§ '.—(1) No treaty which provides for any increase in the powers of the Assembly shall be ratified by the United Kingdom unless it has been approved by an Act of Parliament.
§ (2) In this section "treaty" includes any international agreement, and any protocol or annex to a treaty or international agreement'.—[Dr. Owen.]
§ Brought up, and read the First time.
§ The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Dr. David Owen)
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
Amendment (a) to the new clause, at end add—
'(2) For the avoidance of doubts, the interpretation of the provisions of this Clause shall rest exclusively with the Courts of the United Kingdom, from whom no appeal shall lie on any matter relating thereto whatsoever to the Court of the Community or Courts outside the United Kingdom.'
New Clause 1—Variations in powers, &c., of Assembly—
'Notwithstanding any provisions of the European Communities Act 1972 this Act shall cease to have effect if any variation or increase in the powers, rules or practices of the Assembly or any change in the constitution, rules or practices of the European Communities whether proposed or carried through under the terms and provisions of the Treaties of Paris and Rome or by any persons or organisations acting through or under these provisions or otherwise does not receive the express approval of Parliament prior to their passing or taking effect.'
Amendment (a) to New Clause 1, after 'Parliament', insert:
'voting by a majority of not less than two-thirds of the Members present and voting'.
§ Dr. Owen
I introduce the new clause in fulfilment of the undertaking that I gave to the Committee during the debate on Clause 1 on 1st December that at a later stage of the Bill's consideration the Government would introduce a new clause relating to parliamentary approval of treaties increasing the powers of the European Assembly, and that in drafting the clause the Government would take into account the views expressed by the Committee during the debate.
794 That debate, and the earlier debate on Second Reading on 24th November, revealed the continuing anxiety of many hon. Members that direct elections mean movement towards federalism inside the Community, and that it might be followed by other moves whereby the powers of the House of Commons would be eroded through the extension of those of the European Assembly without there being adequate consideration of the issues in Parliament and without Parliament having the full opportunity of examining any such change.
The Government's attitude to federalism and the powers of the European Assembly was made clear in the letter from my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to the general secretary of the Labour Party on 30th September last year, from which I quoted during our earlier debate. The Prime Minister stated that the Government had never accepted that the Community should develop into federation. They were determined to uphold the rights of national Governments and Parliaments. The Prime Minister also declared the Government's intent that future change in the powers of the European Assembly should be approved by Act of Parliament rather than by affirmative order.
I pay tribute to the fact that during the debate on Second Reading on 24th November the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw) confirmed on behalf of the Opposition that it was unthinkable that any increase in the powers of the European Assembly at the expense of national Governments or Parliaments could be approved except by Act of Parliament.
It is worth looking at the existing powers of the Assembly—
§ Mr. Kenneth Clarke (Rushcliffe)
The right hon. Gentleman has referred to his undertaking to table a new clause to cover the question of any extension of the powers of the European Parliament at the expense of the legislative powers of this Parliament. Why is it that the new clause has gone far beyond that undertaking and covers any increase in the powers of the European Parliament, even if that increase in no way impinges upon the powers of this place? Does that mean that any increase in the powers of the European Parliament, however trivial 795 —and even if it in no way conflicts with or takes away from any powers of the House—will involve the production of a fresh Act of Parliament so that this country may ratify it?
§ Dr. Owen
It means that no treaty providing for an increase in the powers of the Assembly shall be ratified by the United Kingdom unless it has been approved by an Act of Parliament. The relevant words in the new clause are that'treaty' includes any international agreement, and any protocol or annex to a treaty or international agreement".I think that the hon. Gentleman is asking whether this infringes the legislative power of the House of Commons. It is extremely difficult to draw the line or to have a clear-cut line. Unless we had drafted the clause in this way, making it clear that it applies to treaties in the broader sense, we should have had endless arguments whether the legislative power of the House of Commons had been infringed, in the sense that the House gives power to Ministers to make decisions on its behalf. I think it would be argued back that that is, in effect, an erosion of the powers of the House if we exclude from its ambit the discretionary power that the House vests in Ministers.
Effectively, Ministers are answerable to the House of Commons, and by making the new clause wider I think it is more in keeping with the debate which took place in the House. The Government promised that they would listen to the debate. I do not think that the new clause infringes the development of the institutions of the Community in a way which does not involve an actual increase of powers. I think it is a clear definition.
If I may go on to explain—
§ Mr. Marten
Would the definition include a proposed regulation? If it has taken the right hon. Gentleman's Department seven or eight weeks to draft the new clause and bring it forward, what is his comment on the fact that we have only three and a half hours in which to discuss it?
§ Dr. Owen
The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that this whole issue has been discussed very extensively. A large number of points will no doubt be made in the debate, and there will be ample time for points to be answered. I must 796 say that I was hoping for the acclamation of hon. Members and a general feeling that we had listened to all the points and taken account of them.
I should like to describe the powers of the European Assembly. They are very circumscribed. The functions of the Assembly are to deliver opinions to the Council of Ministers on proposed Community legislation, to hammer out the Community budget with the Council, and to exert some scrutiny over the Commission. It is a legal requirement for most Council legislation that the Assembly be consulted, and in practice it is consulted on many matters not expressly stipulated in the treaties. The consultation takes place when the Commission submits draft proposals for legislation to the Council. The Council requests an opinion from the Assembly and may take it into account. The Council is, however, under no obligation to do so.
In the budgetary area, an important new relationship between the institutions was established by the Treaty of 1970 which gave the Assembly the power formally to adopt the annual budget. Since then, the Council and Assembly together have constituted the "budgetary authority" of the Communities. The treaty of 22nd July 1975 made some minor adjustments to procedure in the light of experience of the new system, but that treaty caused considerable controversy in the House.
An intricate dialogue between the Council and Assembly, which my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) characterised on one occasion as a "ping pong match", now takes place before the budget is finalised. On items of "obligatory expenditure" which account for some 70 per cent. of the budget and are largely connected with the CAP, the Assembly can propose modifications but the Council can overrule these modifications.
On items of non-obligatory expenditure, the Assembly has a freer hand in that, provided it does not exceed an independently determined maximum ceiling, it can make its amendments stick. The Assembly can also reject the budget in its entirety, but the force of this weapon is blunted by the fact that the treaty provides that expenditure can continue in 797 this event at the previous year's level, and also by the fact that the Council can still authorise certain increases in such a situation. This means that rejection of the budget would not bring the Community to a shuddering halt but merely cut the level of expenditure. It is the Assembly which is the main source of pressure inside the Community for increased expenditure on new programmes so that holding back expenditure would be a weak and ineffective means of pressure on the Council.
Finally, it is important to realise that the simple insertion of new provisions in the budget by the Assembly does not necessarily mean the Commission can go ahead and spend that money in the year in question. In some cases of continuing programmes, there are not the practical opportunities for dispensing additional funds beyond what the Council and Commission have originally planned, and in other cases again, the Commission has made clear that it would not see inscription in the budget as giving sufficient legal authority for expenditure and would want to wait for a policy decision by the Council.
I think that that has put in proportion some of the so-called powers of the Assembly over budgetary matters. They are not so great as some people have thought.
The other function of the Assembly is to exercise scrutiny over the activities of the Commission.
§ Mr. Spearing
Before my right hon. Friend leaves the budgetary matters, although I agree that what he said was correct, will not he also agree that the Assembly can increase the non-obligatory expenditure within the limit which is allowed and that it can do it year after year—indeed, it has done so in respect of the Regional Fund? The threat of going beyond that figure and putting the twelfths mechanism into effect is a sanction, since the Council of Ministers just before Christmas allowed the Regional Fund to be increased against its original decision.
§ Dr. Owen
Yes. I agree with my hon. Friend's description. It is a difficult balance. The Council could resist this and hold up the Community budget, but there would be a form of crisis in the Community.
798 That is the existing position. We are talking mainly about the new powers, and the anxiety about the budgetary aspects which has been raised.
The hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) asked about regulations. A regulation is not a treaty. But the Assembly cannot pass a regulation. The powers of the Assembly cannot be increased except by a treaty. They cannot be altered by a regulation. We come back, therefore, to the provision which refers to any changes in the treaties. That is a fairly wide coverage.
§ Mr. Kenneth Clarke
I apologise for interrupting the right hon. Gentleman a second time. I do so on the question of the budgetary powers and the treaty of 22nd July 1975. The Foreign Secretary will be aware that the treaty which changed the budgetary powers was not ratified by the Parliaments of all member States until March 1977 but that it came into practice in 1976. This clause seems only to affect the ratification of treaties by the British Parliament. What will be the position if the same practice is followed as was followed before where the Community and the European Parliament adopt a treaty before it has been ratified? Will the Act which this Parliament passes have been a completely academic exercise in that it decides whether we ratify the treaty after the treaty has been ratified? This is not an academic argument. It is what happened in the case of the treaty affecting the budgetary powers.
§ Dr. Owen
I am no lawyer. As I understand it, it is subject to ratification. It is within the power of the Parliament, and if it did not ratify it presumably it would be null and void if the Parliament acted prior to ratification. The particular treaty we are discussing did not go through all its stages. There was no Bill promoted, and this was a source of criticism in the House at the time. The clause is designed to catch the 1975 situation and meet the feelings expressed at that time.
§ Mr. Hugh Dykes (Harrow, East)
The Foreign Secretary has explained fairly and clearly how this would work in the European Parliament's powers over expenditure and the difference between obligatory and non-obligatory expenditure. 799 Would he crystallise what he said earlier? If the non-obligatory increase is maximised, as has been hinted at by one hon. Member, to cover the additional expenditure independently arrived at, would that be something that would not come back to the House of Commons for a decision? Is it true, on the other hand, that anything by way of obligatory expenditure would need to come back to each national Parliament for some kind of ratification?
§ Dr. Owen
I understand that the Commission can put a limit on the extent to which non-obligatory expenditure can be increased. I stand by the fact that the powers of the Assembly cannot be increased except by treaty. They cannot be changed simply by a regulation in Council. I think that this is covered.
The other function of the Assembly is to exercise scrutiny over the activities of the Commission, and it has the ultimate power to sack the Commission as long as there is a two-thirds majority. That power has never been exercised. Some people say that it is not a realistic possibility, but I do not wholly agree. I think that one of these days the Assembly might use this power, if only to demonstrate that it has it. However, the Assembly has no power to appoint successors to the Commission. Therefore, having sacked the Commissioners, it cannot appoint successors, and problems would arise. I accept that the Assembly probably would pull back from the brink. The power of appointment to the Commission lies solely with member States. The Assembly has no power to sack individual Commissioners, but the Assembly's right to oversee the Commission's activities is established.
As an advocate of direct elections, I believe that in this function of overseeing the activities of the Commission the Assembly will have the greatest impact. I hope that the Assembly will be able to influence the Commission to present more proposals to the Council which it feels have the political support of member States. The sheer pressure of work in the House of Commons makes it impossible to have that sort of detailed day-to-day questioning of Ministers about what is happening in Brussels, and, therefore, direct scrutiny of the Commission by the 800 Assembly is a useful addition. I have always seen this as an additional power of scrutiny for the House. It is not a replacement power. There is a danger in people exaggerating the consequence and effect of having direct elections on the growth and development of Europe.
§ Mr. Nick Budgen (Wolverhampton, South-West)
Would the Foreign Secretary comment further on the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke)? If the Commission seeks to implement proposals which have not been ratified by national Parliaments, would it be within the power of a British citizen during the period before ratification to go to the European Court to declare those measures illegal unless and until ratified?
§ Dr. Owen
I confess that I am no lawyer, but my understanding is that treaty-altering powers must, under the Treaty of Rome, be ratified by all member States in accordance with national constitutional requirements. The treaty may be provisionally put into force but it would not be legally binding. If it is put into provisional force, I imagine that it would be possible to go to court and claim that it is not legally binding if ratification has not occurred. Some lawyers will have a greater wisdom than I and we can clear up the matter later. Most non-lawyers will now understand the situation perfectly.
How can the Assembly's powers be ex tended? If these are the Assembly's existing powers, what are the procedures for their extension? An extension will require an amendment to the basic European Community Treaties. Under Article 236 these amending treaties can enter into force only after ratification by all member States in accordance with their respective constitutional requirements. In most Community countries ratification in accordance with national constitutional requirements requires explicit prior assent by national legislatures by the equivalent of either a statute or resolution.
In Britain confusion often arises because the outward form of our constitutional procedures disguises the underlying reality of parliamentary control. The prerogative to negotiate and ratify treaties belongs to the Crown and has not hitherto been fettered by statute. But in Britain 801 —unlike countries such as France and the USA which have written constitutions—treaties do not by virtue of ratification override conflicting domestic law. If they contain provisions which can be implemented only by changes in domestic law, then the Crown must seek passage of implementing legislation by Parliament, which it invariably does before ratifying. Treaties are laid before Parliament for 21 days under the so-called Ponsonby Rule before they are ratified, and if Parliament were to express objection during this time the Crown would not proceed to ratification.
§ Mr. Dykes
These issues are important. From the Foreign Secretary's bizarre scenario I believe that he is speaking as a non-lawyer and giving us information which most of us appreciate. The conclusion that one must draw is that if the Council of Ministers decided that it would take direct control over 2 per cent. of the public expenditure of all the national Governments and at the same time decided that Parliament should have an additional direct control of 10 per cent. of the Regional Fund, the first decision by the Council would be dealt with here, late at night or upstairs, whereas the second decision would require a fully fledged Act of Parliament. Can the Foreign Secretary confirm the difference between these two decisions?
§ Dr. Owen
I may be a simpleton, but I am baffled. I shall see that an answer is given. I am certain that it is important. Before hazarding into this area of theoretical possibilities, which may turn out to be practical possibilities, I owe hon. Members the best legal advice. It would not be right for me to give it off the cuff. It is a point of substance and should be dealt with accordingly.
The reality of parliamentary control therefore already exists beneath the Royal Prerogative. Its lack of visibility is, however, a definite drawback in an area of policy which arouses such legitimate and passionate concern as extensions to the powers of the Assembly which might conceivably be to the detriment of this Parliament. The Government have, therefore, decided that in this sensitive area it is necessary and right to modify our constitutional procedures. We propose in this clause that there should now 802 be a statutory fetter on the Royal Prerogative to negotiate and ratify treaties.
The clause will prohibit ratification of any treaty extending the powers of the European Assembly without prior approval of an Act of Parliament. This is a major constitutional innovation, although there is a constitutional convention whereby treaties involving cession of British territories are submitted for the approval of Parliament by Act of Parliament before they are ratified—for example, the treaty under which Heligoland was ceded to Germany in 1890 in exchange for Zanzibar. So that is the way in which the House demonstrates its ability to take unto itself new powers provided in the clause.
The membership of the European Community has changed the nature of international obligations. European Community decisions affect domestic affairs in this country in a quite unparalleled way, and when the original debates covering our entry into the Community took place in the House there was the feeling that this effect had not been taken sufficiently into account. A good deal of anxiety over the legislation was expressed by hon. Members on both sides at that time. I hope it will now he felt by those people—I openly claim that I was one of them—that the arguments they used then will now be seen to have had some effect.
