HC Deb 23 May 1978 vol 950 cc1432-70

8.5 p.m.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Frank Judd)

I beg to move, That the draft European Communities (Definition of Treaties) (No. 4) Order 1978, which was laid before this House on 11th May, be approved. The schedule to the order contains the act concerning the election of representatives of the European Assembly by direct universal suffrage, taken with the decision of the Council of the European Communities of 20th September 1976 to which it is annexed. The text of the act and decision, in the form of Command Paper No. 6623, was laid before Parliament in October 1976.

If the House approves the order, the act and the decision to which it is annexed will become formally defined as a Community treaty under Section 1 of the European Communities Act. The European Communities Act gives effect to all the rights, powers, liabilities, obligations and restrictions embodied within a Community treaty. However, only Community treaties formally defined as such, under Section 1(3) of that Act, have direct effect in the United Kingdom. Without the approval of both Houses of Parliament to the act and decision listed in the schedule to the order, they would create rights and obligations at the international level, but could not, for instance, be invoked by individuals before the courts of this country.

The act has the character of an international agreement. Article 16 of the act requires that it enters into force only after notification by member States of the completion of their respective constitutional requirements for adoption of its provisions. In Britain, constitutional practice has required that we first enact the European Assembly Elections Bill, which received Royal Assent on 5th May, and then also secure Parliament's approval to the specification of the act and the Council decision of 20th September 1976, to which it is annexed as a Community treaty, before we proceed to ratification. This approval we now seek.

With your permission, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and that of the House, I shall describe briefly the contents of the act and the decision of 20th September 1976. The decision consists—

Mr. Neil Marten (Banbury)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have just been to the Vote Office to get the very document about which the Minister is speaking. The Vote Office does not have it. It is not in stock. How can we possibly debate this matter if the document is not in stock?

Mr. Judd

With respect, that is a matter not for me but for the authorities of the House. However, I point out that the document has been available. A memorandum has been available now for some days and has been before the appropriate Committees.

Mr. Douglas Jay (Battersea, North)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Surely this is a matter for my hon. Friend the Minister, because we are being asked to give legal effect to this so-called act. It is only with great difficulty—it has taken me several days to do so—that I have been able to secure the document from the Vote Office. As no hon. Member today can readily secure it, is it not part of the duty of the Government and my hon. Friend to ensure that the main document that we are discussing is available to all hon. Members?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Myer Galpern)

There is no doubt that a ruling was given in 1966 by Mr. Speaker that it was the duty of a Department to provide the list of documents relevant to the debate. May I take it that that has been done?

Mr. Judd

As I reminded the House in my opening remarks, the text of the act and decision in the form of Command Paper No. 6623, was laid before Parliament in October 1976. Therefore, it is a fact that the documents to which we are referring have been available to Parliament for a long time.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

I am sorry to interrupt my hon. Friend the Minister of State. Although he may be right that at some time the treaty, which was, I believe, negotiated by the late Mr. Anthony Crosland, was available to the House, we are told—I understand that it is so—that it is not available to the House tonight. My hon. Friend and you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, have used the phrase "relevant to the debate". I submit that, rather than being relevant to the debate, it is central to it. The order that is before us is in respect of the treaty specified in the schedule. The schedule specifies that. It does not specify Command Paper No. 6623. It might have done, but it does not. Instead, it specifies the treaty. My hon. Friend was about to describe the contents of the treaty which we are debating. Therefore, it is manifestly not a question of relevance but is a matter central to the debate, and apparently it is not available.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I have now had an opportunity of looking at the ruling given by Mr. Speaker on 21st February 1966. He said: I have decided, therefore, to accept the recommendation of the House of Commons (Services) Committee that in future a Department should supply to the Library in advance a list of all those older papers which appear to it to be relevant to a forthcoming debate. I take it that that has not been done. I shall hear what the Minister has to say about it.

