in December, but this House will be debating the Scotland Bill then and, even with the best will in the world, one cannot be in two places at once. There is no way around the conflict except by abolishing the dual mandate.
One of the arguments against direct elections is that in some way they will give credibility to the European Assembly. I cannot understand that argument. The Assembly is there and, therefore, it is credible. It will not go away just because some people do not want to be Members of it. The only way in which the Assembly can, as it were, go away is for the House to decide to come out of the European Community. That could be done, but as long as the Assembly is there it is credible. What will make it more credible is that Members will be elected democratically.
I now come to the matter of voting. I have always stated my preference for a geographical connection and a set of responsibilities, because I feel that this keeps Members more in touch with the realities of life and makes them more effective in considering measures that come before them.
I said in an earlier speech on this subject that I was fairly certain that if we were not careful we would end up with the list system. It looks as though that is happening, and I urge the Minister to say whether there is any possibility even now of getting the first-past-the-post system in time for our moral commitment to hold elections by May of next year.
Under the regional list system, Scotland is to have eight seats. I do not find this satisfactory. One does not need to 1834 make many comparisons to realise how absurd this seems in Scotland, though it may not seem absurd in England. Scotland is a nation, yet Luxembourg, with half the population of Edinburgh, will have a number of delegates. I am not objecting to Luxembourg having that number, because with a smaller number a member State could not function. I am not objecting to Luxembourg's position, but I am arguing that Scotland should have more than eight seats.
We have a population of similar size to that of Denmark, another of Europe's ancient nations, and we say that we should have parity with that country. We could make a comparison with Ireland. The population there is smaller than that of Scotland, yet it is to have more representatives than we are to be allowed.
We have made it plain that we shall not vote against the Bill, but we have said that we are committed to improving the democracy of the Assembly by supporting direct elections, and that we shall do. But the question of eight seats for Scotland and four for Wales, if I might bring in my colleagues' nation, is not satisfactory.
The matter will be resolved when Scotland becomes independent, because it will then decide whether or not to stay in the EEC. It will be the people of Scotland who will decide that on the terms that are then available to them. They will decide, and there will be no question of our staying in without parity. That goes without saying.
I think that the terms that Scotland wants will be met if she is prepared to stay in, because we are economically desirable owing to certain commodities that are found in the North Sea. There is black oil for one thing, and we have the richest fish pond in the Northern Atlantic. I leave the matter there.
I believe that after direct elections we shall see interesting developments within the European Assembly. I think that we shall see some regroupings. I believe that my party's representatives will form a group with the representatives of Wales and other countries with common interests.
My hon. Friends and I will go into the Lobby tonight to support the Bill.
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ Mr. E. Fernyhough (Jarrow)
The hon. Member for Moray and Nairn (Mrs. Ewing) said that she would go into the Lobby tonight in support of the Bill. We have spent the best part of two weeks in this House deciding what powers we shall transfer to Scotland, and I understand that we are to spend two days every week from now until Christmas deciding the issue of Scottish and Welsh devolution. There would be no purpose in either of those Bills if they were not designed to transfer power. There would be no purpose in the Bill now before us if that, too, was not designed to transfer power.
It is all very well to pretend that as long as the representatives are selected the Assembly is not democratic, but it is equally fallacious to pretend that democratically elected people will be content with the same powers as are available to selected Members. The elected Members will go to that Assembly with the full authority of the United Kingdom electorate. They will be, and must be, a challenge to the authority of this House, because they will have been elected by all those in this country who are entitled to vote.
These representatives will have to be given some powers. They will demand them, and if they are to have more powers the only place from which they can get them is this House, because this is the only place that can bestow them. It follows that if those representatives have more power, we shall have less. We must tell the people of this country whether we are proposing to give some of the powers of this House to those who will be elected to Europe.
The hon. Lady said that there did not seem to be much interest in this subject and that it was not regarded as a burning issue. At least 200 people have come to see me this week. I have had big lobbies every day, but not one of my constituents, who have travelled 300 miles to see me—and they represent all kinds of workers—has said that direct elections to Europe are a burning issue. If I could have told those who have come to see me this week from Jarrow that the £10 million that we are to spend on this fiasco could be spent in Jarrow they would have been delighted, because it would be money better spent.
1836 In opening the debate for the Opposition, the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw) almost foamed at the mouth over the delay that there had been in introducing the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman was one of those who, by means of a guillotine, bludgeoned through the House a Bill which received its Third Reading with not a dot or a comma changed from its form on Second Reading, and I can understand why he needs to froth at the mouth over the Government's delay on this issue.
I should like the right hon. Gentleman and many others to read the speeches they made when they were pushing that Bill through, bearing in mind that this is a consequence of what they did then. Have they given our people the promised land that they said would be available? Advertisements in the Jarrow newspapers said that if we were part of Europe capital would flow into Jarrow just like water flowing down a river bed and the unemployment queues would disappear.
§ Mr. Fernyhough
The world was to be a wonderful place. That was what one gathered from an advertisement placed in the Jarrow Press by the European Movement. If the hon. Gentleman wants examples of what was said, he should read the speeches of Conservative Members. He can have them with pleasure; they make refreshing and invigorating reading.
Does anybody really believe that if we had been in the situation in which we are now back in 1972 it would have been popular to take this country into the EEC? It does not bear thinking of. In the five years we have been in Europe, none of our problems has become easier. They have simply become worse.
I shall put one simple proposition: we are facing a big problem of inflation, until a few months ago we had a balance of payments problem, and we are still not getting the capital investment that we should have. We are told that if only we could get our inflation down industrial investment would follow and our balance of payments and unemployment problems would be solved.
But West Germany has invested. It has no balance of payments problem and 1837 little inflation. Yet Germany would have more than 2 million unemployed if it had not sent its 1 million immigrants back—Turks, Yugoslays and other foreign workers. Therefore, the most prosperous nation in Europe, the one that was held up as a beacon and was looked up to when we first went into Europe, would have had, had it not been allowed to send its immigrants back, bigger unemployment problems than we have, and without having our other problems to solve.
This Parliament may decide to give more powers to the European Parliament. But the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) has made it clear repeatedly that what one Parliament does another Parliament can undo. Although at this moment it seems impossible to think that we would ever come out of Europe, I am satisfied that if we were to have a new relationship with Europe it would be a loosely-drawn, friendly association, not laid down with every dot and comma as in the Treaty of Rome. I have not shifted my ground on this issue. I remain today as unhopeful about the future of the EEC as I was when it was first discussed. We have always looked upon it as if we were glancing into a crystal ball and it was the one way to salvation.
I maintain and I have always maintained that if the British people are to be saved it will be by their own efforts, endeavours and hard work. There is no Santa Claus who can come to our rescue, no saviour from outside. It is our own determination and efforts that will save us.
§ 7.23 p.m.
§ Mr. Russell Fairgrieve (Aberdeenshire, West)
Since this Session of Parliament started we have spent our time debating constitutional matters, and it looks as if this will be our lot well into next year. The problems of unemployment, inflation, wages, lawlessness and strikes are far more in the forefront of people's minds than are constitutional matters, but that does not necessarily mean that we should not face up to them.
Let us look at the constitutional issues besetting us, both current and historical. At present we have Northern Ireland, which is a hangover from last century's Irish problem. We have the Scotland Bill, the Wales Bill, the reform of the 1838 Upper House, and now the European Assembly Elections Bill. Westminster seems to be suffering from a sort of constitutional constipation. It does not appear to be able to change, while the world around it has changed. This is the main reason for the constitutional problems that are plaguing us. We are unable to discuss them over party barriers and we do not appear to allow common sense to prevail.
Today's debate is about direct elections. If the House adopted the sensible suggestion made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) for a constitutional conference to resolve the problems of devolution for Scotland and Wales, such a conference could look at other constitutional problems that I have mentioned as well.
If we look at other democratic Governments throughout the world, some unpalatable facts present themselves to us. Consider just the victors and the vanquished from the Second World War for example. Our Parliament has the unenviable reputation of sitting more hours a year than any other democratic Parliament. We sit for sonic 1,500 hours a year. That has been the average for the last five years. At the other end of the scale, the West German Parliament sits, on average, for 300 hours a year. It would seem that a country's industrial strength and, as a result, the standard of living of its people is in inverse proportion to the hours spent in debate and in legislation by its Parliament.
§ Mr. Fairgrieve
I accept that. The message from West Germany is even stronger. After the war we put into operation there a system of government to keep it somewhat weaker and somewhat divided. In fact, its federal system could well be the model for the devolution problems that are currently besetting us. After all, the nations that make up the United Kingdom have stronger national roots than those that comprise the German federation, and as to numbers and size, compare the 700,000 population and area 1839 of Bremen with the 17 million-odd and size of North Rhine Westphalia.
As an aside, we also put a trade union set-up into Germany to stop their industrial moguls from becoming too dominant again. Who now leads in industrial democracy, two-tier boards, worker participation, less strikes and more prosperity?
Will we make a mess of this direct elections Bill? All the possible reasons for doing so remain in this House. This is another constitutional matter and, as I said earlier, we never seem to get these matters right.
The object of this Bill is to implement Article 138 of the Treaty of Rome, to which we are signatories, and even went through a process of referendum to confirm. Article 138 calls for direct elections through universal suffrage to the European Parliament. The two points that we must decide are the constituency and the method.
As regards the constituency, we can either have Euro-constituencies or regional lists and I come down in favour of the latter. To produce a Euro-constituency means lumping together 8 to 10 of our present contiguous Westminster constituencies, regardless of the fact that they may well have varying or even conflicting interests. Some people even argue that if we do not have the Euro-constituency the link between member and voter is lost. But as surveys show that many people in our present constituencies of, say, 50,000 electors do not even know the name of their Member of Parliament, this argument hardly holds water when we consider electorates of 500,000 being served for purposes different from Westminster.
I believe that the 11 economic planning regions of England, with the addition of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as units, make much more sense. For each of these 14 regions there would be regional lists from parties or individual names from independents as suggested in the Bill.
As regards the method of election, our present first-past-the-post system fits in well with our tried and proven two-party democratic system here in Westminster but it does not suit Europe where there are nine countries and in most of them a variety of parties.
1840 Turning now to Scotland, with which I am particularly concerned, there are additional points I wish to make. First, as regards numbers, Scotland is to have eight seats and we know that this proposal has come in for some criticism north of the border because of the 16 seats, for example, allocated to Denmark, a country of similar population. Certainly we have the advantage of going in as part of the United Kingdom with the same weight as Germany, France and Italy, but this does not resolve the question entirely in Scottish eyes.
Again here I turn to our constitutional shortcomings. Were we to get things right here by a constitutional conference, instead of ploughing on with the present bad and divisive Scotland Bill, we might see some solution with, say, 100 to 120 Scots in an Assembly, 50 to 60 Members here, and around 10 to 12 in Europe—in other words, respecting the unity of the United Kingdom, and yet putting Scotland in a halfway position between say Denmark and Yorkshire—in other words, a quasifederal solution, with appropriate reductions and new arrangements here and elsewhere in the United Kingdom.
The next point is of course the fact that currently we have three roughly equal parties in Scotland, as opposed to the position south of the border. This means that, without some form of PR, any party that gains even a slight edge in votes in Scotland would have an excessive number of Members in the European Parliament compared to the other two, and possibly even more than the other two put together.
In all this context it is interesting to realise that our European partners all intend to use PR on regional lists, and it might be advisable for us to consider that in this instance they might have come up with the most sensible and satisfactory solution. After all, even if we do not yet accept regional lists, we are committed to PR for the second round of European elections.
I wish to conclude by saying that Scotland has historical and traditional ties with Europe. Therefore, I regret the shilly-shallying and manoeuvrings that have caused the present Government to delay the introduction of this Bill, a measure which could have been brought in long before now. To bring it in timorously at the end of last Session, when it 1841 was bound to drop and have to be reintroduced this Session, was another cynical act of capitulation to those who will oppose this Bill—not because they object to the principle of direct elections or democracy, but because they oppose the whole European ideal.
Scotland, as an integral part of the United Kingdom, wants Europe and Europe needs the United Kingdom with the distinct and unique contribution that Scotland can then bring to Europe. I welcome this Bill, and it will give me the greatest personal pleasure as a Scottish Member to support it in the Lobby tonight.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Myer Galpern)
There are about 14 Members who are still anxious to catch the eye of the Chair. Since I understand that in the European Parliament the time limit applying to speakers, depending on the imporstance of the subject under discussion, ranges from five to 10 minutes, it would be helpful if those who are proposing to take part in this debate would try to practise this discipline so that they may prepare themselves for membership of the Assembly.
