Amendment made: No. 5, in page 6, line 29, leave out sub-paragraph (6) and insert—
'(6) No regulations shall be made under this paragraph unless a draft thereof has been
laid before Parliament and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament'.—[Mr. John.]
§ Order for Third Reading read.—[Queen's Consent, on behalf of the Crown, signified.]
§ 8.10 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Merlyn Rees)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
When I replied to the debate on the Second Reading of the Bill in November, I emphasised that it was for the House of Commons to reach a decision on the Bill presented by the Government to implement their commitment to direct elections. The House gave the Bill a Second Reading by a majority of 283 votes. Since then, the Bill has been in Committee of the whole House, the Committee has reported to the House, and now the House has a further opportunity to consider the matter.
It may be helpful if I summarise—and summarise only—the developments and highlight the changes in the Bill since it received its Second Reading in November.
First, with regard to the electoral system, hon. Members will notice that the Bill that has emerged from Committee is much slimmer than the one originally introduced. The Bill that received a Second Reading in November was 66 pages long. The Bill for which I seek a Third Reading today is only 12 pages long. This is due entirely to the choice made by the House on the electoral system to be used. The Bill, as originally constructed, contained two alternative electoral systems, of which only one is now needed. Therefore, the Bill is much shorter and simpler.
On 13th December, in a significant vote, the House rejected the Government's preferred regional list system. Subsequently, the House confirmed its preference for the traditional simple majority system.
In another vote on Clause 3, early this month—a vote of equal significance in my view—the House decided in favour of the STV system for elections in Northern Ireland. I believe that this was a sensible decision, taken in recognition of the special circumstances in Northern Ireland. I believe that such a system of 764 election for the European Assembly representatives in that part of the United Kingdom will prove to be right for Northern Ireland.
The House has therefore struck out all the clauses and schedules in the original Bill which dealt with the regional list system. We now have a Bill which provides an electoral system based on STV in Northern Ireland and a simple majority elsewhere in the United Kingdom.
In regard to the powers of the Assembly, the second change in the Bill since it received its Second Reading is the addition of an important new clause, Clause 6, concerning the approval of treaties increasing powers of the European Assembly. During the passage of the Bill this matter has provoked as much debate as any other issue. The question of the powers of the Assembly raises in many hon. Members' minds constitutional issues of fundamental importance and difficulty. Debates on this clause have ranged widely over many aspects of the relationship between the European Community and Westminster.
I hope that the House will recognise that the Government have gone a considerable way to meet the feelings that were expressed during Second Reading and subsequently.
I now wish to deal with the regulations, still on the theme of responding to the views and feelings expressed in the House.
Another significant change which the Government have made in response to representations is to provide for the affirmative resolution procedure in respect of regulations with the Secretary of State is empowered to make for the conduct of the elections. In the original Bill, for the simple majority system—I emphasise that—we provided the negative resolution procedure. Now Parliament will have the opportunity for a separate debate on the regulations.
I know that some hon. Members feel that this amendment does not go far enough. Some hon. Gentleman would prefer us not to make regulations but to put all or at least most of the electoral arrangements into substantive legislation. This view was expressed in the debates last week on the deposit, on the number of subscribers required for nomination, and on polling hours. But I think we 765 must asknowledge that the vast majority of the regulations to be made under this Bill will be straightforward and non-controversial. Far more important, they will be direct applications of the provisions of the Representation of the People Act 1949, which has 176 sections and nine schedules. Over 100 of those sections as well as provisions of the Representation of the People Act 1969 are directly relevant to the conduct of the European Assembly elections. In my view, it would have been wasteful, unnecessary, and even confusing to have put them all into the Bill as substantive clauses in their own right.
§ Mr. Powell
Will the Home Secretary say a few words about the corresponding regulations for the single transferable vote system in Northern Ireland? It is contemplated that those will be identical with the regulations made under the 1973 Act, or will they be varied and will there be an opportunity to debate those regulations, since this is a United Kingdom Act?
§ Mr. Rees
I cannot give a precise answer. I have not prepared myself to answer on that matter, but I assure the right hon. Gentleman that the opportunity to debate those regulations will be given. If there are any important differences, I shall ask my hon. Friend the Minister of State to pick them up in the course of the evening.
I point out that even under the affirmative resolution procedure the House will not have an opportunity to amend the regulations; it must simply accept them or reject them. I have always made it clear that we would consult political parties and others concerned before the regulations were laid.
In Committee last week my hon. Friend the Minister of State said that we were prepared to go even further to ensure that our proposals for regulations were fully known and understood before they were formally laid before the House. He undertook to consider the possible issue of a White Paper on the lines of that published with draft regulations for the EEC referendum. I confirm that statement made by my hon. Friend. It may be that the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) and others 766 from Northern Ireland have experience of Northern Ireland legislation that differs from this system. If there are any views on this matter, we would be pleased to receive them before we publish the White Paper because it is important to have agreement on these matters.
I wish now to deal with the Boundary Commission procedures. The operation of the guillotine has meant inevitably that certain matters have not been discussed. However, I should like to say a few words about an aspect of special importance. I refer to the procedure in Schedule 2 for the Boundary Commissions to draw up single Member constituencies for elections in Great Britain.
The procedures now embodied in the Bill were described as option B in the White Paper on direct elections. They are based on our existing procedure for determining parliamentary constituencies, but provide for only one round of representations to the Boundary Commission after the publication of their initial proposals and for no local inquiries.
Given that the Commissions will be working on the basis of the existing parliamentary constituencies and constructing the new Assembly constituencies from clusters of these constituencies, the Government do not think that it is necessary to adopt the full-scale procedure.
Equally, we think it would be wrong to go to the other extreme and for the House itself to fix the constituencies by means of a schedule to the Bill, as was proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Farnworth (Mr. Roper) or by the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Lawson). The formation of such constituencies is no mere academic exercise on which we should all be able to agree without difficulty or amendment; it involves delicate judgments, which could have a great effect on the results of the elections. It is right in principle, in my view, that there should be an independent arbitration and non-party recommendation on these constituencies.
§ Mr. Thorpe
Will the right hon. Gentleman accept that option B will be adopted, and does he recall his eloquent remarks about the way in which the dividing line is to be set in Leeds, and whether it should be east-west or north-different results? Since there is to be no south, so that one may have four totally 767 local inquiry, are all representations to be made in writing, or orally?
§ Mr. Rees
I have put my mind to this matter, but I have not spoken to the Boundary Commission. I thought it better to wait until we got to this situation. I think that it will be done by way of written representations. But the right hon. Gentleman is right to suggest that in working on existing constituencies the result will depend upon where a start is made. I have no doubt that many people have some good ideas as to where to start, but in this instance it will be left with the Boundary Commission. However, if there is an aspect that troubles the right hon. Gentleman, I shall be willing to examine it.
§ Mr. Thorpe
This is an important point. If there are to be merely written representations, and nothing more, it appears that the citizen will be deprived, as will the political parties, of making the representations which otherwise they might do. Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that often when people make representations the Commissioners may wish to cross-examine and question them further? That is a fundamental right, which we should not lightly dispose of.
§ Mr. Rees
That is the whole point about options A, B and C which I shall be coming to in a moment. It would be most desirable to have the full panoply that we have in a parliamentary redistribution, but the point is that parliamentary redistributions, like the one that is just getting under way for the North-East Coast and will be published I imagine, in 1981–83, are made of new bricks, in this case local government reform. In the Bill we are talking about the existing 635 parliamentary constituencies.
The right hon. Gentleman urges that oral representations should be allowed, but they are not provided for in option B, and if there is any question of some people being allowed to have a word with the Boundary Commission, we shall have to have a system that gives everyone that right. As things stand, written representations will be taken, but I shall have a word with the Commission and we shall have time to look at this matter again to see whether another gloss can be put on it.
§ Mr. Marten
Will the right hon. Gentleman reconsider his replies? It is astonishing that we cannot have the sort of inquiry suggested by the right hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe). The Home Secretary probably does not read the Conservative Monthly News, which is an excellent publication in many ways, but the Leader of the Opposition is on record there as saying that there is no cutting of corners in the inquiries of the Boundary Commission on direct elections.
§ Mr. E. Fernyhough (Jarrow)
I am sorry that I was not here when my right hon. Friend opened the debate. Has he allowed for the fact that in another place the Bill may receive the same severe hammering that the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill received? Is he saying that the Boundary Commission will start its work before the House of Lords has pronounced on the Bill? May there not be the 12-month delay that we had with the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill before we get a chance to finalise this Bill?
§ Mr. Rees
We shall be waiting for another place to decide. I am sure they will give the Bill the objective thought that they gave the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Bill a few months ago.
§ Mr. Ron Thomas (Bristol, North-West)
My right hon. Friend was suggesting that it was a simple question of where the Commission started from, but surely it is much more involved than that. Having started, the Commissioners will have to make a decision whether to go north, south, east or west to bring the constituencies together. I think this will create all sorts of problems. We should have a much more adequate form of representation than is provided for in the Bill—a form which, in any case, we have not had time to debate.
§ Mr. Budgen
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that if another place does not give the Bill the most thorough and fierce scrutiny it will be playing into the hands of the opponents of another place, who see it as a tool of the Tory Party, and that it will be sticking a nail in its own coffin?
§ Mr. Stoddart
This is an important point. My right hon. Friend told us that having full inquiries would add about three or, at the most, four months to the time that it will take for the constituencies to come before this House. Bearing in mind that there is a lot of opposition to the Bill and many fears about it, that there will be no direct elections in 1978, and that they are unlikely to take place until May or June 1979, would it not be better, from his point of view and from the point of view of the Government and the country, to take that extra time in order to ensure that everyone is satisfied that the job has been done properly?
§ Mr. Rees
That is a fair point, to which I have been putting my mind in 770 the last week or two—despite the fact that we are talking about option B. I shall return to it in a moment.
I shall be interested to hear what is said by hon. Members on both sides of the House. I am sure that my hon. Friends are putting forward their suggestions with the best motives of making sure that the Bill is on the statute book in good time and I am considering them in that spirit.
§ Mr. Gould
My right hon. Friend has been most generous in allowing interventions. As other hon. Members have said, this is an important point.
Given that there is now no date for the direct elections, and in the light of what he has said about timing, can my right hon. Friend give any indication of the sort of timetable to which the Government are operating?
§ Mr. Rees
I shall deal with that in a moment.
As to other electoral matters, the general principle that we have followed is that the procedures for European Assembly elections should be based, as far as possible, on the existing Westminster procedures. This was the basis of the view taken in Committee by the Minister of State when he resisted the proposal of the hon. Member for Mid-Oxon (Mr. Hurd) that the franchise should be extended to include citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies living elsewhere in Europe.
The Government believe that this issue and several of the other changes that Opposition Members would have been prepared to make to the Bill should not be effected before they have been thoroughly examined by a Speaker's Conference on electoral law. This is not solely because of the practical problems inherent in such a scheme, but because we do not accept that an extension of the franchise for direct elections can be seen in isolation from the franchise for parliamentary and local government elections.
Some hon. Members are inclined to be dismissive about the Speaker's Conference. They see it merely as an excuse for delay. Let me assure them that it is not, either on the question of extending the franchise for the first direct elections or on other issues. Since the early part of this century I believe that the Speaker's 771 Conference has been a valuable instrument for obtaining all-party agreement on changes in our electoral laws and practices. In view of the events of the past few weeks I do not argue for consensus in all areas of policy, but on electoral matters I feel that some powerful argument needs to be advanced before we depart from the precedent of the Speaker's Conference. I accept that we did make a departure with the regional list system.
§ Mr. Tim Rathbone (Lewes)
I think that the right hon. Gentleman will find, in looking back on previous Speaker's Conferences, that the only successful ones were those that went into conference with a fairly clear direction from the Government on where the Government wanted to come out. Will he indicate where the Government would like to come out of this one?
§ Mr. Rees
No, I do not agree with that. There is still a great deal of discussion between the representatives of the major party organisations. It may be that the hon. Gentleman will give chapter and verse, but I take the view that the Speaker's Conference is a party occasion when all sides come up with ideas on how to proceed.
§ Mr. Douglas Hurd (Mid-Oxon)
The Home Secretary referred to the amendment that I moved last week that sought to extend the franchise. He explained again that he thought that the issue must go to a Speaker's Conference. However, I must pursue the point that has been raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone). If the issue does go to a Speaker's Conference, are the Government, in principle, in sympathy with such an extension? The right hon. Gentleman must know what considerable disappointment was created by the Government's decision last week.
§ Mr. Rees
I am ready to discuss this matter. One problem that arises in this instance is the different nature of representation over the years based on area registration rather than citizenship as in some other parts of the word. If the new Assembly were to be based upon that concept, it would be a different sort of Assembly. Representation in this country has been based on area registration and not on the basis of a person belonging to a country although he has 772 been away from it for a year or two. Unless an individual is on the register for the area, I believe that inclusion would affect the nature of the representation of the Members of Parliament concerned.
§ Mr. Rees
I would willingly discuss this issue, but in fact it has not really arisen on this occasion. However, it illustrates the point that there are many ideas and recommendations that may be put before a Speaker's Conference. It will be an interesting matter to discuss as time goes on. As the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) represents a constituency that I failed to represent, I shall allow him to intervene.
§ Mr. Dykes
I am grateful to the Home Secretary for giving way as he has done so on many occasions. Does he agree that it would be wrong for him to give the impression to the House that the proposal to give the vote to those overseas in the Community countries was as sweeping as the change to which he has referred? Surely it was a more limited change, in view of the facilities that are already made available, for example, for the Rhine Army.
§ Mr. Rees
That is opening up a wider discussion. I accept that there is a variety of views. However, we are on Third Reading and a decision has been taken.
I shall deal with timing, and I take the argument that has been advanced by a number of my hon. Friends about the difference between B and A. The difference in timing is that between 18 weeks and 30 weeks—namely, 12 weeks.
How do we view the progress of the Bill and the timing of the first elections? It became clear in December, once the House had rejected the regional list system, that we would not be able to reach the original Community target date of May-June 1978 for the first elections. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs explained our position to the meeting of the Council of Ministers in January. There will now be further discussions within the Council of Ministers, and I presume that it will agree on a new target date. That is a matter for discussion and agreement between the Ministers.
As for the Bill, it is important to ensure that it reaches the statute book in 773 good time, so that we can be prepared to hold elections on the new date that is agreed with our Community partners.
As I have said, the difference in timing is a matter of going from 18 weeks to 30 weeks. I concede that the other method would allow the community to make recommendations. On behalf of the Government, I do not want to be in the position—it may be that others have a different view—of proposing a new time scale only to be unable to get the legislation in time. It is really a matter of how long it will take in the House and in another place. My right hon. Friend believes that thorough discussion will take place in the other House, and it might last for about a year—or it might shuttlecock back and forth on the basis of hybridity. We do not know.
We have to be sure on this matter of timing, and, frankly, that is why I felt that it should be left on the basis of 18 weeks.
§ Mr. Rooker
Can my right hon. Friend assure the House that these elections will not take place at a time inconvenient for the British electoral calendar year, that is, November, December, January and February, when the new register is being put together?
I do not know what the set-up is in the rest of the Community. The EEC countries may have different arrangements for the publication of registers. I should not want the date to be set in such a way that, if the elections were to come later this year or early next year, it would be extremely inconvenient to us though convenient for the rest of our partners. Will my right hon. Friend give that assurance?
§ Mr. Rees
I assure my hon. Friend that our representative in Europe will take that into account. I believe that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister gives thought from time to time to the question of election dates, and I shall bring the matter to his notice, with the suggestion that he might take it into account after reading this evening's debate.
§ Mr. Thorpe
Could the Home Secretary help us further? There is a genuine difficulty here. He says that we must get the legislation. With that I agree, but a question remains. I feel that we are leaving matters rather vague if the Home 774 Secretary says that we may be given option A or option B.
I invite the right hon. Gentleman's attention to Schedule 2, paragraph 5, which says that the Boundary Commission shall publish a notice bringing its proposals to the attention of the electorate. I turn then to sub-paragraph (2), which provides thatthe Commission shall take into consideration any representations duly made".Then, in paragraph 6, there is provision for inquiries to be held.