Mr. Judd

With respect, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I submit that it has been done. As I reminded the House, the documents—the act and the decision—were published in the form of Command Paper No. 6623 and laid before Parliament in October 1976. An explanatory memorandum has been available for some days to right hon. and hon. Members. In the introduction to that explanatory memorandum there is a reference to Command Paper No. 6623. Therefore, I underline that the requirements have been fulfilled.

Mr. Marten

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Time and again in EEC debates—often late at night—it is found that documents have not been available because, of the incompetence of the Department concerned in failing to get them to the Vote Office, which is where they should be so that they are available to hon. Members. On such occasions the Minister has withdrawn the motion. I suggest that that is the correct procedure for him to follow on this occasion.

Mr. Jay

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. No doubt the Minister is doing his best, but he has not complied with the words that you read out. Surely, those words must be taken to mean that on the day of the debate, or at least between the time when the business was announced last week and the debate taking place today, hon. Members should be able to obtain the relevant documents. It is no answer to say that two years ago they were handed to the Library if they are not available when the debate takes place. I agree with the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) on this matter.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

In response to that point of order, perhaps I should continue to read Mr. Speaker's ruling: Members will be able to consult this list in the Library "— that is the list to which I referred— and to order from the Vote Office such papers as they require, besides, of course, any other papers which they may wish to have."—[Official Report, 21st February 1966; Vol. 725, c. 34.] That was the position when that ruling was given.

Mr. Judd


Mr. Marten

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. That is precisely what I did about five minutes ago. I went to the Vote Office and ordered the papers, but I was told "We have not got them." Previously on such occasions the Government have withdrawn the document being debated.

Mr. Jeremy Thorpe (Devon, North)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. How seriously do we take the need for research by an hon. Member who orders the papers only five minutes before the debate begins? It is outrageous and makes a farce of the whole process.

Mr. Marten

Not at all.

Mr. Judd

I express sincere regret if any right hon. or hon. Member has difficulties, five minutes before the debate begins or even when it is under way, in securing papers from the Vote Office. But the memorandum referring to the matter of debate tonight was deposited with the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments on 11th May. In that memorandum there was full reference to all the appropriate documents. Indeed, the memorandum has been made more widely available to right hon. and hon. Members since 11th May, and there has been reference in it to the appropriate documents. Therefore, if there had been difficulty and if we had been notified of any difficulty in this respect, immediate action could have been taken. With great deference to all concerned, I submit that it is not accurate to say that the documents being debated tonight have not been available to right hon. and hon. Members.

The decision consists of a preamble citing the articles of the Community's constituent treaties which give authority for direct elections and reiterating the target date of May-June 1978 as set by the European Council in Rome on 1st and 2nd December 1975 for direct elections. This is followed by short provisions concerning the publication, adoption and entry into force of the decision and its accompanying provisions.

The annexed act contains in Articles 1 to 4 the most important provisions agreed between member States concerning the elections and related matters—that is, the framework within which the national provisions adopted by member States are to operate. These provisions require elections by direct universal suffrage, set out the number of representatives from each member State, prescribe a five-year term for the Assembly and make clear that the representatives vote on an individual basis.

Article 5 provides for the possibility of a dual mandate. Articles 6 to 13 provide for disqualification, procedural and supplementary matters. Article 14 lists those articles in the constituent treaties which are to lapse with the coming into force of the agreement. There are also three brief annexes which form an integral part of the Act and a declaration by the Federal German Government concerning the application of the act to Berlin.

There have been few political issues so extensively debated in recent years as direct elections to the European Assembly. The commitment to eventual direct elections to the European Assembly on the basis of direct universal suffrage is embodied in Article 138(3) of the Treaty of Rome to which we subscribed on accession to the Community.