§ 7.34 p.m.
§ Mr. David Stoddart (Swindon)
I shall not take up the remarks of the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. Fair-grieve), except to say that in his eulogies of foreign States he sounded like a Right-wing Alex Kitson. I am sure that he did not mean to sound that way. It is a little displeasing to some of us to find pro-European Members running down the systems which we have built up in this country since those systems have stood the test of time. However, I shall not continue to pursue that line of argument.
When my hon. Friend the Minister of State spoke, I was struck by what appeared to be a paradox. He described this Bill as a great constitutional issue. He then told us that the European Assembly had no legislative or executive powers. What he was trying to tell us—and I do not think he was right—was that because the European Assembly has no powers it is unimportant. If that is so, why do we have to raise the great panoply of national elections to give backing to an Assembly that is without powers? It has far fewer powers than a 1842 parish council. Therefore, why do we want to spend a great deal of money in setting up this great organisation so as to give it popular support?
Since the Assembly has no powers of taxation, the dictum "No taxation without representation" does not apply. If this Assembly does not have any powers, why are we taking so much trouble? My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister recently wrote to the national executive committee of the Labour Party setting out his views and reservations on the Common Market, seeking discussions on the common agricultural policy, and questioning our further involvement. I believe that the Prime Minister is less than enamoured of the EEC. I believe that he understands the great importance of history in this context. I am sure he understands that Hugh Gaitskell, in 1962, was right to say that one cannot wipe out in one stroke a thousand years of history.
I trust the Prime Minister, and I believe that so long as he is in office he will ensure that we are not dragged into a federal State, call it what one will. So long as he is there, I feel sure that he will prevent such a union with Europe. Although the Prime Minister might be a kind of Moses bringing Tablets to put on the Dispatch Box every Tuesday and Thursday, he is not Methuselah and will not be in office for ever. We shall have other Prime Ministers. We may even have other parties in Government. I hope that the Labour Party will be in power for a long time, but at the back of our minds is the enormity of the thought that in a few years, after it has lost the next General Election, the Tory Party may be led by the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath). God forbid that that will happen, but we may have that imposed upon us. That will leave a party composed of Euro-fanatics which is so besotted with Europe that it will slip through another measure such as the Bill to take us into Europe, which scraped by with such a narrow majority.
We must take a longer-term view of the matter. Those of us who will vote against the Bill fear the erosion of the powers of this House. We know how those powers can be eroded by stealth or by the enormous influence of people who are not necessarily in the House or the European Assembly. We have seen the 1843 influence that such people can have. Nobody who looks at the communications that come from the European Movement or who reads the statements of Commissioners or ex-Commissioners of the European Commission can have any doubt that there are those in powerful places who want to see a political union in Europe.
We ought to read all those communications, but the trouble is that we are so inundated with them that we are smothered and cannot read them all. One may miss something of great importance. I took the trouble to read the speech that was made by Commissioner Tugendhat at a lunch given in London on 4th November by the English-Speaking Union. What he said confirmed my worst fears. I must quote it because it is relevant to the debate, but I shall cut out the first part.
The Commissioner was referring to making the Council corporately responsible. He said:National Parliaments necessarily have constitutional powers over a minister only in his capacity as a member of a national government. National MPs can ask Mr. Silkin or Herr Ertl, for example, why they pursued a particular policy over agricultural prices, and whether or not they succeeded in the objectives to which their national governments are committed".But here is the rub:But they cannot force the Council as a corporate body to explain why it reached particular decisions, which sections of society in the Community will gain or lose or how those decisions fit in with other European objectives. Only a supra-national body organised on a Community basis can hope to perform the vitally necessary task of obliging the Council fully to explain and justify its corporate acts".If that is not a move towards a supranational state, federalism and political union, I do not know what is. I know that many believe that we should take that path, but we are also told by the Opposition and Government Front Benches that that is not the intention and that it will not happen.
What, then, will happen if Mr. Tugendhat has his way? We shall find that our Ministers who are sent to Europe, who are responsible to Parliament, elected by our people as part of that Government and who must be approved of by this Parliament, will be answerable, not to this Parliament, but to a Parliament outside the United 1844 Kingdom. There is no other way. It is bound to happen and this is the beginning of European cabinet Government. What will happen eventually is that the European Assembly will demand, not that Ministers should be sent from here, from the French National Assembly or the German Bundestag, but that they put them there and that the Ministers should be anaswerable to the Assembly.
That is why this Bill represents a great fundamental and constitutional issue and why I wish tonight to vote against it. I have a duty that transcends all other considerations to do what I think is right for my constituents and the whole country. I hope that many of my hon. Friends and hon. Members will join me in the Lobby.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Percy Grieve (Solihull)
In listening to the hon. Members for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing), Swindon (Mr. Stoddart) and others, I could not but think that some hon. Members are still finding themselves, at this late hour, in the battle of the referendum of 1975. That was decided by the British people with no uncertain voice. Almost immediately afterwards, the then Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson), commmitted this country as a matter of honour to arrive expeditiously at agreement on direct elections to the European Assembly. That promise has been repeated often by Government Ministers and Prime Ministeres. Indeed, in February i976 during the debate on the Green Paper my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Maudling) said that we were committed as a nation as a matter of honour and that we had "a commitment of honour". [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I quote the words: "a commitment of honour" to support direct elections to the European Asseembly.
In The Timesthis morning, a number of distinguished European parliamentarians who have served Europe and their own Governments within the Community in Brussels joined in pointing out that, if we were to postpone direct elections in this country,A delay in Britain would thus deprive citizens of other Community countries of their promised democratic rights.The letter was signed by Jean Rey of Brussels, Horst Seefeld of Bonn, Miriam 1845 Hederman O'Brien of Dublin, J. H. C. Molenaar of The Hague, Louis Leprince-Ringuet of Paris, and Giuseppe Petrilli of Rome. They were right: we have an obligation of honour, and we ought to proceed with all speed to fulfil that obligation by passing the Bill as speedily as possible.
§ Mr. Alan Clark (Plymouth, Sutton)
I always have the greatest respect for the arguments of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Solihull (Mr. Grieve), but honour is totally irrelevant. We are elected not to discharge debts of honour hut to advance, nurture and protect the interests of citizens of this country.
§ Mr. Grieve
Naturally, I accept that. Nevertheless, when, in agreement with other countries that are our allies, the people with whom we work most closely in Europe, we have entered into a solemn obligation, it would be dangerous indeed if the Government and Parliament were to resile from that obligation. However, I do not pin my adhesion to the cause of European direct elections and my support for the Bill to that argument.
I listened with great interest to the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), whose utterances and contributions to our debates are always heard with the greatest attention. I did not for one moment find myself differing from his analysis of the consequences of direct elections. It was detailed and profound. However, we differ profoundly in the conclusions that we draw from that analysis. I hope that when the right hon. Member has heard my argument he will agree that our analyses are the same. Direct elections are essential to the democratic evolution of Europe and for laying the firm foundations of a lasting Community. On paper, I agree that the powers of the Assembly would not be increased one whit by direct elections. There may be subsequent proposals to increase the powers, but they are not increased by the fact of direct elections.
The balance of power between the Assembly on the one hand and Ministers and the Commission on the other hand is bound to be profoundly affected by the fact of direct elections. The right hon. Member for Down, South hesitates at that and disapproves. I welcome it and approve it. It is on that basis that I support the Bill.
1846 There is all the difference in the world between an Assembly made up of nominated delegates and an Assembly with all the self-confidence of those who are elected representatives of the people of Europe. Such elections are necessary to give a democratic basis for the Community, and it is essential to give the European Assembly the right to exercise, when it sees fit, such powers as it has now—they are not small powers because they include the power to refuse the budget and, in the last resort, to dismiss the Commission—and the powers that develop in future. Powers will always develop in the hands of democratically, directly-elected Members.
Are we to say "No" to a democratically-elected Assembly? We are members of a democratically-elected Assembly ourselves, and the people should have a voice in sending democratically-elected representatives to the European Assembly.
I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery), who said that we could not foresee the precise form that European institutions will take as the years go by. I am not one to commit myself to a federal, confederal or any other view, but for the sake of my country, peace in the world and the power and influence of Great Britain we must give a proper democratic base to the Community. It is for that reason that I welcome the Bill and give my full adhesion to it.
The arguments of those who have spoken against the Bill have all been made because they see the truth of what I am saying and prefer another course. The analysis of the right hon. Member for Down, South was correct. I am A committed European, and it is on the basis of that analysis that I support the Bill.
My overriding concern is to get the Bill passed as soon as possible. That is the prime objective. The method of election, though important, is of comparatively little interest. I should prefer the first-past-the-post system at the first election. An elected Assembly will determine the mode of election for future occasions, and there is no valid reason why, on the first occasion, we should abandon the system that has stood us in good stead for many years and is known and understood by all the people who 1847 make up the United Kingdom. I hope that we shall go forward to the elections in May 1978 on the basis of the first-past the-post system.
§ 7.54 p.m.
Mr. Eric S. Heifer (Liverpool, Walton)
The hon. and learned Member for Solihull (Mr. Grieve) has reiterated the point that has been made by many other hon. Members. It has been made clear that once the directly-elected European Assembly is in existence, its powers will be developed. The SNP spokesman pointed out that once Members of the Assembly were directly elected they could not be expected to sit around doing nothing; they would demand work, and that would mean extra powers because there is no point in doing something just for the sake of doing it. They will want control.
The right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw) said that we should have democratic checks, but that means that the Assembly must have power. Without powers, there are no democratic checks. The logic is that, once the new Assembly is in existence, the impetus will come from the Members and there will be demands for more powers to be given to the Assembly.
§ Mr. Heffer
Of course they will demand them from the Council of Ministers. They will argue that such powers are necessary because they are responsible to the people who elected them. The Council of Ministers, who, in a sense, will be elected by the same people, will be influenced by those representations. We all know what happens here when our local authority wishes us to do something. We ignore it at our peril. There will be a similar situation in Europe. The Council of Ministers will ignore the elected representatives at the peril of their political futures in national institutions.
There is no doubt that once the new Assembly is in existence the Members will demand greater powers, and stage by stage they will be introduced. Some hon. Members are very honest about it and admit that this is what they want.
1848 Here lies the fundamental division. Some hon. Members want an overall Government for the whole of Europe with directly elected Members, while others of us say that it is essential to remain with our national Parliaments.
We had many of these arguments in July. In a sense we are going over the same ground again, but two things have happened within the Labour Party since that time. We have had a party conference, and the Prime Minister has written to the National Executive Committee. These were both interesting and significant events.
I should like to point out to my hon. Friends who are passionately concerned with the Common Market that the Labour Party has had debates, arguments and even a special conference on this question. Decisions have been made by the membership through the party conference. There was no question of something on the subject of the Common Market being slipped into the party manifesto three weeks before the General Election. This is a matter on which there has been the fullest and broadest discussion for many years.
I say to my pro-Market friends that there is a significant difference between the situation in relation to this Bill and the situation in relation to devolution. The subject of devolution was not put before the party conference until the legislation had been discussed in the House.
I thank the hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Johnston) for quoting part of the statement put before the 1976 Labour Party conference. This year the conference had another statement, an up-to-date statement entitled "The EEC and Britain", which was presented by the party's National Executive. The statement said:Our objective is to work towards the creation of a wider but much looser grouping of European States—one in which each country is able to realise its own economic and social objectives under the sovereignty of its own Parliament.The Labour Party regards that as a very clear statement. I must say to a number of my hon. Friends that we should not ignore what our party conference decides by an overwhelming vote.
On the subject of direct elections, the statement said:The Labour Party has voiced its opposition to direct elections and the inherent move to1849federalism on many occasions. We reiterate, yet again, our opposition to direct elections. We acknowledge, as we must, that there is now the prospect of elections actually taking place—because of what happened in the House in July—and we do not wish to let the mounting feeling of dissatisfaction with the EEC go unrepresented at the Strasbourg Assembly. But if we are to represent this feeling certain basic conditions must be fulfilled.Four or five conditions are laid down. One is thatlegislation providing for direct elections must include clauses expressly preventing any increase or changes in the powers of the Assembly.That point has been made repeatedly by hon. Members today and is clearly the position of the Labour Party.
I find it very sad that I have to argue the Labour Party case from the Back Benches when it should be argued from the Front Benches. It is very sad that the Government decided to ignore the wishes of the party and almost pretend that the party had never made these decisions at two party conferences. It has been said that we are committed, but to what are we committed? The previous Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson), stated that he would use his "best endeavours", nothing more.