Thus, there is provision which would enable option B to be carried out. My question is this, who takes the decision on whether it is option A or option B? Is it the House of Commons or is it the Home Secretary, on his ipse dixit? We must have matters clearer than they are. We cannot leave them hanging in the air as either option A or option B. Personally, I should like option A.
§ Mr. Rees
The decision of the House is that it is option B. I beg to differ with the right hon. Gentleman. We shall come back to this. I have powers in the matter. I take them firmly into account in the way that right hon. and hon. Members suggest, but it is option B that has been implicit in what we have said from the beginning.
§ Mr. Spearing
I perceive that my right hon. Friend is coming to the end of what has been a most interesting speech. I wish him to clear up one matter. We have the Bill, we have the election and we have the regulations as he put them in his speech. If there should be election petitions, would the provisions of the Parliamentary Electors Registration Act 1868 or its successor apply? In other words, do the courts in this country have to deal with any matter of dispute—will he look at that, if he does not want to do it in the Lords—or will it be a matter for the courts of the Community to decide?
§ Mr. Rees
No, it is a matter never very far from my mind, and the answer is firmly "Yes". There are only two of us in the world who keep a copy of this Act by our bedside. My hon. Friend and I are those two.
I was just saying that the Bill enables us to meet our international obligations without calling into question unnecessarily the framework of elections to Westminster. The Government have taken very much in mind what the House has said in recent months, and I trust that the Bill will be given a Third Reading.
§ 8.40 p.m.
§ Mr. David Howell
Although the Home Secretary seemed a little hazy about the content of the Bill towards the end of his intervention, it is true that the principles behind it have been discussed over a long period. Therefore, I think it right to confine myself to three observations on the Bill that we have before us.
The Home Secretary drew attention to the fact that this is a much thinner Bill than when we started. We believe that it is a much better Bill. Indeed, when I look at this slim volume compared with the much fatter document with which we started, I cannot help thinking how pleasant it would be to do the same to many other Bills that come before the House. We think that there has been great improvement.
The affirmative resolution procedure, which we voted into the Bill on Report, is an advantage. The procedure, together with the White Paper that the Home Secretary confirmed will be forthcoming, will give the House additional important opportunities for discussion. Those changes are welcome. They represent advances on the original arrangements.
I am sure that the House, in Committee, was right to throw out the regional list idea. I am sure that the Select Committee was right from the start in its assessment that we should stick to the first-past-the-post system. Heaven knows, the Opposition understand the needs of the Government in relation to the Lib-Lab pact. The Government have had to do some very silly things from time to time to keep the pact alive, but the regional list system was going too far. The Government were asking the Liberal Party, which believes in propor- 776 tional representation, and the whole House to accept a revolutionary and muddled system which clearly had not been thought out.
The Home Secretary referred to a Speaker's Conference and the need to refer changes in the method of franchise to such a conference. I should have thought that was an example par excellence of the danger of trying to ram through major and complicated changes in the method of franchise as part of another Bill. We think that the Select Committee was right in the first place, that the House, in Committee, was right to throw out the regional list system, and that the Bill is all the better for it.
There is no question in my mind that the system of election has been the cause of delay. I do not accept that the rejection of proportional representation delayed the Bill. The Home Secretary knows that, unless it had been possible to get the Bill to Royal Assent by last Christmas, there would have been no question of reaching the May-June target this year. The right hon. Gentleman knows that and we know that. Therefore, we ask him not to keep on with the proposition—it may be good politics for a time, but it does not make sense—that the delay over the system of election and the rejection of the regional list monstrosity led to the postponement of the election date until next year. The delay was caused by problems not of the electoral system but of the Government. Everyone knows that. Therefore, I see no point in trying to disguise that fact. As I said, if we were to achieve the 1978 deadline, we should have required Royal Assent by Christmas. There was never any hope of that in the light of the disputes going on within the Government before the Bill was introduced.
§ Mr. Roper
Will the hon. Gentleman substantiate his argument that it would have been necessary, if we had the regional list system, to have Royal Assent by Christmas? His hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Oxon (Mr. Hurd) had a pretty horrendous timetable when we discussed this matter before, but this is an extraordinary idea. Why would we have needed Royal Assent by Christmas?
§ Mr. Howell
To make the preparations and to meet the target date. That is my view. Certainly a substantial part of the 777 delay arose from the failure to introduce the Bill in time. I am sure that everyone recognises that fact.
§ Mr. Fernyhough
I know that the hon. Gentleman and many of his hon. Friends have been hasty about this matter. I wonder whether he has been following the news in the last 48 hours about the row between Brussels and Paris regarding the place at which the new Assembly is to function. Both Belgium and France are saying that if the Parliament is not to be located in their respective countries, they will not take part in direct elections. Therefore, what is all the hurry about if France, Belgium and Luxembourg are making it clear that they will not participate in direct elections unless the Assembly is in their respective countries?
§ Mr. Howell
This is a dispute which no doubt will be worked out, but at the moment there is not very much hurry, with the time and date now put forward to 1979. We do not know yet, and it has not been discussed, what month of 1979 will be chosen for the election, but the pressure is off. That is why we support strongly the case for allowing the Boundary Commission to follow procedures of the kind set out in option B.
As I understand it—here the Home Secretary was very obscure—that is what we have agreed to in Schedule 2 of the Bill. I do not see why the Home Secretary had any doubts on this matter. To me it seems clear.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
I must make it clear that the Bill carries out option B. The right hon. Gentleman was referring to inquiries. They were about reviews at a later stage. I assure the hon. Gentleman that it could easily have been raised in other parts of the Bill. As drawn up, the schedule carries out option B. There is no dubiety about that. However, we can clear it up at a later stage.
§ Mr. Howell
If there is no dubiety, it should not need clearing up at a later stage. May I attempt to clear the matter up with the Home Secretary?
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
There is no dubiety on my part. It is Schedule 2(4)(1)(a). That is the sub-paragraph that makes clear that it is option B. There is no 778 dubiety on my part or on the part of my advisers, but if the hon. Gentleman thinks that it is wrong, no doubt he will point it out.
§ Mr. Howell
I am glad of that confirmation. Will the Home Secretary further confirm that, as it stands, therefore, in the schedule it rules out the kind of oral representations that the right hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe) was making and confines the Boundary Commission to one month's written representation?
§ Mr. Thorpe
The hon. Member said that I was asking for option A. Will he also make it clear that Lord Thorneycroft, on behalf of the Conservative Party, in his submission of evidence to the Select Committee, made precisely that same point?
§ Mr. Howell
We have made that point before. That was in the days when we believed, as it turned out wrongly, that the Government would introduce the Bill and allow those proceedings to go through. Even with the delayed date next year, it seems to us that option B is the right one on which to proceed.
Thirdly, I would restate—this is an appropriate moment to do so at the Third Reading—the overall position of my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Bill and on direct elections. We favour the Bill, particularly in the form to which it is now reduced, and we favour direct elections. I fully concede that there are those in our party, and there are those, of whom we have heard much, in the Labour Party, who are against the Bill, against direct elections and against our membership of the EEC. I think that it is agreed on both sides of the House that of those in the Conservative Party who are against the Bill, my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) takes the prize as the most dedicated, passionate and persistent. I salute those qualities. He believes, as he says, and as he writes from time to time, in "standing up for Britain". That is the phrase that he uses. So do I.
One can fairly say that devotion to one's own land is one of the finest and most natural sentiments that exist. The difference between us is simply that I 779 say, as do many of my right hon. Friends, that we do best by that ideal by participating in the EEC and in the European Assembly through direct elections.
My hon. Friend the Member for Banbury says that the sovereign Parliament must be distinguished by three unfettered powers. He sets down those powers very clearly in a pamphlet that he has been kind enough to give me, thus saving me the task of paying 10p for it. Those three powers are to make laws, to impose taxes and to negotiate treaties. I say that in at least two of those areas we already carry heavy fetters, imposed long before we joined the EEC, by the growth of bureaucratic power and by international economic pressures. We say that we shall withstand and influence the latter, and probably the former, far better from within the EEC and far better as a result of active membership of a directly-elected Assembly. That is our difference of view and it is a fundamental one. I make no bones about it.
§ Mr. Budgen
I know that my hon. Friend has a deep-seated hatred of the bureaucrats and particularly of the bureaucratic process. I wonder whether he would like to comment upon the report of a speech by Mr. Roy Jenkins which is contained in The Times of 15th February in which he says that in direct elections to the European Assembly the Commission will do all that it can to ensure that the election is fought on the major issues. What right has any bureaucracy to interfere in our elections like that? How does he square that with his views?
§ Mr. Howell
Mr. Roy Jenkins is entitled to his own view on the elections. I am not sure that I necessarily agree with his analysis of what the elections will be about. We all have our own views and we have aired them in this debate. The national political parties will be involved and I am sure that major issues of principle between the parties will be vigorously debated in the elections, whatever anyone else may say.
We need not be defeatist about our role in the European Assembly. We are not an untried and unskilled people when it comes to democratic politics and we ought to be perfectly able to make the best of our opportunities. I welcome the amended Bill and believe, with my right 780 hon. and hon. Friends, that it should be read the Third time.
§ 8.51 p.m.
§ Mr. Spearing
I take up immediately the concluding remarks of the hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell) about his hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten). I believe that the personal history of the hon. Member for Banbury bears out that, although he will certainly, correctly, stand up for Britain, he also believes in international co-operation. The motivating force of many of us on the Labour Benches throughout this debate has not only been our belief in the proper sovereignty of this House to tax, to legislate and to make treaties, but also our belief that the best way to bring about international co-operation is through the retention of that fundamental independence, going ahead in associations of various sorts so that human beings on a worldwide scale can reach lasting and proper international co-operative agreement.
We do not think that the EEC fits into the category I have described. It is supranational. The aims of the Commission, which have been quoted by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen), show that the beliefs of many in the EEC go far beyond the idea of an association of free and democratic States. The EEC wishes to create a super-State and to derive its powers from the powers of this House, which are our historic trust. That is why in this historic debate—and I fear that it will be historic—we are opposing the Bill once again.
The Conservative Party and its spokesmen have put the case clearly before us tonight. The Conservative Party has reneged on its historic belief in those things which we have enunciated just as it has done on many other issues. Just as the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon)—and we are glad to see him here tonight—is beginning to realise that things are not what he once thought, I very much fear hat that will be the case with the Conservative Front Bench in years to come. If I am wrong I shall be pleased.
It may be that the same will be true of the Government Front Bench. The Third Reading of this Bill is the result ofthe best endeavours of the Government".781 They gave that pledge in the Council of Ministers, with no backing from the electorate, and with no backing from the party. Indeed, if this measure is carried tonight, it will have been put through without even the support of a majority of the Parliamentary Labour Party, let alone its own conference and the NEC. I am not denying the right of Governments on occasions, if they believe it right and there are reasons for doing so, to differ from their party, but when they do they should give good reasons for their action.
In introducing a timetable motion on the Bill the Government could not even give reasons for that action. It shows that they, too, were under pressure. It may be that the pressures of membership of this organisation have pressed the Government not only to take these extraordinary steps in respect of the Bill but to make extraordinary and novel uses of the guillotine itself. Those are on the record for all who want to see them.
I believe that in future the central issue will be Clause 6—at least the debates have centred on it—because it was on 2nd February that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs moved New Clause 8, as it was, in Committee of the whole House. He thought that that would satisfy and meet some of the main objections of those of us on this side of the House.
Throughout the debates on the Bill the Prime Minister and the Government have claimed that there is nothing in the Bill—indeed, they claim that this applies also to the EEC—of a federal nature. The Prime Minister writes to the party and says that he wishes to defend the rights of national Governments and Parliaments to pursue their own policies, and he claims that the measure that we are about to dispose of tonight is not federal because the powers of the Assembly to which these persons are to be elected are the powers that they possess now. He says that they are not federal.
The debates in Committee showed that some of us wished to demonstrate that the European Assembly already has federal powers, without direct elections. Indeed, the Minister of State at the Foreign Office agreed that even on the 782 matter of salaries the Assembly will have more say than will the House because the proposal comes from the Assembly in the first instance. There might be conciliation. My hon. Friend agreed that that would be so, and there is one Minister in that conciliation process who will be acting on the advice of the House. Thus, even as set up, there are federal influences. We know about the budget. We discussed those influences in Committee, and I shall not go into them now.
The crux of the matter arose when the Foreign Secretary introduced what is now Clause 6. He said that it was an earnest of the Government's intention. It is entitled:Parliamentary approval of treaties increasing Assembly's powers".On 2nd February there was a four-hour debate under the guillotine on that clause. But for the guillotine we should have gone on to discuss the matter again because the Opposition had put down Amendments Nos. 1 to 5, which were selected.
It was the Opposition who raised the issue of the effects of Article 235 of the Treaty of Rome, which gives the Community its powers. It says that if theTreaty has not provided the necessary powers, the Council shall, acting unanimously on a proposal from the Commission and after consulting the Assembly, take the appropriate measures".That article is a Charlemagne clause if ever there were one. We have our Henry VIII clause, and the one to which I have just referred is a Charlemagne clause in the Treaty of Rome.
Because of the operation of the guillotine on 2nd February, the Minister of State at the Foreign Office was not able to reply to the legal points raised at that time. He is always extremely courteous, and he had the courtesy to include in Hansard the answers that he sent me and the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) in an attempt to reply to the points that had been made during that debate. He said that of course Article 235 could not be used formally to increase the powers of the Assembly, but he added:Extension of Community competence into new fields is of course a different question, and that can indeed, provided it is within the objectives of the Treaty of Rome, be done, and has been done, in the case of the Regional Development Fund under Article 235."—[Official Report, 14th February 1977; Vol. 944, c. 117.]783 My hon. Friend also said that as this was entirely an optional matter, agreed under the unanimity rule of the Council, the powers of the Assembly over the budget, over this non-obligatory expenditure, were complete.
Therefore, in respect of the new Clause 6 and Article 235, even the Government on their own account have said that there may be an expansion if not in powers in the narrow constitutional sense certainly in competence. I claim that the everyday meaning of "powers" includes the ability to increase competence where the Assembly is the final authority, because it controls the money. It controls it completely, because it is not obligatory expenditure. Control of money is the absolute basis of the levers of power in this respect.
§ Mr. Dykes
Will the hon. Gentleman concede the obvious point that there is all the difference in the world between that and the reality that unless there were fundamental treaty changes, which are not envisaged, the Assembly could not autonomously create new powers of its own or extend its powers? All powers in the Assembly flow from concessions made exclusively by the Council of Ministers.
§ Mr. Spearing
I am coming to that point. I said that such an increase in the ambit of competence must be made with the unanimous consent of the Council. My hon. Friend added in his letter that the House would be able to control the Minister at the Council and so veto an extension of competence, because the Council must be unanimous. That sounds good. My hon. Friend said that it was for the assiduity of Members of Parliament to see that competence was not extended if they did not want that to happen.
But my hon. Friend and the hon. Gentleman have forgotten the major point that if a regulation is promoted by the Commission or the Council and is brought to the House through the Scrutiny Committee, the House is in only an advisory position in regard to the Minister. There is no constitutional tie. The Minister may stand in peril of being thrown out or whatever, but there is no constitutional tie between the House and his behaviour in the Council.
784 Let us suppose that at the same time there was a great row over green pounds, fisheries or oil. In the light of that, the House might well not wish to put a complete block on what the Minister could do. Therefore, there is a big lacuna even in the Government's new clause, Clause 6.
However, that was not the main argument that we were advancing in Committee. We were saying that while this was a nice, new shiny front door with some good knobs on it, though we now see that it contains a broken pane of glass, the Minister and the Government have not simply left the back stable door open; they have left that doorway without a door.
I come now to what may happen if Members are elected to the European Parliament. It is said that we shall have the tug-of-war triangle of the Council, Commission and directly elected Assembly. People have said that we must watch the Assembly, that it will take powers from this House. I agree that it may well do so. Some of my hon. Friends who have been in the Assembly—though not many have been present tonight, which is an interesting comment on the Bill—
§ Mr. Spearing
Yes, but it is sitting in an advisory capacity and we are here in a legislative capacity. The hon. Members concerned, wherever they are—they may be sitting in the Assembly at this minute, but I am doubtful about that—were elected in the first instance to Legislate in this place. If they cannot be here when we are dealing with this Bill, I leave it to the House to draw its own conclusions.