As the House is aware, there were several attempts prior to our accession to work out a generally acceptable system of direct elections, but they all foundered on the difficulties of devising a uniform system of election acceptable to each member State. At the December 1974 meeting of Community Heads of Government in Paris, it was agreed that a new effort should be made to achieve direct elections "as soon as possible", and, recognising the difficulty of reaching agreement on a single electoral system for the whole Community, it was subsequently accepted by both the Assembly and the Council that it would initially be necessary to allow the choice of the electoral system for the first round of direct elections to be left to each member State.

Article 7 of the act annexed to the Council decision of 20th September 1976, however, requires the directly elected European Assembly to draw up a proposal for a uniform electoral procedure, so the search for a uniform system has not been abandoned, but only postponed.

Mr. Spearing

Is it correct that, if the House gives assent to this treaty—a treaty which it has not got before it—it will be ratifying Article 7 as well as the whole treaty? Therefore, in future, will it not be said that the House of Commons and the United Kingdom committed themselves to direct elections by some uniform procedure?

Mr. Judd

We are committed eventually to working out a uniform system, but the system that we now have will be operated until that happens.

The Government participated fully in the negotiations leading up to the signature of the act annexed to the Council decision of 20th September 1976 on direct elections and during this time had frequent occasion to consult and take account of the views of both Houses of Parliament on the significant constitutional issues involved.

In February 1976 a Green Paper on direct elections was published. This was followed by debate in this House in March 1976 and the setting up of a Select Committee of the House of Commons which produced three reports, together with published evidence. The first of those reports was debated in July 1976.

Following signature of the Council act in September 1976, the Government, in April 1977, published a White Paper which was the subject of parliamentary debate. The first version of the European Assembly Elections Bill was published on 24th June 1977 and given a Second Reading in the House on 3rd July by 394 votes to 147. The Bill was reintroduced into Parliament in a slightly amended version on 9th November and was finally approved by this House on 16th February by 159 votes to 45. Following approval of the European Assembly Elections Bill on Third Reading in another place on 4th May in a form unamended from that in which it had left this House, it received Royal Assent the following day. Before we proceed to ratification it now only remains, as I stated earlier, for Parliament to agree to the specification of the act of the Council and the decision of 20th September 1976 annexed to it as a Community treaty.

The position as regards ratification of the Council act is that all member States have now done so except France and Britain. France has completed all the necessary parliamentary procedures and is in a position to do so at any time. The Council act comes into effect only after completion of ratification by all member States. Until the act is in effect, there can be no legal decision by the Community regarding the date of direct elections.

Article 10 of the act requires that the decision should be taken by the Council of Ministers acting unanimously after consulting the Assembly. The decision of the European Council meeting in Copenhagen on 7th and 8th April in favour of the dates 7th to 10th June 1979 was a political decision and it needs to be confirmed by the Council of Ministers acting in accord with the Article 10 procedure before it has legal effect.

Article 13 of the act provides the legal basis for the determination of emoluments of directly elected Members. It requires unanimous decision by the Council on the basis of a proposal from the Assembly after consulting the Commission. The Government believe that the emoluments issue must be decided before direct elections are held.

Early ratification of the Council act of 20th September 1976, which approval of this order by both Houses of Parliament will enable the Government to complete, will permit all necessary steps of implementation, such as the important determination of emoluments, to be taken at Community level in ample time before the date of direct elections next year. After the extensive public debate that there has been on direct elections in this country and in the House, early ratification of the Council act by the United Kingdom will demonstrate to our Community partners our firm commitment to holding direct elections on the dates of 7th to 10th June next year.

8.22 p.m.

Mr. Neil Marten (Banbury)

I am afraid that the order is rather unhelpfully drafted. It is unbecomingly drafted, because there is little mention in it of the direct elections. It would have been more open-minded of the Government to have said that this is the ratification of the European Assembly Elections Bill. However, I let that pass. We are getting used to obfuscation in these matters.

It is logical for people such as I to oppose this ratification, which I propose to do. All through the debates on the Bill I voted against it. One of the reasons why I voted against it was that if and when the Assembly comes about it will be toothless. The people attending it, drawing their apparently large salaries, will get extremely bored and frustrated unless they are given greater powers. The French and British Governments and Parliaments will ensure that they do not have greater powers. It will be an expensive operation. Direct elections in this country will cost about £10 million or more. I am sure that many hon. Members can think of far better ways of spending that amount of money.