I come to the scope of the clause. It bites only on treaties. Institutions of the Community have to keep within the powers allocated to them by the texts of the various treaties. The Assembly is not arbiter of its own powers. It can gain power only at the expense of other institutions by virtue of new treaties amending basic Community treaties. The new clause will ensure that such treaties are approved by the House, by Act of Parliament, before ratification.
§ Mr. John Roper (Farnworth)
My right hon. Friend said that the clause refers only to treaties, but subsection (2) refers to "any international agreement", and that seems to be too widely drawn. Does that definition include a decision between the Council and the European Parliament? Would that be an international agreement?
§ Dr. Owen
My understanding is that it is not. The clause explains what is covered by a treaty. It reads:In this section 'treaty' includes any international agreement, and any protocol or annex to a treaty or international agreement".I hope that hon. Members will note that in the formulation of the new clause we have taken account of the points made during the debate on 1st December. The clause is simple, although it has been criticised as being too sweeping. It avoids subjective value judgments of what might encroach on the legislative power of the House. By taking this simple measure we have been able to eschew simple value judgments of this sort.
The new clause covers unequivocally legislative, budgetary and fiscal powers. The Government believe that it fully meets the concerns expressed in the Committee and that it deserves the Committee's support. The Minister of State will be dealing with some of the specific points, and in particular the point raised by the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) when he replies to the debate. I apologise to the hon. Member for not having the facility to answer him off the cuff.
§ Mr. Jay
It seems that my right hon. Friend's whole argument rests on the definition of an international agreement. When he says that he will leave that to a later speech we are left completely in the air. May we have some more enlightenment straight away as to what is and what is not an international agreement for the purposes of the clause?
§ Mr. David Howell (Guildford)
While the Foreign Secretary says that the new clause is in accordance with undertakings which he gave in the debate on 1st December last year, I am afraid that if he expects that fact to recommend it to the House of Commons he does not fully appreciate the sober character of the Committee when faced with new propositions. I hope he will forgive me for saying that 804 there were times in his initial presentation of the clause when he seemed not to be completely in depth and on top of the finer details of the subject. I believe that we shall wish to put a good many questions—I suspect, from both sides of the Committee—which we hope that the Minister of State will be able to answer in winding up. As the right hon. Gentleman indicated several times in several adjectives he used, what has finally emerged in the new clause goes further than perhaps some had expected. It goes further than he himself indicated on 1st December when he talked of no extension that would encroach on the legislative powers of the House of Commons.
We have now moved on to treaties which concern themselves with any increase in the powers of the Assembly and the questions of ratification by the House. The clause goes further—I make no complaint about it—than some of the words used by my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw) when he used the phrase "at the expense of national Parliaments" Therefore, from both those starting points the clause that now emerges goes further. I make no complaint, but I would like to be satisfied that what we now have before us does the job that is intended and meets some of the problems raised in interventions during the speech of the Foreign Secretary and also some of the doubts which have been raised which I would like now to air.
The first queston is a fairly obvious one. If in future we are going through the full process of legislation in the House by a Bill becoming an Act with treaties or amendments to a treaty which themselves will be treaties, that obviously is very different from merely saying "Yes" or "No", approving or not, or approving after a one and a half hour's debate on the affirmative resolution procedure. It is completely different. The most obvious difference is that, whereas an order cannot be amended, an Act can and may be amended. If we are to go through the full procedures of Second Reading, Committee stage, Report, Third Reading, Lords amendments and so on, it is perfectly possible that parts of an Act may be amended and parts may be unamended.
I would like first to know what happens if parts of a Bill are amended by the 805 House but the bulk of it is approved and goes through. Does that then give licence, or does it permit the Government, to ratify the treaty? Does it then conform with the constitutional requirements under Article 236 of the Treaty of Rome? Will it have conformed with the spirit of the new clause, and is there, perhaps, a necessity, if we are to make the clause work, for putting in additional words which would enable the Government to ratify a treaty even if not all the initial clauses that were put forward by the Government of the day to satisfy the treaty were then carried by the House?
If there were some quite minor amendments, or if a particular clause fell, can we be sure the Government would not be in a frozen posture, unable to ratify the treaty? We would like to know how that problem is to be handled, because, it could, of course, arise.
Secondly, there is the question of the meaning of the word "treaty" raised by the right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay). This is very important. Does "treaty" mean an amendment to a treaty? I imagine that it does, but should we not be a little more specific? We need the advice of the Government Front Bench on these matters.
The treaty of 22nd July 1975 was a treaty amending the original Treaty and making important changes in financial provision. It was called a treaty, and it is straightforward, but is it always the case that amendments to treaties will be called treaties, and, therefore, are they always all covered under the Bill? Would it be right to add words to put that beyond doubt?
§ Sir Derek Walker-Smith (Hertfordshire, East)
I think that the difficulty in this matter arises from the fact that Article 236, which deals with amendments to the Rome Treaty and introduces the provision that they will be subject to the ratification of the national legislatures according to their own constitutional procedures, does not proceed further to define the instrument in which the amendment will be clothed. I have said many times here and elsewhere that the EEC Treaty is not a masterpiece of precise draftsmanship. I imagine—if I may for a moment assume the role of advocates diaboli and help the Foreign Secretary—that it is for that reason that 806 the second part of his new clause widens the scope as far as possible to include all the possibilities that we can envisage.
§ Mr. Howell
I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend. I imagine it, guess it and suspect it, but whether it is beyond doubt in the words set down I am not sure. We would like strong reassurance on this point.
Another point concerns the wording of Article 236 and the phrase used several times by the Foreign Secretary. The article states:The amendments shall enter into force after being ratified by all the Member States in accordance with their respective constitutional requirements.What is stated in the new clause is that there shall be approval by an Act of Parliament. Again, I suppose—perhaps we can have it confirmed—that approval by Act of Parliament corresponds with and fully satisfies in every way the phrase "respective constitutional requirements".
Might it perhaps sign and seal this aim if we set out in the new clause—it could be added on Report—that this approval will be one of the constitutional requirements under Article 236? I do not know. It would be a pity if we found ourselves in a tangle in future if it turned out that there were some doubts as to whether "approval" and "respective constitutional requirements" were exactly and equally identical with each other.
These are matters which worry me immediately on the new clause. As I have said, I make no complaint that it goes wider. Many of us suspected that the right hon. Gentleman would have great difficulty in devising a clause on the rather narrow basis about which he spoke. I note what he said about the Royal Prerogative. At one stage the Home Secretary said that he thought there would be problems about it, but I accept the Foreign Secretary's assurance that these have been overcome.
I am still left as much in the air as are the right hon. Member for Battersea, North and, I suspect, most of the Committee by the response to the question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) on the division between the treatment which might apply to increases in the powers of the Council of Ministers and increases in powers of the Assembly.
807 An example was given to the right hon. Gentleman. Is there a situation in which a change involving an increase in the powers of the Assembly itself would demand the full legislative procedures and requires Acts put through Parliament, whereas a change in the powers of the Commission and other parts of the Community would merely go through as an order under the affirmative resolution procedure? If that is the case, it would be somewhat bizarre, but it might be the inevitable implication of the new clause.
We should like clarification of the valid points raised by my hon. Friend. We support the intention of the new clause, but there are important problems to be clarified. It is essential that we should ensure that there are no invalidating weaknesses in the clause, and we wish to reserve our right to look at the matter again before Report to see whether any improvements or amendments are necessary.
§ 9 p.m.
§ Mr. Powell
On a point of order, Mr. Godman Irvine. It appeared from the speech of the Foreign Secretary, and it has been emphasised by the hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell), that the new clause before the Committee affects to an important degree the Royal Prerogative.
I believe it is the case that no such proposal can be laid before the House of Commons unless the Queen's consent has, in the proper way, been signified by one of her Ministers. It may be that it can be signified at a particular stage. In the case of a Bill it is normal, though not a necessary requirement, that it is signified on introduction or on Second Reading.
On a matter which is so important, you may agree that before the Committee proceeds it should be certified as to the proper point at which that consent should be signified and whether we are entitled, in accordance with the rules of the House, to proceed with consideration of the new clause unless that consent has been so signified.
§ The Second Deputy Chairman (Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine)
I think that I can help the right hon. Gentleman. If he will be good enough to look at page 808 595 of "Erskine May", he will see that the section dealing with amendments in Committee affecting the Crown states:As it is for the House, and not for a committee, which cannot receive any communication from the Sovereign, to guard the interests of the Crown, no question can arise upon an amendment in committee as to whether the Queen's consent should be signified before the question is proposed. Many precedents exist of amendments, which affected the interests of the Crown, being made in committees on bills, and the Queen's consent being signified at a later stage".
§ Mr. John Prescott (Kingston upon Hull, East)
I welcome the new clause and the speech of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, though I wonder whether the new clause will achieve the objectives that my right hon. Friend stated for it.
My right hon. Friend made clear the political objective of the Government to prevent the development of a federal Europe and to prevent the growing power of the European Assembly without the House having some say in the matter. That means that when powers are to be extended by a treaty the House should be able to express an opinion on the matter.
I do not want to spend too much time on the technical points, important though they are. I looked at the new clause as a politician who was wondering whether it would achieve its intended purpose and considered it against the yardstick of my experience in the European Assembly rather than on whether treaty changes are the only way by which the Assembly can achieve power. I do not believe that this is the only way that the Assembly can achieve power. If that is what the amendment is designed to achieve, I have to tell my right hon. Friend that it does not achieve it.
If we said that the Assembly requires legislative power, the treaty would have to be amended and the House would be able to express an opinion on the treaties as such. I have read about the Ponsonby Rule and the Procedure that is supposed to be adopted in regard to treaties and amendments. That makes it clearer that Parliament has the power to make a decision on whether it agrees with a change in the treaty.
However, I wish to address my remarks to the point whether the proposal prevents the extension of power by the Assembly. I have very serious doubts about that. I 809 take as my text for the debate the policy documents produced by the Labour Party and endorsed by our party conference. I refer, for example, to the national executive's statement on the Common Market to the conference: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.This is endorsed in the letter from the Prime Minister to the national executive, in which he stated:We do not envisage any significant increase in the powers of the European Parliament",in the sense that he desired to achieve and maintain the authority of national Governments and Parliaments.
Whatever the technical difficulties, there are fundamental objections to the proposal on the question whether it achieves the purpose of preventing powers being given to the Assembly. As I have said in articles and in the House of Commons, I am very much aligned with my party's document. I do not wish to see the development of a federal Europe, but I will not expand on those views, as it would not be proper to do so within the purview of the debate.
The quotations make it clear that the purpose of the amendment is to allow Parliament to maintain authority over the development of further powers given to the European Assembly. Therefore, the key to the argument is whether any developments are increasing the powers of the Assembly and, if they are, whether this institution, this Parliament, has any control over those developments. There is no doubt that those powers are being increased.
My right hon. Friend, in talking about the budgetary powers of the European Assembly, and its demanding more than the Council of Ministers had agreed, said that the difficulty about disagreeing with it is that there may be a crisis. If we continue to give to it and it continues to ask, there may be a crisis the other way. The control of the source of the supply of money is an important part of an institution's influence over the money supply and the policies which it seeks to influence. That point was made by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), when he said that Parliament had 810 started from very humble beginnings. He said that Parliament could grow from those beginnings, whether we called it a Parliament or an Assembly.
Therefore, the Committee has to be clear that all we are doing tonight, in a very limited way, is to give the House of Commons the right to check any changes in the powers of the European Assembly brought about by a direct change in the Treaty. We are doing that and nothing more. We kid ourselves if we think that it in any way measures up to our obligations as part of a policy approach to the development of the Assembly's powers.
I fully agree with the view, expressed in the Prime Minister's letter, that embarking upon elections to an Assembly is clearly a major step towards giving the institution a major parliamentary form, whether or not it has a legislative function. It is to the gradual process that I particularly object, because we continue to fail to define the specific functions of, and relationships between, institutions. We spend too much time arguing the finer points, fundamental as they may be, and do not look clearly at the relationship that we expect between the institutions and begin to define them a better way.
I have some doubt whether elections will come for a number of years yet, but when the European Assembly is elected those elected to it will demand more influence. We should be foolish not to accept that. Everyone, on both sides of the argument, will accept that that is the purpose and role that he sees for that parliamentary Assembly.
On the basis of my own experience, I want to examine how the policies are developing, and particularly budgetary controls, which give the Assembly considerable influence, influence that is growing all the time. The House of Commons did not oppose a further extension of the budgetary powers, giving the Assembly much greater powers than might be restricted by this kind of amendment. With the development of budgetary controls, we see the major developments of parliamentary control. The more I look at them, the more despondent I become about whether we shall prevent the development of a European Parliament which is at the heart of a federal Europe. If we desire that it should be 811 a consultative assembly and not a Parliament, I hope that we shall act quickly to prevent that happening.
My right hon. Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary made clear that the Assembly has power to reject the budget. That right was endorsed within the Treaty and again in 1970, but more important was what happened in 1975, when a treaty change came before the House of Commons. It was debated but not opposed. We debated on 8th December 1975 an order which amended the pre-accession treaties. The schedule to the order covered the Assembly's budgetary powers and the establishment of an audit court.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection, then Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, told the House in that debate that the 1970 treaty stipulated that from 1st January 1975 the full own resources system applied to the Six original members. My right hon. Friend said that the order sought further to extend the Assembly's powers. He said:The first is when the Assembly seeks a modification to the budget which does not involve an increase in the total of obligatory expenditure … That change in the budget is accepted by the Council of Ministers unless the Council of Ministers provides a qualified majority against the new proposals.We have given the Assembly powers not only to reject the budget with certain qualifications but to have the last word in non-compulsory expenditures, expenditures in areas not covered by the treaty requirements. These can be major areas of policy, such as regional policies, social funds, energy, research and development and industrial policies. All these are non-obligatory expenditures, and they are the fastest growing areas of expenditure. By the very nature of present circumstances, particularly economic and political circumstances, they are the very areas that must grow.
In the change in 1975 we thus endorsed the Assembly's power not only to reject the budget but to affect expenditure priorities within the non-compulsory expenditures. The Assembly can take the matter further and increase the amounts, as it has done this year. In addition, it now has the power to inter 812 vene in expenditures in the obligatory sectors, such as the common agricultural policy.
One hopes that the CAP will change. Perhaps it will reduce its share of the total budget, which is about 70 per cent. Presumably that would affect the Community's ceiling of expenditure, now to be determined by its own resources formula at the equivalent of about one per cent. value added tax. This would mean that more money would be available for non-obligatory expenditure, even within that one per cent. VAT limit. That is quite apart from any further changes that may come in the raising of resources that do not necessarily mean a change in the treaty. That may be a contentious point, but I emphasise that I refer to changes that do not necessarily mean such a change.
We have extended the powers of the Assembly. In a way, we have weakened the power of the Council of Ministers, which is the legislative body. We have given powers to the Assembly to establish a case and to fight for it, but have provided a qualified majority argument. If any two of the largest members in the Community agrees to a proposition, there is sufficient strength to override the other seven nations. That is the position, provided that the two large nations in qualified judgment agree with the line taken by the Assembly. To that extent, its powers and influence considerably extend into the sphere of the Council of Ministers.