The point I wish to make is about the likely role that the Assembly will play. Some of our hon. Friends have said "Do not bother. It is a sleepy old sheepdog. It will not stir itself a great deal. It could perhaps bark and bite a bit, but at the moment it is quiescent and even when directly elected is likely to remain so." That is a minimal situation. Supposing that it remains so and after the direct elections the Assembly carries or, in the way described; then it will simply be 785 rubber-stamping the proposals of the Commission.
We all know that the Commission is the engine room of the Community. It has strong views about the way and the direction in which the Community shall move, as instanced by the quotation made by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West. Therefore, it is not just a question of the Assembly springing to life but of the relationship of the Assembly with the Commission.
Commissioner Jenkins, speaking in the Assembly on 13th December, said:May I say that one objective we have in mind is to be able to put forward proposals which will command the support of Parliament without amendment being necessary.The theory is that if a future Commission fulfils that objective, the views of the Assembly will constrict and confine any proposal that the Commission may want to put forward. But I have a suspicion that the reverse is more likely to happen in practice.
The Commission is a powerful body and has a powerful bureaucracy. It as a considerable information service, and methods of persuasion and ideas which go around. Therefore, it is more likely that the Assembly will, by various methods, be persuaded that the Commission's proposals are the right ones. It is much more likely that it will go on rubber-stamping, will amplify, and, in the words of Mr. Tindemans, give democratic legitimacy to the proposals of the Commission.
Thus, the danger is that the Assembly will not do as much as, and may do less than, it does at the moment. Even if the Assembly is active, it may be active in the pursuit of the Commission's goals. It may, of course, go in pursuit of its own. But whatever happens the pressure on the Council of Ministers which, at the moment, effectively comes from the Commission, the Assembly and ourselves, will be greater from the combination of the Commission and the Assembly, and therefore we shall be losing that effective power anyway.
It seems, therefore, that whatever we do comes down to the fact, whether the Assembly is a sheepdog or active, that there will be a loss of influence and power in this House which we would otherwise 786 retain for ourselves. We can see the problem now of Community politics in relation to our own domestic scene. Our Prime Minister, like any Prime Minister, has to deal with the dilemma of elections. He will have to consider and calculate the possibility of an Assembly election, possibly a mid-term election, and that situation will have an effect upon this House and the electorate.
As I said at the beginning, many of us who are opposed to the Bill are not opposed to it because we do not believe in international co-operation we do. The EEC is not international, it is supranational, and that means the erosion not only of the powers of this House but of the powers of the people who sent us here. It is a handing over of the historic rights and privileges of this House, which belong not to us but to the British people.
§ 9.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Rathbone
I hope that the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) will forgive me if I do not follow the same thought train that he was evolving in his speech. Right at the start I should like to stand shoulder to shoulder with my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell), who, in describing most eloquently, earlier in the debate, what he felt about the way in which this country can be best positioned vis-à-vis the rest of the world, suggested that it was through our membership of the European Community.
I have to express some doubt whether the Home Secretary feels quite as strongly in that respect, because he said in his speech that he had been thinking for only the last two or three weeks about some of the questions concerning the operation of the elections to the European Assembly, whereas I would expect him to have been thinking about them over for the last two or three years. It seems somewhat peculiar that he was sharing with the House an uncertainty about the method of operation of the Boundary Commission. Having said that, he seemed to agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford in his assessment of the wisdom of the House in chosing the methods of election which the House has chosen, even though this was somewhat contrary to the advice of his own Government.
787 I do not share the Government's position on this question, because I believe that we have not thereby got the best form of election for the European Assembly. One of the reasons that we have not got the best form of election is that, of course, we did not even have time to debate all the leading alternatives to that form of election.
It would be perfectly reasonable to claim that the debate, both before and during the Committee stage, was to a large extent falsely based, and that this has led to a less than satisfactory Bill for our consideration now. I remind the House that the Bill was falsely based because it was taken under the duress of a timetable motion, which has meant that amendments and clauses have been debated too superficially and that too many of both have not been debated at all.
Will the Home Secretary inform the House whether he can give a report such as was promised by the Minister of State, Home Office, in the other place on 9th February, when, in a Written Answer to Lord O'Hagan, he said that information on what had been debated and what had not been debated would be provided? It would be interesting for this House to know precisely what that score card may be here this evening.
I believe that this House succumbs at its own peril to such judo tactics by the Government on any piece of legislation. It does itself no good as the Government are yet again allowed to steamroller legislative plans through the House rather than carry them through by political argument and persuasion. Nowhere is such argument and persuasion more important than in a constitutional Bill such as this.
§ Mr. John Lee (Birmingham, Handsworth)
I agree with everything that the hon. Gentleman is saying at the moment. Will he use his influence among the peers to ensure that the Bill is sufficiently amended in the other place to be sent back here for a proper discussion of the matters which, for the reasons that he has quite rightly indicated, have not been discussed in this House?
§ Mr. Rathbone
Far be it for me, as a relatively new boy to this House, to admit to any influence at all in the other Chamber. I have none. I would certainly hope that their Lordships will give 788 a Bill of such considerable national and international significance the fair and untwisted debate that it has not received in this House.
§ Mr. Fernyhough
On the basis of what the hon. Gentleman just said, do I take it that had he been in the House in 1972 he would not have supported the Government steamrollering through our entry into the EEC?
§ Mr. Rathbone
The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely correct. It was for that reason that I voted against the guillotine motion on this Bill.
Sir Anthony Boyle
I hope that my hon. Friend realises that his speech is a tragedy for the Tory Party, because when we win the next General Election my hope is that my hon. Friend will be made a Minister. Unfortunately, I doubt whether any leader of the Conservative Party could make him a Minister because he would not be able to introduce a guillotine for a future Tory Government in view of the remarks that he has made this evening.
§ Mr. Rathbone
My hon. Friend reads the situation absolutely correctly. I would not be very happy about supporting any guillotine on a Conservative legislative matter. I hope that more Back Benchers will stand up in this House and take exactly that stand.
This touches upon an extremely important point. As long as hon. Members on either side accept dictation from the Government Front Bench—irrespective of who is sitting on that Front Bench, because that is the Bench that matters—we shall not have the answerability of the Executive to this legislative body.
§ Mr. Budgen
Will my hon. Friend also agree that if the last Tory Administration had not bashed through so much legislation, much of it under guillotine, we might have a Tory Administration at the present time?
§ Mr. Rathbone
I think that I have been led too far away from the subject under discussion and I shall resist the temptation to go into that point.
One further way in which the debate has been twisted in this House, and in Committee, is that much of it has been based on drawing a spurious relationship between, on the one hand, the needs of 789 Westminster Government—and the means of election to this House of Commons—and, on the other hand, the best method of elections to a quite different body—the European Assembly.
The European Assembly differs from Parliament in two very important and precise ways which were touched on by the hon. Member for Newham, South. First, it is deliberative, not executive, and second, it is consultative, not legislative, in character. Since it does not constitute a legislature, nor provide a Government, it can be argued that it does not require the same sort of representation as this House requires. It could equally be argued that representatives going to that Assembly do not have to draw their strength from the same constituency responsibilities as hon. Members of this House do.
§ Mr. Rathbone
That is an extremely simple question to answer. Surely if we switch from an appointive method of putting anybody anywhere to an elective method of putting anybody anywhere, we democratise the process—[An HON. MEMBER: "Even putting them in prison."]—even the process of putting them in prison.
Not only does the European Assembly differ from the British Parliament in its character and role, but it differs also because it is new. In its present form, with appointed Members, it has existed for little more than 20 years, compared with our own Parliament which I especially am proud to say can trace its history back to the Battle of Lewes in 1264—700 years ago.
§ Mr. Rathbone
Simon of Montfort won and set up this Parliament on the basis of his victory.
The new Assembly is not necessarily best served by the distinctive British electoral system, which has developed gradually—some would say too gradually—over the past century and a half in a 790 quite different way from all European democratic methods.
It is not sufficient to argue that our established and familiar British method of elections is crucial to the success of elections in Britain to the new European Assembly Nor is it fair to say that anything else would be new and confusing—new, perhaps, depending on which alternative might have been chosen or might still be considered to first past the post but certainly not confusing. I suggest that it would not be confusing because we have seen that people in this country have already been perfectly capable of adapting to more proportionate methods of election than first past the post, such as have been introduced in Northern Ireland.
Furthermore, if we look abroad, we see that there are a large number of countries which have adopted new proportionate systems for their national elections and found them to be well understood and operated quite easily by, let me suggest, an electorate which is far less sophisticated than our own.
What is more, new systems especially for European elections—systems quite different from the national electoral systems—have already been adopted by other European countries with no concern that they will confuse or be misunderstood by the electorates in those countries.
The argument has been advanced during our debates on this Bill that there is no need to change from first past the post until a pan-European system of elections is agreed. But continued use of first past the post in Britain would leave Britain as odd man out in Europe and undoubtedly further away from the eventual pan-European system than any other country.
The additional-Member system, for instance, which was suggested in amendments which I, my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Morrison) and others put down but which were not called in Committee, would have been a useful and educative first step—a halfway house—towards a pan-European system. I believe that the learning from that could have been applied with benefit to whatever pressure we brought on the eventual choice of the electoral system for all of Europe.
791 Of course, it is impossible to assess the consequences of any electoral system, be it first past the post or a more proportionate system or specifically the additional-Member system, but surely it is imperative that distorted results be avoided so far as possible.
There is a point of principle here. The first-past-the-post system of elections which exists in this Bill makes it extremely difficult for smaller parties to obtain representation unless their support is locally concentrated, such as one might find in Scotland or in Wales. Therefore, the nationally based minority parties would be sadly under-represented while the regional and local nationalist parties might be over-represented. I suggest that distorted misrepresentation for all the United Kingdom could—and I believe would—cast doubt on the validity of the total result to a degree even greater than our own national election results in 1974.
In addition, there is a point of practice in that first-past-the-post elections tend to magnify swings in electoral opinion in terms of seats won and lost. This magnification would be found to be all the more marked in the larger constituencies choosing 81 European Assembly Members than in the 635 constituencies in which Westminster Members of Parliament are elected. At present that would work to the advantage of the Conservative Party and the disadvantage of the Labour Party. At another time it could work the opposite way. It provides the horrifying prospect of too strong a Socialist representation of the United Kingdom in Europe, doing Socialist deeds there that this country does not want.
This has been borne out by an interesting Nuffield study which shows that there is an inherent Labour Party advantage in the first-past-the-post European constituency, however the boundaries may be drawn by the Boundary Commission.
§ Mr. Rathbone
If that is good news, I do not want to be the messenger. In the European Assembly it is more important than in the national Parliament to have true representation of national political configurations. To have individuals misrepresented is bad enough, but to have a nation misrepresented could be extremely dangerous.
§ Mr. John Ellis
I understood that this Chamber would still represent this nation. The hon. Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone) is making a very interesting speech, but he has not yet defined what these people will do when they get to the European Parliament.
§ Mr. Rathbone
I would not think of embarking on such a definition, and you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, would rule it out of order.
On all counts the choice between the first-past-the-post system, a more proportionate system in general or an additional-Member system in particular should go to the last of these. Whatever the drawbacks—and every electoral system has its drawbacks—the more proportionate system would ensure that all substantial minority parties were represented. A more proportionate system would make it more likely that there would be reasonable party representation from all parts of the United Kingdom. It would reduce, and might even eliminate, the possibility of one party sweeping the field in a region, or across the nation. A more proportionate system holds none of the dangers of weakness from party fragmentation which is associated by some with any form of proportional representation, because the European Assembly is deliberative and not executive in character.
A more proportionate system is a step towards a fairer method of electing representatives, and fairness is neither relative nor irrelevant. Fairness in the end is to be found in each individual's belief in the rights of other individuals. Relevancy is to be found in our democratic system where nothing is more important than the equal right to the equally valuable vote.
Our national interest and the greater European interest is best served by having European elections, and having them as soon as possible. These elections would best represent the good common sense of the British electorate through a proportionate system. It is a shame that the Bill as it stands does not allow us simultaneously to vote for these three principles.
§ 9.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Jay
I am sorry that the Home Secretary has left the Chamber, because I did not find his speech one of the most lucid that I have heard from a senior 793 Minister. I understood him to say that the Government propose to exclude from the Boundary Commission procedure the normal local inquiries at which objections can be heard. If he did say that, it is exceedingly regrettable. It is not clear to me from reading the Bill that the possibility of holding such inquiries is excluded. If the object is simply to save time, now that we know that there will be no direct elections before 1979 anyway, what is the justification for such haste?
I agree with the hon. Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone) that, for the same reason, it is deplorable that the Bill has been guillotined to the extent it has. It is a peculiarly indefensible guillotine—all the more so because there is now no rush or hurry about moving to direct elections. As a result, there are many essential points in the Bill that we have not discussed at all.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned some of them and I shall give only one example, namely, the threat of an increase in the powers of the Assembly. The straightforward way to handle that would have been for this House to do what the French Parliament did and as we on the Labour Benches suggested. This would have meant enacting in the Bill the provision that it would cease to be valid if the Assembly's power were materially increased. But the Government did not do that. Instead, they provided merely that a new Act of Parliament would be necessary if the power were increased by treaty or international agreement. Until we know what constitutes an international agreement for this purpose, we do not know what this means or what the Bill says.
When my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary was asked for the definition of "international agreement" for this purpose he did not answer. He did not even pretend to know the answer. He said that we would be informed later—and we never have been. Owing to the guillotine we have never been able to press that question again. That does not seem to me to be a proper way to treat the House on a constitutional matter of this kind. Nor do I find convincing—here I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing)—the explanation of the increase 794 in power which might be achieved under Article 235 and by the use of the budget, which has been given in a lengthy letter published in Hansard and written by the Minister of State, Foreign and Common-wealth Office. My inference from that letter was that it looked as though an increase in the powers could be achieved in this way.
Only yesterday a leader appeared in The Times on this matter, which I quote:A new directly elected parliament will be a powerful force in its own right.That does not encourage very much belief in the suggestion that there is to be no increase in powers. Meanwhile, it seems to me—this is another point we have not been able to discuss, because of the guillotine—to become more absurd every month to embark on these direct elections immediately before three new applicant countries join the Common Market—Greece, Spain and Portugal. As soon as they join, the whole omelette will have to be re-scrambled and the number of Members presumably adjusted to accommodate three countries with quite significant populations.
I understand that the negotiations with Greece are expected to be completed in the present year. Incidentally, I hope that the Government will resist the anti-European efforts of the Commission to exclude Spain and Portugal from the EEC by rather underhand methods. Since the direct elections cannot come about until 1979 anyway, and since by then Greece is likely to become a member, surely if we press on before that time it will only cause confusion.
§ Mr. MacFarquhar
In view of my right hon. Friend's evident keenness that Greece, Spain and Portugal should become members of the EEC, may I take it that he has no wish to see Britain withdraw from the Common Market?
§ Mr. Jay
No, my hon. Friend may do no such thing. I shall be coming to the question of withdrawal later, because I see the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon) in the Chamber. As long as we are members, I hope that Greece, Spain and Portugal will also become members.
Other delays are likely to occur, anyway. We are told that the French, 795 with the characteristic insularity and non-Communautaire spirit which we all associate with the French, have agreed with Luxembourg to block direct elections unless plans for the Assembly to meet in Brussels are cancelled. This is not an invention of mine. The Financial Times stated categorically this week:France and Luxembourg have made a secret pact to block the European direct elections unless the Parliament—that is, the Strasbourg Parliament—revises its plan to expand its facilities in Brussels. The agreement was reached at a meeting—presumably a secret meeting, as it is a secret plan—in Paris between President Giscard d'Estaing of France and M. Thorn, the Luxembourg Premier, on February 2nd.The Government should tell us whether this report is true before we are asked to proceed with the Bill. It is possible that the Government know some secrets. If they do, they should not withhold them from us.
§ Mr. Jay
I am glad to have that denial from the hon. Gentleman, but I should find it even more convincing if we could have it from the Government Front Bench. We should have this information before agreeing to the Third Reading. If we get no answer from the Government, I shall assume that there must be some truth in the report.
§ Mr. John Mendelson (Penistone)
I know that my right hon. Friend will not want to be unfair, but for the first time in all our long debates he has approached unfairness. How can he blame an innocent British Minister when it is known that the President of France would be last of all in informing any British Minister about his secrets?