My second objection is that basically, as most of those who think about these matters know, this is a large step towards a federal Europe. As I have said many times, I am utterly opposed to that. I shall not go on about that because I have expressed my views for a number of years.

When the Assembly is directly elected a great conflict will arise between that Assembly and this House. It will arise fairly smartly after the elections take place. There will also be a conflict between Members of the Assembly—the MEAs—and members of the House. For example, if one of the new Euro constituencies is basically Labour and Labour gains the seat and its Member goes to Luxembourg, to the Assembly, and if there are in that constituency one or two Conservative seats, Conservative Members of this Parliament might become angry if that Labour MEA comes freely into his constituency to preach an entirely different doctrine from that of the sitting Member of Parliament. That could cause endless trouble. The reverse could happen. It would cause considerable heartburnings among Members of this House. It would be a recipe for conflict and bitterness.

Those who vote for the order and those who voted for direct elections know what they are doing. They will not, therefore, have any right to complain when that happens. But I am sure that they will complain.

I turn to the question of pay and allowances, which the Minister mentioned, and the proposition that they should be taxed according to United Kingdom taxation. When I asked the Prime Minister on 27th April he told me that he did not know the answer himself. He turned to the Chief Secretary of the Treasury and whispered to him "What is the answer?" The Chief Secretary told him clearly that the salaries of the directly elected Members of the Assembly would be taxed at United Kingdom rates. That is right.

On another occasion I tabled a Question for Written Answer by the Prime Minister. I asked him if he will give an assurance that the final act of ratification for direct elections will not be moved by the Government until the salaries of the proposed Members of the European Assembly have been fixed. The Prime Minister replied: The legal basis for determining the salaries of Members of the directly elected European Assembly will be Article 13 of the Council act of 20th September 1976. It will not, therefore, be possible for the Council to reach a decision on the matter until the act has entered into force following ratification by all the member States."—[Official Report, 5th May 1978; Vol. 949, c. 289.] The Council will decide finally. I fear that once the Council of Ministers has agreed the salaries of the MEAs the Community will then seek to pass a regulation saying that the Community decrees that these salaries will not be taxed by national Governments. I should like an assurance from the Minister on that matter.

That is an assurance that the Minister could give now. He could simply say that in the light of what the Prime Minister said the other day, if such a proposal came forward the Government would veto it. He could make a firm commitment on behalf of the Government to that effect. He could do that without regard to the level at which the salary will be fixed. That is not relevant. I want the Government to veto any Community proposal that salaries from the Assembly will be tax free.

There is also the question of the allowances that are to be paid. I cannot understand why this matter has not been worked out before. In an article in The Economist on 13th May I read: On top of this"— that is, the salaries— all Euro MPs would get generous attendance and travel allowances, payable at the same cash rate for all nationalities. Present allowances are £54 for each day in attendance at the parliament plus 25p for every kilometre travelled from home … Last year Euro-MPs collected an average of about £21,000 each in expenses (including secretarial allowances). Euro-MPs would get facilities including an office in their own country, a secretary, a constituency agent"— needed in Britain because of our system— and a research assistant, plus generous allowances for telex, telephone and postal charges and for domestic travel.

Mr. John Roper (Farnworth)

The hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) has quoted from The Economist. I was not clear what he was quoting—whether that was an actual proposal of the Parliament, or whether it was merely supposition on the part of a journalist employed by The Economist.

Mr. Marten

The article says: An unofficial paper is now circulating in Brussels which offers an ingenious solution. It runs as follows". I was quoting from that unofficial paper circulating in Brussels. I am not saying it was a proposal, but it gives some idea of what was circulating in the minds of the people who are responsible for these matters.