If we are looking for examples of what is happening in the non-compulsory areas of expenditure, let us take the last budgetary expenditure. The Parliament was able to achieve more than the Council of Ministers, even at the negotiating stage where an argy-bargy takes place.
The situation this year provides an even more important indication. This year the stage was reached when the Assembly rejected the first stage of the negotiations. However, it went to the second stage. We heard my right hon. Friend explain that as we did not want a crisis we backed down. He said that the European Assembly became, in effect, a Parliament. It said, in effect, that it controlled the budget and the supply of money of the Council of Ministers, which 813 by treaty is a legislative function. In regard to the budget, I grant that it has total power not to exceed it.
The European Assembly argued that it wanted more for regional needs—for example, unemployment and social purposes. Submissions were made that it was difficult for the Ministers to reject, and its supply of money was increased. I think that the sum involved was about £40 million, but that does not matter. This is about giving the Assembly a certain sum one year and then witnessing it returning the next year and taking more. It may be thought that non-elected Members are not especially militant, but we can be sure that elected members will be militant. They will demand more and more resources.
At present non-obligatory expenditures are about 30 per cent. of the total expenditure of about £8,000 million, which will be available for all the funds that I have mentioned. For example, the Regional Fund will expand. People will demand more and more Regional Fund expenditure. There is also Social Fund expenditure.
The influence and control of the European Assembly in this area is determined by Article 235, but provided that all nations agree—regional policy does not come under the Treaty—there may be an extension of influence and power into that area. Therefore, Article 235 does not require a Treaty change, and it becomes a debatable subject for the Assembly.
If we look at that development with others, the present 1 per cent. value added tax is but 0.7 per cent. of the GNP of all Community nations. The McDougall Committee that is examining the finances of the Community is calling for considerably more resources to be given to the Community. Let us say that there is a call for 5 per cent. of the GNP of all the Community nations from the President of the Commission, who desires to see economic and monetary union. It may be that he would like about £50,000 million to be made available to the Community. That would be equivalent to 8 per cent. value added tax.
I know that I have laboured the point, but I wish to make it clear that the question of resources is essential to whether this institution is a Parliament or an Assembly. Whether it legislates is but a 814 secondary function. By determining the money supply and priorities of expenditure, it determines what policies shall be pursued. Provided that it is doing that, it is not a consultative Assembly but a Parliament. If Members are elected, they will argue about who legislates what. To all intents and purposes, it is a policy.
§ Mr. Ronald Brown (Hackney, South and Shoreditch)
I have listened to my hon. Friend with great interest. I am not sure whether he is in favour of this process. During the past few months I have heard him making calls to increase the budget when I have been trying to reduce it and been defeated. Is he in favour of this process or not?
§ Mr. Prescott
I am surprised that my hon. Friend should not have noted that I have voted against increases in the budget. I have constantly argued against increasing the budget of the European Assembly both here and in the Assembly. It is a matter of record. I have made my position clear in speeches. My view is a minority view in the European Assembly. I sometimes find that it is a minority view here. But what is not in doubt is where I stand on particular issues. I do not want to delay the Committee by explaining my position. I understand the problem of the source of the money supply. There are certain complications within the Socialist Group regarding policy decisions.
§ Mrs. Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that as there is rarely a record of voting in the European Assembly how Members speak and vote is sometimes at variance, just as it has been on certain occasions between the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends?
§ Mr. Prescott
I apologise for not having picked up the essential part of the hon. Lady's question. I cannot give an adequate answer to the question because I did not fully grasp it. That was more through my own inattention, and I apologise.
§ Sir D. Walker-Smith
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be able to grasp and to answer this question. Among the many interesting remarks that he made was a reference to Article 235 of the Treaty. Does he agree that under that Article 815 the powers and involvement of the Community can be considerably expanded without strict adherence to the presumed intentions of the Treaty, because it evades the requirement of an amendment under Article 236? The hon. Gentleman may be aware that I have raised that matter in the Assembly, of which we are both Members, since before he becames a Member. I think that he could do quite a lot in his influential position there by following up this interesting matter that he has mentioned tonight.
§ Mr. Prescott
My hon. Friends who serve within the Socialist Group in the European Assembly know that I constantly raise that matter. That is why I am opposed to economic and monetary union, of which we shall hear more later.
I apologise to the Committee, because I shall have to leave at the conclusion of my speech. I have to be in Brussels tomorrow to vote in a committee at 9 a.m. Therefore, I shall have to catch a plane at 10.30 p.m. to get there in time. I apologise for this discourtesy. It is not my normal practice to make a speech and then to depart. In the circumstances, I hope that the Committee will understand and will forgive me.
I have tried to indicate that the amendment is welcome, but that it will not achieve its political purpose. Therefore, as my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) said in a debate in the House on 28th November, we must call for a special parliamentary procedure to be instituted here so that all developments and decisions by the Council of Ministers are subject to some form of control.
I suggest that we should have a committee similar to the Danish committee. I have argued both outside and inside the House of Commons for such a committee to be set up here. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has promised to bring forward a proposal on those lines before the end of the Session. Acceptance of the amendment together with the setting up of such a committee will give the House of Commons control over the extension of powers of the European Assembly to which I object. We should maintain the Assembly as an Assembly within a loose association of States rather than allow it to develop as a federal 816 Europe and Parliament within its own control. That has always been my position. I hope that we shall hear something about that matter from the Government tonight.
§ Mr. Powell
The embarrassment of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) in having to explain that he could not stay with us for the whole of this debate should not disturb him too much, because it is only a symptom and evidence of the humiliation under which the House lives by the sharing of what should be its exclusive powers with a body existing elsewhere.
In the course of his extremely able and cogent speech, the hon. Gentleman said, I hope I was right in thinking, that he did not expect direct elections to a European Assembly to take place for some time to come. To that I say a most fervent "Amen", and it is a responsibility every Member shares to play his part in that result if he is of the opinion that the hon. Gentleman expressed. But what the hon. Gentleman has done is to remove any notion that the clause in any way lessens the consequences for the House and the country of the substitution of direct election to the Assembly for the present method of nomination.
The innovation which the clause represents is, we have been told, a considerable constitutional innovation, but the more we examine it the less we shall think we have gained in return for that substantial innovation.
At the outset, the hon. Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) made an interesting intervention in which he pointed out that in form the new clause went far beyond the intentions that were spoken about at the time the Government undertook to bring it forward. That draws our attention to an important fact about the constitution of the European Economic Community. The question is: are there any powers which the Assembly can gain which are not ultimately at the expense of the House of Commons? I believe that the answer to that question is "No". Power gained by one authority must be at the expense of some other authority or authorities. Power does not simply exist in the atmosphere unclaimed. It is in some hands or other hands whether or not it is actually being used.
817 There are two other authorities at the expense of which the Assembly can increase its powers. One is the Commission and the other is the Council of Ministers. There is no doubt that, in so far as its increase in powers is at the expense of the authority and influence of the Council of Ministers, that must be a diminution of the powers of the House, since the powers of the House are exerted in the EEC through our influence over Ministers on the Front Bench. But when we look at the opposite pole—the Commission—and inquire what would be the result if the Assembly were to acquire powers at the expense of the Commission, we come paradoxically to the same conclusion.
Throughout, it has been the Commission which has been pressing forward direct elections and which has been anxious to see the authority and standing of the Assembly strengthened, because the Commission and the Assembly together would form that sort of combination which Executive and Parliament together form in the constitution of this country. For the Commission, the increase of the authority of the Assembly, the increase of its powers, whether formal or informal, is an accretion to the strength of the Commission. It is the centralised bureaucratic government of the Community that gains thereby. The strengthening of the Commission is, of course, ipso facto a diminution of the power and influence of the Council of Ministers. So, whichever way and in whatever circumstances the powers of the Assembly are increased, that increase must be in derogation of the real power and authority of the House of Commons.
Therefore, the Government were right—no doubt they went through these thought processes themselves in the drafting of the new clause—not to attempt to define the sort of increase in the powers of the Assembly which would be at the expense of the House of Commons, but to draw the clause in the general terms in which it is before the Committee. But even when they have done that—and this is really the important conclusion to which all this debate is tending—we find that they have erected not a fortress of iron and stone but a paper fortress which merely presents the appearance of a 818 protection and control, without the reality. Even formally, it is very doubtful whether the requirement of legislation imposes any bar whatsoever.
There was a passage in the speech of the hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell) which bore upon this. The hon. Member was anxious to know whether, when the necessary legislation implied in the new clause was brought before the House of Commons, we should be able to amend it and what would happen if we amended it. I have to tell the hon. Member that those of us who lived through the early stages of the European Communities Bill in 1972 can give him the answer. We should not be able to amend any such Bill. It would be a Bill to authorise the ratification of such and such a treaty, and whatever in that Bill failed to authorise the ratification, whatever did not fully comply with the necessity for the Government to ratify that treaty, would be out of order. It would be outside the powers of the House of Commons, as we speedily discovered when we addressed ourselves in Committee to the European Communities Bill in 1972.
Therefore, even procedurally we should find that the tiger was a paper tiger and that there were simply no teeth, even in the requirement of legislation. It would be a rubber stamp of a legislative form instead of a merely resolution form.
But the inessentiality of this apparent protection goes much further and deeper than that. As the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East reminded the Committee, the increase of powers of an elected Assembly does not normally come, it does not suddenly originally come, by legislation, by formal recognition, by decision—"Let us have some more powers and have a resolution saying that we are to have those powers." That is not how it happens in real life. It happens by the growth of conventions, by the agreement or connivance between one authority and another—between the Commission and the Assembly, or, perhaps, between the Assembly and the Council of Ministers—that certain things will be done or will not be done, provided that, or unless, the agreement of the Assembly has been forthcoming. It is convention upon which the powers of an elected Assembly and of a Parliament are based.
819 After all, anyone who examined our constitution today in its formal structure would come to the conclusion that Her Majesty was able to dispose of anything which the House of Commons might care to pass, but it has been a convention since 1707 that she does not do so; and it is the convention which is king, not the form of the constitution, not the formal powers, not the treaty powers.
We are, therefore, laying hands upon the inessential while the increase of powers, the essential, evades us, because, of the order of things, it takes place not by specific decision, not by agreement, but by the growth of convention, the growth of agreement and the production of successive crises.
It was a very significant term that the Foreign Secretary used. He said that the Assembly can "produce a crisis". It has been by producing a series of crises over the centuries that the House of Commons has gained its powers. Of course, when the powers are gained it may or may not be convenient to come along and say "Let us regularise the situation, let us have an international agreement, let us have a treaty under Article 236 of the Treaty of Rome." But by that time the powers actually will have been increased. The horse will have bolted.
When that happens, the presentation of the Bill in the House will be a formality in more than the technical sense to which I referred earlier, for the Government, when they come with the Bill and with the treaty, will appeal to what is common knowledge. They will say "This agreement, this treaty, merely accepts what everybody knows has long been the practice. It is merely consecrating, it is merely regularising, that which cannot be reversed, that which has come to be the practice, and it is acknowledging powers which already exist."
§ Mr. Christopher Price (Lewisham, West)
Is it not far more likely that they will not even bother and that, because the conventions actually grow up and because of the difficulties of getting the treaties ratified by every member Government, this provision will in fact never be used at all?
§ Mr. Powell
Quite likely, and if the EEC were a British institution I would agree with the hon. Gentleman without reservation, because that is exactly the 820 way in which we go about things. We leave the form standing and we change the reality inside the outer framework. I have a feeling, however, that that is not the Continental habit. So maybe we shall find that there is a certain bureaucratic or legalistic fussiness which from time to time comes along behind and consolidates the ground which has actually been won.
It is also another way—this is the last aspect to which I want to draw the Committee's attention—in which, without any formal increase of powers, unacknowledged, silently, the very existence of a directly elected European Assembly is bound to reduce the powers and significance of the House of Commons.
The Foreign Secretary said that we should find that our control and scrutiny of what the EEC did would be strengthened by the work of a directly elected Assembly. I believe that exactly the opposite is the case. He said—and he was right so far—that the European Assembly, especially with its new-cut teeth, if it is directly elected, will be able to give much more detailed scrutiny, much more continuous scrutiny, backwards and forwards—several stages of scrutiny—to matters in which the Community has engaged. I am sure that that is true. But what effect will that have upon the endeavours of the House—not so far entirely successful—to exert control over EEC legislation and EEC policy? What will be the practical effect?
We know how difficult it is to get anything on to the Floor of the House for an hour and a half in the early hours of the morning. We can manage to do so only because we do it on the basis of the claim that this is the only control which the people of the country have over the legislation which is to be imposed upon them. It will be a very different story that we shall hear during Business Question Time on a Thursday and on such other occasions when there is a directly elected Assembly. We shall soon begin to hear that this has all been gone into thoroughly, and what is the point of just spending an hour and a half on an out-of-date memorandum on proposals which are in a stage that is already obsolete when we have an Assembly directly elected for the purpose which is scrutinising the matters in committee hour after hour and which can scrutinise them at successive stages?
§ Mr. Jay
Did the right lion. Member notice that we had an example of this even this afternoon when one of my hon. Friends said that it was not in the power of the Committee to discuss the number of Members which we should send to the EEC Assembly because that had all been settled by the other Governments earlier? If that can be argued even before we have a directly elected Assembly, what will happen afterwards?
§ Mr. Powell
I am sure that that is so. However, it is a much more dramatic presentation to try to imagine the sort of debates, ineffective as they have been, that have taken place over the past few years and to imagine them in circumstances in which we already have a directly elected Assembly working with a fine-tooth comb over all these matters and placing upon them the impress of its own policy, its own decisions and its own determinations. We shall soon be told that we have a body which is specially elected by the people of this country to do that work, and why should we want to duplicate it so ineffectively and so unauthoritatively in this House of Commons?
No. There, the Foreign Secretary had it exactly wrong. It is not the scrutiny of the House which will be strengthened by the European Assembly in its proposed new form. The scrutiny and control of the House over EEC legislation will be destroyed by such an institution, because the two cannot exist together.
I do not say that the Government have not honestly attempted in the clause to do what they promised. They have. But the very attempt to do so and the futility of it when it is examined show the nature of the decision, if we take it, to substitute a directly elected Assembly for the present Assembly in the EEC. It is a step which is irreconcilable with the continued sovereignty of the House of Commons over our Executive, let alone over the Executive of the Common Market.
§ Mr. John Lee (Birmingham, Handsworth)
I am grateful for an opportunity to take part in this debate. I did not anticipate being called quite so soon.
I begin by making an observation which I hope will not be regarded as churlish. It seems extraordinary that in a debate of constitutional importance of 822 this kind neither of the Law Officers is in attendance, nor, for that matter, is the Lord Advocate, although, of course, he has been busy and has had other problems this week. At any rate, I had assumed that one or other of the Law Officers would be here to assist the Foreign Secretary when he was having difficulties with the more technical aspects of the clause.