§ Mr. Jay
I hope that I was not being unfair. I was merely asking whether the Government could tell us whether the report is true.
On the question of this alleged secret, I should like to ask whether, if it is entirely within the harmonising spirit of European unity, and so on, for the French to say that they will block direct elections 796 until the Strasbourg hotel owners are fully satisfied, it is not equally legitimate and harmonious for the British Government to say that they will delay direct elections until the British fishermen are satisfied. Surely our fishermen have as many rights as hotel keepers in Strasbourg.
I press this question partly because of the welcome appearance of the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham in this debate. The right hon. and learned Gentleman, rather like Banquo's ghost, has been making intermittent but silent appearances in the Chamber. I have always believed that there was no more of a fully paid-up Euro-fanatic than the right hon. and learned Gentleman After all, he was responsible for rushing the signing of the fatal Treaty of Accession in January 1972 without any attempt to amend the common fisheries policy.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Rippon (Hexham)
We did amend the common fisheries policy in Articles 102 and 103 of the Treaty of Accession. It was to those aspects that I drew the attention of the European Assembly.
§ Mr. Jay
I must say that no one has noticed the right hon. and learned Gentleman's amendments so far. If he thinks that there has been adequate amendment, he should speak to those who are working in the fishing industry.
Apart from that, The Times Strasbourg correspondent, none other than Mr. David Wood, who, if not a Euro-fanatic, is a Euro-acolyte—he swings the incense, as it were—reported on Monday of this week—we should get to the truth of this also—that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is now so incensed by the common fisheries policy, in spite of the amendments, that if need be he will take action that will lead to the break-up of the EEC.
I hope that it is in order to quote Mr. David Wood. He reported:Mr Geoffrey Rippon, who negotiated Britain's entry into the EEC in 1972–73, is prepared to launch a campaign for the breakup of the Community and the creation of a trading merger between the EEC and EFTA as a substitute.To be fair to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, he has now slightly amended his proposals. I gather that he did so 797 in a telegram to the Young Conservatives at Hexham, which seems rather a strange way of making his views known. However, the revised version is reported in today's edition of The Times. The report reads:if the Nine could not solve problems like enlargement and fisheries, they would drift to disaster and the Community would break up.If applicant countries".
—it seems that I was not being wholly irrelevant—like Spain, Portugal and Greece were to be rejected, 'we would all be thrown back at least into the creation of a new and enlarged EFTA'".The right hon. and learned Gentleman went on to say that that was not what he advocated. However, he seemed to think that it might happen if concessions were not made.
I am not in favour of breaking up the EEC, whether the right hon. and learned Gentleman is or is not. I have never been in favour of that. I am merely in favour of the United Kingdom being liberated and joining what the right hon. and learned Gentleman calls "a new and enlarged EFTA". I wish that he had thought of all this before, in 1972. However, as he has thought of it now, and as enlightenment seems to be spreading, I ask myself again whether we need to press on with the Bill at the present rate.
At this stage Mr. Roy Jenkins has joined in the debate. He has been all too briefly quoted so far tonight. In the past 10 days he has given the healthy warning of what direct elections would mean. Only on Tuesday of this week he told the Assembly that the Commission, of which he is the well-paid President, would do all that it could to ensure that direct elections are fought on "major European issues".
Apparently, therefore, the Commission is proposing to join in the election campaign, and it seems that, far from making the EEC more democratic, direct elections are likely to become a device to enable the bureaucratic Commission to control the Assembly.
That is not quite all that Mr. Jenkins said. According to The Times—that is the report I am quoting—he said:The Commission must be ready to give, especially to Euro-Parliamentarians, an even 798 more thoroughgoing justification of Brussels policies.Thus, far from being a sleepy old watchdog, the Assembly seems likely to become Mr. Jenkins' poodle, if we take those statements at face value.
Seriously, if there is to be lavish public expenditure—after all, some of this public money is our public money—by the Commission on election propaganda, as Mr. Jenkins almost explicitly proposes, it seems that there is a risk that these direct elections will become not just an unnecessary but a somewhat disreputable procedure altogether.
For all those reasons and the many more which could be given—I hope that we shall have some answers from Ministers—it seems to me that no case has yet been made out for the Bill, and absolutely none for pressing it forward without adequate discussion and before the new member countries have joined the Community.
§ 9.47 p.m.
§ Mr. Marten
Often in these debates I have been called to speak immediately after the right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay), and nearly always the same things happen. He uses half what I have had to say, leaving me with only the other half.
I must start by thanking my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell) for his kind and generous remarks from the Opposition Front Bench. It was very good of him.
I have been opposing Britain's membership of the Community now, I think, for 17 years altogether. I was rather underground about it for two years when I was a junior Minister and I could not really do it overground—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—one can work inside—but after I emerged from that position I became overground and was able to play my full part in trying to stop us from taking a very foolish step.
§ Mr. Marten
Not just now—a bit later. During all that time, I have found it an interesting study in both politics and in people. I do not believe that I have lost a lot of friends—I hope not—and I have certainly made a lot of friends in all parts of the House, which is very nice.
I come now to the question of the Boundary Commission. I hope that the 799 Minister of State will talk to his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary about the holding of inquiries. I regard this as extremely important. As someone said, they have not been excluded from the Bill. They are there. He can hold them. In my view, he should hold them, because, if he does not, people will be deeply suspicious about why he is not holding them.
There is no hurry now. There is plenty of time to hold the Boundary Commission inquiries, especially as it is obvious now that next year the membership of Greece will be so near that it will not be worth going ahead until Greece joins.
I should emphasise once again that the Leader of my party, my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher), and the chairman of my party have both said that they want these inquiries into the Boundary Commission's report. As I say, I hope that the Home Secretary will look at the matter again.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen) referred, as did the right hon. Member for Battersea, North, to the Commission intefering in the elections. Notice has been given that that is what it proposes to do. I am sure that many hon. Members take great exception to the fact that the Commission's civil servants—they are civil servants, paid civil servants, however much they may try to be politicians—should seek to come and interfere in elections in this country. They should keep out of them. If not, it will be another example of their complete failure to understand the mentality of people in this country. We would not like such interference. It would damage the Common Market even more than it is damaged at the moment.
One of the joys of the Order Paper today is the motion thatOn Third Reading of the European Assembly Elections Bill, to move, That the Question be not put forthwith.That is in the names of a number of right hon. and hon. Members—for example, my right hon. Friends the Members for Penrith and the Border (Mr. Whitelaw) and for Knutsford (Mr. Davies). There is a nice mixture. The right hon. Member for Battersea, North and the hon. Members for Southampton, Test (Mr. Gould), Newham, South (Mr. 800 Spearing), Penistone (Mr. Mendelson) and Swindon (Mr. Stoddart) have signed the motion, together with the Opposition Front Bench. It is a great pleasure to me that the Opposition Front Bench do not want this Third Reading. They want to delay the Bill and drag their feet. Now we really know.
§ Mr. Douglas Hurd (Mid-Oxon)
My hon. Friend is in a very jovial mood, but that is a poor argument. He knows that this is a technical motion. It is required to enable us to have a Third Reading debate and for him to make the speech that he is now making.
§ Mr. Marten
I realise that. My hon. Friend realises that I was pulling his leg, but I am glad that he rose to it. Had he had a quiet word with me to the effect "Will my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten), with some of his hon. Friends, put down this motion to save the Opposition Front Bench some embarrassment by having their name on the record as wishing to delay Third Reading of the Bill?", I should have been only too delighted to do so.
The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) has heavily criticised the Leader of the House for bringing forward the guillotine motion. I do not wish to add to what he said. It was a very painful moment in this Parliament when he made his criticism of the right hon. Gentleman. However, I wish to criticise the Opposition Front Bench and many of my colleagues who voted for the guillotine motion. It is not the duty of the Opposition to vote for guillotine motions. I think that they could have voted against it on the basis that two days was not sufficient for the Committee stage and that it should have been four days. That would have been perfectly reasonable. There would have: been nothing un-European about it. We know that with two more days the Bill would certainly have got through in tine for the 1979 elections.
§ Mr. Marten
My knowledge of history does not go back far enough to quote such an example.
801 The Opposition Front Bench, by voting for the guillotine motion, played out the excellent amendments which they had on today's Order Paper—Amendments Nos. 1, 2, 3 and 4. They were guillotined, so the Opposition were hoist with their own petard.
We must now rely upon the House of Lords to fulfil its function as a second revising Chamber. Many amendments were not debated because of the guillotine—thanks to too many Members voting for it—so the other place will have to deal with those many amendments. I recall that the European Communities Bill in 1972 went through the other place like a flash. There were very few amendments and hardly any discussion. The Lords bowed down and said "This is glorious" and sent it back. There were no amendments, so there was no Report stage. If they fail this time, with a major constitutional Bill, to take up the points that were cut out because of this vicious guillotine, the House of Lords can, rightly, be condemned. I think that we should all watch carefully what the House of Lords does. It is curious, after all this talk for so many months about the Government dragging their feet and how great was the enthusiasm on the Conservative Benches for the Bill, that these Opposition Benches should be so empty.
We were not dragging our feet at all in this country, because we have discovered that other countries are even further behind us. There was the criticism that our country was dragging its feet when the criticism should have been addressed to the other four countries who were doing the same thing, or even worse. Now we know that France and Luxembourg will veto the act of putting into operation these direct eletcions until they have sorted out the question where the Assembly is to meet. There is Brussels, which is the equivalent of the Whitehall in this country. The Luxembourg people will apparently want the Assembly to be in Luxembourg. The French will presumably want it to be in Strasbourg, which is equivalent to putting the Assembly down in Taunton with Whitehall where it is. That is not very sensible. That is about the distance involved.
Anybody who is interested in the Common Market—many of us are, for different reasons—must come to the con- 802 clusion that the Assembly ought to be in Brussels. There is no doubt about it. The French will find it hard to get the Assembly in Strasbourg and the people of Luxembourg will find it hard to have the Assembly there. It will be a long time before these elections take place. I am certain about that. There is no hurry about the elections. Therefore, I come back to the point about there being plenty of time to hold inquiries with the Boundary Commission.
We have also to settle—we have had a debate on this subject today—the salaries and taxation of the Members of the European Assembly. By then it will be running so late that everybody will say that it makes sense to wait for Greece to join the EEC. It would be terrible if we had our direct elections a few months before Greece joined, and then the French, for example, vetoed the entry of the Greeks for some obscure reason to do with fisheries, or something like that. That is how the Community works.
We have not worked out any basis of co-ordination between the Members of the European Assembly and the Members of Parliament. The Members of the European Assembly will presumably, if they are directly elected, go off to Europe and there will be no contact with this place. Some believe that they ought to be allowed to come here and speak but not vote. Somebody wisely asked, if there are peers who are MEAs, shall we have peers with the right to speak in the House of Commons? I do not think that we want that. We have not devoted our attention to the point about the contact between the political parties in this Chamber and the MEAs. That is a very important point.
§ Sir Anthony Meyer (Flint, West)
We are always deeply interested in the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury on European questions. We know the constructive approach that he aways takes. Will he give us his views on how best membership of the Assembly could be reconciled with the need for contact with this House?
§ Mr. Marten
I shall come to that in my concluding remarks. My immediate answer, off-the-cuff, would be not to have this Bill and not to have direct elections.
We have not yet looked at the cost of this project. The capital cost of the 803 Parliament building which will be put up in Luxembourg is apparently about £60 million. It will be put up by the Luxembourgers, but the rent will be £6 million a year. There will be an increase in the number of translators and interpreters. The cost will be terrific. I do not think that we have sufficiently discussed this important point. My hon. Friends argue that we must have direct elections to make the Community more democratic.
§ Mr. Marten
Let me give my hon. Friend an example concerning democracy in the Assembly. If a motion comes before the Assembly to the effect that North Sea oil should become the common property of the Community, I reckon that the majority of Members of the Assembly would vote in favour. The British Members would be in a minority. Are my right hon. and hon. Friends prepared to accept the democratic decision of the Assembly? If they are not prepared to do so, their argument about democracy is humbug.
If the powers of this Assembly are to be increased, it will try to gain legislative powers. That has been said time and again by those in the Common Market. Let me put a proposition to the House. I speak as a Conservative, but the argument could be reversed. We might have a European Assembly dominated by Socialists with a strong Euro-Communist element. The legislation which they produced would follow the general philosophy of their parties. The electorate in this country, for good reason, might return a Conservative Government who would want to follow Conservative policies. That Government might well find themselves blocked by the superior legislation passed in Europe. This is exactly the sort of dangerous position to which the Bill will lead. If there is not to be any increase in the powers of the Assembly, I cannot see why we need the Bill and why we want to go from 190 Members to 400 Members.
May I refer to the remarks made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon) somewhere in the Common Market the other day? I do not know where or when they were made. I have, as you, Mr. Speaker, say on certain days, for greater accuracy obtained a copy of the transcript of the BBC interview which my 804 right hon. and learned Friend gave on the "World at One" yesterday. He said:The comments which I am quoted as making related specifically to a meeting I am attending in Madrid next Tuesday in which I wish to convey to Spain and to the other applicant countries how deeply, for political as well as economic reasons, we desire their entry into the Community.With that I would agree, as would the right lion. Member for Battersea, North. My right hon. and learned Friend went on:If, which I do not expect to happen, the Community were to reject those applications, then, and only then, do I say the Community's coherence would be at risk. We might, perhaps, then have to consider—it would not be satisfactory—the establishment of something in the nature of a larger European free trade area. I want to see a wider, deeper, European unity and I was trying to warn about the dangers that face Europe today … my view is that if the Community as it now exits fails to find solutions for problems like enlargement in fisheries then its whole coherence would automatically have been undermined. It would virtually have destroyed itself. We would have, therefore, all of us, to seek new solutions.That is almost exactly what I said in the pamphlet that was advertised by my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford. I am glad that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hexham is beginning to think along the right lines.
§ Mr. Rippon
I remind my hon. Friend, who has attended all these debates, that that is almost exactly what I said on 15th December 1971. As my hon. Friend has promised to send me a free copy of his pamphlet, I promise to send him and the right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) free copies of my speeches.
§ Mr. Marten
I think that I have almost all my right hon. and learned Friend's speeches stored away for later reference as the Community develops.
I agree with much of what was said by the right hon. Member for Battersea, North, because the Community is not working. That must now be generally accepted, and I think that a sense of Euro-boredom is pervading the hole country. Mr. Roy Jenkins went to that Commission as a new broom. He was going to jazz up the whole thing, and my gosh he was going to be popular, but what did he do? He spent a year thinking out what to do that would put a 805 rocket under the Commission, and he came up with economic and monetary union. Can one imagine anything more designed to increase Euro-boredom than that dead duck? I think that the Community will break up, and that when Spain, Portugal and Greece join it, the pressure will be great. It is not working now, and I do not see how it can possible continue in being.
A certain habit has grown up amongst the European countries of working together. Do we want to lose all that? I do not think that we do. Quite a lot of good has come out of that. We have to try to stop the Community from actually breaking up but to change its structure.
If someone is going along in a motor coach with 100 people and he is told that the coach will take a left fork at a road junction, and that as he travels along that road, which is the right one, he will pass a farm on the left, a church on the right and a crematorium on the left again, but as he travels on and on, and sees no sign of a farm, a church or a crematorium, he begins to scratch his head and think that perhaps the coach is on the wrong road.
He might then stop the coach and have a referendum amongst the 100 passengers. According to the latest opinion poll, 53 per cent. would say that it was the wrong road, and 35 per cent. would say that it was the right road. I should not vote to turn the bus round and go back to where the bus forked and thus get on the right road. I should go on a little further and look for the right turning that took me on to the right road. That is my view of the Community today.
806 We have to look ahead, because I want a wider Europe. People often talk about Europe when they mean not Europe but the Common Market. I am a great European, and I do not mean this little suburban inward-looking grouping. I want a wider Europe, from Finland down to Portugal, and Turkey as well.
To be positive the Community must abandon its federal aims and I urge the Conservative Opposition officially to come out, as the Labour Party has done, and say that they are against the development of the Common Market into a federal Europe. Once that is done, countries such as Norway which did not join because of the federal implication, Austria and perhaps Switzerland, too, will join. I urge my party to make that declaration loud and clear, and thus to get all Europe co-operating.