The second question that I want the Minister to address his mind to is whether the very generous allowances will be treated in such a way that the Member of the European Assembly, being subject to United Kingdom tax, will have to justify that expenditure to the Inland Revenue and will be taxable on the balance that he may draw. I should like that assurance. I am sure that is a perfectly routine matter for the Inland Revenue to agree.

There is a third point which is perhaps more of a Treasury matter. If the Minister knows the answer I should be grateful if he will give it to me. What happens if, for example, a Member of the European Assembly draws his expenses or part of them in Belgian francs which he brings back to this country? If he pays his secretary here in Belgian francs and she takes the money to the bureau de change and changes it back into sterling, could she not in that way avoid income tax simply by claiming it was money she had brought into the country from abroad? That needs a bit of tightening up. The whole area of taxation needs thoroughly tightening up before we go ahead with these elections.

Finally, there is the lunacy of the location of the Assembly. I am sure that here the right hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe), who has been muttering under his hand, giving a running commentary while I have been speaking, will agree that the way in which the Assembly moves from Luxembourg to Strasbourg and from Strasbourg to Luxembourg is one of the many lunacies of the European Community. That is something which ought to be settled before we go ahead with any elections, should the House vote in favour of the order tonight. In general, the whole thing is a complete waste of resources.

8.34 p.m.

Mr. Douglas Jay (Battersea, North)

Apart from some of the general considerations that the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) put before the House, this order is another disturbing example of the profoundly unsatisfactory way in which EEC legislation is now being dealt with in this House. This order is designed to give legal force, binding in United Kingdom courts, to an agreement reached by Ministers in September 1976 and so to facilitate direct elections to the EEC Assembly. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will confirm that the legal position is that if the order is not approved by the House tonight, direct elections, in the United Kingdom, at any rate, cannot go ahead.

All that the Leader of the House did when he first announced this week's business last Thursday was to describe the order as "The European Communities (Definition of Treaties) (No. 4) Order". I do not think that that would have conveyed a very great deal of its true import to most hon. Members in the House. When one looks at the order, one sees that all that the explanatory note, so-called, tells one is that This Order declares the treaty mentioned in the Schedule to be a Community Treaty as defined in section 1(2) of the European Communities Act 1972. I do not think that that would carry many hon. Members very much further.

In fact, it is not until one turns to the Foreign Office explanatory memorandum that one discovers the reference to the White Paper about which we heard earlier tonight, setting out the actual treaty in question, and one finds out that it is all something to do with direct elections to the European Assembly. Then, when one goes to find the treaty that we are declaring to be legal in this country, one finds that it has not been readily available in the Vote Office to most hon. Members seeking to get it for several days after the announcement of the debate was made. This seems to be a very extraordinary fashion in which to ask the House to legislate.

We are then told by the explanatory memorandum—which, incidentally, the Minister did not have the face to sign himself, for some reason—that certain parts of the act or the treaty may be directly applicable, as law, in this country. But the Government are not able to tell us which parts. They are not even able to tell us which parts of the act in question will automatically become law in this country. I quote the exact words of the explanatory memorandum: it is thought that, although no undertaking can be given as to the completeness or accuracy of the list, the following Articles of the annexed Act contain or may contain directly applicable provisions. Then it proceeds to list them.

Therefore, the Minister is, in effect, telling the House "I am asking the House to enact certain legislation which is directly enforceable in the courts of the country, but I cannot actually tell you what this legislation is because I do not know, and apparently no one else does, either." That is the point in legislation, indeed, as a procedure, that we have reached in the case of EEC legislation being imposed on this country.

I really do not know what would be thought of a Minister who asked us to legislate in that way without telling us what the legislation meant, on any subject other than the EEC—on taxation or anything else that one cares to mention. But apparently certain hon. Members do not mind this complete neglect and disregard of all decent principles of legislation as long as it has some relationship to the EEC.