There was nothing in our manifesto in October 1974 about direct elections. The commitment that we gave to the people of this country in that manifesto was that we would ask them whether they wished to remain in or come out of the Common Market on the basis of the renegotiations. I often ask my right hon. Friends on the Front Bench, in relation to devolution, "What about the manifesto commitment?" I put the same question to them in relation to direct elections. We are not committed in any way to direct elections.
My hon. Friends have said that in the literature which went out in the name of the Government and the pro-Market forces during the referendum campaign there was no reference to direct elections. I shall now refer to the actual letter that the Prime Minister sent to the National Executive of the Labour Party. It was a very interesting letter, and I am not surprised that some of the Foreign Ministers of the Common Market were not very happy about it.
1850 My right hon. Friend stated:I am in no doubt that there are policies which do not work in our interests or may work counter to our concepts of how Britain and Europe should develop.He goes on to say that there were six key elements in the whole future of the Community. They included:Maintenance of the authority of national governments and parliaments; democratic control of Community business; common policies must recognise the need for national governments to attain their economic, industrial and regional objectives.That runs counter to the whole concept of the unitary system, which the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border has pointed out is part of the Treaty of Rome. Other key elements were:Reform of the Common Agricultural Policy; the development of a Community energy policy compatible with national interests".I am sorry that the hon. Member for Moray and Nairn (Mrs. Ewing) is not present, because she referred to Scottish oil. If the Commission gets hold of that oil, it will not be Scottish oil and it will not be our oil either. That is why we have to make certain that we can keep control of our national interests.
§ Mr. Heffer
I shall not give way to the hon. Gentleman. He has only just come into the Chamber, and other hon. Members who wish to speak have been waiting for a long time.
There is a reference to direct elections in the Prime Minister's letter, but it is only a tiny sentence:Provided we are ready to fulfil the obligations of membership we have undertaken, for example, in the matter of direct elections, our general stance could bring no accusations of lack of co-operation.That is the only reference to direct elections.
I find it very strange that the Opposition should have imposed a three-line Whip to support a Government Bill. We in the Labour Party have a two-line Whip. It would not matter to me if it were a three-line, four-line or five-line Whip. I shall be voting according to the decision of the Labour Party conference. I also happen to believe in that decision. That is why I shall be voting for it. I hope that my hon. Friends will also be voting for the decision of the Labour Party 1851 conference, and I trust that Opposition Members who believe that it is wrong for us to go ahead with direct elections will also vote with us on this issue and not be guided by their three-line Whip.
§ 8.8 p.m.
§ Mr. John Stokes (Halesowen and Stourbridge)
I listened with great interest to the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heller), as I always do, and I agreed with much of what he said. In a way he is my favourite revolutionary in the House, because, although he sometimes expresses the most disagreeable sentiments, one knows that his heart is sound and that basically he is a true patriot.
We are debating this Bill between debates on the Scotland Bill, and I am sorry that so many of my hon. Friends who are opposed to the Scotland Bill are not also opposed to this Bill. I cannot see and have not heard anything this afternoon to explain how they can attempt to uphold the United Kingdom Parliament in the one instance without doing the same in the other.
The House will know that I have always supported the concept of the EEC. I have always seen it as a grand alliance of nation States. I felt the same way about it as did de Gaulle, Adenauer and Churchill. I believe that the EEC underpins NATO and is essential for the survival of our western civilisation. Where I part company from my colleagues—not all of them—is in their acceptance of this Bill, which, in my view, is premature, to say the least, and is not yet really necessary for the development of the Community.
My objection to the Bill is fundamental and can be stated very simply. I want this House to be represented at the highest level of influence in the Community by a Minister who is in this House and is accountable to it. That is a logical and sensible arrangement. Hon. Members on both sides have said that an elected European Assembly will not be content with its present limited powers, although these have been slightly increased recently, and that, by virtue of being democratically elected, it is bound soon to claim further powers. That is the lesson of history, from the oath on the tennis court in France before the revolution up to the present day.
1852 The European Assembly, having received greater powers, will, I believe, inevitably start to bypass this Parliament and thereby almost immediately greatly reduce our own authority and influence. I do not want that to happen. I was not sent here for it to happen. It offends my sense of history and and my sense of patriotism, and I shall be surprised if it does not also offend many of my colleagues in my party, which is, after all, the national and patriotic party of this country. I am not yet ready for such a sudden and severe change in the British constitution.
Nor do I believe that the British public at large yet understand what this Bill is going to do—indeed, very few know that it is being debated today. When they do understand its implications, they will not like them.
I believe that some of my more overenthusiastic European colleagues, to whose sincerity I pay tribute, have been tactless and over-hasty in espousing the European idea and trying to merge our Britishness in some vague European mess of pottage. I am not prepared to give up our constitutional heritage, which has been so dearly bought over the centuries. One cannot simply throw away all our history as if it had never happened.
§ Mrs. Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)
Are the French any the less French because they are in the Common Market? We are not the less English because we are in the Common Market.
§ Mr. Stokes
My hon. Friend is going ahead of me. I am coming to that point. Our development has been in many ways different from that of the other nations in Europe. Some of them have a very short history indeed—for example, Italy, which a century ago was a mere geographical expression. I am sure that right hon. and hon. Members on the Opposition Benches know their Metternich as well as I do. Other nations, like Germany, wish to forget their history and are only too happy to merge themselves in some new amorphous body. But France remains as nationalistic as ever, and I believe that her foreign policy has a great deal to teach us and to teach our Foreign Secretary.
It is not only the future development of the European Assembly which will put our Parliament's nose out of joint. The 1853 new Assembly Members from this country will soon become much more important and significant than our Members here and, of course, so well paid that we shall be poor relations, if not beggars, by comparison with them. Hardly anyone in the debate has attempted to work out what the relationship will be between these new Members and ourselves.
Someone was kind enough to suggest to me, knowing my well-known love for the other place, that I could both be a Member of the European Parliament and be in the other place at the same time. I would not be in favour of that, but it is at least a suggestion. I have heard no suggestions at all about the way in which we shall operate with these other Members.
I do not believe that at first people will pay much attention to the new Members, and I believe that the poll will be very low. But I also believe that, gradually, their influence is bound to increase and we shall find constituents no longer coming to us but going to the great European Members who are constantly near Brussels, where the levers of power will be. They want to go to the persons who will have a say, and, in the end, if we pass this Bill, the say will go from here to the European Parliament.
I fear that if we pass this Bill and the Scotland and Wales Bills, this House will shortly be reduced to the status of a county council. I know that some hon. Members may want that, or may tolerate it, but I was not sent here for that purpose. I hope that I still have some red blood in my veins. If we pass this Bill, we shall be bleeding this ancient House to death.
§ 8.17 p.m.
§ Mr. John Mendelson (Penistone)
It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Stokes) in debate. For one thing, particularly in this debate, we all know his position. We know his point of view. No one can doubt what his position is in a debate that is marked by ambiguities and uncertainties as to the position of so many Members at the end tonight.
A curious change has come over Parliament in the last few months. I used to know the House, both as a young Member and as a visitor in the Strangers Gallery, as a place where people had their say and everyone knew what they would 1854 do in the Division at the end of the debate Now, one has to be a Philip Marlowe to know what Members will do when the debate ends. One needs an apparatus of intelligence to find out what position they will adopt.
We have had debates and votes on devolution, and I have found it hard to discover anyone in the House, with the exception of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House and of the Minister of State, Privy Council Office, who really supports the devolution Bills. They give one all sorts of reasons why they will vote for them. I must not waste the time of the House in rehearsing those reasons, but they have very little to do with the support for devolution that they expressed in the Lobby. In this debate, we are to have the strange spectacle, so I am told, of quite a number of members of Her Majesty's Government, some of them outstanding members of it, not voting against the Bill although they are totally opposed to it. That, to me, is an amazing occurrence.
But how is debate in the country to be carried forward? How is the message to get through to the electorate about what Members really feel about this Bill if the report after the Division tonight is completely blurred? There will be people abstaining who are against it. There will be people voting for it who would prefer to abstain. There will be people professing to be great Europeans when they are nothing of the kind—including many right hon. and hon. Members opposite. Will the Opposition Front Bench represent, at the end of the debate tonight, the point of view of the hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge? Not at all. But who is to tell us that the hon. Gentleman does not represent as many Conservatives and their real deep feelings in the country as his Front Bench? Any hon. Member who has the honesty to admit it will know that I am only stating what is common sense. There has been no attempt to find out.
A fairly senior member of the Conservative Party in Wales wrote to me because he wanted to write to someone who supports his point of view in opposition to the Bill. Things have come to a pretty pass in our political life if senior Conservatives have to write to me to have their point of view represented, but 1855 this has happened, and after I had sent him a courteous and appropriate reply, as we always do, he sent me another letter six weeks later, when the preparations were going on for the annual conference of the Conservative Party. He said:I must express to you both my thanks for your kind and courteous reply and equally my profound disapointment with my own party organisation, because every attempt I have made to have a proper motion against direct elections to the European Parliament Assembly debated at our annual conference has been ruled out of order by the Standing Orders Committee of my party.That is the truth. The only way in which that gentleman can express his point of view is by speaking in his area, but never by speaking at the policy-making body of his own party.
§ Mr. Mendelson
They do not, because it is true, and many Conservative Members who have had this experience themselves know it much better than I do. But it applies to both sides of the House. I exempt the Liberals, but I shall come to them in a moment. As far as——
§ Mr. Mendelson
I am not saying anything about the hon. Member far Inverness (Mr. Johnston). I shall not be personal, because I never am, but I shall come to the Liberals and their interest in this legislation.
We are moving towards the time, about an hour from now, when the speakers from the two Front Benches will be saying roughly the same thing on tile basic issue before us. They will engage in some shadow boxing as to who might be blamed if the elections do not take place next year. That is all they will do. There will be no real debate at the end. They will then call upon right hon. and hon. Members to go into the Lobbies and to make their decision.
I had the profound privilege, as a very young man, of having a seat in the Strangers Gallery on 7th and 8th May 1940. I remember that momentous debate. I heard Admiral Sir Roger Keyes making a speech in that debate. Young Service men, who had returned from the 1856 front in Norway, also spoke in the debate. I saw what is meant then to have a clear indication, right or wrong, of how hon. Members felt, whether it was their Government or not, about a great issue. Tonight we shall see the opposite of that, and it is a sad decline for the House of Commons that a decision of this kind should be taken in that sort of atmosphere.
I give no advice to my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Government. I would not have the presumption to do so. They must make up their own minds. What I do know is that I would not wish to vote against my real political opinion, or abstain, on an issue of this importance.
This debate is the conclusion of a debate which, though not a very long one, has gone on for some time. Certainly it is not very long in the terms in which the late Hugh Gaitskell spoke about the substance of the matter that we are debating today. It is no minor matter to argue whether this is the first step towards the incorporation of the United Kingdom into a European State.
The hon. Member for Moray and Nairn (Mrs. Ewing) made light of this. That did not surprise the House. She wants to destroy the United Kingdom anyhow. Therefore, any step in that direction is welcome to her, in spite of all the subterfuge of the argument with which she treated the House. I was not surprised when she kept asking rhetorical questions, and when she said "I cannot see" and "I cannot understand". The hon. Lady is much more intelligent than that. She understands only too well and she likes what she understands. It is a curious fact that the Government's purposes and the purposes of the Opposition Front Bench were mainly supported by the hon. Lady. There was very little support from anywhere else for what the two Front Benches are preparing for us.
The reasons are obvious. The Government have announced, through my hon. Friend the Minister of State, that they are refusing to incorporate in the Bill a clause which has been demanded by many of us on both sides of the House. It is of great interest in this context that the Assemblee Nationale, not on a minor amendment from the Back Benches but on a motion in the name of the Prime Minister, M. Barre, came to a decision as a result of which the French Republic 1857 is now legally prevented, in clear and precise terms, from accepting at any time in the future any extension, either directly or indirectly, of the powers of the European Parliament. The framing of the clause was not such as to enable the French Parliament to decide at some future time whether to accept any such extension. Any such charge is in fact declared in advance to be ultra vicesin perpetuity. No answer has been forthcoming as to why our Government are refusing to do the same.
The right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw), from the Opposition Front Bench, demanded that a commitment should be given that an Act of Parliament should be introduced. Even that is not quite clear. Why, then, is there this curious reluctance to be definite on the occasion of this Second Reading? To those who may say that we cannot have in our legislation any reference to perpetuity, I maintain that we could put into the Bill a clause making it impossible for any extension of powers, directly or indirectly, to take place without a special Act of Parliament being passed in this House. This could well be done under the constitution and procedure of the House of Commons. But the Government did not want to do it. They want the uncertainty of the position. For what reason? The shady pretence is that this Bill is wanted merely to make more democratic the work and representative character of the future Members of the European Parliament. But that argument falls down on this precise point.