I would reduce the Commission to a mere secretariat and give it no legislative functions. I would take those out of it. I would scrap the CAP, which is the biggest disaster that has ever been cooked up by a bunch of fifth-form schoolboys, and have a national agricultural policy.
If the Assembly is elected—which God forbid—I should merge it with the Council of Europe and let them both have the same sort of non-legislative but consultative function. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Sir J. Rogers) will agree with that. As a true European, which I am and always have been, who wants unity amongst the various nation States, I believe that that is the way ahead, and what is more that Britin must give the lead, because nobody else will if we do not.
§ 10.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Fernyhough
We are discussing the Bill precisely because the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon) and others in 1971 looked into their crystal ball and thought that going into Europe would be the answer to all our economic problems. The thought that there was a dynamic market for us to join and that as a consequence we should overcome our balance of payments problems, the weakness of sterling and every other problem from which the country suffered.
We also heard that we had to join the EEC for the same reason as the hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell) gave tonight—in order to influence. Members of my own party used that argument in 1971 and 1972. I remember saying to Roy Jenkins in the Parliamentary Labour Party "If we can be influential by getting in, why don't we all join the Tory Party tonight and influence it to stop doing the things we do not like it doing?" I have never understood the idea that one will be influential when one will obviously be in a substantial minority.
I say to the right hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe) that there are few constituents more articulate than mine. There are few Members who keep in closer touch with their constituents than I do. I have received one letter about direct elections for Europe. It was from the one member of the Liberal Party who I happen to know in Jarrow, a genuine Liberal. He wrote saying that he would like my views on proportional representation, and I gave them to him in a long letter explaining why I could not see eye to eye with him on the way in which elections to Europe should be conducted, because I did not believe in the Bill.
Just 12 months ago we were having difficulties with the other place about a Bill which was far more important to the economic well-being and democracy of Britain than this Bill. I refer to the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill, which the other place tried to murder. The other place wanted to crucify it. It would have strangled that Bill at birth. We had to make it clear that, although we would reluctantly let the other place have a small victory, we would retain most of the principles in that Bill.
§ Mr. Fernyhough
When we have done as much for British shipbuilding as we have for British farming, I shall let the hon. Lady make an interruption of that kind. The late Aneurin Bevan said that there were only two ways of dealing with farmers. One was to bribe them and the other was to shoot them, and he said that we had tried bribing them.
§ Mrs. Kellett-Bowman
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the productivity and strike-free record of agriculture compare more than favourably with that of any other industry, particularly shipbuilding?
§ Mr. Fernyhough
Is the hon. Lady aware that no industry has had more public lolly since the end of the war than farming?
§ Mr. Fernyhough
I do not know whether I am older than the hon. Lady, but my hearing is quite as good as hers and she has no need to shout at me. I may have defects, physical and mental, but in that respect I have no handicap.
What kind of programme are the candidates in these direct elections going to fight on? For example, let us assume that Mr. Roy Jenkins and Sir Christopher Soames were candidates. What would be the difference between them? Would there be any major difference of policy that either of them would pursue? The fact that one was in the Labour Party and the other in the Tory Party made not an iota of difference to them. There could not be a major difference of policy, because the European Assembly is purposeless and useless and has nothing to do with Britain's problems. Roy is finding out, as Sir Christopher did before him, that he has as much influence in Europe as I would have in a churchyard talking to the dead.
Let us look at the enthusiasm or the Common Market. At Question Time today, not a single hon. Member opposite who took part did not attack the Community because of its attitude to the Milk Marketing Board, or to the Potato Marketing Board, or to the livestock industry. 809 In their Questions Opposition Members all attacked and ridiculed the Community.
I hope that we shall not have to go through the paraphernalia of these direct elections. I am looking forward immensely to seeing whether the House of Lords, that custodian of the rights of the British people when the House of Commons has gone mad, does its duty on this occasion as it has never done it before and, instead of finishing at 7.30 p.m., debates the issue long into the night so that the interests of the British people are safeguarded against those who have been, as it were, taken in by the flash of light that has come from the Common Market but who found that, instead of a blazing torch bringing warmth and comfort, it is about as powerful as a little flashlight.
History is going to be on my side. It does not matter what one's political system may be; it does not matter what association one has; at the end of the day Britain's democracy, prosperity and influence depend on the British people. It is not possible for us to be saved from outside. We can be saved only from within. It is by our efforts, our energies and our endeavours that we shall save Britain, and if we do not do it, no one else will do it for us.
§ 10.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Thorpe
I echo the eloquent peroration of the right hon. Member for Jarrow (Mr. Fernyhough) by saying that of course the British people will save themselves through their own exertions. But, occasionally, we do get help from outside—the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, for example. Without the IMF, the situation in this country today would have been very different. If the right hon. Gentleman is seriously suggesting that this country can isolate itself from the world, I disagree. If he says that, in the final analysis, it is the will of the country to save itself, no one will disagree. I do not think that there is any difference between us. If I have misrepresented him, I happily give way.
§ Mr. Fernyhough
We were never isolated. We had the Commonwealth. We were associated with hundreds of millions 810 of people. They have been far more loyal to us than the Community has. We have had a trade deficit of £10,000 million since we went into the Common Market.
§ Mr. Thorpe
There is still the Commonwealth. There are still those countries that wish to remain in association in that way. Indeed, most of the developing countries of the Commonwealth are benefiting very substantially from advantages that come to them as a result of the Lomé Convention, which is one of the most exciting developments within the Common Market area. The richer industrialised nations of the world have signed agreements with over 50 nations, as a result of which they have free trading facilities into the Common Market. They also have access to the various development funds. We ought not to overlook what has been achieved in that respect.
I was delighted to see the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) doing his stuff. When he talked about the bus going in this direction and that direction, his speech reminded me of the epitaph.Here lies the body of Amelia White Who signalled to the left and turned to the right.It summarises the hon. Gentleman's speech. He says that he is a good European and then at the last minute he lurches away at the first major experiment in co-operation in Europe.
My main reason for rising is to say that my initial reactions about the interpretation of the Bill were incorrect and the Home Secretary was right. I hope that I am a reasonably good enough lawyer to discover it for myself. That being so, I have even greater cause for disquiet about the procedure for the Boundary Commission, to which I shall refer in a moment.
I do not want to go over old grounds with the Tory Front Bench, but since the Tories have again sought to change the record, let me say that I have always taken the view that one reason why we shall not be having elections in June 1978, as scheduled, is the delay of the Government in introducing legislation. That I concede. But I make it absolutely plain that the Tory Party had in its hands on 13th December, by voting for the regional list system, to ensure that we could have elections by June this year.
811 It could have been done in the following way. We could have had polling day on 30th June, which is not an unreasonable assumption. There could have been a six-weeks' campaign, which would have meant starting the campaign on 14th May. If Royal Assent had been received by the middle of March, which was by no means impossible, that would have given eight weeks for preparation and six weeks for campaigning—a total of 14 weeks. It could have been done even earlier than that. Royal Assent could have been at the beginning of March if we had taken one or two of the Opposition's Supply Days.
It is totally wrong for the Tory Opposition to pretend that the way they voted on 13th December last year had no effect upon the timetable. Had they opted for the system that the Government were proposing, we could have had elections in June 1978, but they preferred to put their prejudices first and European elections second.
§ Mr. Hurd
This is history but, as the right hon. Gentleman repeated the point, I must say that it really is nonsense, because it leaves totally out of account the failure of the Home Secretary on the day in question, 13th December. He was constantly prompted by the Opposition Front Bench and by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) to give an assurance that he would arrange the Government's timetable to fulfil precisely the timetable which the right hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe) has sketched. It was quite clear from the Home Secretary's behaviour that he had no authority to give any such assurance. In the absence of such an assurance, the point rehearsed by the right hon. Gentleman collapses totally.
§ Mr. Thorpe
That is about as special a piece of pleading as I have heard for a long time. I have looked up Hansard, and I was also here. Is it seriously suggested by the Tory Party that if the Home Secretary had said "Yes, I will tell you tonight that we will have a guillotine and tell you the number of days to be allocated", the Tory Party would have said "Hooray, now we will change our minds on the regional list system and vote for it, because we can then have the elections in June 1978"? Even a whale would find that suggestion difficult to swallow.
812 I have raised this issue merely because the hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell) sought once again to re-write the record, and I do not believe that it should be re-written.
§ Sir John Rodgers (Sevenoaks)
Does not the right hon. Gentleman recognise that, not in the coming election but in the one after it, we are bound, as I understand it, to adopt a common policy for electing the Assembly? What we were concerned about on the Conservative side was why it was thought necessary to put up a system which may commend itself to the Liberals but certainly did not commend itself to the Conservatives before we had the common system which the Europeans were due to display to us in four years' time from now. Why should we accept from a little Liberal Party of no real significance that we should adopt this system which it thinks is so grand?
§ Mr. Thorpe
I am delighted at the care and democratic respect which the hon. Gentleman, as always, shows for minorities. It suits him well.
The important point is that it was the Government's recommendation. It was not our recommendation. We happened to be in favour of the single transferable vote, which is the system in Northern Ireland. But we happened to think that it was a better system than the first-past-the-post system and we felt that it was a system that would enable us to have elections in time.
I well remember being interrupted by the hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon) who asked whether I would put aside my preference for that system and vote for the one that would get elections first. That is precisely what I did. That is precisely what the Tory Party did not do.
We are saddled with the first-past-the-post system. Naturally, that is a decision of the House of Commons. But I am very disturbed that we are saddled with option B.
I mentioned last time what the official Conservative view was on this matter. The noble Lord, Lord Thorneycroft, in submitting evidence for the Conservative Party to the Select Committee, said:The Party feels it essential that there should be opportunities for local inquiries which would give only an extra three months".813 Indeed, he was quite right. The difference between options A and B is 30 weeks as to 18 weeks, a difference of 12 weeks. I happen to believe that we should have inquiries for the reasons that I shall mention.
Paragraph 4 of Part III of Schedule 1 of the House of Commons (Redistribution of Seats) Act 1949, which is referred to in this Bill, states:A Commission may, if they think fit, cause a local inquiry to be held in respect of any constituency or constituencies.But this Act—the Home Secretary was out when I said that my initial interpretation was wrong and his was correct—applies only to supplementary reports. The only occasion when there can be a local inquiry is when the Boundary Commissioners are in breach of the obligations conferred upon them by paragraph 9(a) of Part II of Schedule 2 of the Bill, which states:each Assembly constituency shall consist of an area that includes two or more parliamentary constituencies;So in the unlikely event that the Commissioners come up with one parliamentary constituency equalling one Assembly constituency, there can be an inquiry. Paragraph 9(b) states:no parliamentary constituency shall be included partly in one Assembly constituency and partly in another.Therefore, if an existing Westminster constituency were chopped in half or in three parts, there could be an inquiry.
What the right hon. Gentleman has specifically excluded from the purview of an inquiry is paragraph 10 of Part II, which states:The electorate of an Assembly constituency in Great Britain shall be as near the electoral quota as is reasonably practicable having regard, where appropriate, to special geographical consideration.That is a consideration which could be very important. I think, for example, of the Highlands of Scotland, or densely crowded areas in the Midlands where local opinion might well find the united support of all the political parties in the area in question. But there can be no local inquiry into this matter, because it comes under paragraph 10 and not paragraph 9. What the Home Secretary is saying is that representations may be made in writing, but that except in the very 814 exceptional case of a breach taking place—as in paragraph 9—there will be no inquiry at all.
We have had an earlier debate on the emoluments of Members of the European Assembly. I happen to think that this is a much more important issue, because what we are doing is bunching together five, six, seven or eight different Westminster parliamentary constituencies. Under the first-past-the-post system, depending on the combination of permutations that one selects, one could get very different results.
For example, if we take Leeds and divide the area up east to west, we could obtain one result. But if we divide the line north to south we could get quite a different result. This is an occasion when the electorate, or the parliamentary parties, or the individual elector, should have the right to make representations and to be heard at an inquiry.
When we are saying, in effect, that it is only a matter of 12 weeks' difference, I cannot think that the speed required now that we are not having these elections probably next year is of the essence. If we have option A, on the assumption that we get Royal Assent on 15th March, there is no reason why the procedures should not be concluded by the end of October, and that should be time enough. Certainly there will not be an election for Europe in October, and I believe that we should have that additional 12 weeks for the necessary boundary inquiries.
I urge this on the Secretary of State, because to say that the Boundary Commissioners will decide upon the bunching of existing Westminster constituencies and all that the public will be able to do is to make written representations, without the right of a public inquiry, is not in the tradition of our Representation of the People Acts.
§ Mr. Lee
If we do not get the assurance that the right hon. Gentleman is seeking from the Minister, will he try to get his Liberal peers to vote amendments into the Bill so as to bring this matter back to the House again, so that it may be more properly considered in a way not permitted by the guillotine?
§ Mr. Thorpe
The hon. Gentleman tempts me greatly. But I have no mandate. I am not my brother's keeper. 815 It is an idea that tempts me, and it has been well noted—and not merely that, but the irony of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Mr. Lee) in pressing Opposition peers to take effective action in another place.
It could be done by a very simple amendment—simply by adding "para 10" to "para 9" and extending the provisions of Section 4 of the 1949 Act to apply so that it was not only supplementary reports but ordinary inquiries which could be called for. That is a practical matter which we might ask another place to consider.
Having raised, with some apologies to the House, what is a technical matter, I repeat that the principle is clear. I am asking that there should be a proper right to hold inquiries if there is a demand for them, and that right for which I am asking will take only another 12 weeks—call it 15 weeks. I believe that this is well worth doing.
For me, this is an exciting new development. I have always wanted Britain to be part of the Common Market, and I believe that, if we are to have a European Assembly, it is better that it should be elected that that it should be appointed. It stimulates interest amongst the electorate to a greater extent if there is to be an election. It will stimulate interest among the political parties if they have to find candidates. This is one of the reasons why there is something to be said for party politics in local government, because the various political parties feel compelled to find the best candidates they can so that their parties are represented, they hope, by elected councillors at the end of the day.
There are matters which have to be discussed in Europe, such as the common agricultural policy. I want to see a major extension of the Lomé agreements which are, I think, a dramatic breakthrough in trading and investment relationships between the developing and the developed countries. There will be many issues that will cross the frontiers of countries, such as regional development. I do not happen to think that economic and monetary union is as far in the future as the hon. Member for Banbury suggests. What better forum than the European Assembly and, if we are to have an Assembly, why should not it be elected?
816 At long last we have this Bill. I hope that the Secretary of State will give sympathetic consideration to the matters that I have raised and, if there is not time for it to be dealt with in this House, perhaps we can see what can be done with it elsewhere.
§ 10.34 p.m.
§ Mr. MacFarquhar
I shall not take up what the right hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe) said about his dispute over the past few months with the Tory Front Bench, nor his detailed remarks on the question of objections to the new constituencies. I say only that I agreed wholeheartedly with a number of his comments at the end, especially his desire to see the Lomé Convention extended greatly. I am sure that this is an issue that will be taken up by the Euro parliamentarians.
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) is not here, because I want to take up one aspect of his pamphlet. If I remember correctly, he said in the pamphlet that there were three supreme powers of a sovereign legislature. These are the power to legislate, lax and conclude treaties. These are all very well, but there is one power that is not listed in this catalogue—the power to make war. This is the main reason why the antagonism of my hon. Friends to the whole idea of supranationality is so ill-placed.
My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) declared himself an internationalist. So are we all, in some sense of the term. Internationalism means between nations, and it is always between nations that wars are fought.
§ Mr. MacFarquhar
The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) mentions civil wars, but we are not dealing with them at present. We are dealing with relations among nations.
§ Mr. Powell
It is argued that international wars are banished by combining nations. But then one substitutes civil war for international war. One does not banish war thereby.
§ Mr. MacFarquhar
I am afraid that the right hon. Gentleman's logic escapes him for once—may be more than once. It is never possible to rule out civil war. 817 I concede that readily. But the fact that one substitutes supranationality for nations does not mean that of necessity there will be civil war. I am glad to see that the right hon. Gentleman agrees with me on that.
The fact is that the most devastating wars have been those between nations. Of course, the first devastating war of modern times was the American Civil War, but since then wars between nations have been the most devastating.