§ Mr. Jay
In order to assist the Committee, would not it be useful if my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Mr. Lee) were to ask the Minister of State whether we were to have the benefit of the presence of the Attorney-General, or, at any rate, of one of the Law Officers, as surely we clearly should before this debate ends?
§ Mr. Lee
My hon. Friend the Minister of State has heard that intervention. I hope that he will pass it on and that it will wing its way back behind the Chair to the appropriate room in that part of the building.
Next I must express my own appreciation, because I think that the Government have seriously attempted to grapple with this problem. But, as the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) said, the mere attempt, however well intentioned, serves only to demonstrate the futility of the exercise when it is set against so many uncertainties.
The Foreign Secretary gave some rather interesting and perhaps unintentional examples of the difficulties that arise when he attempted to grapple, not altogether successfully, with the "grey" area of treaties provisionally in force but not yet ratified. I am not sure what is meant by that, and I am far from certain as to how these matters can be clarified.
We are not only engaged in the whole gamut of EEC matters—to which I am 823 so resolutely opposed—but in this part of the Bill we are engaged in the novel exercise of whittling away the prerogative right to make a treaty by attempting to make it subject to statutory regulation. This seems to give another reason for arguing for the amendment that stands in my name.
I must make it clear why I have put down the amendment. I want to clarify beyond peradventure that any dispute about the interpretation of the powers that the House seeks to cede—and I hope that it will never cede any more—will lie within the courts of this country.
One has only to look at Articles 235 and 236 and also to remember the way in which, by its power of budgetary manipulation, the Assembly, still an ostensibly nominated body, has nevertheless arrogated to itself by one device or another powers which were really not envisaged as part of its functions.
I do not want to repeat what the right hon. Member for Down, South said with his usual lucidity and succinctness, but the fact is that these things tend to snowball. There is no legislative Assembly in the world whose powers remain static. They either grow and grow, or they fade away and the Assembly expires. Therefore, it is of paramount importance that there should be provisions of the kind that I have stipulated. I make no apology for my emphatic use of words when I say:For the avoidance of doubts, the interpretation of the provisions of this Clause shall rest exclusively with the Courts of the United Kingdom, from whom no appeal shall lie on any matter relating thereto whatsoever to the Court of the Community or Courts outside the United Kingdom.Those words are not otiose. They are necessary to give emphasis, so that there can be no mistaking the purpose in the courts.
New fields of law always provide maximum uncertainty. Let me give an example from an entirely different field of law. The courts of this country had numerous cases over interpretation of the Restrictive Trades Practices Act 1956 in the period immediately after its passing. There was a great spate of cases for a short time, but they scarcely exist now. Here we had a developing field of law. Surely it is important to control the way in which these things happen.
824 I shall give some precedents. The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council is a good example of the reverse process to that of the Community. As members of the Commonwealth have become independent, with rare exceptions they have sought to emancipate themselves from the jurisdiction of the Judicial Committee. In some instances they have even succeeded in doing so illegally. In one instance the court itself purported to declare the invalidity of a Canadian statute in the 1930s. I quote:In Nadan v. The King the Judicial Committee held invalid a section of a Canadian statute abolishing appeals to the Privy Council in criminal cases. The section was repugnant to the provisions of the Judicial Committee Acts of 1833 and 1844 and was therefore void under the Colonial Laws Validity Act 1865".In more recent years, no serious attempt has been made to continue fettering newly independent Commonwealth countries, by declaring them subordinate to the Judicial Committee appellate unless they have chosen to be. Most have chosen not to be.
If we are in earnest in saying that we wish to set a limit to the powers, or we think that we are setting a limit, surely there can be no objection to including, a provision in the Bill to make it impossible for appeals to go to the Court. It is strange in a week when we have heard rather a lot about Scotland. One is reminded of that provision in the Act of Settlement which debarred criminal appeals from Scotland to the House of Lords. The buck stops in Edinburgh. I understand from Scottish lawyers in the House, who know more about this than I, that for a time it was thought that there was no civil appellate judiciary. It was revived in somewhat dubious circumstances some 30 years after the Act of Settlement.
Long before devolution became a live issue and long before the SNP appeared on the Benches opposite, the Scots jealously guarded their right to control the judicial interpretation of one facet of their law. Surely we are entitled to do the same with matters that are of importance.
It is worth reminding ourselves of the Commonwealth position. Of the 31 independent countries of the Commonwealth, only the Bahamas, Fiji, Gambia, Jamaica, 825 Malaya, Mauritius, New Zealand, Singapore, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados and Australia retain the right of appeals to be heard by the Judicial Committee. When South Africa was in the Commonwealth, I believe that only five appeals on criminal matters ever went to the Privy Council. In view of the Draconian character of the criminal law of that country, it is not surprising that it withered away.
I remind the Committee of what Article 177 of the Treaty says about these matters, because it is important for the Committee to remember what the powers are. The article states:Where such a question is raised before any court or tribunal of a Member State, that court or tribunal may, if it considers that a decision on the question is necessary to enable it to give judgment, request the Court of Justice to give a ruling thereon. Where any such question is raised in a case pending before a court or tribunal of a Member State, against whose decisions there is no judicial remedy under national law, that court or tribunal shall bring the matter before the Court of Justice.We have had some strange preliminary examples of this. I can mention two dissimilar matters that have been brought up.
Last year in London, a magistrates' court adjourned for a reference to be made to the Court of the Community for interpretation of our immigration laws on the question of the powers of deportation. We have seen—it has exercised the House on more than one occasion—the way in which the Minister of Agriculture has been restrained by at any rate an interim decision of the Court last summer from implementing or continuing to implement the pig subsidy. That matter still awaits final determination. The fact that it is a matter of such urgency, bearing as it does upon that part of the farming community that is perhaps best qualified to claim, if there is any such claim, an increase in revenue, and that it should be so delayed is an illustration of the difficulties we have to endure while we submit ourselves to judicial processes outside this country.
My amendment does not correct that fault. However, at least I seek, and hope that the Government will be prepared to accept, that as far as these matters are concerned they shall be interpreted in a court in this country.
826 We all know the methodology of Continental courts, which is so different from our own. They are much more influenced by Roman and Roman Dutch law than we are. We provide two judges for the Court of the Community. To hark back again to the example of the Privy Council, it was often the source of resentment among independent Commonwealth countries that they should be, to use words uttered many years ago,fettered by the unhelpful decisions of distant judges".That is surely applicable even though the distance is not quite so great from here to Luxembourg as it may be from Ottawa to the Privy Council in Downing Street.
So the Government should have nothing to fear from accepting my amendment. I do not know, but there are rumours that they intend to resist it. I hope they do not. If they say that the amendment is unnecessary, it is at any rate a safeguard which does no harm. If the Government share the lurking doubts that some of us have that something is needed to make certain that the powers will not always be at risk of being interpreted to the further detriment of the domestic English law, they must accept the case for the amendment.
Do Ministers fear that if the amendment is accepted this will itself be the subject of judicial challenge in the Community and that we shall be faced, as we have not so far been faced, with a direct constitutional clash between this country and the Court of the Community? It has always been said by Ministers, from either party, who have been seeking to reassure those of us who are sceptical that we can always repeal the European Communities Act 1972. One day, I suppose, that will be put to the test. I do not see any prospect of it at the moment while the payroll vote seems to be able to override the endemic anti-Market feelings of the Labour Party.
As for the Conservative Party, with the exception of a gallant band of six or seven, very few of its Members are likely to put it to the test, so we shall not know for a very long time, if at all, whether any Act of repeal passed in the House would be in danger of being voided, in legal theory at any rate, by a decision of the Court of the Community.
827 10.0 p.m.
If, however, my amendment is accepted, it presents a direct challenge to the Court. I make no apology for that, because we shall then, and very soon I suspect, have a showdown on the matter. Then we shall know whether all this talk and all the reassurance that has been given are just so much humbug, as many of us believe them to be, or whether the situation really is that, at least in legal theory, we in 1972 did what many of us believed was the case and effected an irreversible cession of sovereignty; and, at least in a technical sense, we shall need to commit an act of revolution to repeal it, an act of revolution which may be peaceful and which one hopes will happen that way.
My belief is that it will become a matter where force majeure applies only when the day comes—I have used this fanciful but by no means impossible analogy before—when a tipstaff from the Court of the Community comes into the House, brushes aside the Serjeant at Arms and arrests the Minister of Agriculture for illegally paying a subsidy which has been authorised under the supposed powers of the House of Commons. Let us see what the Minister has to say. In the fullness of time, if the Chair permits, I shall move the amendment. I hope that the Minister will be prepared to accept it, because this would be a very good opportunity for a denouement with the Community.
§ Mr. Ian Percival (Southport)
I should like to raise a question of law while there is still time for the Minister to consider it or to adopt the suggestion of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Mr. Lee) in sending for a Law Officer to advise the Committee on it if the Minister does not know the answer.
The Government's case for the new clause depends on the twin propositions that the powers of the Assembly can be altered only by amendment of the Treaty of Rome and that that amendment can be made only by a process which comes within the definition of "treaty" in subsection (2) of the clause. Unless both those propositions are sound, the observations that the new clause does not do as much as it professes to do are well founded. Already in this debate doubt has been cast on the proposition in two 828 quite different ways. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) raised practical arguments why the effect would not be what is intended.
I rise to raise this point of law. The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) says that there is an alternative way of giving additional powers to the Assembly by employing Article 235 of the Treaty. Some support was given to that in the Bell Report. The argument is that, if the situation under Article 235 can be said to have arisen, the appropriate measures which can be taken by the Council might include giving additional powers to the Assembly. The general view is that this is not a sound argument, but, as it has been raised by at least one right hon. Gentleman in this debate, either we ought to have the benefit of the advice of the Minister of State on what is purely a matter of law or—this is why I am raising it now—if he feels that he cannot deal with it himself, there is still time to bring a Law Officer to advise the Committee on it.
§ Mr. Christopher Price
This is the first time that I have spoken in this Committee, but it is an important evening for me as far as Europe is concerned. A year ago, I was elected by my colleagues, somewhat by accident, as a member of the delegation to the European Assembly, and today I decided—indeed, I did so some time ago—that I had had enough and that one year was plenty. I went on as a mild sceptic and come off as a deep cynic. I went on somewhat by accident and I have come off with a deliberation that my friends seldom find in me.
All my experience of a year in the Assembly points to the problems we have heard about in the debate. Is it a consultative Assembly or a sovereign Parliament? Or is it a nascent sovereign Parliament? For the record, I find it unutterably tedious as a consultative Assembly, and I would find it terrifying if it ever were to get the powers of a sovereign Parliament.
It is said that the powers of the present Assembly seem minimal. People say that it has certain powers over the budget and that it can sack the Commission. But the powers seem minimal at the moment because, as constituted, the Assembly does not even try to use any independent powers of its own.
829 Hitherto, the Assembly has been very much the Commission's poodle. To paraphrase the title of one of his own books, it might be right to call it "Mr. Jenkins's Poodle". Time and again, day after day, vote after vote, it does exactly what the Commission tells it to do. A vast number of the reports that come from the Assembly, each bearing the name of some parliamentarian or other—there has even been a Price Report in my brief year there—are not even written by the individual; they are written by the secretariat of the committee concerned on information supplied by the Commission.
So, at the moment, the Assembly is a mangy old sheepdog which would not bite anyone or do any harm. This lulls us into a sense of complacency, perhaps, in thinking that there is no great danger of the Assembly getting any more power except by the sort of change in the Treaty which, according to New Clause 8, has to have the consent of this Parliament. Both my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) and the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) have exposed the deep fallacy of the new clause.
The fallacy concerns the nature of power. No one ever gives anyone power. People take power. This Parliament has taken power. The danger is that, after direct elections, without any change in the Treaty, a situation could arise where the Assembly, more and more calling itself a Parliament, would, little by little, year by year, use the threat of the large powers it has to accrete to itself all sorts of small powers in a conspiratorial alliance with the Commission to frustrate the decisions of the Council of Ministers, and thereby to frustrate our Ministers and to prevent action such as that which my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has been taking over the past few weeks in standing up for the House of Commons.
Let us imagine what might happen. After direct elections, there may be a Socialist majority in the Assembly that would elect Willi Brandt as President of the Parliament. Alternatively, the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) might stand and be elected President by the conglomeration of Right-wing parties in the Parliament—though they do not get on very well at present. If the President of the new directly elected 830 Parliament, which would have a certain amount of prestige, started throwing his weight about with the Commission and the Council of Ministers, enormous power and influence could be taken by the Parliament without any change in the Treaty so that this poor little new clause would not have the slightest effect.
These things happen slowly. There is a great contrast between this place and the bunch of places in Europe where they will probably end up with at least three parliamentary buildings. There is already one in Luxembourg, a group of Luxembourg banks is going into the "on spec" building of another Parliament in the hope that someone will rent it, there is the new building at Strasbourg, and most members of the Assembly are determined to take over the redundant Banque Lambert in Brussels.
§ Mr. Price
I have asked myself what I was doing there. I was about to draw a contrast to show how power could grow in Europe. Our civil servants do not take too much notice of Parliament, but at least our Questions get answers and we can get certain information. At least if we write a letter or put down a Question, it has a little red tab attached to it as it zooms around Whitehall sending junior civil servants into a flat spin.
In the Assembly the situation is the opposite. One is lucky to get a written question answered within six months. There is no machinery for forcing the Commission to take notice of the Parliament. I do not blame the Commission. It is staffed mostly by bright, over-paid young Europeans who despise the Parliament because they think that they are running Europe. In many ways, they are.
However, if the new Assembly starts flexing its muscles, getting its questions anwered and taking itself seriously—as many people hope that it will—the power of that Parliament will grow and the new clause will have no effect in preventing that growth.
I have enjoyed myself over there. I used to wonder why the Assembly met at Strasbourg and stopped at 8 p.m. sharp for dinner. Then I realised what the 831 common agricultural policy was all about. It is about the obsession of Europeans with food and the Gargantuan way they go about it after their tasks are over for the day.
It is all very pleasant, but it could change from a rather sloppy, pleasant Assembly into a serious Parliament. I accept that there are circumstances in which it could change and become little more than a sort of city council comprising some elderly superannuated politicians who know how to get themselves selected. In that case, it might be no more powerful than at present for a few years. If it goes on existing, it will want the power. It will get the power. It might even, I would say to the right hon. Member for Down, South, be infected by a little English pragmatism and not bother about changing any more treaties but simply accrete this power.
For those people who want that to happen, this is fair enough. That is what they have been after for the last 10 or 20 years. That is what some of my German Socialist and Italian Socialist colleagues in the Assembly want and have been fighting for since the Second World 832 War. I accept that. But for those of us who believe in trying to maintain this Parliament as the sort of Parliament that takes itself seriously it is the end, because the two cannot live side by side.
As the European Assembly takes crucial decisions of the kind talked about by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East over the whole range of economic policy, if it uses these powers, there is nothing left here. I accept that that is what many people want. But I do not think that anyone should congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs in the belief that the amendment, or even the amendment to the new clause tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Mr. Lee) will make any real difference to the way in which power accretes. I do not know whether it will.