No one in the European Parliament today would agree if it were suggested that the powers will not be extended once it becomes a directly-elected Parliament. Everyone is honest about that except the people here who recommend the Bill. No one in public life in Europe will deny that the purpose is the extension of the powers of the newly-elected Parliament. If we can persuade them that the British Government will at all times in future oppose any such extension of powers, I am convinced that they will drop the whole project. They will see it as a waste of time. That is the real position. It is, therefore, a matter of very great importance.
I want to say one thing about the electoral system. Here I come to the 1858 Liberal Party. The House will remember that in an earlier debate the Liberal Party was challenged on the electoral system. One of its right hon. Members, who is not now present, said in plain terms that if the Liberals could not get PR into the legislation he would not be interested in the whole project of direct elections to the European Parliament. Although that right hon. Member has tried to move away from that statement ever since, that is the real position of the Liberal Party. It is a manoeuvre for domestic political purposes. That is what the Liberals are interested in. Their purpose is continuous coalition government. Those of us who are opposed to continuous coalition government feel that it would be better for the British people to be led by the Government of one party or the other so that people clearly know what is at stake.
§ Mr. Russell Johnston
Our purpose quite simply is fair representation of political opinion in this country.
§ Mr. Mendelson
I have said enough about it, and I do not want to spend more time on this, but I am convinced that there is a clear majority in this House against PR. There will be occasions during the Committee stage to give more reasons why we are against it.
Whatever the blurring of the result tonight, there will be enough hon. Members opposing the Bill to show the country that support for it is very limited and that the battle continues.
§ 8.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Ian Gow (Eastbourne)
At the outset of my remarks I want to deal with one matter which has been a recurring theme in the debate—the suggestion that somehow the United Kingdom is bound by treaty to agree to direct elections. That is manifestly not the case.
Article 138.3 of the Treaty of Rome states thatThe Assembly shall draw up proposals for elections by direct universal suffrage in accordance with a uniform procedure in all Member States.But the Treaty was signed 20½ years ago, on 25th March 1957. Is it really suggested that the six founder members of the Community have been in continuous breach of the Treaty of Rome because it has taken them 20 years or more to agree 1859 to direct elections? If they are now arguing that we must have direct elections and that we have no choice in the matter, that assertion in itself is a most obvious example of a surrender of the sovereignty of the United Kingdom Government and the United Kingdom Parliament.
The words in Article 138 have been ignored for 20 years. At best, they are declaratory only—rather like Clause 1 of the Scotland Bill.
§ Mr. Gow
The late Clause 1. Although this debate takes place on a Bill to authorise additional future General Elections in the United Kingdom it is, in fact, about a more fundamental issue, namely, what ought to be the economic, political and constitutional relationship of the United Kingdom and this House to the Community and its institutions?
I voted "Yes" in the referendum of June 1975. I advised my constituents to vote "Yes" as well. But in the two years and more that have passed since June 1975 it has become increasingly clear that there is a significant, and, I believe, growing difference of view between my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench and myself—a difference between those who, like myself, want to see the Community develop as a loose grouping of sovereign nation States and those who, like some of my hon. Friends, favour a move towards economic and monetary union—a move towards a federal Europe.
I am an unashamed Gaullist. To me, Europe de patrieshas always been an ideal. To that extent I am an enthusiastic European, in the much misused sense of that greatly abused word. I want to see the nine nations that make up the Community today co-operating to the maximum where it is in the mutual interest of those member States to co-operate. I want to see, as far as possible, the free movement of people, goods and capital within the member States. I want to create, as far as possible, a genuine free trade area. I am in favour, wherever it suits the United Kingdom, of its co-operating, in matters of foreign policy and defence, with the sister nations on the mainland of Europe.
I believe that the nation States of Europe ought to preserve their own 1860 identify and that any attempt to impose upon their peoples an enlarged supranational Parliament and an enlarged supra-national Government will be deeply resented. Over the past decade our own Government and Parliament have not been so successful that the people are clamouring for more. Nor have we even in this House been so successful over the past 10 years that people are calling for still greater intervention in their lives. On the contrary, there is, sadly, a great and growing gulf between people and Parliament, between Government and the governed. If Westminster and Whitehall seem remote, the gulf will not be bridged by advising the people to take their grievances to Luxembourg or to Strasbourg.
The Bill makes a vital, important constitutional change and, in my opinion, a change in what is fundamentally the wrong direction. In place of 36 United Kingdom Members of the European Assembly we are to have 81. Instead of a total of 198 Assembly Members there are to be 410. I predict that pressure will grow for the size of this already enlarged European Assembly to increase still further. It is inevitable that this new Assembly, more than doubled in size, clothed with the authority, real or imagined, of direct elections, will demand more power. That power can be granted or seized only at the expense of the authority and responsibility of this House.
The Bill envisages a constitutional change of the most fundamental kind that has ever come before this Parliament. For the first time ever we are contemplating a General Election—and more than one; a continuous series of General Elections—to elect a Parliament in which the United Kingdom will be in a permanent minority and which is intended to be a superior authority to the authority of the House.
Our country is a member of many international bodies. We are a member of the United Nations. We are a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. It has never been suggested that our representatives at the United Nations General Assembly or our representatives at the Council of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation should be elected directly by our people. On the contrary, those who represent us at the General Assembly or at the Council of NATO are appointed 1861 —rightly, in my view—by the Government of the day. But this proposed new Assembly is vitally different.
I ask right hon. and hon. Members to look at the way in which we have built up our constitutional structure in the United Kingdom. It is a curious but well-tried anomaly. The lower down the scale of the administration, the greater is the degree of representation. Let me illustrate what I mean. Part of my constituency is composed of the borough of Eastbourne. The electors of that borough send 30 members to the borough council. They send nine members to the county council. They send one Member to this House. They will send one-seventh of one Member to the European Assembly. That means that the representation of an elector in this country is in inverse proportion to the assumed importance and power of the layer of government that we envisage.
Thus, it is not surprising that within the United Kingdom as it is constituted today this House, which has a smaller representation per elector, should be about to confer and agree to a still smaller representation, which implies a superior authority at the new Assembly.
Those who doubt that more power will be demanded by the proposed new Assembly have only to look at the propaganda of the European Parliament itself. The London office of the European Parliament's secretariat issued a certain document as long ago as January of last year, saying that Parliament's—not this Parliament's but the European Assembly's—powers are likely to be steadily extended in the future.Those are not the words of some unknown Back Bencher from a seaside resort in Sussex; they are the words of the European Parliament's official document.
I fear that the creation of a powerful new supranational Parliament in whose train there will come a new and powerful bureaucracy will create a growing burden for the people of Europe. The electoral arrangements envisaged in the Bill will be virtually meaningless to the British electorate and are likely to mean a totally unreal relationship between European Assemblyman and elector in this country.
Perhaps I am a romantic. The future of Britain is of supreme importance to this House. I still believe that the United 1862 Kingdom can save itself by its own exertions and Europe by its own example.
§ 8.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Julius Silverman (Birmingham, Erdington)
In his eloquent speech, the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) pointed out the dangers of the advance towards a federal or supranational State, or perhaps a unitary State, as the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) said. The pressure already exists. I serve on the Scrutiny Committee, and the amount of legislation that that Committee examines that should be passed by the individual countries, whatever its merits, is remarkable. It is obvious that in the Commission there is already pre-sure to advance towards a federal, supranational or unitary State.
Apart from the extension of the powers of the Assembly and an advance towards a supranational State, I cannot conceive that direct elections make any sense. They are a piece of complete nonsense if they are examined from a practical point of view.
It is said—it is a most impudent claim —that the Members elected by direct elections for constituencies of half a million people are more democratic than the present process, which is nomination by the House. That is a piece of nonsense. The Member who is elected will have little contact with his electors. That contact is precluded by the size of his electorate. If a system of proportional representation is adopted, whatever its merits, the Member's connection with his electorate will be even more diffuse.
Comparatively few will vote in the elections. What is even more important, those who vote will not know for what they are voting or about what they are voting. How many Members of this place of any of the three parties can come forward to tell me what will be the issues between party and party at the forthcoming direct elections, if they come? I do not know any Member who can tell me that.
§ Mr. Nick Budgen (Wolverhampton, South-West)
Will the hon. Gentleman comment on the assertion that is so often put forward—namely, that the division will be along the party lines that we have in this place? Might it not be, for instance, that the division will be between those who want a federal Europe and 1863 those who want a Europe of nation States? Such an issue might easily totally divide the two great parties in this place.
§ Mr. Silverman
That might be possible. The division might be one of party labels. It might be between those who want an extension to federalism and those who do not, or it might be on purely national lines. Many of the issues before both the Assembly and the Scrutiny Committee are on national lines. Surely it is impossible to define the issues that will come before the electorate.
The members of the public who vote on these issues will have no idea what they are voting about apart from the party labels. However, they will not know what the party labels mean. To suggest that this is a form of democracy is complete nonsense. There is no democracy if we are to have large electorates with the electors having no contact with their candidates, or, at any rate, little contact. The electors will be voting on issues that they do not understand. To suggest that this is democracy is a piece of nonsense
It is suggested that the Member of Parliament nominated from this House under the present system has too heavy a burden to bear. I admit that it is a heavy burden. The Members spend one week in Luxembourg, for instance, and then return to this place to come down to earth. On the whole, I believe that they perform their functions in Europe reasonably well within the limits of their functions. When they return to the House and their constituencies, they find out what is happening in this country and ascertain how that fits in with the legislation with which they are faced while in Europe.
Upon the basis of that, and only that, they have to be in a position to perform a reasonbly competent function. That will not be available to Members who are elected in direct elections. They will have no contact with this Parliament. It has been suggested that there should be some sort of institutional function by which they meet members of this Parliament. It will not work. It is not working adequately even at present when we haw our own nominated Members, and I can see a considerable gulf between the people who go there as directly-elected Members under this so-called democratic process 1864 and the Members of this House who are dealing with the problems of this country.
They will have little contact with the Executive. The Community is a very peculiar sort of animal. It has legislative functions but no executive functions. Those executive functions are performed for it by the Executives of the constituent States. The Commission is not, as some people suggest, some form of executive. It is simply a part of the Community legislative process.
For example, Members of this House are frequently in contact with the Executive, either directly or through the Ministers responsible, to redress the grievances of their constituents or to acquire the information which is essential if they are to function properly as public representatives. At present there is no provision for any sort of organisation or institution that will create that function for the directly-elected Members. They will be in a sort of limbo, with little connection with their constituents, little connection with Parliament here and little connection with the Executive which performs functions and administers legislation in this country which they are supposed to carry out on behalf of the Community.
In the light of that, I cannot for the life of me see that this provision makes any sense in practical terms. It is a piece of nonsense, and the only way in which it can conceivably make sense is if it is intended, as I believe it is, to be an advance towards increasing federalism or the creation of a unitary State in Europe.
I believe, although this is repudiated by the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw) and by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, that the founders of this idea had that one in mind. Article 138 of the Treaty had this eventual idea in mind. There are arguments for a unitary State, although I am not convinced about it. If, however, that is the object, and I believe that it is, it should be discussed upon that basis. I therefore intend to vote against the Bill tonight.
§ 8.54 p.m.
§ Mr. Kenneth Clarke (Rushcliffe)
Such are the divisions of opinion across the House on this subject that I rise to speak having heard the four previous 1865 speakers state their opposition to the Bill. I am a keen supporter, but I share with those four hon. Members their opinion on the great significance of the measure. There has been wide agreement on that at least throughout the House, except among Ministers and those who introduced the legislation at the earlier stage.
I see direct elections as a step towards a much more powerful European Parliament with more significant powers. I see the development of that Parliament as an essential step towards a more unified Europe organised as a stronger political union. Some hon. Members—the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson) was the last—have recoiled in shocked horror upon finding this. In fact, all those who have campaigned in favour of entry to the community and its development have always acknowledged that some loss of sovereignty, which we find acceptable, is involved for the United Kingdom. Certainly there must be a pooling of sovereignty with and a creation of new sovereignty for the European Parliament if it is to be effective.
I agree with the analysis of where we are going, put forward by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Solihull (Mr. Grieve). I do not need to reiterate it.