In the search to find a solution to that problem of international war, the founders of the European movement tried to get together to prevent it in Europe, where war had been most devastating. It ill behoves my hon. Friends to wish to see the end of war between nations, but at the same time to pour scorn on an attempt originally designed to erode the possibility of war between European nations. We in Europe must lead the way because, regrettably, we led the way in launching wars in the past.
In this discussion of European elections there has been a certain amount of cynicism—I say that with hesitation—on the part of those who oppose both direct elections and the whole idea of European unity under the Common Market banner. These right hon. and hon. Members say that we must admit Greece, Spain and Portugal. I am very much in favour of the admission of Spain and Portugal. I have some doubts about the admission of Greece immediately. I have no doubts about it in the long term, but I think that we are proceeding too fast. It is the height of illogicality for my right hon. and hon. Friends who are opponents of the Common Market and want Britain to get out to call for the extension of that organisation. It is like saying "Come on in, the water is cold, but we are getting out." That is the height of cynicism. I am glad to see my right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) in the Chamber. Perhaps he could explain his view about the extension of the EEC.
I agree with the opponents of the Bill that, despite the fact it is a slim Bill now that certain items have been dropped from it, it is an important and crucial Bill in the constitutional history of this country, along with similar Bills being passed in other Parliaments in the Community. This is a time bomb that will 818 be ticking in Europe for many years to come.
I agree with the opponents of the legislation that the democratic mandate conferred on the Assembly by direct elections will be a most powerful aphrodisiac. There is no question but that Members elected to the European Assembly will be inspired by love for power. No elected member of any Parliament in the world is elected without his possessing a desire to increase the powers originally conferred on him. I believe that the Members of a directly elected European Assembly will feel that they have a right and duty to increase their range of power.
I am not as sure as are the Bill's opponents about how long this process of increasing power will take; nor am I as sure as they are that it will be an unbroken process. I think that there will be many twists and turns in the forked roads of which the hon. Member for Banbury spoke, but I hope that the bus will still be heading in the same direction.
I think that the Government are wrong to hide the fact that Europe is headed on a certain course that will lead to an increase in the powers of the democratically elected Parliament, but they are right to say that it will take a long time. This Bill is merely the first step on that long road, but I welcome it as a first step.
§ 10.42 p.m.
§ Sir Anthony Royle
I do not think that I am qualified to follow the hon. Member for Belper (Mr. MacFarquhar) on the road of aphrodisiacs.
§ Sir A. Royle
Perhaps it is bad luck. The hon. Gentleman covered the ground more skilfully than I can.
I should like, however, to comment on the remarks of the right hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe). He made a statesmanlike speech, in view of the bitter disappointment he must have felt arising from the fact that the Bill does not include the sort of system for election he wishes to see. We welcome his strong commitment and support for the Bill, despite the fact that it does not include the proportional system that would benefit the Liberal Party.
But I wish to cross swords with the right hon. Gentleman on his comments 819 about the attitude on the Conservative Benches and among the majority of my right hon. and hon. Friends towards the dragging of feet by the Government on the Bill as a whole. The right hon. Gentleman knows, because we sat together for long hours on the Select Committee in the summer of 1976, that this Bill could have been introduced in the autumn of 1976. Indeed, the Select Committee recommended that it should be introduced at that time. We have seen from the swift way in which the Government have tackled the Bill since Christmas that, once they had made up their minds the Bill could have been introduced in October 1976, and we could have been in this situation in January-February 1977. We would then have had plenty of time to have elections—whether by PR or first past the post—to meet the deadline of June 1978. I do not think the Conservative Opposition can be accused of dragging their feet and of causing delay by our vote last December. All of us who are pleased that the Third Reading has been reached join opponents of the Bill in their surprise that we should have reached this stage so soon. I doubt whether any hon. Member would have forecast on 1st December or 1st January that the Third Reading debate would be held on 16th February. The reason that we have reached this stage so quickly is the guillotine and the Government could have brought in a guillotine if they had moved on the Bill 12 months ago. The Home Secretary is shaking his head, but that could have been done.
I was much amused by the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury. I have been in the House for the 17 years that he has been making speeches against the Community: in the early days of 1971 on the Bill to take us in, during the referendum campaign, and on this Bill. I am happy to feel that, on each occasion, he has failed.
§ Sir A. Royle
I look forward to the moment when my hon. Friend and his few supporters on this side of the House and many supporters opposite will cease opposing every new development in the Community and will start working within the Community. For good or bad, we are members. [HON. MEMBERS: "For bad."] Some hon. Members think that it 820 is for bad, but the nation voted in the referendum to stay in, the House has voted on countless occasions for us to stay in, and, on this Bill, hon. Members have voted for us to play a greater part in the Community by directly electing our representatives in the European Parliament. I hope that the time has come when perhaps the majority of hon. Members have taken a view against the Community in the past will now reconsider their attitude.
§ Mr. Budgen
Will my hon. Friend tell us what, in his opinion, we are committed to for the future? Are we committed to economic and monetary union?
Sir A. Royie
I am not discussing economic and monetary union. As far as I know, we are not committed to that. We are discussing a Bill to enable us directly to elect our representatives to the European Parliament. That has nothing to do with European economic and monetary union. Whether that will come is a matter for this House and future Governments. It is not a matter for us on this Third Reading.
The style and manner of the Government's attitude towards Europe over the past four years has been regrettable. Most hon. Members realise that the image in Europe of the Government's time in office is one of a period of wasted time. The attitude of Ministers—not just the Home Secretary—is one of dragging their feet and being unwilling to play an enthusiastic part in Europe.
§ Sir A. Royle
I am talking about Ministers. I was in office with my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hex-ham (Mr. Rippon) and was able to give some assistance to him in the negotiations for Britain's entry.
Since the referendum, when the country decided by a large majority to stay in, the Government have dragged their feet. The time has come for them to change their style and try to display as attitude in public—in Europe and in this country—of enthusiasm for the Community. In so doing, they will have more influence on the development of the Community and that is to Britain's advantage.
§ Mr. Heffer
Will the hon. Gentleman explain how he can be so enthusiastic 821 when his right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hexham was saying the other day, according to The Times, that he was about to try to break up the Community?
§ Sir A. Royle
If the hon. Gentleman had spent the evening in the Chamber, as I have, or if he had sat in here half an hour ago, he would have heard my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hexham explain that what he has said in the past few days is precisely what he said in December 1971.
§ Sir A. Royle
No doubt my right hon. and learned Friend will defend himself when he winds up the debate on behalf of the Opposition. It is all very well for the hon. Gentleman to come into the Chamber at this time in the evening, intervene and ask questions that were answered only a short while ago.
I was saying that on Europe there is a need for the British Government's image to change. I hope that when the Bill is given a Third Reading the general insensitivity to the needs of the Community and to British interests within the Community will change. I hope that when the Bill returns to this place, having gone to another place, we shall be in a position to strengthen the economic unity of the Community, which I consider to be most important.
§ Sir A. Royle
That is the next move. I hope that we shall then unite Europe's strength in world affairs. That is the second crucial area on which none of us has concentrated enough. Lastly, we shall strengthen our influence in Europe through the election to the European Parliament of direct representatives of the people of this country. I am delighted to see and feel that we shall achieve that by giving the Bill a Third Reading tonight.
§ 10.53 p.m.
§ Mr. John Ellis
It is my contention that this is a bad Bill that should not be given a Third Reading. It has been a good debate, in which the opponents have been more clear in their view of the future 822 than the few disparate voices that have spoken in its support.
In many respects the Bill is lacking. We are setting up a procdure for sending men to the European Parliament. We should consider what they are to do and their purpose in being there. Surely we should find in the Bill a contract of employment or a job specification.
When a job specification is set out, pay is usually included. We all know that that is to be decided in future. There should be no difficulty getting people to go to the European Parliament, because we all know that the pay will be good. One thing that we can be sure about is that anything to do with the European Assembly, the Commission, or anything else, is expensive. The pay should not be so bad.
The next item that is normally to be found in a job specification is the place of work. If a person is to do something, it is best if he knows where he is to do it. We have heard during the debate about secret pacts and talks between various nations. We are told that they will not be going anywhere at any time if Parliament is not in a certain place. Surely that is a good reason for not giving the Bill a Third Reading. It seems that we do not know where the European Members are to go.
Another item that is normally found in a job specification is information making it clear to whom one is responsible. In this instance that is fairly easy. As there is to be an election, the Member will be responsible to those who elected him. That does not seem too bad. However, who is responsible to the Member? In that area we have the gravest difficulties. My hon. Friend and Member for Belper (Mr. MacFarquhar) let the cat out of the bag. It is unfortunate that he is no longer in the Chamber. My hon. Friend is a federalist and he sees the Bill as a first step. However, the Bill has been changed. It has been said that the House will keep its autonomy. It has been made clear that the House will remain the sovereign body. The answer to the question "Who is responsible to the Members of the Assembly?" is "No one at all."
The next question in a job specification is what these people will be doing. We should be concerned about what 823 they will be doing if the Bill goes forward. Again, my hon. Friend the Member for Belper let the cat out of the bag. He said that they would be seeking to establish their influence to add to their powers. As with all politicians, that is what we must fear. Because they are directly elected, they will say "We want a hand in the game". There must inevitably be a clash between them and us.
There is another important omission that makes that proposition absolutely and we have not talked about it, but there has been an oblique reference to it tonight. Assembly Members will have no contact with us whatsoever. There was a suggestion that they might sit in the House of Lords or that they might come here. I do know that would be achieved. That has proved a difficult issue to resolve, and no one, refers to it now.
As the new Assemblymen will be directly elected, they will feel they have some mandate. This matter has been spelt out to us today. Ministers will come to this sovereign Parliament and, relying on their authority according to the vote of the democratic Assembly, will seek to get proposals put through the House, or the remit will not follow. We were told that was where the real power lay. If so, the people to whom we are seeking to give the job of Assemblymen will have no reason for existence. They will have no job except to sit to those of representatives at the Council of Europe. At least, their position is spelt out there.
The hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) gave us his idea how Europe ought to develop. His description was clear and precise. I agree with him 100 per cent.
I do no believe that in any way, shape or fashion we shall achieve what we are aiming for if we give the Bill a Third Reading tonight. We shall go no dong what we have done so many times in the past with regard to Common Market matters, Of course, A few of us, night after night, discuss the orders to find out what they mean and what their impact will be. Indeed, we are still a sovereign Parliament, according to the definition 824 given this afternoon when my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture was answering questions. But there was the acid test. The House decided that it wanted to devalue the green pound, but we have not been able to get acceptance of our decision. There is the reality.
My hon. Friend the Member for Belper spoke with the voice of truth. He said that the Members of the European Assembly will have nothing to do, but they will seek to accrete powers to themselves until they get to the European concept that we are not English, French or anything else but Europeans with one Parliament that speaks for all. If we follow the logic of that, this place is finished. I do not believe that it should be finished. We cannot obscure that fact.
We must now say that this Bill must not be given a Third Reading. There is not even an honest ideological clash, as there should be, between ourselves and the federalists. The Front Benches have not spelt out the argument and, until they do, until they follow their own logic, we should not agree to this Bill.
As a democrat I accept that there are different points of view, whether Conservative or Labour. There are different views on the federalist concept. It is time that the House thought the matter out. There will be those who will win that argument and those who will lose it. We do not do the country any service if the argument is obscured and if we seek to muddy the waters, as has happened tonight.
§ 11.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Dykes
How depressing it is once again to listen to speeches such as that made by the hon. Member for Brigg and Scunthorpe (Mr. Ellis). Although he made it with great competence, one is bound to ask what he and my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) are worried about. Although there are different opinions, such as those held by the hon. Member for Belper (Mr. MacFarquhar), involing federalistic thinking, how many times does the House have to take on board the fact that the Community is still very limited?
Although there are those, including myself, who are keen on the Community and its institutions developing in their inter-relationships, together and collectively, under a directly elected Parliament, 825 the Community is not federalistic in a conventional sense. It is a co-operative venture with common institutions. That is a different thing. Like other hon Members, I warmly welcome the Bill, although not, perhaps, with the same enthusiasm as my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell) in respect of its amended form.
I particularly regret the choice of electoral system. For a number of reasons, the regional list system was to be preferred. For practical reasons that system has not been chosen and we have a smaller Bill. I look forward to direct elections taking place as soon as possible. A key task facing the Boundary Commission under the option B procedure—which is not the best course—is to produce the European constituencies from the existing parliamentary clusters and submit them to the House for final approval and decision, after the proper representations have been made. Then, at long last, direct elections can take place.
The hon. Member for Brigg and Scunthorpe and others need to be reminded, in respect of earlier discussions about enlargement and other matters, that the United Kingdom took 12 years to negotiate its way into the EEC. That was the fundamental decision. Other countries now seeking entry may find that it takes somewhat longer than their optimistic expectations, particularly, perhaps, Greece and even Spain. Nevertheless, there is an almost universal expression of hope and optimism that they will join and that the Community will enlarge. That is some time ahead.
Now is the time to begin the great experiment—and of course it is an experiment. No one can say with exactitude how the Parliament will develop as time goes on. There is a range of opinion about that, but now must be the time, at long last, after all the hopes and development of the Community over 20 years, to do the vital political experiment—I use that word deliberately, but it is a respectable word in this context—of democratic elections for an institution that will wish to grow in influence and power in the future in its inter-relationship to the Council of Ministers and the Commission, but an institution that is only beginning to set out on the road.
826 We know how impossible the dual mandate has become. We know, too, how part-time the European Parliament is as it is constituted. We know also that, even after direct elections, it will be consultative only, with certain limited powers granted by concession by the Council of Ministers. That is the basis, and gradually we shall build from that.
I firmly believe that if the politicians energetically argue in the campaign when it starts—I should prefer this year, but presumably now next year—the real verities of direct elections, the real rationale of European elections, the real meaning of implanting the democratic element into Community institutions and direct control relating logically to national Parliaments as well, the public will respond to those impulses, those pressures, those arguments and those persuasive thoughts.
It is not true to say, even in this country, where perhaps one has a feeling occasionally that enthusiasm for the Community is less than it is in other member States, that the public as a whole are not interested in these matters. What I think is regrettable and sad—and it includes myself and others of my colleagues in the Conservative Party more recently—is that our own traditional energies in explaining arguing and defending the Community have diminished, for one reason or another, including the economic recession.
That can be overcome by the catalyst of direct elections. This Bill is long overdue. The Government delayed all last year, and they have to accept that. Now, on 16th February, the Bill is reachning its last stage in the House of Commons, save for Lords amendments, if there are to be any. I think that the House should enthusiastically welcome this legislation.
§ 11.7 p.m.
§ Mr. Powell
To all appearances there is a great contrast between the scene in this Chamber tonight and the scene yesterday. Last night, 550 hon. Members crowded the Chamber and went through the Lobbies. The mood of the House—a very marked and characteristic mood—was one of great tension and a sense of decision.
What had happened, as I understood it, was that hon. Members were showing that 827 they found themselves committed to something that the majority rejected. Over the weeks and months of debate they had been brought, in many cases reluctantly, to realise that they were being asked to accept what would be a damage, and perhaps an irreparable damage, to this House itself, and that the thing to which they seemed to be committed was something apparently unworkable, and of which no rational or satisfactory explanation had been tendered through all those hours of debate.
Paradoxically, I believe that tonight we are in a similar position, that tonight, when it is about to give a Third Reading to this guillotined Bill at its second time of asking, the House, or the majority of the House, is going to do, and is increasingly realising that it is going to do, what it does not intend. There is a similar sense of, I shall not say calamity, but of grief at what we find before us.
There is a minority in the House—and they are to be honoured for their candour—who believe that the sovereign control, that the exclusive competence to make the laws, to impose the taxes, to control the policies of this country, should pass from this House to other institutions, These hon. Members—and they sit on both sides of the House—have made no secret of their belief that that is the right course and that it holds the best prospect for the inhabitants of this country as well as for the inhabitants of other parts of Western Europe. But I do not think that they would deny that they are in a minority, perhaps in a small minority.
The great majority of hon. Members, even those who have followed through with their votes the membership of the European Community, even those who tonight will vote for the Third Reading of the Bill, would say at the same time that they have no intention of surrendering from this House the control of the House over our government, over our laws, over our society, over our economic future. They would contend that that is the last thing they intend or wish to see. They would argue that sovereignty not only remains but ought to remain with the British House of Commons.