My hon. Friend the Minister and the hon. Member for Banbury spoke on the question of the emoluments that Members of the European Assembly are to receive. I noticed that the Minister used the word "emoluments", and not "salary". Therefore, I imagine that he also had in mind that there may be considerable expenses allowances as well as salary.

It seems to me exceedingly unsatisfactory that we are expected to approve the order without knowing what salaries or what level of expenses the Members of the Assembly will receive. After all, some of the money is British taxpayers' money, which is now being paid at the rate of nearly £700 million a year net into EEC funds. Thus, we are being asked tonight to vote money for the salaries of the Members of the Assembly without our having any idea of what the actual figures will be.

My hon. Friend the Member for Farnworth (Mr. Roper) questioned the quotation from The Economist which the hon. Member for Banbury mentioned a few minutes ago, and I shall therefore revert to precisely what The Economist said on 13th May and what the sources of its information were. Incidentally, it first stated that the salary of a German Member of Parliament, which is being cited as one criterion that one ought to use, is now, in sterling terms £22,700 a year.

The Economist then stated—this was not mere speculation by a journalist in Brussels—that a committee of the EEC Assembly itself has recommended a salary for the elected Members of the Strasbourg Assembly of £35,000 a year, subject, I presume, in the case of this country, to British income tax. But what I regard as more disturbing—this is again a statement of fact, not speculation—is that The Economist then added that on top of the salary all Euro-MPs would get generous attendance and travel allowances, payable at the same cash rate for all nationalities. Present allowances are"— this is a statement of fact— £54 for each day of attendance plus a lot more for travel.

Then The Economist went on: Last year Euro-MPs collected an average of about £21,000 each in expenses"— that is, in addition to the salary. That is what The Economist said. It was a statement of fact, and I suppose that those facts are known to the Government and, possibly, to some hon. Members. It would be interesting to be told whether that is correct. I am only asking, but is it correct that, in addition to salary, last year these Euro-Members collected an average of about £21,000 each in expenses, some, presumably, getting less and others, in that case, getting more?

We ought to be told. Is it true that that has been the situation up to now? If so, it seems to me that if we were to send Members from this country to the European Assembly on financial conditions of that kind, it would be regarded by many people here as a scandalous operation, with even an air of something pretty near corruption about it.

I do not believe that the House should become involved in any sort of slush funds—or whatever one cares to call them—of this kind. Are we to have a situation in which there will be Euro-Members of the Assembly receiving about £20,000 a year in salary, for rather fewer hours of work than we do in this place, and another £20,000 tax-free in expenses on top? It seems to me so out of relation to any sort of rate for the job or what people are paid in comparable circumstances that it would be intolerable if that were to happen.

If the Minister can give an assurance that no such figures as those will be accepted by the Government, we shall, I think, have made a little progress, but I repeat that I think it profoundly unsatisfactory that we should be asked to approve the order tonight without any of these facts or any firm information being before us—and that, in itself, in my view, is sufficient ground for hon. Members to vote against the order.

8.45 p.m.

Mr. Douglas Hurd (Mid-Oxon)

This order is a further step forward in a cause —that of holding direct elections to the European Parliament—which most of us on this side have heartily welcomed and exerted ourselves to forward—[HON. MEMBERS: "Not tonight."] I am talking of debates over three years now, during which the opinion of this party, and, indeed, of the House as a whole, has been expressed unmistakably. So this is a further step forward, but there are a number of important points raised in the Minister's speech on which he should elaborate.

The Minister mentioned ratification by others; he said that, apart from ourselves, only France still had to ratify and that that was imminent. What is the position about domestic legislation? Obviously that is also a precondition of having elections next June. Our domestic legislation has achieved Royal Assent. What is the position in the partner States?

Following our own arrangements, I understand—I should be grateful for confirmation—that the next step is that the regulations for the conduct of our elections will be published after consultation with the political parties. I understand that that consultation has not yet started, but the Minister's colleagues in the Home Office promised when we discussed the Bill that those regulations, which will be of great importance, will have to be approved by the House. Therefore, time is pressing if we are to have consultation about the regulations, publication of them and debate and approval before the Summer Recess.