To keep referring to those in favour of a more unified Europe as federalists is a misnomer. I do not approve of federal constitutions for the United Kingdom, the EEC or any other body. A stronger political union has often been asserted as the aim, and it is one to which I adhere. I should have thought that, given that the strongest supporters and the strongest opponents of this measure are agreed on where it is going and what it is aimed at, those who are against the Bill can give us credit for the fact that one of the prime aims of those who want to see a stronger European political union is to strengthen the democratic institutions of a unified Europe to ensure that parliamentary democracy remains at the core of the whole thing.
As more pooling of sovereignty takes place between the member States in those important areas which have a European dimension—economic and monetary policy, trade policy and industry policy—it is essential that the decision-making bodies of the Community should be pro- 1866 perly answerable to democratically directly-elected representatives of the peoples of the various member States.
I do not foresee any situation in which it will be adequate for the Council of Ministers and the Commission to be answerable to a nominated European Assembly and to the nine individual national Parliaments of the member States. We are all agreed that scrutiny in this House is poor and could be improved. However, it will not be an effective parliamentary scrutiny of the legislative powers of the Council of Ministers. Our British Minister will always answer here, but the Council of Ministers as a body needs to be answerable to another body which will be able to take a general European view of the issues involved and also have some democratic legitimacy.
I can understand the tactics of Ministers who say that nothing of this kind is contemplated and that this Bill is a minor technical change to our present position. The majority of 247 on Second Reading in the last Session is perhaps regarded as somewhat fragile by Ministers. But I think that the short-term tactics are a little dangerous because they may lead to allegations of ill-faith in future. I foresee the European Assembly acquiring legislative and other more significant parliamentary powers than it has now. I am sure that if the Minister does not say more about that, he will give us plenty of time to develop these ideas in Committee.
I should like to turn to the immediate problems of the directly-elected Parliament that we are contemplating in the Bill. I begin with what may seem to be a silly, small point compared with others, but I suggest that it will be trouble some politically. I refer to the salaries that are expected to be paid to directly-elected Members of the European Parliament. We in this House would no doubt put this problem in context alongside all the other constitutional problems, but I can see a substantial political stick being handed to those who are against the Assembly. This matter will loom out of all importance to others unless it is dealt with straight away.
Visions are being conjured up of Members of the new Assembly having the pay of a Member of the Bundestag without paying the atrocious levels of British tax that we pay. The job will 1867 no doubt be attractive for that, among other reasons, and may attract candidates not solely attracted by political reasons. It is silly for those who support direct elections to the Assembly not to deal with that matter at a fairly early stage. I should like the British Government to insist, for example, that the pay should be equivalent to the pay of a Member of the national Parliament of the member State from which he comes.
The method of election is a more substantial matter. I strongly prefer the first-past-the-post system. I have already indicated at sufficient length that I want these newly directly elected Members to have some authority and status. I also want the process of electing them to help dramatise the politics of Europe and to bring those politics closer to the individual electors through the campaign atmosphere. I see no way in which the regional list system will have the effect of dramatising elections or of giving the status that I prefer.
To take a parochial example, I prefer to see a campaign for one European Member of Parliament for Nottinghamshire, much though I regret that that would be a Labour Member in most foreseeable circumstances. To face my electors with a ballot paper for a region that will stretch from Grimsby to Kettering and have on it the names of 60 candidates with the requirement to choose five, and to imagine that that is either an interesting or an immediate election process, or that it will produce Members with whom the electors will maintain direct contact afterwards, is wrong.
My only other argument at this stage about the electoral system is this. I have heretical views compared with those of many who share my opinion on the first-past-the-post system. I am by no means sure that the method of the first election will not be the method that is adopted for the second election and thereafter. I see no reason why we should necessarily find ourselves having to be exactly in step with other members of the Community or to move to be in step later. We abandoned that idea to get to direct elections at all. We should never have had direct elections if the members of the Community had continued discussing an attempt to get a common system of elections. It was only when member Governments became resigned to the fact that 1868 there was no great hope of agreeing on that that they moved to agreement to hold direct elections at all. I am sure that my strong views on the development of Europe do not include an insistence that we ought to harmonise ourselves with Europe in the way that we elect Members. We should use the democratic method best suited to ourselves.
My last point relates to the time at which the Bill is to get on the statute book, if it ever does. The Government's best endeavours to get the Bill have been pathetic, and the present lack of urgency indicates that they do not want the measure in a hurry, if they want it at all. The Prime Minister said on the last occasion that it would not be the end of the world if the elections were not held in 1978. It might not be the end of the world, but it would do great damage.
It is not only that I want to see direct elections in the bag. I want to see the standing of this country improve as a member of the EEC. I want to see this country having the influence and respect in the Community that it ought to have. We have lost that influence and respect by the pointless process of renegotiation, the foolish referendum and the way in which we have at all times cast serious doubts on the commitment of this country to those obligations of honour and the Treaty that we undertook when we joined.
At some stage, if the Bill is to get on to the statute book, there will have to be a guillotine providing generous time for debate, to ensure that there is still a chance of getting into the position when we can say to others in Europe that we shall not be the one member country that is responsible for delay. If that time comes, I hope that the large number of hon. Members on both sides of the House who support the Bill in principle will support the necessary resolution to get it on to the statute book.
§ 9.3 p.m.
§ Mr. T. H. H. Skeet (Bedford)
When several authorities within a State are derived from the same franchise, it is my view that power rises to the superior or higher authority. We have learnt this in the United Kingdom through local government, which has become deprived of powers by the central Government, and I believe that if we have a universal franchise for Europe that body will increase 1869> its power at the expense of the House of Commons. Whether or not we like it, that will be the consequence.
I think that where additional power is claimed the legal facilities will be provided at a later date. While Article 236 of the Treaty of Rome would require ratification of any amendment in this House, I support the contention of my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw) that a clause should be introduced into the Bill to guarantee the position.
What the Government have not taken into account are the implications that are likely to arise from what is proposed. If there is a directly elected Assembly—and no doubt there will be one—we shall have, in addition to two volumes of statutes every year, and four to six volumes of Statutory Instruments a whole mountain of additional paper-work that will come out of the research lockers of the European Members of Parliament. That might be a necessary consequence.
I want to come straight to another implication and deal with the pay situation. I see some very dire consequences arising if the present differential between the Parliament at Westminster and its European counterparts remains in anything like the present form. There will be a drain of talent from Westminster in future years, with substantial impairment to the authority of the House of Commons.
Last Monday my hon Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Renton) asked the Lord President if he would initiate a review of the salaries of Members of Parliament in comparison with those paid in Europe, and the answer was "No". The House may care to evaluate some of the salaries paid to the Members of other Parliaments.
In the United States parliamentarians receive £33.000 a year. In the European Parliament it is proposed to pay Members £25,000 a year, with an additional £10,000 in expenses and probably at low rates of tax. In West Germany the current salary is £20,700, with an additional £13,300 in tax-free expenses. In France it is £19,700 and in Canada £14,000.
I do not wish to dwell on this for too long, but I must point out to the Government that if salaries in this House remain lower than those in Europe there will be 1870 a drain from this House, and people of lower calibre will remain here to deal with an immense amount of work.
There are 85 members of the staff of the House of Commons who receive salaries that are higher than ours. Of those who are on a par with us, there are 23 Senior Clerks, the Assistant Editors of Hansard, the Deputy Serjeant-at-Arms and the Assistant Accountant. We receive the pay of a captain in the British Army. This is one of the implications of direct elections of which the Home Secretary should take account. It is a problem that he should solve long before the system comes into operation.
There has been no attempt by the Government to define and co-ordinate the nature of the relationship between Members of both Assemblies. In my judgment there could be confusion and conflicting policies. An illustration of this is what could happen in energy policy. A Member of this House may feel that oil in the North Sea should be used for our own purposes, with only limited exports to Europe. On the other hand, there could be good Europeans who feel that the oil should be made available to Europe in larger quantities if the Europeans are prepared to pay a commercial price for it. This could lead to entirely different views, depending on which side of the Channel the Member is standing.
The way around problems like this is to operate a dual-mandate system. This has been rejected in favour of Members of the Assembly being independent of this House and elected by the first-past-the-post or regional list systems. We have learnt no information this afternoon about any of Lord Carrington's proposals or the possible position of the other place. What the Government—Labour or Conservative—must face is that the new electees for Europe will have no experience in this House. They will be shaped into an entirely different tradition and will respond to an advisory Assembly in an entirely different way.
Conflicts are likely to abound, because we will have another tier of general government sandwiched in, and this could lead to further problems. I suggest that in his closing remarks the Secretary of State should indicate the steps that he envisages to integrate the European Assembly with the House of Commons 1871 in order to ensure that the policies advocated are not lost sight of when that Parliament considers them.
§ 9.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Paul Channon (Southend, West)
At this hour of the night, I shall try to truncate my remarks. I am strongly in favour of the principle of this Bill. However, I have a number of questions which I hope the Home Secretary will answer when he replies to the debate. It is extremely important that the House should have frank answers to a number of questions that have arisen from the debate.
I have discovered throughout all my travels in Europe—they are not as extensive as those indulged in by some hon. Members, but they are extensive enough —that there is nobody in Europe who sees any chance that the Government will meet their target date for the elections of May-June 1978. I hope the Home Secretary will reply frankly to the following question: is it still a possibility that this date will be met? I very much doubt it.
We see from paragraph 30 of the White Paper, published in April this year, that in order to get the legislation through—this related to the first-past-the-post system—the Boundary Commissions will need to complete their work by the end of 1977".That must apply whether we have first-past-the-post or the regional system. I emphasise that in April this year the Government were saying that the legislation had to be through and the Boundary Commissions had to complete their work if we were still to meet the date of May 1978.
I am fortified in my view of the situation by evidence given by the Home Department to the Select Committee on Direct Elections to the European Assembly, when it first gave details of the date on which these matters should be completed. I refer the House to the evidence given on 22nd June last. The first timetable envisaged that the legislation would have to be through by the end of July 1977, but then, when the Home Office officials were pushed hard by the Committee, they said that provided the legislation was through by the end of February it might just be possible to meet the date.
1872 Is the Home Secretary saying that he seriously expects this legislation to be through by the end of February? If so, will he let us know the exact timetable for his legislation?
We were told by the Minister of State, Home Office, that we would have an extended Committee stage, and I believe that the arguments that we have heard this evening show that that will probably be the case in practice. Nobody imagines that this Bill will get through Parliament with the minimum of discussion. Have the Government decided—it is their prerogative so to decide—that they will give priority to the Scotland Bill and the Wales Bill before they give priority to this Bill? If that is the case, how can the timetable be met, whatever system of election is eventually agreed?
I contend that it will be wholly dishonest of the Government to pretend that if we go for one system of election we can get this Bill through in time but that if we go for a first-past-the-post system we shall not. I contend that, whichever system of election we adopt, we shall not get the Bill through in time. Would it not be correct for the Government, as they originally promised, to admit that that is the case and allow the House to have a free vote on the system of election, without a pistol being put at our heads and our being told that we can make the date only if we use one system of election rather than another?
Labour Members may be interested to know that the national agent of the Labour Party gave evidence to the Select Committee to which I have referred, and his views were particularly strong on this matter. He advised the Select Committee that it would be wrong to take a decision to change the electoral system, because other elections were taking place in 1978. He said:I do not believe you can change the electoral system for elections taking place in this country for the European Assembly or in Europe without having some repercussions on the other elections.I suggest that any Labour Member who votes for a regional list under the impression that that will have no repercussions elsewhere may be mistaken in the long run. That is for Labour Members to decide.
In my own party, it is clear that many Conservative Members do not support 1873 the regional list system of voting and prefer to stick to first-past-the-post. Surely the situation that we should be putting to the Home Secretary, who has a reputation in this House as a fair man, is that since the Government have offered a free choice of the system of election for the European Assembly elections, we should have a free choice. Let nobody be put off by blackmail or by being told that this is the only way we shall get this system of election through Parliament. This is an extremely important matter, and we must be given a clear answer.
There are a minority of Members who believe that PR in one version or another is the best system for an election to the Westminster House of Commons. They are entitled to their point of view, and they may want such a system for the Scottish Assembly, too. They are entitled to hold that view, but I do not share it, and neither do many other hon. Members. This issue could be used wholly dishonestly by the Liberal Party. It could use this as the thin end of the wedge, because the Liberal Party's sole aim is to use this issue to get elections by proportional representation for Westminster. I urge hon. Members not to be fooled by that.
I ask the Minister to tell us tonight—the right hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. Stewart) put this point very fairly earlier —what the Government's intentions are in the long run. When will the House decide the system of election? How will the timetable be met under either system, and why have we so far been kept wholly in the dark? I contend—and certainly everyone that I speak to in Europe agrees —that these elections will have to be put off until the autumn in any case. Many think that they could not be held before 1979. If so, will the Government be frank and tell us?