I suspect that the EEC may fold over the next 10 to 20 years and become a sort of EFTA. But if it does not, the Assembly has sufficient powers which are not being used to pose a significant threat to everything that we do here.
§ Mr. David Stoddart (Swindon)
On a point of order, Mr. Murton. The hon. and learned Member for Southport (Mr. Percival) and my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Mr. Lee) raised a number of legal points. The hon. and learned Member for Southport asked whether we could have a Law Officer present to give his interpretation of the situation. We have had no reply from my hon. Friend the Minister. He has not indicated to the Committee whether a Law Officer is to explain these matters and give his learned opinion. On a matter of this sort it is essential that the Committee has the best possible legal advice. The Minister should make some response.
§ The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Frank Judd)
Perhaps I may intervene briefly on this point, because I understand that there is some anxiety on both sides of the Committee. We have been into the matter in some detail. From our standpoint it is inconceivable that Article 235 could be used to extend the powers of the Assembly. It would be completely contrary to the terms of the Treaty. If hon. Members who have expressed concern in the Committee this evening look at Article 235 they will see that it refers to the objectives. This answers the anxiety which has been expressed. The Assembly is not an objective in that sense.
§ Mr. Jay
With all respect to my hon. Friend, whom we are honestly trying to assist in order that he may be able to give the Committee proper legal advice, it is not only Article 235 that is at issue here. Among others, the additional point has been raised of the legal definition of an international agreement. My right honourable Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary was asked this question and did not even pretend to know the answer. He said frankly that he did not know it and that it would be given later in the debate by someone with more legal knowledge than he had. It has not been given on any point except on the question of Article 235.
We are raising this point of order because there is time, before the hour gets too late, for the Government to see that proper legal advice is available on the Front Bench, in accordance with all precedent. I hope that with your help, 834 Mr. Murton, my hon. Friend may avail himself of this opportunity before it is too late. It would be deplorable if the Committee had to decide without proper information on the legal meaning of the amendment.
§ The Chairman (Mr. Oscar Murton)
The right hon. Gentleman knows that he must not appeal to me for help. It is not a matter for the Chair.
§ Mr. Judd
I understand the Committee's anxieties, but I also recognise that there is a great deal of feeling, not least on the part of my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon (Mr. Stoddart), about the shortage of time available for debate. Therefore, I was deliberately holding back, giving as many hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber as possible an opportunity to intervene. If the Committee wishes, I shall certainly deal with some of these points as they occur, but in my view this will deprive other hon. Members of the opportunity to intervene.
One question, put by the hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell), was whether a treaty amending a basic Community treaty was a treaty within the meaning of the clause. The answer is "Yes", but no further phraseology is needed. Amendments to the treaties can be made only by international agreement between member States, ratified according to their national constitutional requirements. Any such amending treaties which increase the powers of the European Assembly will henceforth require approval by Act of Parliament before the Government can ratify.
The other point, also properly raised by the hon. Gentleman, was whether Parliament could amend a Bill to authorise an increase in the Assembly's powers. Again, the answer is "Yes". Amendments can of course be tabled, but such a Bill would normally have only one clause. The choice for Parliament will normally be between authorising ratification and not authorising ratification. Parliament would not be able to alter the words of a treaty, but it could require the Government in some cases to ratify subject to a reservation.
§ Mr. David Howell
I am not sure whether we are still on a point of order, 835 Mr. Murton, or whether we have moved on to an intervention by the Minister.
What the hon. Gentleman said was interesting and useful, and it answers some of the points I raised. I am glad that before the end of the debate some of these matters are being made clearer, but we are worried about deeper matters. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Southport (Mr. Percival) intervened earlier specifically on Article 235 to deal with the question outlined in that article, where the Community seeks to do more things, to attain more objectives, and finds that it does not have the powers under the treaty, so that certain procedures are set in motion that generate more powers. Presumably, some of those might go to the Assembly.
One of the questions that right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber have asked, among many others of some legal complexity, is whether that means that if the Assembly receives additional powers, certain safeguards are provided for the House of Commons. Does that involve a treaty coming before the House?
I freely confess, as did the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary of himself, that I am not deeply versed in legal matters. The Minister of State would probably concede the same thing. Indeed, that is obvious from his brief comments so far.
These are very interesting matters. It would be a pity if the Government made themselves more vulnerable than they are already to the charge that insufficient advice has been given to the Committee. We need a legal authority on these matters. That is my opinion. I am not sure that the Minister of State is right to resist. We have given him time. We intervened half an hour ago to ask for someone to be sent for to advise the Committee. In the interests of the House of Commons as a whole, it would be wise if the hon. Gentleman did that.
§ Mr. Kenneth Clarke
On a point of Order, Mr. Murton. I ask the Minister of State further to consider what arises from what the right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) was saying about the need for a ruling on the definition of an international agreement for the purpose of the new clause. Is an 836 agreement between the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament an international agreement within the terms of the clause? If, for instance, the Council of Ministers agreed not to use its regulation-making power unless it had the consent of the European Parliament, that would be a dramatic increase in the legislative powers of the European Parliament. If the Council of Ministers comes to an agreement with the European Parliament that it will pass no directly applicable regulations unless the European Parliament votes to approve them, is that an international agreement that would come within the terms of the clause? This is an important issue and I think, with respect, that it is probably the point in which the right hon. Member for Battersea, North was interested.
§ The Chairman
I must draw the attention of the Committee to the fact that we are getting into points of order that in truth are not points of order at all. A fair amount of the Committee's time is being taken up in that way. I am not saying that the matter is not important, but certain right hon. and hon. Members are desirous of participating in the debate. I suggest that the matter of the so-called point of order has now been suitably ventilated.
§ Mr. Spearing
On a point of order, Mr. Murton. The hon. and learned Member for Southport (Mr. Percival) has requested legal elucidation of these matters and I back up his request. With due respect to your ruling, Mr. Murton, I think that my hon. Friend's explanation was not consistent with Article 235 and that we need some legal support for the point that he has made.
§ The Chairman
The hon. Gentleman is ingenious in raising these matters, but that was certainly not a point of order.
§ Mr. Dykes
I am grateful for at long last being called, Mr. Murton. I agree with other hon. Members, irrespective of our global views on membership of the EEC, that the Minister, if I may say so without being offensive, made a pathetic attempt to help the Committee and has made matters much worse. The hon. Gentleman has failed to deal with the crucial question of subsection (2) in the new clause and the definition of an international agreement. That is the core of the trouble.
The debate has veered to a number of considerations that themselves have changed the tenor and nature of the debate. At the beginning I thought that there were hon. Members, perhaps mostly on the Opposition Benches—I speculate, but I assume that for the purpose of the argument—who were against the clause, in so far as we could understand it in its text, and regarded it as too sweeping. However, as a result of the single-handed achievement of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott), who has now left the Chamber—it was a notable achievement to have made such a contribution and then to have left the Chamber to exercise a dual mandate—the fear began to develop that the clause was not sufficient. The two conflicting arguments were superseded by an argument from the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), and perhaps on this occasion we must agree with the right hon. Gentleman. Whatever the word that might be encapsulated in an appropriate protecting clause of this sort, I have had increasing doubt about the validity and merit of the new clause as the debate has continued. I have doubt about the extent of its achievement. It would all be set aside by the existing practice, conventions and habits of a thrusting, energetic and modernised European Parliament in future, quite unlike the existing European Parliament.
I apologise to the right hon. Gentleman for being out of the Chamber at the beginning of his remarks. I did not realise that he had confessed his desire, as a result of his deep dislike of this pathetic institution as it now is, to leave this place as soon as possible. The 838 debate is crucial in a number of ways if only because the Committee has the opportunity to debate calmly and dispassionately the relationship of the House of Commons not only with the Executive of the United Kingdom, but with the European Community institutions—the three principal institutions with which we are concerned mainly, not so much the Court of Justice—as they develop in future.
I suggest that the speculations of Labour Members below the Gangway as to what will happen are gross exaggerations and distortions. By contrast, I see more than just a useful and pragmatic coexistence developing among the various institutions in the context of the logical and calming development of an additional layer of political control through direct elections in the European context that will fit into any national Parliament's future ambitions, provided that it sorts out its own relationships with its national Executive.
I think that a much bigger problem faces the House of Commons in sorting out and concluding a stronger relationship with the United Kingdom Executive. That is a big problem that anti-Marketeers, irrespective of party, often ignore. But it is interesting to note that the development of Select Committees has gone agreeably the other way.
As long as the Council of Ministers remains—as inevitably it will under the Treaty—the supreme legislative body that controls finances, it is untrue, wrong, misleading and dangerous to infer that the finances are being controlled in a diffuse process other than through the central decision-making activities of the Council of Ministers. In so far as that will persist unchanged in future according to all reasonable parameters of anticipation of future political events in the European theatre, all these anxieties must, by definition, remain gross exaggerations.
§ Mr. Christopher Price
I cannot remember whether the hon. Gentleman was in his place when the Foreign Secretary admitted—and admitted for the first time—that the motive for the Council of Ministers giving way on this year's budget was to avoid a fuss. If the Council of Ministers is so keen to avoid a fuss with the present mangy old sheepdog of the 839 present Assembly, how keen will it be to avoid fusses if we have direct elections and the more thrusting Parliament of which the hon. Member has spoken?
§ Mr. Dykes
The hon. Gentleman cannot have it both ways. He is making a point based erroneously on the careless language of the Foreign Secretary. The giving in to avoid a fuss is the grandiose decision-making of the Council of Ministers on repeated occasions whereby it makes limited concessions to a European Parliament which remains intrinsically weak—I think all too weak, even if not yet directly elected—and which will remain weak even if it is directly elected. There is no way that, even with the commanding heights of politicians from all the other countries, that central argument can be upset in future unless the Treaty of Rome were to be rewritten, changed and turned right round. However, that is totally inconceivable.
§ Mr. Dykes
Not at the moment. I think that I am right in saying that, aside from Front Bench contributions, my words are the first remarks of an adherent to the Community.
I should like to quote from a document called "The Powers of the European Parliament" which refers to a working party which examined the subject. The document calls for more powers, but admits that the reality is otherwise. I must be candid and say that, looking to the future, I would prefer it if the situation were different.
The document says on page 7:Parliament's formal powers in the case of legislation where the Council of Ministers has the final decision is limited to the right to be consulted.Again, the Council will from time to time make concessions and Parliament will express gratitude and will continue on its path.
§ Mr. Budgen
On the subject of the attitude of the Assembly, does my hon. Friend agree that many politicans see their primary duty as being, first, to make promises to the electorate and, so far as possible, to carry them out? Most of the promises are in terms of the 840 showering of Government money on people—
§ Mr. Budgen
Yes, goodies. Will there not inevitably be tension in the Assembly collectively to get together with the Commission to try to get more and more of the goodies from Europe to take back to constituents and to explain to them, first, what splendid Members of Parliament they have been and, secondly, what a marvellous institution it is that provides the goodies?
§ Mr. Dykes
There is no reason to disagree with that, but it is the working out in practice and the result that flows from it that my hon. Friend misunderstands. All that is a reflection of the concessions that the Council of Ministers will in future choose to make to the European Parliament.
I hope that I shall not be misunderstood. I prefer a European Parliament to what I would describe as civilised future power-sharing with a logical relationship with the institutions to be developed with it and for it to have more direct power. I prefer that to be clearly laid down in writing, as is the Community's habit, rather than developed by convention—save in some small areas—so that we know about it.
I should like to mention a domestic matter about this institution of which I am more fond than the European Parliament. I used to be a Member of the European Parliament, but I am no longer. The inability of this Parliament to scrutinise is a catastrophic weakness vis-à-vis this Executive and not vis-à-vis EEC institutions. As time passes I hope that the European Parliament, represented by conventional political forms reflecting our own domestic political and other groups, will interact with the political forms in this and other national Parliaments and will represent all citizens of Europe.
I hope I shall be forgiven if my remarks sound somewhat trite, but I do not think that is an unreasonable view for the future and no doubt it can be contradicted by those Labour Members who sit below the Gangway.
§ Mr. Spearing
The hon. Gentleman quoted page 7 of the document which emphasises that the Parliament's formal 841 power is limited. Did the hon. Gentleman see the letter from Lord Gladwyn in the Daily Telegraph on 14th October in which he said:I see the new Assembly, in fruitful cooperation with the Commission, submitting, by the requisite majority, sensible and constructive proposals in all spheres to the Ministers who will, in the nature of things, find it increasingly difficult to turn them down.Is it not as likely that his prophecies will come true?
§ Mr. Dykes
I suppose that we could go on indefinitely swapping opinions about the future and failing, perhaps, to gaze into the crystal ball accurately. I ought to return to the new clause and try to relate it to my remarks.
The logical consequence of the argument that I have tried to put forward, albeit probably inadequately, must be that the new clause is not necessary, as the right hon. Member for Down, South, though for quite different reasons, suggested. But even if that were so, because I am reassured by what I regard as a much quieter future career for the European Parliament than is expected by many Labour Members, I would object strongly to the text.
I would object particularly because we have had no reassuring remarks from the Foreign Secretary, who was markedly careless and insouciant at the beginning of the debate and thereby made the debate worse. We acknowledge that he may have some justification in that he is preoccupied with Rhodesia and other weighty matters. None the less, he treated the Committee in a cavalier fashion, making a joke of the point that he could not deal with a reasonable, legal explanation of the new clause. Then there was much less of an unwelcome act by the Minister of State, adding to the confusion when he intervened a few minutes ago.
However, it is not for those reasons alone that I object. My concluding reasons for my objections are these. The Council of Ministers' operational syndrome—as well as its place in the Treaty, and, therefore, its constitutional existence in the Treaty of Rome and the European Community, and its continuation undoubtedly to operate on the principle of unanimity, certainly in respect of all treaty changes in the foreseeable future, that cannot be gainsaid, I should have thought, 842 by any hon. Member is the ultimate, 110 per cent. protection.
§ Mr. Dykes
Well, I shall give way shortly.
It therefore renders this new clause, or any clause, completely unnecessary.
Then we might come to a less strong argument, one in which hon. Members may say "Let us get the strength of the insurance companies around us. Let us have the new clause just in case we need it". However, bearing in mind the anxieties already expressed by some clever constitutional lawyers in the Chamber—and there are many more who have not yet come into the Chamber and who are probably lurking outside but who will come in to give their views of the difficulties about these textual problems and the failure to give a proper definition of an international agreement—all that must mean that this House of Commons, in this solemn Committee of the whole House on the Bill, although guillotined, must deliberately refrain from creating bad law.
I should be wholly content to rest with the procedures of the House of Commons now, the affirmative orders and definition of treaty orders by which we now, under Section 2 of the European Communities Act, ratify or fail to ratify any of the treaties or treaty changes that have occurred so far.
I add another reason as my final point—I am trying to be brief. The new clause would also be rendered unnecessary as long as this is logic. I am not saying that other countries do things better than we do. I think that in constitutional matters Britain still leads Europe and many other parts of the world in its practices and constitutional political habits. But, within the context of the Council of Ministers and the continuation of the unanimity principle, one needs, presumably, only one member State to have a provision along these lines to provide the ultimate guarantee for all the members. That must be so.