But as the debates have proceeded it has become more and more difficult—and I believe that for more and more 828 hon. Members it has become impossible—still to believe that. No one has succeeded so far in making it seem even probable that when the institutions of the Community are provided with an Assembly directly elected from the peoples of the Community, and in this country directly elected by our own electorate, this House will stand in the same relationship thereafter as hitherto to the institutions of the Community and in particular to the Executive on the Treasury Bench.
When the electorate of this country has chosen its own representatives in a European Economic Community context to serve on its behalf in the Assembly of the Community, it will become more and more unrealistic for this Chamber to claim to control the legislation which the European Economic Community makes or the policies which it adopts.
One may look at it in practical terms. We have had the greatest difficulty in devising methods—and they are not satisfactory—whereby, even with an appointed Assembly in the Community, we can maintain contact—I say "contact", let alone "control"—over the decisions in which Ministers participate in the Council of Ministers. But shift the scene, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Imagine that the direct elections have taken place, that the measures brought before us have already been considered, not once but in many cases two or three times, thoroughly considered, by the representatives of the electorate of this country, elected for that purpose. Will any Government then say "Well, of course it is essential that the House of Commons should be given an hour and a half to express its opinion about these matters"? Difficult as it is now, it will become in practice impossible for this House to maintain its control over its representation in the Council of Ministers or over the actions on its behalf of the European Economic Community.
It will also be impossible in theory; for those who are elected to the European Assembly will be entitled to say to us from then onwards "You were not elected for European purposes. It is to us that your constituents look for the matters that concern the EEC." They will be entitled to say to me in South Down "If your constituents are concerned with the EEC's fisheries policies, it is to us, 829 who sit in the Assembly, who were elected for the purpose, that they should look." In the course of today's debates we have been hearing how these elected representatives will have to endeavour to keep in touch with their 500,000 constituents on matters for which they will represent them.
So by the very nature of our act we are making it both practically and theoretically impossile for this House to maintain its control over the doings, the legislation, the policies, the intentions, the planning, of the European Economic Community.
It may be said "Well, within certain limits that is true. Within certain limits we have to admit that this House can no longer exert control through Ministers over the European Economic Community. But then, how narrow is the field in which the Community operates". I think that this is an argument less heard nowadays than it was until recently, for nowadays one section of our population after another has become painfully and directly aware that its own livelihood and future are vitally affected by what is done and decided by the Council of Ministers, and by what is done and decided by the Commission and individual Commissioners.
This Community is not a static organisation. It will still less be a static organisation in future. It has been admitted, even vaunted, in these debates that when this Assembly, this representative body at the heart of it, is directly elected, one area after another of concern common to the countries of the Community will be taken over by the European Economic Community under the impulse of those who will say "We are the elected representatives of the people of the Community as a whole. Who shall gainsay us when we ask to involve ourselves, first in one and then in another area of policy?"
One of the most instructive parts of the truncated debate upon this Bill at the second time of asking was that, with all their good will and all their desire to write in a safeguard against uncontrolled extension of the competence of the Assembly, the Government were in the end obliged to admit that they were attempting to define the undefinable and to confine that which could not be confined. Earlier in the debate this evening, indeed, 830 the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) pointed out, on the authority of the Foreign Office, that in so far as formal powers were not concerned, there was little limit in practice to the possible extension of the competence which the Assembly of the Community could claim.
So we are surrendering our control, not in a permanently limited area, however important, but in an area of life and politics destined necessarily to extend indefinitely. The very nature of direct election is that it gives a dynamic; it gives an authority; it gives a claim that cannot be gained to the body that is elected. Those who in future propose these advances will be able to turn round to this House and to hon. Members of this House, in case we should object, and say "What, then, did you think you were doing when you passed a Bill to institute direct elections? You, of all people, ought to have known what an elected Assembly is about and what its claims are. When you set up another one, you must have intended the natural consequencies of your actions."
Earlier in the debate, in an exchange, I think, between the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. Gould) and the hon. Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone), the assertion was made that the Assembly could gain only such powers as were ceded to it by the Council of Ministers. I am sure that that is so, technically. Likewise, this House of Commons has no powers except such as have been ceded to it by the Crown, but they are our powers now, we have taken them over the years; we have taken them because we spoke for the people, because we were the elected representatives of the people, and in the end our claim to take those powers has been irresistible. Nor have we taken them by a process that has been planned or at least initiated by the Executive. We took them by convention, by encroachment, by usage, by practices that could not be gainsaid as they grew up.
So the renunciation by this House of its rights of control on behalf of the electorate is a comprehensive as well as a deliberate renunciation.
It is a strange thing that we should be engaged in such an undertaking. The hon. Member for Belper (Mr. MacFarquhar), whose candour and insight have illuminated these debates, 831 especially as he speaks from the opposite point of view, ventured, somewhat rashly, I think, to say that all elected assemblies look for means of gaining more power, of grasping power. I interjected "Except this assembly". For the strange thing is that we seem to have lived into an age when our great ambition here is to strip ourselves of our authority, to create other bodies to which we can transfer the responsibilities which were vested in us by those who elected us and by the history which has made this place.
Yesterday we were looking to sub-ordinate assemblies to which to transfer our powers. Now we are looking to an external assembly to which to transfer our powers. We are doing so by a sort of Pygmalion process of creating in our own image. But it is not a mere model into which we have to breath the breath of life; it is not some puppet that we are creating in our own image; it is something that, once we have set it up, will have its own life and power. If we are looking for an analogy, a closer analogy would be a Frankenstein, a monster, for it is a power which, once we have established it, will be independent of us, and of which the nature will be to take from us [Interruption.] Those who understand the dynamic of the Community, those who are the real pro-Europeans in this House, will not find that funny. They will understand that that is the inherent nature of this structure.
§ Mr. Wyn Roberts (Conway)
The right hon. Gentleman has talked about this House stripping itself of real powers. What kind of specific powers are we stripping ourselves of through this Bill? Will he kindly address himself to the point that, in fact, all the powers that are being exercised by the European Assembly and which will be exercised by it are new powers? They have a new budget, and so forth.
§ Mr. Powell
I am not sure at what point—I make no complaint—the hon. Member for Conway (Mr. Roberts) joined the debate, but I have spent most of my speech, which I must not much prolong, in pointing out that all the forms of control which at present we exercise in this House through the Council of Ministers over the legislation, the policies, the taxation, the plans of the Community will be weakened by the very fact of the 832 Assembly of the Community being directly elected, and that very soon our control will be seen to be superfluous, since there will be a direct control hence-forward available through those directly elected for the purpose over all those Community matters.
I return to the sad irony of the British House of Commons not merely being prepared to contemplate removing its own powers and endowing other bodies with them but finding itself almost nightmarishly unable to escape from the commitment.
I suppose that most of us, whether we admit it or not, wonder whether this is a process that can now be halted. We wonder whether the debate tonight, which is a valediction to the Bill, is also a requiem to the proud, sovereign, independent House of Commons. But I believe that in this House itself, and in the people whom it represents, there are still unexhausted powers of self-recovery. We see it sometimes in our own stilted and cramped debates, when suddenly something happens which, as it were, awakens us to the sense of what it is that we are doing and what we are losing.
Although no doubt those who are "for the Parliament"—that is an old-fashioned expression—will be in a minority in the Third Reading tonight, we can still live in faith and hope that we are not a minority in this country, that we are not a minority in this House, that what Parliament was will revive, and that what our country was will revive.
§ 11.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Rippon (Hexham)
I am afraid that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) is in a minority in this House and is in a minority in the country. That has been demonstrated in the best possible way by the referendum for which he himself called.
The basic underlying theme of the discussions on the Bill has been how we can, within the framework of the European Economic Community, preserve the traditions and the differences of the individual member countries while at the same time moving forward to greater European unity. There is nothing wrong with dissension and argument or the defence of national interests in the Community—all nations do it provided it is 833 recognised that there is above all a European interest.
I do not see why I should be criticised or called a bad European because I chose to tell the other members of the Community exactly what it was that we agreed at the time of the Treaty of Accession, because I spoke of the things we omitted from the Treaty or because of the undertakings I gave to the House of Commons in December 1971. But, of course, the conclusion of all that is that I hope that, once the British point of view is understood, and we for our part understand the views of other people, there will be fair and equitable agreement, with a fair mutual balance of interests.
There is nothing anti-European about that. Having spoken in the House for more than 20 years saying that Europe must unite or perish, I have not then suddenly become anti-European. One is not an anti-European because one warns one's colleagues of the consequences if they do not take the necessary action to deal with basic issues such as fisheries—which I said in 1971 might call in question the whole coherence of the Community—or the enlargement of the Community. That is nothing for people to get excited about. All I say is that if we fail we shall be thrown back into the need to create some larger area which would in one way or another embrace Spain, Portugal and Greece, and in good time Turkey.
What we have always said in this country is that we do not want just a Europe of the Six or the Nine, or a Europe of 10 or 14 nations. We want to bring in the whole European family, and that is the basic purpose of the Treaty of Rome. We want to have every nation, on fair terms, which wishes to become a member, and we want the closest possible association with all those countries with historic neutrality, such as Switzerland and Sweden. We also want the closest possible association with those which are bound to neutrality by treaty, such as Austria and Finland. That is all I have been saying.
§ Mr. John Mendelson
When the right hon. and learned Gentleman—in those days when he was in charge of the negotiations—used to report one breakthrough after another from the United Kingdom's point of view, how was it that he was 834 so misunderstood by his partners that he now has to tell them that he meant something quite different from what they thought he meant?
§ Mr. Rippon
I have suffered from a certain difficulty in that the present Minister of Agriculture handles things so badly that, although there is a good British case, he fails to make it.
If I may say so, one of the reasons why the Government have got into difficulty is that they have wanted to pretend that there was some sort of renegotiation and some sort of way in which they were doing things for which the Conservative Government had not provided.
What the Minister will not do and has not done is to say "I stand firmly by the provisions of Articles 100 to 103 of the Treaty of Accession. I stand firmly by the undertakings which my predecessor in office gave in the House of Commons." [HON. MEMBERS: "Why should he?"] Because it is a British interest. That is what the right hon. Gentleman should have in mind.
What the Labour Party always has in mind is the party interest. It happens to suit the present Minister of Agriculture to give the impression that there is no agreement to defend and that he is somehow rescuing the country from a situation for which the Conservatives had made no provision. That is undermining the British case all the time. That is what I have had to complain about.
§ Mr. Jay
The right hon. Gentleman has just referred to Articles 100 to 103 of the Treaty of Accession. I have just looked them up, and all that they say with regard to the common fisheries policy is that the new member countries should have permission for 10 years to have exclusive fishery rights up to six miles from the coast. Is that something which the right hon. Gentleman is proud of and on which he thinks the present Minister of Agriculture should take a stand?
§ Mr. Rippon
That is not what the articles provide. For example, Article 102 provides:From the sixth year after Accession at the latest, the Council, acting on a proposal from the Commission, shall determine conditions for fishing with a view to ensuring protection of the fishing grounds and conservation of the biological resources of the sea.835 What is more—
§ Mr. Rippon
The trouble is that Labour Members such as the right hon. Gentleman do not want to be contaminated by the truth. All that I ask the right hon. Gentleman to do—I went out of my way to draw his attention to these articles—is to look precisely at the statements that I made on behalf of the Government as the Minister responsible to the House on 13th and 15th December 1971.
I set out then precisely the nature of the agreement that we reached with the Community, the steps by which we had reached it day by day, the rejection of certain proposals and the final agreement with an open review that was to take place within the 10-year period and as soon as possible. I said that we defined it as a major interest. I said that we relied—in the specific context of fisheries—on the declaration between my right hon. Friend the Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) and President Pompidou. We defined that as a major interest. I said at that time that, if there was not a fair, equitable and open arrangement, that would be a test not only of the credibility of the Community but of its coherence. That is all that I said yesterday.
§ Mr. Jay
The right hon. Gentleman is clearly misrepresenting the facts. What Article 100 says—and these words govern other articles—is that there shall be a restricted zone up to six miles from the coast. The review 10 years later merely says that after 10 years there shall be consideration of whether even that derogation should continue any longer. Those are the facts.
§ Mr. Rippon
I am afraid that the right hon. Gentleman is wrong. It is a long and legal argument which is set out in full in the way that I have expressed it. I shall send the right hon. Gentleman a copy of the speech I made yesterday in Luxembourg. The right hon. Gentleman is not reading the right article. He does not understand what it means. What is more, he has not appreciated the fact that we made no reference to limits. As I understand it, these particular articles mean that the question of limits is also an open issue. I explained that we might 836 well want increased limits when the review took place.
The right hon. Gentleman is doing what is so often done in this case—misleading the House and not looking at the facts. Whatever these dissensions—and they are considerable—I should have thought that a directly elected European Parliament would be exactly the forum in which to discuss them. It is there that we can all express our views to our colleagues, as friends and allies in these matters.
§ Mr. John Biffen (Oswestry)
Does my right hon. and learned Friend think that in the forum of a directly elected Assembly he would be more successful in convincing the representatives of Denmark, the Irish Republic and France than he thinks he could be in convincing the right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay)?
§ Mr. Rippon
Happily, yes. I think that my hon. Friend will find that out in due course.
The Home Secretary indicated—this is the crux of the whole matter—that there had been an interesting discussion on the way in which we could ensure that the directly elected Parliament did not acquire additional powers without the consent of this Parliament at Westminster. I do not know that any specific provision is necessary. I do not see any difficulty about the provision that the Government have made, although it might be redrafted to improve it in some ways. The Minister of State was right when he said that it was most unlikely that the clause would give rise to legal disputes. There are other safeguards for the rights of this House.
In any event, the real distinction to be made—the right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) touched on this, although I do not say that he fully understands it—is the distinction between powers and influence. The trouble is that this House has great powers but, unfortunately, not enough influence. As the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) said, we cannot control the Council of Ministers. But this House can control the Ministers who go to the Council on our behalf. At every stage of our negotiations I had to report back to this House. The agreements that we reached had to be approved by this 837 House, and happily, they were so approved.
The European Parliament, on the other hand, has little formal power—I cannot say that it will be very much increased in future by legislation—but it has a growing influence, and, therefore, there is substance in what the right hon. Member for Down, South said about a directly elected Parliament having influence and about that influence making itself increasingly felt, although I do not see it in the way that he does. But we shall be members of that Parliament and contributing to it. We show a lack of confidence about the contribution that this country is making to Europe.
The influence of the European Parliament really arises because it is consulted in advance of decisions, whether on legislation or expenditure. It has, moreover, a very effective committee system. Some of the things that are rather feared about it, and which have led to the growing influence of the European Assembly, we might ourselves adopt.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith), who at various times was not altogether in sympathy with the European Communities Bill, has now become almost a Lord Chancellor of the Assembly as Chairman of the Legal Affairs Committee. He has himself virtually redrafted the Fifth Company Directive. What opportunity does this House have to redraft a regulation? Occasionally we find a regulation that is attacked by the Labour Party, such as the one dealing with King Edward potatoes—almost involving Royalty—which was supposed to have been introduced by Brussels but had been introduced by the Ministry of Agriculture and had been in force in Scotland for years.
As for the common fisheries policy, we had a day's debate on it last year and a day's debate yesterday, and between those debates two Members successfully and vitally altered the proposals that the Commission and the Council of Ministers are now considering. The hon. Member for Durham (Mr. Hughes) is Chairman of the Fisheries Sub-Committee of the Committee on Agriculture, and my hon. Friend the Member for Bute and North Ayreshire (Mr. Corrie) is repporteur 838 on the fisheries policy. When there is an agreement on the fisheries policy, as I am sure there will be, anyone analysing it will find that they have made a great contribution to its form.
§ Mr. Ogden
The right hon. and learned Gentleman is almost making the opposition case. If this Bill goes through, it will not be hon. Members of this House who use their influence to get these results. It will be Members of another Assembly not directly responsible to this House. Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman please try to challenge the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) on his own ground—the loss of sovereignty of this House? I think it is a price worth paying, but that is the theme which ought to be answered from the Opposition Front Bench as well as from the Treasury Bench.