Some hon. Members agree with me that without a Speaker's Conference it would be quite wrong for us to rush into far-reaching constitutional reforms that would be carried out without proper consideration. We do that sort of thing all the time, with devolution and a host of other measures. It would be quite wrong for us to change our electoral system for Westminster unless an overwhelming majority in the House decided, on a genuinely free vote, to do that.
1874 If we ever came to a decision to change to proportional representation—which I doubt—the particular system that the Government have put forward in the Bill would be the worst and the most inconvenient of all for the House of Commons. There would be far too much power in the regional divisions of our political parties, and although I have the strongest admiration for them I do not wish to give them that much power. I am glad that many hon. Members share my view.
What a farce it is to adopt a system of election in this country that would mean that if there were a by-election, the person chosen would simply be the next down the list, with no account being taken of the movement of public opinion.
This is a bad Bill, and I hope that the House will choose to go for the ordinary first-past-the-post system. I hope that tonight we shall have some answers before we vote. We should have a proper answer about the timetable with which the House is confronted, so that no hon. Member will vote without having had the truth put in front of him. I hope that tonight, at long last, the Government will come clean.
§ 9.13 p.m.
§ Mr. Douglas Hurd (Mid-Oxon)
The debate has fallen neatly into two main subjects, of which the less important is the question of system and timing and the more important—upon which the House has rightly spent more time—relates to the powers of the Parliament and its relationship to this House. My hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon) has made an impressive speech, and I should now like to spend some time on the matter of system and timing.
The hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Johnston) set out his case in his usual courteous way. The role of the Liberal Party here is most important, and we shall hear more about it during the next few weeks, so it is worth analysing what the Liberal Party has been saying and doing. Its claims in this respect have been, to put it mildly, much more expansive than its achievements. Immediately after the Lib-Lab pact was created in March, the Liberal Party had an opportunity to persuade the Government to bring in a Bill early enough during that 1875 Session to get it through. We do not know whether it tried to do that, but we do know that it did not succeed. The Liberal Party had another opportunity in the autumn when the priority for different Bills was discussed in connection with the Queen's Speech. We do not know whether it tried to get priority for this Bill then, but, again, it certainly did not succeed. This, however, is the key to the whole question of timing.
If the Government had come to the House in the debate on the Queen's Speech and said that, of all the measures in the Gracious Speech, this Bill would have priority and hon. Members would not be allowed home for Christmas until the Bill had become an Act, there would have been a chance of meeting the target date. As it is, they have given priority to the Scotland Bill and, heaven help us, the Wales Bill, and in so doing they have destroyed the last chance of Great Britain meeting the target date. I may be wrong, I hope that I am, but nothing that has been said in the debate has destroyed that idea. The Bill is having its Second Reading after the Scotland and Wales Bills, it will have one day in Committee next week and perhaps one more day before Christmas.
It is too late to argue now that only by voting for the regional list can we meet the target date. Most of the criticism deployed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw) was against the Government, but by concentrating on the relatively trivial and secondary objective of the system to be used at the first elections the Liberals have connived at the delay.
§ Mr. Russell Johnston
In giving some attention, as was appropriate, to the method of election, we have not been concentrating on anything trivial. Secondly, the priority given to this measure in this Session is a primary priority, as I am sure that the Home Secretary would confirm.
§ Mr. Hurd
The hon. Gentleman's idea of primacy is different from mine. We have three main Bills this Session. One has had its Second Reading and two days in Committee, the second has already had a Second Reading and the third—this measure—has its Second Reading tonight. If the hon. Gentleman 1876 is suggesting that the third Bill has primacy, I do not know what he is talking about.
I asked the hon. Member for Inverness during his speech to elaborate on what he thought about the regional list and the Government reaching the target date. Unfortunately he did not have time to reply, so I put the question again to the Home Secretary. If the House accepts the advice of the Government and the Liberal Party, how is it proposed to meet the target date with the regional list system?
Obviously, calculations have been made about the number of days needed in Committee, for Third Reading and in another place. A date must have been calculated for Royal Assent and some estimate made of the time required by Home Office officials, local authorities and political parties to hold the elections in an orderly and successful way. We are entitled to have answers to the questions that we have put.
There is no reason to suppose that the choice of the regional list system should rule out discussion of boundaries. There is nothing God-given about the boundaries of economic planning areas. They are not in the Domesday Book or Magna Carta. When my constituents wake up to find that they have been living all these years in the South-East Planning Area they will be startled and they will want Oxfordshire to be removed from this unnatural state. The idea that by choosing the regional lists we absolve ourselves from the argument over boundaries is unrealistic.
On the other side of the argument—the first-past-the-post system—the Home Secretary will have heard the comments of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition and have listened to the speech of the hon. Member for Farnworth (Mr. Roper) about ways of operating the first-past-the-post procedure. In a moving passage, the Minister of State spoke earlier about the scars that the Home Secretary carries as a result of his efforts to write constituency boundaries into the schedule to the Bill.
In the last Parliament but two, when he was Home Secretary, the present Prime Minister was trying to impose boundaries against the will of the House. The hon. Member for Farnworth was talking about 1877 a possible agreement on boundaries, which is a completely different proposition. I hope that the Home Office will show its proverbial openness of mind on this subject and, in the interests of speed and order, think again from now on about how it can operate a first-past-the-post system effectively, if that is the wish of the House.
The main part of the debate has rightly been concerned with the powers of the European Parliament and its likely development. The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), as is his custom and probably his right, set the scene for the debate by painting once again his portrait of the Community to which we belong. The difficulty that many of us have over this portrait is that it is really a portrait painted by a painter working from a photograph taken a long time ago. The right hon. Gentleman's portrait is of the Community as it might have been, not as it has turned out to be.
There are and always have been people who thought that the Community would evolve relatively quickly towards an all-powerful unitary Executive and an all-powerful unitary Parliament. The right hon. Member for Down, South and many other hon. Members, particularly those below the Gangway on the Government side, constantly speak as if this has happened, but it has not. That process was stopped before we joined the Community by President de Gaulle, who reinforced and entrenched the powers of the nation State. The mantle of de Gaulle fell this evening on the worthy shoulders of my hon. Friends the Members for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Stokes) and for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow).
My hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne was quite right to say that what was at stake in this debate was not the rather perfunctory measure which the Minister described but something which went to the core of our relationship with the Community. We both voted that we should remain in the Community. What we now have—as a result of the Treaty and of de Gaulle and the enlargement—is a partnership of States, each holding a veto in a Council of Ministers, which is the decisive organisation. Yet that Council is required and wishes to take decisions on a European level on a whole range of subjects. That is the point we have reached now, and it creates a real diffi 1878 culty in the taking of decisions because nothing can be decided unless everyone agrees. It is to this problem that a directly-elected European Parliament will address itself, and I believe that right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the argument who have predicted this are right.
The right hon. Member for Down, South emphasised again the difference between legal powers and political influence. He is right. We in this House have all the legal powers we could want, but we have—and we are conscious of this—a declining actual authority and influence, largely because of the foolish ways in which we organise ourselves. The European Parliament has some modest influence now in its nominated state, and it must be true that it will have substantially more influence when it is directly elected, leaving aside the question of legal powers. I believe that this is all to the good and should not be brushed over. It is an essential part of the case for direct elections. It is all to the good, because it will give our constituents a better chance of influencing the decisions which they, as well as we in this House, decide should be taken at a European level.
I have had two constituency cases in the past fortnight to illustrate this point. One was of a firm which was annoyed at the prospect of an EEC proposal which it thought might interfere with its operations. The other was of a school for the mentally handicapped which thought that it might be eligible for a grant from the EEC social fund. Such constituency cases will, when the Parliament is directly elected, go to the directly-elected Member of the European Parliament.
§ Mrs. Dunwoody
Did the hon. Gentleman explain to his constituents that the social fund of the Parliament is so tiny that even if one added it to the regional fund and the EAGGF fund the total would come nowhere near the size of the storage fund and the agricultural fund?
§ Mr. Hurd
Yes. I explained that when the voters had a directly-elected representative he would be able to argue about the size of the social fund. Such cases are coming up all the time, and when they are handled by a directly-elected Member he will not be taking 1879 powers from me, as Member of Parliament for Mid-Oxon, because the Commission is not responsible to me in these matters. The constituent going to the directly-elected representative will simply be adding to the influence he may possess over decisions which could be affecting our future.
Secondly, I believe that the Parliament, when directly elected, will have a chance to improve the decision-making of the Community, which at present is slow and tortuous. We have had the case of Culham. The Council of Ministers was agreed on the project but argued for two dangerous years because its members could not agree where it should be sited. During that delay, the project nearly dissolved. That is an illustration among many of the necessary price we pay for having a partnership of States and not a unitary State.
I say "necessary price" because I am sure that we are not going to renounce the veto, and I am sure that no one is going to take it from us. The Community is, and is going to stay, a partnership of nation States which are not going to wither away. Rather, the problem of the whole Community is to make that partnership work better than it does today. The European Parliament, when directly elected, can play a major part in that.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hales-own and Stourbridge, whose sense of history informs everything he says in this House, used it to argue against the Bill and the building up of this partnership, but it is precisely because of the recent history of Europe, in all our countries, that many of us believe that the partnership is necessary and should be buttressed.
The real question is how the decision made in the referendum should be taken at a European level in a democratic, timely and effective way. I believe that the European Parliament, when directly elected, with its present legal powers but with the new political influence and authority it will have from being directly elected, will be able to improve the decision-making by shaming Ministers occasionally, when they deserve it, out of their present slowness and narrowmindedness.
§ Mr. Spearing
Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that it will have power and influence without responsibility, given to it by this legislation, and that Mr. Baldwin's famous dictum will therefore come into play?
§ Mr. Hurd
Mr. Baldwin was talking of Press Lords. We are talking of people who will be responsible to their constituents, by whom they will hope to be re-elected. There is all the difference in the world between the two propositions.
An illustration, given to the House originally by my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Montgomery), is that of the common agricultural policy. There has for a long time been a community of interest between consumers, say, in London, Hamburg and elsewhere—and, indeed, the efficient British farmer. That community of interest is simply not reflected in the decisions taken by the Council of Agriculture Ministers. But a directly-elected Parliament, actually representing these people and elected by them, will make it much less easy for the Agriculture Ministers to do what they did this year—that is, brush aside proposals for improvement. It will be much less easy for them to agree to price levels which are unrealistic and damaging.
The Members of the directly elected Parliament, because they will have to come and go and communicate with their constituents, and hope to be re-elected by them, will have an opportunity, which we, alas, have not got, of bringing to bear at the centre of the Community an influence for greater common sense and greater response to what people want.
I have tried not to over-egg the argument. I do not think that the sun will shine on everybody the day after we have direct elections, or that it will make all bad things in the Community good. The fact of the matter is, however, that direct elections will be a buttress for the Community, and because it will be a parliamentary buttress I think that it is one that we in this House should welcome. It is not Utopia, it will not solve all the problems of Europe, but it is a part—and, I think, a necessary part—of the next stage in the most hopeful experiment that we have seen in the modern history of Europe.
§ 9.36 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Merlyn Rees)
This is a most important piece of legislation. The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) was right in that respect. Its importance is such that it has needed mature consideration. There needs to be insight and discussion about the implications of much that we are doing in this electoral field. At an earlier stage of the discussion there was talk of the influence of the extension of the franchise and the new developments in parliamentary government in the nineteenth century. which shaped our political system. For that reason alone, to go into a new form of government in Europe makes this Bill of the greatest importance when we take the step to having elected representatives.
The right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw) was right in what he said about the time that the Government have taken. It ought to be admitted on both sides of the House that there are differing views in both major political parties—
§ Mr. Stoddart
Did the secretary of State actually say that we were going into a new form of government?
§ Mr. Rees
What I said was that in the last century the development of the franchise influenced political parties. I was arguing that moving into a new structure of government would have an influence that we ought to think about carefully before moving forward. I believe that to be right.
I was moving on to the point that there are differing views on both sides of the House. In particular, there are differing views on the Government side. This has been so not for reasons of narrow party factious argument but because of the nature of the problem. It has been the same on the question of devolution, where there have also been disagreements. This has meant that the legislation put before the House has not been of the same nature as legislation that divides the House on economic matters, or other legislation where there may be degrees of emphasis that divide us. I do not apologise for that fact. When we are moving forward in this way it is right to try to get a consensus before eventually coming before the House.