843 Therefore, if any member State, because, for example, it has a constitutional history that is different from ours, has, for instance, a written constitution and something along these lines because the constitutional bodies in that country have decided that it is appropriate, I should have thought that that takes care of all the other provisions as long as the unanimity principle persists.
There is a country that has that. Perhaps we can for once look with interest to France.
§ Mr. Dykes
I shall give way in a moment.
In France there were two direct election Bills. One was the election arrangements Bill, containing the administrative arrangements and the laws dealing with the procedure. The other was the constitutional Bill, in which there was a clause—I shall not bore the Committee by reading out all the words, particularly as they are in French—similar in textual characteristics to the new clause before the Committee. That is encapsulated in the French constitutional Bill.
But that is only because the French had to have that, because they have a written constitution, and it is a clause that also says what the Home Secretary said when he gave the original undertaking to the House—namely, that if there were any increase in powers which reduced or, to use the words of my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw), was at the expense of the powers of the domestic Parliament, such and such a procedure would be invoked.
§ 10.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Budgen
My hon. Friend deals at great length and, if I may say so, in a very legalistic way, with the question of treaties, but it is not the case that the real catalyst in any constitution is the budget? It was a catalyst in our constitution. It will be the catalyst within the European institutions. All this talk about the unanimity rule and so on, interesting though it may be in respect of the treaty-making powers, has nothing whatever to do with the budget and its inbuilt 844 tendency to expand the power of the Community.
§ Mr. Dykes
At the risk of repeating myself, I can only suggest to my hon. Friend that he has misunderstood how it operates. I am not being condescending when I say that, because my hon. Friend is a very clever person and a very distinguished lawyer, but he would understand these things if he had made a closer study of them.
The Council of Ministers controls the finances of the European Community. The European Assembly or Parliament does not. By way of concessions that the Council of Ministers may have decided to make in relation to the balance and the power-sharing relationship that might conceivably develop in the future—but is now really very marginal, indeed—the Council has, in a series of decisions, given a very limited amount of financial decision-making at the margin, in respect of certain limited items to the Parliament. It was the Council which decided that, and the Council could take those powers away. There will be no structural constitutional changes in the future as a result of the mere fact of direct elections.
It is because the text of the new clause now departs fundamentally from the original idea or suggestion made by the Government—they said that they would draft something which would reflect the relationship of this House to the European Community—that the Government are in danger of leading the House of Commons into a totally illogical and irrational trap. It will be unconstitutional in Community terms and, much more important, it will not help this House of Commons by one single centimetre to assert its future political and constitutional authority over the British Government.
Even more important that that in the Community context, it will not help in developing effective scrutiny procedures, which I, as a keen Marketeer—to use that derogatory phrase—believe very strongly to be necessary in the House of Commons. The Committee ought not to allow itself to be led by the Government into a trap which will do the House of Commons no good at all.
§ Mr. John Evans (Newton)
For two and a half years I have had the privilege of representing my party in the European Assembly. During that time, although I 845 am generally recognised as someone who was always opposed to the Treaty of Rome, I have done my best to look after the interests, as I saw them, of the British people.
The Labour Party is a democratic party and ours is the only delegation to the European Assembly which elects its delegates. Tonight, as a result of the ballot, I shall no longer be a Member of the European Assembly.
§ Mr. Evans
I have enjoyed the two and a half years in which I have worked there. At times it has been hard and at times it has been interesting. I do not necessarily agree with the comment made earlier about useless sheepdogs. I wish my successor well. I know that he will do a good job and I expect that he will play a full part in the role of the Assembly.
For two and a half years I have worked with my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott), and undoubtedly for the last two years that he has been leader of the delegation he has done a tremendous job. He made tonight a very cogent and powerful speech in the course of which, as most hon. Members accepted, he shed some new light on various aspects of the Assembly.
I was disturbed to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown) attempt to suggest that my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East was speaking with two voices—one voice here and another in the European Assembly. I am sure that even the most bitter opponents of my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East will agree that they have heard him many times putting the very same arguments, often in the face of considerable hostility, in the European Assembly itself. He has argued strongly about the role and powers of the Commission, and he has argued for areas such as shipbuilding and textiles and about the effect of the Commission's actions on them. No one has heard him argue that the powers of the European Assembly should be strengthened, because he is on record repeatedly as being opposed to direct elections and opposed to strengthening the powers of that Assembly at the expense of those of the House 846 of Commons. It is a view that I share, and I have always attempted to put forward this argument. I believe that, once we move to direct elections, we shall be in an entirely new ball game.
I, too, have some suspicion about the value of new Clause 8. I am not a lawyer. Certainly I am not a constitutional expert. But I have the horrible feeling that the clause is giving us powers which in theory we have already. If the Treaty of Rome is to be altered to add to the powers, it must be ratified by the national Parliaments, in theory, and I suspect that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, in what I thought was a rather poor performance at the Dispatch Box, was saying "We have drafted the clause in what we hope is a catch-all manner. We hope that it will settle all your problems and that we shall not be taken too far along this road." But, again, I have the horrible feeling that, when similar events occur in the future, if and when that Parliament becomes directly elected, and when we protest violently about what is going on in Strasbourg, Luxembourg or Brussels, we shall have the Attorney-General wheeled in to tell us what it was that we passed.
I agree with all those right hon. and hon. Members who have said that we should have the benefit of the Government's legal advice, and it will be interesting to see what the future holds in that respect. But one of the reasons for our difficulties is that every aspect of the EEC and its institutions has to be rushed. I do not want to raise all the old arguments about the Treaty of Accession or about the guillotining of this Bill, but no one can deny that EEC matters are regularly rushed through this House.
We are debating a matter of considerable importance—certainly it will be in the future—but we have this minor debate without the benefit of the Government's legal advice. The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) spoke about our discussing important regulations at a late hour. I remind him that we spent only an hour and a quarter last night on some tremendously important transport legislation which the European Assembly had discussed 14 months ago. The committee of which I am chairman spent more hours than the House of Commons spent minutes discussing it.
847 I agree with the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) about the need for the House to improve its scrutiny ability. To say that is to condemn the Treasury Bench. But I suspect that it will be a condemnation of the hon. Gentlement's own Front-Bench Members if ever we are unfortunate enough to have them in office. But I agree about the need to improve the scrutiny arrangements, although I hardly think that that should be followed through to where a directly elected Assembly starts to do the job for us.
I have heard some hon. Members ask, once we have devolution and elected Assemblies in Scotland and Wales, perhaps even an elected English Assembly—there has been talk about that—and a directly elected European Parliament, what on earth there will be for the House of Commons to do. I have certainly read that point of view in some journals which seem to favour a particular course. In the general question of scrutiny I would hope that this point would be noted.
If we are to do the job properly, even after the directly elected Assembly is in existence, we must have proper scrutiny procedures. Once the European Assembly is directly elected, that body will undoubtedly seek to increase its powers. One only has to look at parish, district and county councils and listen to these politicians arguing about powers that they should or should not have to realise that once the Assembly is set up in Strasbourg or Luxembourg, the Members will argue very strongly for rights in certain areas where they think that they should be the dominant body on Community legislation.
It is important to realise—and too many hon. Members overlook this point—that at present there is a link between Members of this House and the Members of the European Assembly. This is an extremely important link which we shall lose once we have direct elections. While it is true that one can do two part-time jobs—although one might be tired, distressed, and have difficulties, it can be done—physically one cannot do two full-time jobs.
§ Mr. Budgen
The hon. Member may think that I am being rough on him, but would he also agree that because the British delegation has to treat this as a 848 part-time job, that inevitably stops that delegation, to some extent, from increasing the powers of the Assembly, because it cannot physically do any more?
§ Mr. Evans
The point I was trying to make was that the link remains between Members of the House of Commons and Members of the European Assembly. Members of the European Assembly are all aware of the national problems and the background against which they are debating an issue. Members of the British delegation may not agree with each other, but they are well aware of certain economic facts and the problems facing our Government. After direct elections we shall have rather strange characters serving in Europe who will not take any cognisance of the problems of Government and the situation in the House of Commons. There will be an entirely different attitude. It is important that the link we have now is maintained.
One of the strange things about the Assembly is—and here the hon. Member for Moray and Nairn (Mrs. Ewing) will agree with me—the way in which the Italians stand shoulder to shoulder on Italian issues and the Germans on German issues. They are defending their countries' interests because they are Members of their national Parliaments and are aware of the problems of their national Governments. After direct elections we shall have 410 Members from all over the place representing points of view that do not take into account the problems of their Governments.
§ Mr. Dykes
Why should that happen? Is it not more likely that a trilogy of contacts will develop? Is it not likely that we shall have Select Committees from the House of Commons taking evidence from visiting European parliamentarians on matters of policy, party groups meeting here and there, and the directly elected Members meeting Members of this House, irrespective of party, in the European constituency? Is it not logical that things will develop for the good of the citizen, rather than there being the conflict that the hon. Member envisages?
§ Mr. Evans
The hon. Member paints an interesting picture. Although I have been a Member of the European Parliament for two and a half [...]ears, and the 849 Chairman of the Regional Policy Committee for two years, I have not noticed anyone in this House rushing to ask me my views on certain aspects of policy. It could be that this is my fault. However, I have not noticed the Speaker giving me any special privileges to speak on matters of which I have special knowledge. It may be that in the future when we have the directly elected Assembly these special provisions will be made, but I very much doubt it. All my experience indicates that hon. Members both from my party and the Opposition seem to take very little interest in what we do over there until it is too late. Then they protest about the way policies are going in Europe.
§ 11 p.m.
§ Mr. Roper
My hon. Friend the Member for Newton (Mr. Evans) says that hon. Members pay little attention to what is done in the European Parliament. My memory may be in error but a year or 18 months ago, when the Select Committee was examining the Regional Fund with the Lords Select Committee, he was invited to appear before us, and he gave some useful evidence.
§ Mr. Evans
On one occasion I received an invitation and attended. But I believe that I am the only hon. Member to give evidence to such a ommittee. Perhaps that was the exception that proves the rule. In the two and a half years that the Labour delegation has been attending the Asssembly and in the five years that the Conservative delegation has been attending the House of Commons has shown little interest until it is too late and the die is cast.
§ Mrs. Winifred Ewing
I respect the authority of the hon. Member for Newton (Mr. Evans) as a member of the Regional Policy Committee. I pay tribute to him. Does he not see a difficulty in the continuation of the dual mandate, bearing in mind that only two or three days a month are involved that difficulties are caused by travelling and that bad weather can cause delays?
Does he see why we should lose all these working days just because of the problems of travel? Is he suggesting that everyone should come to London? That would create a problem for me.
§ Mr. Evans
I take the hon. Member's point. I come from the North-West of England. My constituency has more electors than any other in Great Britain. I deal with seven local authorities, including a new town. I carry as much of a burden as anyone else. This depends on the individual. I cannot say what others regard as reasonable. I can give only by own view. I should like to see the present situation continued. It would be better if the Assembly continued operating as it does until the Community establishes itself in a way that requires a directly elected Parliament.
The only arguments one hears in favour of direct elections involve a loose use of the word "democracy." What is meant by that word? If they examine their consciences, hon. Members will agree that pressure for direct elections conies from the Commission—not only from the Commissioners but from those who comprise the bureaucracy in the Commission. They have a job to do and they do it to the best of their ability. But the Commission dislikes the Council of Ministers. The Council blocks progress on problems relating to member States. For example, 67 transport items are blocked in the Council. The Transport Commission is appalled by this lack of progress. National Ministers are well aware of the problems and that is why they are blocked. They are blocked not because Ministers want to keep them there but because of the political difficulties.
Members of Parliament who are aware of the difficulties in that situation then recognise the difficulties facing the Council of Ministers. But directly elected Members who are unaware of the problems in this House will naturally do what the Commission wants—they will join the Commission in making representations against the Council and ignore all the argument. In speech after speech the Commissioners complain that their power has somewhat declined in the past two or three years—since the Labour Government came to power—and they resent that. They want their power back. They have the power to make representations, but they want the power to make decisions.
§ Mr. David Stoddart (Swindon)
In my hon. Friend's view, does this tie up with the remarks that are being made by 851 various Commissioners about the powers of the European Parliament? Let me give him an example. Commissioner Tugendhat in a recent speech said that once we had direct elections there would have to be a shift of power so that the Council of Ministers would have to be made corporately responsible to the new directly elected European Assembly. That is a very serious remark.
§ Mr. Evans
That obviously ties up with my experience. My hon. Friend endorses my point. Hon. Members who attend the European Parliament as frequently as I do will know first hand how frequently Commissioners and directors-general indicate that they want to use the Parliament to legitimise their power to make decisions.
There has been discussion tonight about the budget, but to what areas can the Assembly look for an extension of its power to alter the Treaty? I believe that the new clause gives us powers which in theory we already have. All of us, irrespective of our views on the Common Market, have to recognise what will happen both here and in the Assembly in the future.
The new Commission was appointed in January last year. There was some argument about some of the Commissioners. It appeared that the new President of the Commission was not happy with one or two of them and had made representations to certain member Governments. Many members of the political groups took up the argument. Their valid point of view was that they should have the right to ask a Commissioner to appear before them and to veto him. Some members of the Assembly were more far sighted. They did not want to stir up that hornets' nest before direct elections had been secured. It might be suggested that the Council of Ministers would veto such an idea, but that would not stop the Assembly from proceeding to a vote. What would be the position of a Commissioner with a negative vote?
Another point concerns the siting of the Parliament. The Council of Ministers is supposed to take that decision, but if there is a directly elected Assembly, do hon. Members think that the ridiculous farce whereby the Assembly travels from Strasbourg to Brussels to Luxem 852 bourg and back to Strasbourg and Brussels again will be allowed to continue? The Council of Ministers will take a decision. Luxembourg is to build a new Assembly building. I suspect that once the Assembly is directly elected, it will decide to sit permanently in that building. Who is to stop it? The Council of Ministers?
§ Mr. Marten
The Luxembourgers are to charge a rent of £6 million a year for that building. Who will decide whether that £6 million is paid? I suspect that it will be the directly elected Assembly.
§ Mr. Evans
The hon. Gentleman is plainly correct. Let us look at it from the Luxembourgers' point of view. Their position is clear. The present building there will not house a directly elected Assembly of 410 members, so they are to build a new centre, knowing that it will have to be used. It is not really a speculative venture for them, but an investment. I sometimes wish that this country was a little more thoughtful on some issues as some other European countries are. They seem to look after their interests sometimes a little better than we do ours.
There are other areas in which the Assembly, without altering the Treaty, can extend its powers. For example, there is environmental policy. The Assembly says now that it can oversee vast areas in a member country. There is logic in that. Again, it claims that it can take measures regarding consumer protection, regional policy and the Social Fund. In these areas the Assembly already recognises the powers at its disposal.
About 75 per cent. of the Community's budget goes into agriculture, and a large percentage of that allocation is taken up with the EAGGF Fund. There is a strong argument now that a large section of that fund should be transferred into the Regional Fund, which would move a substantial tranche out of agriculture, which is compulsory, into the Regional Fund, which is not.