We tried to incorporate in the Bill some matters which seemed important to us, such as the level of the deposit and the regulation of election expenses. The Government said that they would prefer those matters to be included in the Home Office regulations. That makes it all the more important that there should be no skimping of the procedure for discussing the regulations. I accept that this is a Home Office point, but I hope that the Minister will be able to say something about it.

The subject of salaries and allowances has dominated the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) rehearsed his strong constitutional objections to the whole idea of direct elections. He then talked about salaries and allowances. Others less fastidious than he are now concentrating their whole opposition on the question of money. This is a great pity. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I referred to others less fastidious than my hon. Friend.

One has only to be present when this matter is discussed at Prime Minister's Question Time to see that, immediately, those who oppose our membership of the EEC home in on the question of cash. I do not complain about that, but it is a pity because the politics of envy have a sufficient grasp of our life already without that.

The right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay), who is normally a careful debater, was a bit free with his talk of posible corruption and of slush funds. He was following a trend which has gone too far.

Mr. Norman Buchan (Renfrewshire, West)

Does not the hon. Gentleman simply think that this happens because that kind of money adds insult to the gross injury of this whole procedure?

Mr. Hurd

I am coming on to what I think should be done, and I suspect that the hon. Member will agree with me.

It is most important that the right response is for the House and the Government to take as severe—and, indeed, puritanical—an approach to this matter as is compatible with the proper working of the European Parliament. That is necessary because one of the most harmful things about the EEC's reputation in this country is the feeling that it is a rich and expensive gravy train. Much nonsense is talked on that subject, and it is up to this House and the Government to ensure that it is shown to be nonsense.

Mr. Jay

Is the hon. Gentleman prepared to say that he would not approve a level of, say, £20,000 in salary, plus £20,000 in tax-free expenses?

Mr. Hurd

The right hon. Gentleman must not hurry me on. I shall deal with what I mean by the severe and puritanical approach which I think is necessary.

On the subject of procedure, when will the Council of Ministers take this decision, and in what circumstances? The Minister said that it would be dealt with on a proposal by the European Assembly. But what happens if the present European Parliament makes no such proposal? There has been a working party on the subject, but I understand that it is a long way from making a definite proposal, and, indeed, may never do so.

What, then, is the procedural position? Is the Council of Ministers prepared to tackle this matter on its own? It seems to me, and, indeed, to most of us, that the sooner the Council tackles the matter, the better. The situation should not be allowed to drag on. It should be brought before the Council of Ministers at an early opportunity. If there are procedural hang-ups or if everybody waits for everybody else, as sometimes happens in these matters, Her Majesty's Government should ensure that discussion is started in the Council of Ministers and that a decision is taken as soon as possible.

Personally, I believe that the case for a common salary for Members of the European Parliament is overwhelming and that it would be wrong to pay different people different rates for doing the same job in the European Parliament. But I think it is possible to use that argument in terms of common purchasing power rather than in terms of common cash.

The Commission in handling its own employees follows exactly this principle. It applies what is known in the jargon as the corrective coefficient. That means that the salary of a Community employee is related to the cost of living in the country where he actually works. If this is applied to a British Member of the European Parliament, it would mean that he would be given about half the salary of his German equivalent because it would be deemed that the British Member would be living in this country where the cost of living is correspondingly lower than in Germany. That is a principle that is already adopted and accepted in terms of employees of the Commission. In view of the need for a severe approach, it is well worth considering whether this is the right principle to be applied by the Council of Ministers to the salaries of Members of the European Parliament.

Mr. Sydney Bidwell (Ealing, Southall)

Surely, in reality the Member would be spending part of his life in Europe and part of his life back home. He may leave his family in this country or move his family out of this country. Therefore, there is no comparison between his position and that of employees who are domiciled in one country and who spend their entire time there.