1882 I recall—as I am sure the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border does—the occasion in this House five years ago when we ended Stormont. At the time I supported it. I seem to recall that we moved to that decision rather quickly. I wonder whether we were right, and whether it was the right way to move. Certainly the first part of it was done with some speed. In retrospect, I think we might well have given longer consideration to that constitutional matter. The only point of my argument is that there has been delay. This is a most important measure. After all the problems that have arisen we now come to the vote on the matter of principle and afterwards the detailed discussion in Committee.
§ Mr. Alan Clark
The right hon. Gentleman cited the example of Stormont. We in this place will be as Stormont was and in due time we, too, could be ended as Stormont was ended.
§ Mr. Rees
I do not accept that argument. I turn first to the question of the regional list, which apparently is of such great concern to the House and to the Opposition [HON. MEMBERS: "And the Liberals."] And the Liberals. I was simply making the point that it mattered to people in this House. I defend completely the first-past-the-post system for this House, for devolution and for other forms of government in this country. That arises out of the nature of our Parliament and our responsibility here. I believe that it is important to preserve that fundamental nature of our role as Members of Parliament.
But the powers of the European Assembly are different. I do not want to see them very much different in the course of the years. The regional list system is appropriate for the European Assembly. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] The European Assembly is not a Parliament, and I believe the regional list system is appropriate to that form of government.
§ Mr. Michael Spicer (Worcestershire, South)
How can the right hon. Gentleman possibly defend that position when it can produce in the North-West of England an electoral list of over 60 candidates? Can he tell us where this idea of a regional list first came from? Did it come from the Government or from the Liberal Party?
§ Mr. Rees
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the regional list and the large number of candidates, but the problem arising with the first-past-the-post system is that a constituency of, say, 500,000 people will have only one man representing it. I am simply putting the argument. Hon. Members can vote on it. There is a free vote. I believe that the regional list system is appropriate.
§ Mr. Budgen
Before the Home Secretary leaves that argument, will he please explain to the House why the regional list system is appropriate for the European Assembly? He keeps repeating that it is appropriate but he does not explain why.
§ Mr. Rees
There is one basic argument. Where there are Members of Parliament forming a Government, I believe that our basic system is right. That is not the situation with regard to the European Assembly. We are not forming a Government out of the elected representatives, and I believe that a regional list system is appropriate for that form of government. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] For the reasons that I have just given.
With regard to timing, if the regional list system is chosen, progress can be faster. The multi-member constituencies are specified in Schedule 3. Therefore, once the Bill has received the Royal Assent the political parties will know the final nature of the constituencies and can begin the selection of candidates immediately.
If the simple majority system is chosen a minimum of 18 weeks, as spelt out in the Select Committee report, will be required after Royal Assent for the truncated procedures provided for in Schedule 2 for the determination of the 78 single-Member constituencies. Clearly, the Boundary Commissions can do some preliminary work before Royal Assent, but not until the Bill is on the statute book will they have the formal authority to proceed. It should take them only a couple of weeks to produce their initial proposals. Most of the 18 weeks will be required for consideration and representations by the political parties and for the production and publication of new proposals by the Boundary Commissions.
It is in this context that I have to reply to the point made by my right hon. Friend 1884 the Member for Fulham (Mr. Stewart) and the hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon). They asked whether we can meet the "best endeavours" target of May-June. What matters with the first-past-the-post-system is the date of Royal Assent. The House will determine, by the speed with which it proceeds from next Thursday, whether we can meet that target. It is a relatively short Bill once it is divided—[Interruption.] There is nothing funny about that. Honourable Members who know the Bill will realise that it can be so divided once Clause 3 has been dealt with.
What matters is the date of the Royal Assent, which the House will decide. The Leader of the Opposition, when she was here earlier, asked that the first-past-the-post constituencies should be put into the Bill. She said that we could overcome the timing problems in that way. There is a difference, however, between taking three parts of the United Kingdom as a base and using the planning regions to draw up 81 constituencies. My Private Parliamentary Secretary, the hon. Member for Goole (Dr. Marshall), is a mathematician. I had him draw up 81 constituencies. If those constituencies were to be debated in this House—there are about nine constituencies joined together in each case—and if the matter were to be determined on the Floor of the House, we should be here until the Parliament after next, deciding which way to go.
§ Mr. Channon
In view of what the right hon. Gentleman has said, rightly, that it is the date of Royal Assent that will determine matters, what priority do the Government intend to give to the Bill? Is it to have top priority? If not, is it not clear that it is impossible to meet the target date?
§ Mr. Rees
It will depend on the support given in the House. We shall see next Thursday. It may be that the Opposition—it is not a matter for me—will say that, unlike every other constitutional Bill that we have had, there ought to be a guillotine. That offer must be made not to me but to another place. Next Thursday will determine the progress that we shall be able to make.
§ Mr. Fernyhough
My right hon. Friend will remember that last year, when we were discussing the Bill to nationalise the aircraft and shipbuilding industries, the 1885 other place decided to be very awkward. May it not be that the other place will be equally awkward about this Bill?
§ Mr. Rees
My right hon. Friend is quite right; the other place is quite entitled to treat a measure as it wishes, and it has done so over the years. I have no doubt that it will proceed in that way. But the procedures of this House have to be gone through, and we shall see next Thursday the speed with which we can move on these matters.
§ Mr. Craig
The right hon. Gentleman has long passed the point that I wanted to raise. Accepting his argument that there is merit in a multi-Member constituency, can he explain why he decides on a regional system for the United Kingdom but will inflict STV on Northern Ireland if he does not gel the regional system?
§ Mr. Rees
The right hon. Gentleman and I have talked about these matters over the years, though not in this precise way. The argument which is put forward is that the House can decide that, just as in elections in Northern Ireland we have used a system of proportional representation because of the nature of Northern Ireland, it will go along with the view of the Government that, in the context of the EEC, with the first-past-the-post system any attempt to get a representative from the minority community into the discussions would be almost impossible. That is the reason why right hon. and hon. Members voted the way they did in the past for that sort of system in other forms of government in Northern Ireland. For no other reason was it done in that way.
A number of matters have been raised about the relationship between Members of the European Assembly and Westminster. There was a passage in the report of the Select Committee making three or four suggestions about how it could be done. In my view, this is a matter to which we shall have to put our minds and decide whether we want it in precise legislative form. To have one set of elected representatives going straight to Europe and another set of elected representatives here, we shall have to find, on a party or House basis, the means not necessarily of co-ordinating action but of contact between the two groups. In a way, this is related to this question of 1886 parliamentary scrutiny of EEC legislation, which we shall be debating on Monday.
A number of hon. Members referred to the salaries of Members of the European Assembly. A number of figures have been discussed in the Press and elsewhere on a speculative basis. Some appear to come from a draft statute produced by a working party of the European Assembly, but this document has never even been debated by the Assembly. No decisions have been taken on the salaries of directly-elected Members. The Council of Ministers will certainly be involved in the determination of salaries.
It is the view of the Government that it would be wholly inappropriate for excessive salaries to be paid to directly elected Members of the European Assembly. We shall work with our Community partners in the Council of Ministers to promote an equitable solution to this problem before direct elections take place, and it may be that the House can offer a view on this as we proceed through the Committee stage of the Bill.
§ Mr. Marten
I am grateful to hear the Government's view on that. Is it not true, however, that the European Assembly, or whatever organisation it is out there, has been discussing this matter for almost a year and a half? Is it not dragging its feet about this? Secondly, why were not we told by the Treasury whether the salaries, whatever they are, would be taxable? Presumably the Treasury has been debating that.
§ Mr. Rees
The view of the Government is quite clear: not more than 10 per cent.
A number of right hon. and hon. Members have talked about the powers of the 1887 Assembly and the possibility of future extensions. In opening the debate, my hon. Friend the Minister of State repeated the undertaking that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has given—namely, that it would need an Act of Parliament to give the European Assembly any further powers that would reduce the powers of this Parliament. It is the Government's belief that under the British constitution, under which no Parliament can bind its successor, an undertaking of that sort is the most effective restraint, especially as it is being supported by the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border on behalf of the Opposition. The Government have noted the strength of feeling on this matter and they accept that it will be necessary closely to consider it.
I understand that there is a legal problem as regards the Royal Prerogative. I understand, too, that there is a problem about having two subjects in a Bill. However, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has made it clear that it is his view that it would need an Act of Parliament to give the European Assembly any further powers. It is on that basis that the discussion in Committee can proceed.
There is to be no change in the power of the European Assembly as a result of this Bill. The Government have made it clear that they do not support federalism. In his letter to the National Executive of the Labour Party, my right hon. Friend said:The Government has never accepted that the Community should develop into a federation. It is our policy to continue to uphold the rights of national Governments and Parliaments.What we are debating is the method of choosing the Members of an existing body to exercise existing powers. The question to be decided tonight is whether
§ that should be by nomination or election. There is nothing in the Bill as it stands that alters the decision taken a few years ago to remain in the Market, or the views of the Government about the changed powers of the Assembly and its future development.
§ There are those, like the right hon. Member for Down, South, who believe that this measure by itself will promote a development leading towards the greater strength of the Community. I say to those who take that view that what matters in future in respect of the development of the EEC is what the national Governments want to make of it and what we in particular want, because it is the Members of this House who will decide what we wish to make of the EEC.
§ If we look back to the Treaty as it was in the 1950s and consider how we imagined it would develop and what the Founding Fathers thought it was going to be, it is clear that that has not happened. There are other countries that wish to come into the EEC. There are the developing views of the individual countries that are in the EEC. Those matters are not at issue tonight. They are not the issues in the Bill. What we shall be debating is whether the Members shall be elected or nominated. In other walks of life I much prefer someone to be elected than to be nominated, and it is on that that we shall have to base our case.
§ We are prepared, as we have been throughout, to use our best endeavours to get the Bill through. Those best endeavours will be stultified only by the attitude of the Members of this place. It is for the House of Commons to decide. The Government's view is that the Bill should be supported.