These are the areas in which a directly elected assembly can operate. But once it goes into these things, that will further weaken the hold that this House has on taxation and general financial requisitions. The whole question of whether the Commission gets that power is the key to the argument.
853 The Commission wants to break the power of the Council of Ministers. There has been considerable discussion about abolishing the power of veto and having a qualified voting system. There has been an instance of qualified voting—it applied to the transport regulations; they were passed by qualified majority. The Assembly recognises that lessening the powers of veto strengthens the power of the Assembly. But it also strengthens the power of the Commission. The argument about New Clause 8 is rather sterile in this respect.
It might be legitimate to say that the Assembly's powers should be widened and increased, but as a House representing the British people we want to know how it will extend its powers, why, and who will benefit. At the end of the day, all politicians are elected by the people. This House manages to divide arguments up—for example, if one has the anti-Market tag one can see nothing good coming out of Brussels. But the issues are real and important, and in future, particularly after direct elections, it will be vital to the British people that this House should do its proper job in facing up to these great issues.
§ 11.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Kenneth Clarke
I begin by commiserating with the hon. Member for Newton (Mr. Evans), who, I understood him to say, has been removed this evening from the Socialist delegation to the European Parliament. I have never agreed with his overall views on the Community, and many of the opinions that he finds deplorable, such as those of Commissioner Tugendhat, are those with which I agree.
However, I have always appreciated the hon. Gentleman's contributions in European matters and I have taken part in debates in which the views of the hon. Gentleman—as chairman of the Regional Committee—have been extremely useful. I take from his removal the comfort that at least the selections of Members of the Assembly will be considerably improved once we move to direct elections, because the system adopted by the Parliamentary Labour Party is evidently a little perverse.
I agree with much of the analysis of the hon. Member for Newton and of the anti-Marketeers who have spoken. My opinions on the merits of the Bill are 854 diametrically opposed to theirs, but we are not discussing a great and weighty constitutional change which satisfies all the objections of those who oppose the Bill and are fearful of the growth of the power of the European Parliament.
The Foreign Secretary had difficulty keeping a straight face during parts of his speech, particularly when he was pressed on certain details. It was clear that he had taken the view—rightly, in my opinion—that the new clause did not justify his breaking away from important matters such as Rhodesia to do any precise study of the clause.
We are dealing with a piece of political nonsense which is an unnecessary addition to the Bill. The new clause is being presented because of an undertaking given by the Foreign Secretary, when he wandered into our first day's debate in Committee, to try to satisfy those who are opposed to the main objectives of the Bill. He rashly believed that the undertaking would satisfy hon. Members such as my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten), the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) and the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) and that the Government might therefore be able to get the Bill through without a timetable motion. I am a fierce supporter of the Bill, and I took the view from the start that there was no chance of getting it through in the face of the opposition of those Members and others without a guillotine, and I ultimately supported the Government on the timetable motion.
The undertaking got the Foreign Secretary nowhere, but it presented him and his Department with the tremendous problem of drafting a new clause which at least looked respectable so that they could go through the motions of putting that draft commitment into effect.
I pointed out that the commitment, which was so lightly given, was completely out of order as the Bill stood. and the Chairman ruled that it was outside the scope of the Bill as drafted. It took the Foreign Office seven weeks to draft the amendments—I see that the Foreign Secretary is again having difficulty keeping a straight face and is nodding and I doubt whether that is because of the inaccuracy of what I am saying. Amendments had to be produced to change the Long Title and alter the scope of the 855 Bill, and there must have been a fearful problem in producing a text of the new clause that had any meaning, while the attempt to produce a new clause that matched the wording of the commitment had to be abandoned.
It proved impossible to express in words which would be legally enforceable a new clause which was confined to increases in the power of the European Parliament which encroached on the power of Westminster. The opponents of the Bill are correct in describing the new clause as futile. We shall see a growth in the powers of the European Parliament regardless of the new clause.
What I am saying is that I want a growth in the powers of the European Parliament. I do not mind if it is a growth in its powers at the expense of Westminster if it is a growth of its powers with a view to increasing European union, which I believe is overwhelmingly in the interests of the United Kingdom. What I do not think the clause will stop is an increase in the powers of the European Parliament as a consequence of the Bill, but I am still hostile to the clause because I think that it will be a nuisance. It will lead to unnecessary legislation and unnecessary legal wrangles and arguments about precisely what is its effect at various stages in the increase of the European Parliament's powers.
§ Mr. Nicholas Winterton
In his Euromania, would my hon. Friend also argue that the directly elected Assembly will democratise the European situation? Does he believe that the Members, representing 500,000 people, can be as closely in touch with the needs, worries and interests of the people of this country as someone representing 80,000 people, as in the House of Commons?
§ Mr. Clarke
I shall not be drawn too far out of order. I dealt with some of these matters in an earlier debate. Members of the United States Senate have no difficulty in representing huge constituencies more effectively and democratically than we can represent our constituencies in the House of Commons.
I also think that it is a valuable contribution to democracy in Europe to have a body to which the Council of Ministers is responsible for the great legislative powers that it already has, which have 856 already been taken away from the House of Commons. We fool ourselves if we think that we can take those powers back to ourselves.
I do not think that many more formal increases in the European Parliament's powers are necessary. I accept the analysis of many hon. Members who have spoken that it has what it wants by way of legal powers already. Direct elections simply enable it to build on its embryonic powers and develop them by convention and usage, as the House of Commons did in the past.
The major change that had to be made was to extend the European Parliament's budgetary powers. That has already been done by an amendment to the Treaty which the House of Commons has already approved. I find it astonishing that the Government are suddenly saying with the new clause that any amendment to the Treaties, any new increase of powers by treaty, is to be made by Act of Parliament. That is shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted.
The budgetary powers were changed by treaty on 22nd July 1975, and that change was approved by the House of Commons on 8th December 1975 under a definition of treaties order. It may well be that the powers are not being used to their full extent now, though on the whole I agree with hon. Members who say that this year's reaction of the Council of Ministers to the Parliament has been significant. The budgetary powers that the Parliament has under that amended treaty are sufficient for it to have control of the purse strings and steadily acquire more political control over the Council of Ministers.
The one formal change that I foresee is an increase in the Parliament's legislative powers, where it is particularly weak now. That will come about fairly shortly when it becomes the practice that no directly applicable regulations shall be enacted by the Council of Ministers without the support of an affirmative vote of the Parliament. The House of Commons has no powers over Council of Ministers regulations which are directly applicable, so that would not affect the House. But it would make the Council of Ministers answerable to a democratically elected body if it became a convention that those regulations would not become binding on any member State until the European 857 Parliament had passed a resolution to that effect.
That brings me to the effect of the Foreign Secretary's undertaking and the new clause on the existing powers and any small increases that might still be needed. The clause does not match the right hon. Gentleman's undertaking, given on 1st December last year, when, speaking of the new clause, he said:The clause will ensure that no extension of the powers of the European Assembly which would encroach on the legislative powers of this House can be agreed by the Government without an authorising Act of Parliament."—[Official Report, 1st December 1977; Vol. 940, c. 820.]The new clause does not match that undertaking in two important respects that are in two opposite directions. First, the clause is no longer confined to those matterswhich would encroach on the legislative powers of this House".As I have said, I am sure that it proved quite impossible to produce a satisfactory definition of precisely what increases in powers would fall upon the House, but it means that there will be some increases in powers caught by the clause that have no consequence whatever for the House of Commons—for example, increases in powers that flow from improvements in procedure within the European Parliament. Is it argued that they come under the new clause? There could be trivial increases in the powers of the European Parliament that would have no bearing on the House of Commons, but according to the new clause they will require an Act of Parliament before we are able to ratify whatever agreements relate to them.
On the other hand, increases may be made in the powers of the European Parliament not by treaty, and they will not be caught by the House of Commons. We can have a major increase of power which, for example, takes away substantial powers from the House of Commons, but because it is not made by treaty or international agreement, as defined in the new clause, we will have no control over it. Great increases in powers could come about without a treaty or agreement.
I cite, but I do not seek to emulate, the argument of the right hon. Member for Down, South when he expounded on the way in which Parliaments increase 858 their powers by convention and understanding and not by formal resolution. Increases in power are obtained by convention and political struggle, and that is largely how the European Parliament will acquire its powers.
There may be an increase in power by agreement that is not an international agreement or a treaty within the terms of the new clause.
§ Mr. Clarke
I hear the intervention of the right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay). I agree that we do not know yet, and we want an answer.
The most important agreement of all would be between the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament, or an agreement between the European Commission on the one part and the European Parliament on the other. Such an agreement would provide the largest potential increase in the powers of the European Parliament. If the Council of Ministers of its own volition were to agree that it would not enact any regulations unless the European Parliament had first voted in agreement, that would be an agreement between the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament amounting to a massive increase in legislative power.
I believe that the Foreign Secretary said—I speak from recollection—that he does not think that an agreement between the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament falls within the definition of New Clause 1. If that is so, New Clause 1 is the biggest piece of unnecessary nonsense that we have been asked to write into a major constitutional measure for a long time.
§ Mr. Roper
In reply to my intervention my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said that that was his view. Clearly, an institutional agreement is by definition not an international agreement. If there is an agreement between the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament, that is between two institutions, two international institutions. It is not an agreement between nations. It seems that such an agreement is inevitably excluded.
§ Mr. Clarke
That is my tentative view as well. I await the Minister's reply. An 859 international agreement seems to me to be an agreement between nation States and seems to have no other meaning. If that is so, we are confined to the international agreements that happen to be made by the nine member States as opposed to any agreements made between the institutions in Europe.
I shall outline briefly some further matters arising from the new clause which illustrate the silliness of the clause, unless the Minister can adequately reply to them. First, there is the fact that the special proviso is being applied only to changes in the Treaty increasing the powers of the European Parliament. It is extraordinary. I am accused of being a Euro-maniac. I am a keen supporter of the Community, but if one is against it, there are more worrying aspects of possible change than the powers of the Parliament. If the Foreign Secretary wishes to reassure the unreassurable collection of people in the House who object to our membership, it is strange to throw out as a sop proposals which may only change the role of the Parliament. Massive changes in the relationship between the Council of Ministers and this country or the Commission and this country, and, for example, extensions of the Treaty into defence, in which I would be interested, could still be approved under the European Communities Act 1972 by a definition of treaties order.
The fears of the right hon. Members for Battersea, North and Down, South and of my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen) about the growth of the Community are not being safeguarded in the slightest.
§ Mr. Marten
I understood my hon. Friend to say that he would like defence matters to be brought within the Treaty. That would require an amendment of the Treaty of Rome which would come within the purview of this new clause.
§ Mr. Clarke
I do not think that it would. To amend the Treaty to include defence would not necessarily involve an increase in the powers of the European Parliament. An amendment of that kind would be subject to Section 2(1) of the European Communities Act 1972. My hon. Friend would regard that amend 860 ment as much more significant. But, I am glad to say, the Government offer no safeguard on that. They are offering a safeguard on what could be a footling change—it might be an important one—in the powers of the European Parliament.
Then there is the question of what an increase in powers means. It can imply a value judgment about whether a change in procedure is an increase in powers or a diminution in powers. The European Parliament has the power, by a two-thirds majority, to dismiss the entire Commission. It sounds a big, dramatic power. The main criticism of it is that it is too big a weapon which can never be used.
Let us suppose that by agreement a change were made to the effect that in future the Parliament would have only the power to dismiss by a two-thirds majority an individual Commissioner. Would that be an increase in powers, as most people applying a political value judgment would say, or would it be a diminution of powers as formally interpreted perhaps by a court, whether English or European? None of us doubts that politically it would be an increase in power, but, as a constitution and legal point, that is the sort of loose end that the new clause leaves behind.
What would happen if a change were made by international agreement which was put into practice regardless of the fact that the House of Commons refused to ratify the agreement because it was bogged down in considering, say, Lords amendments to the legislation? This is not an unreal point because it has happened in respect of the most significant amendment yet made to the Treaty in this area, namely, that which changed the budgetary powers. I repeat that it was not ratified by all member States' Parliaments until March 1977. The Community did not wait for member States' Parliaments to ratify it. It put the new procedures into practice in 1976.
Let us suppose that that happened again and the new clause was in operation before that happened. What would we do? What would be the consequences of the fact that the European Parliament, the Council of Ministers and the Commission were all acting as though the 861 Treaty were in force and nobody was taking any notice of the fact that the Secretary of State was arguing here about whether it should come into effect?
Some of my hon. Friends, in particular my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West, argued earlier that any action taken in that regard would be ultra vires. I accept that that might be so if such action resulted in taxes being levied or changes in the law being made that in some way were without agreement. But an increase in powers might not have such effects. It might be an increase in powers which resulted in the Council of Ministers no longer taking decisions without the approval of the European Parliament. It might, in effect, be a convention—an agreement to allow the European Parliament to have an extra hand in matters. The Council of Ministers would still do what was required of it by law in this country. It would put a regulation into practice using its powers under the Rome Treaty, but it would decide to abide by an amending treaty and wait until the European Parliament gave it the say-so. Our domestic law would be satisfied. We would go through the idle process of wrangling whether to ratify the Treaty, but all the institutions of the European Community would ignore this ridiculous legislative process.
The Foreign Secretary said that he found no gratitude in the Committee for the new clause. I suggest that he could not have expected gratitude from me, because I made it clear throughout that I did not want this undertaking and did not want him to table the new clause. Given that he has no gratitude today from any of the anti-Marketeers to whom he is offering the new clause, given that he is unable to answer any of the technical and legal matters that arise from it and given that it would be fairly startling to me if the Minister of State could answer any of these questions—I do not criticise him, because this is an ill-thought-out nonsense to which he cannot give adequate replies—can we not all agree that the whole matter arises from a little mistake and a rather naive view of what was necessary to get European legislation through? If so, why does not the Minister say "We thought we could do it, we were trying to be helpful, but, 862 having taken advice, we find that it cannot be done for many reasons"?
The clear majority of the House of Commons in 1972 took steps which show all this to be water under the bridge. We had all the crucial arguments about the sovereignty of Parliament when we debated Clause 2(1) of the European Communities Bill in 1972. I recall that I was PPS to the then Minister and was therefore present but silent in the debates that took place on these great constitutional matters in 1972.
Pro-Marketeers did not shed political sweat and tears on that occasion to have half of it thrown away by silly undertakings given by the Foreign Secretary on a stray afternoon. I hope that the Minister will agree to withdraw the new clause.
§ Mr. John Mendelson (Penistone)
The Minister of State was asked by several hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell), for legal aid. I had no sympathy with the campaign that was mounted about an hour ago, particularly as it came from the hon. Member for Guildford, who voted for and asked his hon. Friends to vote for the guillotine. Now he brazenly asks for more time so that a Law Officer can be brought here. If he had not supported the guillotine, we should have had several days more and ample opportunity to get the Law Officers to come and give us their advice. The hon. Gentleman has no right or standing. Hon. Members should not join forces with him when he makes such political remarks.
§ Mr. David Howell
Let me point out, in response to that personal attack, that I asked not for more time but for more explanation. There is nothing unreasonable in that.