§ Mr. Rippon
The European Assembly becomes a first line of democratic defence. The ultimate responsibility and sovereignty remain in this House. I think that that has been explained over and over again. That is the fact of the matter. The Assembly will have influence, and the influence that it has on events will be directly proportionate to the quality of the people elected. As the Minister of State said, that applies to this House as well.
I was very interested when the Minister said that he had sometimes been intrigued by what he could only describe as a certain lack of confidence in the House of Commons about its future role. Our future role remains in our hands, and it will be determined by the way we conduct our affairs. We should be considering how we establish an effective relationship between ourselves and the Parliament, how we could strengthen our own committee structure so that we consider things before they happen, instead of having a post mortem afterwards, and how we could so order our affairs in the way that the European Parliament does that we discussed the real issues of the day instead of wasting a great deal of time.
It would not have been possible to have a debate in the European Assembly about Members' salaries and expenses so trivial as the one that we had this afternoon—not at any level, whatever view one takes. I have asked Members of the 839 Assembly "Why don't you adopt the House of Commons system and not have perks? Give yourselves a mileage allowance, an allowance for living away from home, and a pension based on a salary that you have not got the guts to give yourselves."
An illustration of what I mean was given by the hon. Member for Newton (Mr. Evans), who has been a very valuable Member of the European Assembly and an excellent Chairman of the Regional Affairs Committee. He pointed out on 2nd February that the day before the House had spent only an hour and a quarter discussing important transport legislation which the European Parliament had discussed 14 months before. There was nothing to stop us discussing it except our own folly and incompetence. The hon. Gentleman pointed out that the European Committee of which he had been Chairman spent more hours on it than the House of Commons spent minutes.
If all these people who are so worried about what happens in the Community really wanted to discuss more issues, they could do so, and this House would provide the means of doing so. They do not do so only because, night after night, they waste their time and everyone else's endlessly putting empty buckets into empty wells and drawing up nothing.
§ Mr. Marten
My right hon. Friend said that the House could do it if it wanted to. How many Supply Days have the Opposition offered to give for European matters and legislation?
§ Mr. Rippon
How much pressure has my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) applied on that issue? It would be better if he campaigned for more time. But that is not a matter for me tonight.
I do not believe that there is any need to worry about the influence and powers of the European Parliament, provided that we in this House exercise our sovereign powers in an effective and suitable way. I hope that tonight the Bill will get the large majority that all its other processes have received.
§ 11.46. p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Brynmor John)
It seems almost trivial to remind the House that we are 840 discussing the Third Reading of the European Assembly Elections Bill and to bring us back from the rather odd ego trip on which the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon) has taken us. When he talks about my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, he makes one of his typically bad points. He seems to be complaining not that my right hon. Friend is representing the national interest badly but that he is doing it too well. If the right hon. and learned Member were here at Question Time, he would know that these are not the points that are urged upon my right hon. Friend by Conservative Members.
I am realistic enough to see that nothing that I say will change the minds of hon. Members whose intentions are fixed already. I intend to answer the points of the debate. Nothing devalues a debate more than a winding-up speech which does not refer to any of the points raised but simply expounds the prowess of a particular Member in the European Assembly.
The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) raised the question of the STV in Northern Ireland and the regulations. We have yet to draft these regulations for the conduct of the election. We shall take account of the suggestions made in this debate and of others that may reach us before that matter is debated. We want to see the same publicity procedures, possibly by means of a White Paper, before the regulations are laid before the House. When they are laid, they will be following the same course as the regulations for a simple majority system—by affirmative resolution.
The right hon. Member for Devon North (Mr. Thorpe) queried whether, during the passage of the Bill, we had adopted option B. He was good enough to say that the point was mistaken. I think he will now accept that the effect of paragraph 4 of the schedule is to lay down that in the first review we have adopted option B with one round of representations after the adoption of the proposals but with no inquiries. Thereafter, it the system should be retained for a second direct election, not only will option B not take place but we shall have the full parliamentry boundary procedure system as before with two rounds of inquiries. That 841 will happen if the system does not become common by the time of the second election. We shall be following the full parliamentary boundary procedure.
I regret that the right hon. Gentleman has still got it slighly wrong on Schedule 2 when he talks about supplementary reviews only being concerned with whether a determination has straddled a parliamentary boundary. "Supplementary reviews" refers to the case where the Boundary Commission redraws the Westminster constituencies. It must then at the same time redraw the European boundaries. It is that to which reference is made when talking about supplementary reviews.
The right hon. Gentleman dealt with the subject of option A, and it was put to him that there might be an amendment in another place. That might well be the case, but we would have to meet that situation when it arose. What we say is that in passing the Bill the House has clearly opted for option B, which involves one round of representations but no local inquiries.
§ Mr. Thorpe
When the Minister says that the House has clearly opted for option B, may we put it on record that there was no opportunity at all to discuss the matter in Committee?
§ Mr. John
I shall come to the question of what was and what was not discussed, but there should be no doubt on that matter because the debates have ranged more widely than the clauses which have been under discussion. Clearly, that has been implicit in the debates conducted in this place.
I should like to deal with the subject of timing. Some hon. Members have suggested that the Bill will have a speedy passage through the other place, but other hon. Members, such as the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten), have suggested that the passage of the Bill might not be quite as formal as others have suggested.
The Government expect the Bill to be carefully considered in the other place but hope that it can proceed to Royal Assent in the course of the summer. This will enable the Boundary Commission to start option B procedures after Royal Assent to determine European election constituencies. The Commission told the 842 Select Committee that this procedure will take a minimum of 18 weeks. It means that the House will be unlikely to consider that aspect of the matter until into the autumn.
I wish to make a point which has been generally missed on the subject of timing—that is, the necessity for the parties to have some months to prepare for the selection and choice of candidates who are to take part in the campaign and for the campaign itself. This seems to indicate that, notwithstanding the fact that an election will not take place at the time, as initially envisaged, nevertheless with option B there will be the necessary time to allow the parties to take care in the selection of candidates, because that is what the parties in Britain would wish if these elections are to go forward.
My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) seemed to suggest that there was a gap in Clause 6. Let me reiterate what I said when that clause was introduced into the Bill. We have ensured that no treaty which provides for any increase in the powers of the European Assembly will henceforth be ratified by the United Kingdom unless approved by Act of Parliament.
It is possible to say that this does not cover every case. But what will happen if there is an accretion of influence or respectability? There is no foretelling what will happen in any situation of this nature. It may be that that influence will be greater than it is at present. From all that has been said, however, it appears that that influence will extend to matters not now subject to the control of the House. That is the point on which the Government rested and is why we moved to allay the fears of the House in this respect.
I must tell those who are axious that powers will be taken by the Assembly without an Act of Parliament, which would impinge on the powers of this House, that a Government clause has been introduced to meet this matter. Rather than that we should concentrate solely on what is not contained in the provision, I believe that there should be some recognition of the fact that the Government have responded to the wishes of the House and put into the Bill something which substantially meets the fears and wishes of the House.
§ Mr. John
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, said in earlier debates that he did not envisage that this would give rise to any legal complications. I cannot guarantee that a challenge will not come forward any more than I could guarantee as a lawyer that no person would litigate against my client on a case on which I would regard it as hopeless to litigate. We are confident that it will not give rise to legal complexities and that it will be of assistance to the House.
§ Mr. Spearing
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. He should not include me among those who think that this provision has done what the House wanted. How does my hon. Friend reply to the point put time and again by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell)? Does he claim that the clause will cover the possibility of elected Members of the European Parliament saying "We have to discuss this. Do not go to the Members in Westminster. We are the elected Members of the Assembly in Strasbourg"?
§ Mr. John
I understand that point. I was not trying to dodge it. I intended to cover it later with a couple of other points that were raised by the right hon. Member for Down, South. Clearly, it is possible that what my hon. Friend suggests may be said, but the Government and the House have the final say in matters that impinge upon this nation's affairs. Other people may say "Don't go to X or Y", but that will not enable the House to bow out of its primary duty to ensure that legislation affecting this country is scrutinised effectively in the House and that hon. Members have the opportunity of discussing it.
May I deal with the effect of the timetable motion? This was mentioned by the hon. Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone) in his reference to the letter sent to Lord O'Hagan. We have had full debates on Clauses 1, 2, 3 and 6, which are, in my view, the heart of the Bill as far as the theory and the principle are 844 concerned. Of those on which no debate has been possible, Clause 4 deals with double voting, Clause 5 with exemptions from jury service, Clause 7 with expenses in elections, Clause 8 with interpretation and Clause 9 with citation.
It is true that there has been no central separate debate on the schedules, but I believe that in the 40 hours that we have spent discussing the four clauses to which I have referred reference has been made to Schedules 1 and 2. A great deal of the principle has already been covered.
§ Mr. John
The hon. Member for Banbury and I have sat through many hours of debate on the Bill. We must agree to differ. There is no single subject in this whole matter which has not been canvassed at least once, and, often, subjects have been covered many times.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) mentioned the question of the French President's intention to block the direct elections unless the Parliament is sited at Strasbourg. The President has not made known to us any official intention not to hold direct elections. That may be because he thinks that we are too innocent to be trusted with the information, but no official notification has been given. This is a matter for Governments to decide. At the moment, under Article 216 and the decision of 1965, Luxembourg and Strasbourg remain the provisional meeting places.
The right hon. Member for Down, South said that those of us who are not federalists but are nevertheless supporting the Bill are inexorably being drawn towards federalism. I do not believe that to support the Bill is any more to support federalism than to support devolution is to support separatism.
§ Mr. Skinner
How does my hon. Friend expect us to believe that in view of the fact that he was an anti-Marketeer and implied that he always would be, whereas he is now a Market man? My hon. Friend says that he is against federalism, but how can we be sure that he will not support that in the due process of time?
§ Mr. John
I am sure that my hon. Friend does not read the Pontypridd 845 Observer with the same care that I exercise. If he did so, he would know that at the time of the referendum, when I was clearly an anti-Marketeer, I sad that I would accept the result of the referendum. I am trying to carry out my duty to do that. My hon. Friend does no credit to anyone to infer that those of us who said that are denigrated for so doing.
§ It being Midnight, Mr. Deputy Speaker proceeded, pursuant to Order [26th January], to put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair.
§ Question put, That the Bill be now read the Third Time:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 159, Noes 45.847
|Division No 118]||AYES||[12 midnight.|
|Alison, Michael||Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy||Radice, Giles|
|Anderson, Donald||Hayhoe, Barney||Rathbone, Tim|
|Armstrong, Ernest||Healey, Rt Hon Denis||Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn (Leeds S)|
|Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne)||Heath, Rt Hon Edward||Rhys William, Sir Brandon|
|Baker, Kenneth||Hicks, Robert||Ridley, Hon Nicholas|
|Beith A. J.||Howell, David (Guildford)||Rippon, Rt Hon Geoffrey|
|Berry, Hon Anthony||Howell, Rt Hon Denis (B'ham, Sm H)||Roberts, Wyn (Conway)|
|Bishop, Rt Hon Edward||Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk)||Rodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks)|
|Blaker, Peter||Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)||Rodgers, Rt Hon William (Stockton)|
|Booth, Rt Hon Albert||Hunter, Adam||Roper, John|
|Boothroyd, Miss Betty||Hurd, Douglas||Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)|
|Bottomley, Rt Hon Arthur||Irving, Rt Hon S. (Dartford)||Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)|
|Bottomley, Peter||Janner, Greville||Rowlands, Ted|
|Bray, Dr Jeremy||John, Brynmor||Royle, Sir Anthony|
|Brooke, Peter||Johnson, James (Hull West)||Sainsbury, Tim|
|Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)||Johnson, Smith, G. (E Grinstead)||Sandelson, Neville|
|Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W)||Jones, Alec (Rhondda)||Scott-Hopkins, James|
|Brown, Ronald (Hackney S)||Jones, Barry (East Flint)||Sever, John|
|Butler, Adam (Bosworth)||Jones, Dan (Burnley)||Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)|
|Callaghan, Rt Hon J. (Cardiff SE)||Jopling, Michael||Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert|
|Carter, Ray||Judd, Frank||Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)|
|Cartwright, John||Kaufman, Gerald||Sims, Roger|
|Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol S)||Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine||Sinclair, Sir George|
|Coleman, Donald||Knox, David||Smith, John (N Lanarkshire)|
|Corrie, John||Lamborn, Harry||Snape, Peter|
|Crawshaw, Richard||Le Marchant, Spencer||Spicer, Jim (W Dorset)|
|Cunningham, Dr J. (Whiteh)||Lester, Jim (Beeston)||Steel, Rt Hon David|
|Davidson, Arthur||Luard, Evan||Stewart, Rt Hon M. (Fulham)|
|Davies, Rt Hon J. (Knutsford)||Lyons, Edward (Bradford W)||Stott, Roger|
|Davis, Clinton (Hackney C)||Mabon, Rt Hon Dr J. Dickson||Stradling Thomas, J.|
|Dell, Rt Hon Edmund||McElhone, Frank||Strang, Gavin|
|Dodsworth, Geoffrey||Macfarlane, Neil||Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley|
|Dormand, J. D.||MacFarquhar, Roderick||Thomas, Mike (Newcastle E)|
|Douglas-Mann, Bruce||MacGregor, John||Thorpe, Rt Hon Jeremy (N Devon)|
|Dunn, James, A.||MacKenzie, Rt Hon Gregor||Tinn, James|
|Dunnett, Jack||Maclennan, Robert||Tomlinson, John|
|Dykes, Hugh||Marks, Kenneth||Urwin, T. W.|
|Ellis, Tom (Wrexham)||Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)||Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.|
|English, Michael||Mayhew, Partrick||Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)|
|Ennals, Rt Hon David||Meyer, Sir Anthony||Wainwright, Richard (Colne V)|
|Faulds, Andrew||Millan, Rt Hon Bruce||Walker, Harold (Doncaster)|
|Fitch, Alan (Wigan)||Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)||Walker-Smith, Rt Hon Sir Derek|
|Foot, Rt Hon Michael||Mills, Peter||Ward, Michael|
|Freud, Clement||Morrison, Charles (Devizes)||Watkinson, John|
|George, Bruce||Moyle, Roland||Weatherill, Bernard|
|Glyn, Dr Alan||Mulley, Rt Hon Frederick||Whitehead, Phillip|
|Golding, John||Murray, Rt Hon Ronald King||Whitlock, William|
|Goodhart, Philip||Newton, Tony||Wiggin, Jerry|
|Graham, Ted||Normanton, Tom||Williams, Rt Hon Shirley (Hertford)|
|Grant, John (Islington C)||Ogden, Eric||Wrigglesworth, Ian|
|Hamilton, James (Bothwell)||Osborn, John|
|Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife)||Owen, Rt Hon Dr David||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Hampson, Dr Keith||Palmer, Arthur||Mr. Joseph Harper and|
|Hardy, Peter||Pendry, Tom||Mr. Alf Bates.|
|Harrison, Rt Hon Walter||Price, William (Rugby)|
|Aitken, Jonathan||Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)||Gow, Ian (Eastbourne)|
|Biffen, John||Dunlop, John||Heffer, Eric S.|
|Bradford, Rev Robert||Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun)||Jay, Rt Hon Douglas|
|Buchan, Norman||Farr, John||Lamond, James|
|Budgen, Nick||Fernyhough, Rt Hon E.||Latham, Arthur (Paddington)|
|Canavan, Dennis||Flannery, Martin||Lee, John|
|Carson, John||Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)||Litterick, Tom|
|Castle, Rt Hon Barbara||Fraser, Rt Hon H. (Stafford & St)||McCusker, H.|
|Crowther, Stan (Rotherham)||Gould, Bryan||Madden, Max|
|Marten, Neil||Roberts Gwilym (Cannock)||Wigley, Dafydd|
|Maynard, Miss Joan||Ross, William, (Londonderry)||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Mendelson, John||Skinner, Dennis||Wise, Mrs Audrey|
|Mikardo, Ian||Spearing, Nigel|
|Molyneaux, James||Spriggs, Leslie||TELLETS FOR THE NOES:|
|Paisley, Rev Ian||Stoddart, David||Mr. Grorge Rodgers and|
|Powell, Rt Hon J. Enoch||Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)||Mr. Roger Moate.|
|Richardson, Miss Jo|
§ Question accordingly agreed to.
§ Bill read the Third time and passed.