§ Question put, That the Bill be now read a Second Time:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 381, Noes 98.1891
|Division No. 20]||AYES||[9.58 p.m.|
|Abse, Leo||Baker, Kenneth||Boothroyd, Miss Betty|
|Alison, Michael||Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (Heywood)||Boscawen, Hon Robert|
|Amery, Rt Hon Julian||Bates, Alf||Bottomley, Rt Hon Arthur|
|Anderson, Donald||Beith, A. J.||Bottomley, Peter|
|Archer, Rt Hon Peter||Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torbay)||Bowden, A. (Brighton, Kemptown)|
|Armstrong, Ernest||Bennett, Dr Reginald (Fareham)||Boyden, James (Bish Auck)|
|Arnold, Tom||Benyon, W.||Boyson, Dr Rhodes (Brent)|
|Ashley, Jack||Berry, Hon Anthony||Bradley, Tom|
|Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne)||Biggs-Davison, John||Braine, Sir Bernard|
|Awdry, Daniel||Bishop, Rt Hon Edward||Bray, Dr Jeremy|
|Bagler, Gordon A. T.||Blaker, Peter||Brittan, Leon|
|Bain, Mrs. Margaret||Blenkinsop, Arthur||Brocklebank-Fowler, C.|
|Brooke, Peter||Glyn, Dr Alan||Lomas, Kenneth|
|Brotherton, Michael||Godber, Rt Hon Joseph||Loveridge, John|
|Brown, Sir Edward (Bath)||Golding, John||Luard, Evan|
|Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)||Goodhart, Philip||Luce, Richard|
|Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W)||Goodhew, Victor||Lyon, Alexander (York)|
|Brown, Ronald (Hackney S)||Goodlad, Alastair||Lyons, Edward (Bradford W)|
|Bryan, Sir Paul||Gorst, John||Mabon, Rt Hon Dr J. Dickson|
|Buchanan, Richard||Gourlay, Harry||MacCormick, Iain|
|Buchanan-Smith, Alick||Gower, Sir Raymond (Barry)||McCrindle, Robert|
|Buck, Antony||Grant, Anthony (Harrow C)||Macfarlane, Neil|
|Bulmer, Esmond||Grant, John (Islington C)||MacFarquhar, Roderick|
|Burden, F. A.||Gray, Hamish||MacGregor, John|
|Butler, Adam (Bosworth)||Grieve, Percy||MacKay, Andrew (Stechford)|
|Callaghan, Rt Hon J. (Cardiff SE)||Griffiths, Eldon||MacKenzie, Rt Hon Gregor|
|Cant, R. B.||Grimond, Rt Hon J.||Maclennan, Robert|
|Carlisle, Mark||Grist, Ian||McNair-Wilson, P. (New Forest)|
|Carter, Ray||Grylls, Michael||Madel, David|
|Cartwright, John||Hall, Sir John||Magee, Bryan|
|Chalker, Mrs Lynda||Hall-Davis, A. G. F.||Mahon, Simon|
|Channon, Paul||Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)||Mallalieu, J. P. W.|
|Churchill, W. S.||Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife)||Marks, Kenneth|
|Clark, William (Croydon S)||Hampson, Dr Keith||Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)|
|Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)||Hannam, John||Marshall, Michael (Arundel)|
|Clegg, Walter||Harrison, Col Sir Harwood (Eye)||Mates, Michael|
|Cockroft, John||Harrison, Rt Hon Walter||Mather, Carol|
|Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol S)||Haselhurst, Alan||Maude, Angus|
|Cohen, Stanley||Hastings, Stephen||Maudling, Rt Hon Reginald|
|Coleman, Donald||Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy||Mawby, Ray|
|Concannon, J. D.||Havers, Rt Hon Sir Michael||Mayhew, Patrick|
|Cooke, Robert (Bristol W)||Hayhoe, Barney||Mellish, Rt Hon Robert|
|Cope, John||Healey, Rt Hon Denis||Meyer, Sir Anthony|
|Corbett, Robin||Heath, Rt Hon Edward||Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove)|
|Costain, A. P.||Henderson, Douglas||Mills, Peter|
|Crawshaw, Richard||Heseltine, Michael||Miscampbell, Norman|
|Critchley, Julian||Higgins, Terence L.||Mitchell, David (Basingstoke)|
|Cronin, John||Hodgson, Robin||Mitchell, R. C. (Soton, Itchen)|
|Crouch, David||Holland, Philip||Monro, Hector|
|Crowder, F. P.||Horam, John||Montgomery, Fergus|
|Cunningham, Dr J. (Whiteh)||Hordern, Peter||Moore, John (Croydon C)|
|Dalyell, Tam||Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey||Morgan, Geraint|
|Davies, Ifor (Gower)||Howell, David (Guildford)||Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)|
|Davies, Rt Hon J. (Knutsford)||Howell, Rt Hon Denis (B'ham, Sm H)||Morris, Michael (Northampton S)|
|Dean, Paul (N Somerset)||Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk)||Morrison, Charles (Devizes)|
|de Freitas, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey||Howells, Geraint (Cardigan)||Morrison, Hon Peter (Chester)|
|Dell, Rt Hon Edmund||Hughes, Rt Hon C. (Anglesey)||Mulley, Rt Hon Frederick|
|Dempsey, James||Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)||Neave, Airey|
|Dodsworth, Geoffrey||Hunt, David (Wirral)||Neubert, Michael|
|Doig, Peter||Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)||Newton, Tony|
|Dormand, J. D.||Hurd, Douglas||Normanton, Tom|
|Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James||Irving, Charles (Cheltenham)||Nott, John|
|Douglas-Mann, Bruce||Jackson, Colin (Brighouse)||Oakes, Gordon|
|Drayson, Burnaby||James, David||Ogden, Eric|
|Duffy, A. E. P.||Janner, Greville||O'Halloran, Michael|
|Dunn, James A.||Jenkin, Rt Hon P. (Wanst'd&W'df'd)||Onslow, Cranley|
|Dunnett, Jack||Jessel, Toby||Oppenheim, Mrs Sally|
|Durant, Tony||John, Brynmor||Osborn, John|
|Dykes, Hugh||Johnson, James (Hull West)||Padley, Walter|
|Eden, Rt Hon Sir John||Johnson, Walter (Derby S)||Page, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby)|
|Edwards, Nicholas (pembroke)||Johnston, Russell (Inverness)||Page, Richard (Workington)|
|Ellis, Tom (Wrexham)||Jones, Alec (Rhondda)||Pardoe, John|
|English, Michael||Jones, Arthur (Daventry)||Parker, John|
|Ennals, Rt Hon David||Jones, Barry (East Flint)||Parkinson, Cecil|
|Ewing, Mrs Winifred (Moray)||Jones, Dan (Burnley)||Pattie, Geoffrey|
|Eyre, Reginald||Jopling, Michael||Penhaligon, David|
|Fairbairn, Nicholas||Joseph, Rt Hon. Sir Keith||Percival, Ian|
|Fairgrieve, Russell||Judd, Frank||Peyton, Rt Hon John|
|Faulds, Andrew||Kaberry, Sir Donald||Pink, R. Bonner|
|Finsberg, Geoffrey||Kaufman, Gerald||Prentice, Rt Hon Reg|
|Fisher, Sir Nigel||Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine||Price, David (Eastleigh)|
|Fitch, Alan (Wigan)||Kershaw, Anthony||Price, William (Rugby)|
|Fitt, Gerard (Belfast W)||Kilfedder, James||Pym, Rt Hon Francis|
|Fletcher, Alex (Edinburgh N)||King, Evelyn (South Dorset)||Radice, Giles|
|Fookes, Miss Janet||King, Tom (Bridgwater)||Raison, Timothy|
|Ford, Ben||Knight, Mrs Jill||Rathbone, Tim|
|Forman, Nigel||Knox, David||Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn (Leeds S)|
|Fowler, Gerald (The Wrekin)||Lamborn, Harry||Rees, Peter (Dover & Deal)|
|Fowler, Norman (Sutton C'f'd)||Lamont, Norman||Rees-Davies, W. R.|
|Fox, Marcus||Langford-Holt, Sir John||Reid, George|
|Freud, Clement||Latham, Michael (Melton)||Renton, Rt Hon Sir D. (Hunts)|
|Galbraith, Hon T. G. D.||Lawrence, Ivan||Renton, Tim (Mid-Sussex)|
|Gardiner, George (Reigate)||Lawson, Nigel||Rhodes James, R.|
|Gardner, Edward (S Fylde)||Le Marchant, Spencer||Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon|
|George, Bruce||Lester, Jim (Beeston)||Ridley, Hon Nicholas|
|Gilmour, Rt Hon Ian (Chesham)||Lever, Rt Hon Harold||Ridsdale, Julian|
|Ginsburg, David||Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)||Rifkind, Malcolm|
|Rippon, Rt Hon Geoffrey||Sproat, Iain||Walker-Smith, Rt Hon Sir Derek|
|Roberts, Michael (Cardiff NW)||Stainton, Keith||Wall, Patrick|
|Roberts, Wyn (Conway)||Stanbrook, Ivor||Walters, Dennis|
|Rodgers, Rt Hon William (Stockton)||Stanley, John||Ward, Michael|
|Roper, John||Steel, Rt Hon David||Watkins, David|
|Rose, Paul B.||Steen, Anthony (Wavertree)||Watt, Hamish|
|Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)||Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)||Weatherill, Bernard|
|Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)||Stewart, Rt Hon M. (Fulham)||Weitzman, David|
|Rowlands, Ted||Stott, Roger||Wells, John|
|Royle, Sir Anthony||Stradling Thomas, J.||Welsh, Andrew|
|Sainsbury, Tim||Strauss, Rt Hon G. R.||White, Frank R. (Bury)|
|St. John-Stevas, Norman||Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley||Whitehead, Phillip|
|Sandelson, Neville||Tapsell, Peter||Whitelaw, Rt Hon William|
|Scott, Nicholas||Taylor, Teddy (Cathcart)||Wiggin, Jerry|
|Scott-Hobkins, James||Temple-Morris, Peter||Willey, Rt Hon Frederick|
|Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)||Thatcher, Rt Hon Margaret||Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)|
|Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert||Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)||Williams, Alan Lee (Hornch'ch)|
|Shelton, William (Streatham)||Thomas, Mike (Newcastle E)||Williams, Rt Hon Shirley (Hertford)|
|Shepherd, Colin||Thomas, Rt Hon P. (Hendon S)||Williams, Sir Thomas (Warrington)|
|Shersby, Michael||Thompson, George||Wilson, Gordon (Qundee E)|
|Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)||Thorpe, Rt Hon Jeremy (N Devon)||Wilson, Rt Hon Sir Harold (Huyton)|
|Silvester, Fred||Tinn, James||Wood, Rt Hon Richard|
|Sims, Roger||Tomlinson, John||Woodall, Alec|
|Sinclair, Sir George||Townsend, Cyril D.||Wrigglesworth, Ian|
|Small, William||Trotter, Neville||Young, Sir G. (Ealing, Acton)|
|Smith, Dudley (Warwick)||van Straubenzee, W. R.||Younger, Hon George|
|Smith, John (N Lanarkshire)||Vaughan, Dr Gerard|
|Smith, Timothy John (Ashfield)||Wainwright, Richard (Colne V)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Speed, Keith||Wakeham, John||Mr. Joseph Harper and|
|Spence, John||Walder, David (Clitheroe)||Mr. Ted Graham.|
|Spicer, Jim (W Dorset)||Walker, Rt Hon P. (Worcester)|
|Spicer, Michael (S Worcester)||Walker, Terry (Kingswood)|
|Aitken, Jonathan||Fraser, Rt Hon H. (Stafford & St)||Mitchell, Austin|
|Allaun, Frank||Fry, Peter||Moate, Roger|
|Ashton, Joe||Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend)||Molyneaux, James|
|Atkins, Ronald (Preston N)||Gould, Bryan||Newens, Stanley|
|Atkinson, Norman||Gow, Ian (Eastbourne)||Ovenden, John|
|Bean, R. E.||Heffer, Eric S.||Pavitt, Laurie|
|Bell, Ronald||Hooley, Frank||Powell, Rt Hon J. Enoch|
|Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N)||Hoyle, Doug (Nelson)||Price, C. (Lewisham W)|
|Bidwell, Sydney||Hughes, Roy (Newport)||Richardson, Miss Jo|
|Biffen, John||Hunter, Adam||Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock)|
|Body, Richard||Hutchison, Michael Clark||Robinson, Geoffrey|
|Bradford, Rev Robert||Jay, Rt Hon Douglas||Rodgers, George (Chorley)|
|Budgen, Nick||Jeger, Mrs Lena||Rooker, J. W.|
|Canavan, Dennis||Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)||Ross, William (Londonderry)|
|Carmichael, Neil||Kelley, Richard||Shaw, Arnold (Ilford South)|
|Carson, John||Kerr, Russell||Silverman, Julius|
|Carter-Jones, Lewis||Kilroy-Silk, Robert||Skinner, Dennis|
|Castle, Rt Hon Barbara||Kinnock, Neil||Spearing, Nigel|
|Clark, Alan (Plymouth, Sutton)||Lambie, David||Stoddart, David|
|Colquhoun, Ms Maureen||Latham, Arthur (Paddington)||Stokes, John|
|Cook, Robin F. (Edin C)||Leadbitter, Ted||Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)|
|Cormack, Patrick||Lee, John||Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)|
|Crowther, Stan (Rotherham)||Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough)||Thorne, Stan (Preston South)|
|Cunningham, G. (Islington S)||Lewis, Arthur (Newham N)||Torney, Tom|
|Davies, Bryan (Enfield N)||Litterick, Tom||Urwin, T. W.|
|Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)||Loyden, Eddie||Wigley, Dafydd|
|Dunlop, John||McCartney, Hugh||Wilson, William (Coventry SE)|
|Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth||McCusker, H.||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Evans,Gwynfor (Carmarthen)||McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C)||Wise, Mrs Audrey|
|Evans, loan (Aberdare)||Marten, Neil||Woof, Robert|
|Fernyhough, Rt Hon E.||Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin|
|Flannery, Martin||Maynard, Miss Joan||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)||Mendelson, John||Mr. John Ellis and|
|Forrester, John||Mikardo, Ian||Mr. Max Madden.|
§ Question accordingly agreed to.
§ Bill read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[Mr. Bates.]
§ Committee tomorrow.
§ Mr. Arthur Latham (Paddington)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I wish to draw your attention and that of the 1892 House, particularly with relation to the matter on which you gave advice earlier today, to the fact that in the Division which has just been reported some 150 hon. Members were not accounted for. It will have been apparent that there were some quite prominent gaps in the Government, and there were other hon. Members who obviously did not record a vote in that Division.
1893 Will you, Mr. Speaker, take note of the fact that in this Division there was no procedure whereby it was possible to record a positive abstention or to place on record the names of hon. Members who deliberately withheld their votes as distinct from those who were simply absent from the House? This underlines a serious defect in the procedures of the House, and I ask you to ponder on this matter in relation to your earlier ruling.
Mr. Norman Tebbitt (Chingford)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Would it be possible for anyone who wishes to do so, without offending against the rules of order, to put an advertisement in the personal columns of The Times or in The Guardian?