§ Mr. Mendelson
That is a hypocritical explanation. If the hon. Gentleman wants Law Officers to be present, he should have voted to give them time to be here. He is no more entitled to take a stand on that matter than he was on the subjects in the main debate.
I have no sympathy either with the speech of the hon. Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke). His friendship should warn the Government that they should beware of false friends. With such 863 friends, they do not need critics or enemies. They are welcome to them.
The real purpose behind this debate was not the ludicrous purpose which was alleged by the hon. Member for Rushcliffe. The real purpose was declared by the Government to Parliament and the country—namely, that the Government do not wish the powers of the Assembly to be extended.
The origin of the new clause—I was the first Member to demand the introduction of such a clause—was primarily the decision of the French Parliament and the French Prime Minister, who introduced a provision in the first place which was much more comprehensive. The real difficulty that we have reached has nothing to do with law. It has to do with the deliberate desire of the Government not to agree to the request made to them on political grounds. Some Opposition Members who agree with the Government have no right to shield behind a hypocritical stance.
My argument is that the Government have not responded to our request. It is not a question of the Government merely tabling a form of words but a question of their concluding that they do not want to do what was asked of them.
Because the French Prime Minister, M. Bane, knew that he could not get the law through the French Assembly, he tabled the provision before the debate started rather than, as our Government have done, in the debate. He wanted to assure the Parliament of France that, although the European Parliament might be directly elected if the legislation were passed, the French Government were opposed to the extension of some of the powers of a directly elected Assembly.
We have not had that assurance from the British Government, and it is what we need from them. All the rest is nonsense. The assurance sought was not a matter of words. Our Government obviously concluded that they did not want to give that assurance. They hid behind the allegation that legally it was impossible to give assurances because we do not have a legal constitution as the French people have.
This is a subterfuge. It is on all fours with the head of the family who is beseeched by his wife to take her and the 864 family on a holiday to the Bahamas, who himself does not want to go and who takes them instead to Bognor Regis. The Government have not acceded to our request. But this debate does not conclude the argument. We shall take it to the people of the country. History will show that the Government do not need the support of the harlequins on the Opposition Benches to help their case.
§ Mr. Judd
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson) for his brevity. I know that he wanted to say more than he was able to say in the time allowed to him.
We greatly value my hon. Friend's experience in these matters, and f hope that I can do justice to the one point he made by emphasising that he underlined the fact that there are safeguards beyond what we are doing in Committee tonight in respect of a possible extension of the powers of the Assembly. Extension of those powers will require the endorsement of the Assemblies of all member countries. If my hon. Friend says that the French have better safeguards, the French will be able to act as a brake in this respect as well.
I shall deal as rapidly as possible with the points which have been made in this discussion because they deserve comment and answer. The hon. Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) spoke of the status of agreements between the Council of Ministers and the Assembly. He was right to say that these would not have the status of a treaty or international agreement. A treaty is an agreement between States, but an agreement between the Council of Ministers and the Assembly would not alter the powers of the Assembly. We have only to refer to Articles 4 and 236 of the Treaty to see this point. It is true that the clause cannot control the matter of greater deference—I accept this point—should the Council or Commission decide to show greater deference towards the Assembly. That cannot be disputed.
Another point raised by several hon. Members is the significance of the word "treaty" and the term "international agreement". The fact that both of those phrases have been used in the new clause is an indication of the Government's determination to have both belt and braces 865 in this respect. One has only to refer to the definitions contained in the Vienna Convention to see that point illustrated, because a treaty is now understood by that convention to be any agreement between sovereign States under international law, and an international agreement is understood to be any agreement between sovereign States, again under international law. Therefore, by using both phrases we hope that the point is well protected.
There is only a short time available for me. I apologise for that, but I wanted a large number of hon. Members to have the opportunity to speak.
My last point brings me to the remarks made by my hon. Friends the Members for Swindon (Mr. Stoddart) and for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing). My hon. Friend the Member for Swindon referred in an intervention to what Commissioner Tugendhat had said, and he talked about the position of the directly elected Assembly and the position of the Council of Ministers. In quoting the Commissioner my hon. Friend spoke of the fact that we should see a situation developing in which increasingly the powers of the Assembly would be increased at the expense of the powers of the Council of Ministers.
The point I wish to make—I shall return to it again—is that that could, of course, happen. That cannot be disputed. But, if it is not to happen, a tremendous amount will depend upon the vigour and determination of Members of the House of Commons and of other Assemblies in the Community. It is ultimately Members of the House of Commons and of other similar Assemblies who must hold their Ministers to account for what they do in the Council of Ministers. The degree to which they hold their Ministers accountable will determine whether they retain their power concentrated in the Council of Ministers.
I have been listening to the debate on this subject not only tonight but on several occasions. I hope that no one will take offence at what I am about to say, because it is not meant to give offence I have sometimes been a little intrigued by what I can only describe as a certain lack of confidence in the House of Commons about its future role; that somehow, when the directly elected Assembly comes into being, we in this place will suddenly fall away and lose our commit 866 ment and vigour. I should have thought that, if the debates in this Chamber have demonstrated anything, they have demonstrated the vim and vigour of the House of Commons at its best in fighting to preserve its rights. I am sure that that is something that will continue and will lead Ministers in the Council of Ministers to have to remember that they are directly accountable to their home Parliaments and Assemblies and, therefore, to retained power in that setting.
§ Mr. Judd
With respect, that is a very good illustration.
I now come to a point raised by the hon. Member for Rushcliffe. He asked why the provisions of the 1975 budgetary Treaty were implemented in 1976 before the Treaty came into effect in March 1977, on completion of ratification by all member States. In the time available tonight, I have delved into the history of this matter. It seems that what happened was that the provisions of the Treaty were implemented only when the Treaty came into force in 1977, though it is true that the Assembly was urging the Council to implement the provisions in 1976 in advance of ratification. The House of Commons approved the treaty in the Section 1(3) debate on 8th December 1975, and the United Kingdom was the first to ratify the Treaty, in April 1976.
§ Mr. Judd
That brings me to what I believe has been a central part of this debate. Many important technical and legal points have been made—I shall come back in a moment to Article 235—but, as has happened on several occasions when the House has been debating this issue, inevitably attention began to focus on the real meat of it. This was brought out in, for example, speeches by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price), the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) and my hon. Friend the Member for Newton (Mr. Evans). A contrary view was well brought out in the remarks by the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) and his hon. Friend the Member for Rushcliffe.
867 The meat of the argument was that, although hon. Members are concerned about the constitutional safeguards and niceties, they are more concerned with the political reality. They ask what will happen when these directly elected representatives go to the Assembly and start to work there with the confidence of having been constitutionally directly elected and begin to build up their experience, using more fully than in the past the powers which are already established, let alone acquiring any new powers. It is right that the Committee should be reminded of this concern.
This brings me back to the point that what in the end will guarantee that the balance is preserved, and what in the end will guarantee that the profoundly important rights and significance of the House of Commons are not undermined, can only be the determination, the commitment and the quality of the Members of the House.
In the Second Reading debate I put a question to colleagues on the Government side and to Opposition Members, and I put it again tonight. It was that—
§ Mr. Stoddart
I am obliged to my hon. Friend for giving way. I noted what he said about the quality and determination of Members of the House of Commons. There is no doubt, as I am sure he will agree, that on the Back Benches there are men of infinite quality and determination. Unfortunately, there are also many Members who, when they get into the Government or into the Shadow Cabinet, forget what they have learned on the Back Benches and are prepared to be browbeaten by the Whips, if I may put it that way, into voting against their own convinced views and against their own consciences. Will my hon. Friend comment on that?
§ Mr. Judd
As for the browbeating of right hon. and hon. Members by Whips, no one is better qualified than my hon. Friend to speak on this, with all his years of experience as a Whip. But that in the end is a matter which can be resolved only by right hon and hon. Members themselves.
The point I wish to emphasise again is that, as we see it in the Government, it is clear, as my right hon. Friend said earlier, that there is no endorsement, in 868 anything for which we are calling in the context of the Bill, of the principle of federalism. We have quite specifically rejected the concept of federalism in the context of the European Economic Community. We in the Government believe very deeply that it is through the Council of Ministers that the co-ordinating powers of policy-making within the Community should be exercised and that the Ministers, the Members of that Council, must be accountable to the representatives of their own people in their own Parliaments and Assemblies. That is what we are trying to achieve.
Before I conclude I should like to revert to Article 235, because it was quite clear that the explanation I gave earlier this evening did not altogether satisfy right hon. and hon. Members on either side. Article 235 states:If action by the Community should prove necessary to attain, in the course of the operation of the common market, one of the objectives of the Community and this Treaty has not provided the necessary powers, the Council shall, acting unanimously on a proposal from the Commission and after consulting the Asembly, take the appropriate measures.In so far as the objectives of the Community are spelt out in the Treaty, they are included in Articles 2 and 3. But, if we then look forward to Article 4 we see that it provides thatThe tasks entrusted to the Community shall be carried out by the following institutions: as Assembly, a Council, a Commission and a Court of Justice. Each institution shall act within the limits of the powers conferred upon it by this Treaty.Therefore, if the Assembly is to change its way of acting and expand its powers, this can be done only by altering the Treaty, and that brings us back to Article 236.
§ Mr. Spearing
Does my hon. Friend agree that Article 235 permits the Council, acting unanimously, to increase the ambit if its powers and that, in so far as it does that, the Commission's power to initiate is as wide as that of the Assembly's power to criticise, to comment and to act as an advisory body?
§ Mr. Judd
There is no point in trying to pretend that the clause is other than what it is. It deals specifically with the powers of the Assembly. The influence of the Assembly is a different issue, and I have just described as honestly as I can 869 how I believe the balance can be maintained in that respect. I believe that it will be maintained in the long run only by the determination of hon. Members of the House and similar Assemblies throughout the Community.
I must now deal with the amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Mr. Lee). It is part of his consistent and passionate criticism over many years of the EEC Treaties which, in his view, bestow on the European Court of Justice jurisdiction regarding the meaning or effect of the basic EEC Treaties.
Acceptance of these Treaty provisions is, I am sure my hon. Friend will agree, a fundamental aspect of Community membership. He may not like Community membership—he may be against it—but it is a fundamental aspect of Community membership. Despite my hon. Friend's challenging reference to the European Community's right to interpret the provisions of the basic European Community Treaties, I believe genuinely that the anxieties which he expressed about the clause in its present form are ill founded.
It is most unlikely that the clause will give rise to legal disputes. It is simple and precise. I do not foresee difficulty for this Government or for a successor Government in interpreting it. To disregard it would be a flagrant breach of a legislative provision binding on the Crown. In the unlikely event that there were any question about whether a Community Treaty required the prior approval of Parliament under the clause, proceedings could be brought in our own courts to prevent Ministers proceeding to ratification or to obtain a declaration that a
§ Treaty which had already been ratified was not binding on the United Kingdom. Our courts would have jurisdiction to determine such proceedings. There would be no appeal as such from a decision in our courts to the European Court of Justice or any court outside the United Kingdom.
§ However, it is conceivable, though very unlikely, that during the course of such proceedings in a United Kingdom court a question of interpretation might arise about whether a particular Treaty increased the powers of the European Assembly. In such an event, a United Kingdom court could, if it considered a decision on the matter necessary to enable it to give judgment, refer it to the European Court of Justice for a preliminary ruling as to interpretation of a particular Treaty. A court of last resort, such as the House of Lords in United Kingdom law, would be obliged to refer the matter to the European Court for a preliminary ruling on interpretation if it considered a decision on that matter necessary to give a judgment.
§ It being Midnight, The CHAIRMAN proceeded, pursuant to Order [26th January], to put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair.
§ Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:—
§ The Committee divided: Ayes 101. Noes 7.871
|Division No. 96]||AYES||[12 midnight|
|Archer, Rt Hon Peter||Evans, John (Newton)||Kaufman, Gerald|
|Atkinson, Norman||Ewing, Harry (Stirling)||Kerr, Russell|
|Bates, Alf||Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)||Kinnock, Neil|
|Blenkinsop, Arthur||Foot, Rt Hon Michael||Lamond, James|
|Body, Richard||George, Bruce||Latham, Arthur (Paddington)|
|Brown, Ronald (Hackney [...])||Gilbert, Or John||Lee, John|
|Budgen, Nick||Glyn, Dr Alan||Le Merchant, Spencer|
|Butler, Adam (Bosworth)||Graham, Ted||Lester, Jim (Beeston)|
|Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol S)||Grant, George (Morpeth)||Lever, Rt Hon Harold|
|Cohen, Stanley||Grant, John (Islington C)||Luard, Evan|
|Coleman, Donald||Hardy, Peter||Lyons, Edward (Bradford W)|
|Cowans, Harry||Harrison, Rt Hon Walter||McCartney, Hugh|
|Crowther, Stan (Rotherham)||Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy||MacFarquhar, Roderick|
|Dell, Rt [...] Edmund||Horam, John||Madden, Max|
|Dormand, J. D.||Howell, David (Guildford)||Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)|
|Douglas-Mann, Bruce||Hurd, Douglas||Marten, Neil|
|Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun)||Jay, Rt Hon Douglas||Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin|
|English, Michael||John, Brynmor||Mayhew, Patrick|
|Ennals, Rt Hon David||Judd, Frank||Mellish, Rt Hon Robert|
|Mendelson, John||Ross, William (Londonderry)||Thorpe, Rt Hon Jeremy (N Devon)|
|Mikardo, Ian||Sandelson Neville||Tinn, James|
|Moyle, Roland||Sever, John||Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.|
|Mulley, Rt Hon Frederick||Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)||Viggers, Peter|
|Newens, Stanley||Skinner, Dennis||Walker, Harold (Doncaster)|
|Noble, Mike||Smith, John (N Lanarkshire)||Ward, Michael|
|Ogden, Eric||Snape, Peter||Watkinson, John|
|Owen, Rt Hon Or David||Spearing, Nigel||Whitehead, Phillip|
|Paisley, Rev Ian||Stallard, A. W.||Williams, Rt Hon Shirley (Hertford)|
|Percival, Ian||Stewart, Rt Hon M. (Fulham)||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Powell, Rt Hon J. Enoch||Stoddart, David||Wise, Mrs Audrey|
|Price, William (Rugby)||Strang, Gavin||Woodall, Alec|
|Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn (Leeds S)||Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley|
|Richardson, Miss Jo||Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Roper, John||Thomas, Mike (Newcastle E)||Mr. Joseph Harper and|
|Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)||Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)||Mr. Thomas Cox|
|Langford-Holt, Sir John||Stradling Thomas, J.|
|Meyer, Sir Anthony|
|Morgan-Giles, Rear-Admiral||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Newton, Tony||Mr. Hugh Dykes and|
|Rhodes, James R.||Mr. Kenneth Clarke.|
§ Question accordingly agreed to.
§ Clause read a second time.
§ The CHAIRMAN then proceeded to put forthwith the Question necessary for the disposal of the Business to be concluded at Midnight.
§ Clause added to the Bill.
§ It being after Midnight, The CHAIRMAN left the Chair to report Progress and ask leave to sit again, pursuant to Order [26th January.]
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again this day.