Mr. Hurd

That depends on how they organise their lives. There might need to be adaptations. This principle, which is helpful and useful and is already applied in the Community, could be of assistance in deciding this matter.

I now wish to deal with the subject of taxation. Mention has been made of competence. There has been discussion in the Press on this point, and the Minister should clear it up. Is it the Government's view, after taking legal advice, that the subject of taxation of British Members of the European Parliament is within the direct control of Her Majesty's Government and of this House?

The Government in recent months have made a number of slightly ambiguous remarks on the subject of taxation. Ministers have sometimes spoken of taxation under United Kingdom rates. They have sometimes talked of taxation under United Kingdom rules. I am not a tax expert, but there is a significant difference between the two. This concerns the point raised by the hon. Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr. Bidwell).

As I understand it, under the tax rules the question would then arise whether Members of the European Parliament were deemed to be resident in this country or overseas. It seems to me that it should be established as a principle, and I hope that the Minister will agree, that British Members of the European Parliament should in principle be taxed at the same rates as those they represent. That is a principle of great importance politically for the success of this experiment in direct elections. Despite the statements that have been made, this whole situation is still somewhat ambiguous and I hope that the Minister will clear it up.

Then there is the question of allowances. If all that I have said about salary and taxation is accepted, it is clear that in these circumstances salary and taxation so defined would not be enough to cover all the necessary expenses. Nevertheless, it must be right to apply the same basic principle again that allowances should be strictly related to necessary expenditure actually incurred.

We in this House are not in a very strong position—I rather glide over this point—to preach at others about control of expenditure actually incurred by Members of Parliament. Nevertheless, I think that this is a right principle, and it may be that if they work out proper procedures for the control of expenditure actually incurred other people will be able to give us a lesson in the matter.

I ask the Minister to expand a little on his reference to a common electoral system for later rounds of elections to the European Parliament. This is a very important matter. We have not really begun to discuss it and it is natural that we should not do so at this stage. Nevertheless, when does the Minister foresee discussion of the subject beginning and in what forum? Is this something that the directly elected European Parliament will be expected to start, or is it something that the Council of Ministers will start discussing off its own bat? We need to know something of the time scale. These are early days, but we should have an assurance that no proposals or position will be taken by the Government on this very important point of a possible future common system until this House has had an opportunity to debate the matter further.

Mr. Max Madden (Sowerby)

What is the hon. Gentleman's attitude to the principle of duel membership of this House and the European Assembly? If he supports dual membership, would he believe it right for any candidates in a forthcoming General Election in this country which took place before next June to declare whether they intended to stand for election to the European Assembly?

Mr. Hurd

I do not think that it is possible for anyone in this House to say that a dual mandate is impossible or out of the question. We discussed the point during the passage of the European Assembly Elections Bill. There was no disposition on the part of the House to put into the Bill a clause excluding the dual mandate by law. Nor, I would think, would any political party wish, as it were, to outlaw it.

I think that practical difficulty would arise when it came to persuading a constituency selection committee that one could do both jobs satisfactorily, and I think that that would be an almost insuperable task except perhaps in a handful of cases. The hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Madden) has pointed to one of the difficulties. That is particularly so in view of the timing at which the first direct elections are working out. It seems to me that if an hon. Member is proposing to try to persuade a selection committee that he could do both jobs, he would be well advised to let his present Westminster constituency know fairly soon that he wants to make the attempt. But that is essentially for the individual and the selection committees when they start choosing candidates for these first direct elections, presumably at the turn of the year.

In the short time that I have been here, there has not been an issue which has been debated so long and so often and, on the whole, so interestingly. We shall never reach total agreement on the points of principle. This is a further step forward. There are important practical matters which still have to be elucidated. I hope that the Minister will be able to clear up some of them when he replies and that he will let us know later about others. But the principle of the order is, in our view, welcome, because it is a further step along a road which we tread with some enthusiasm.

9.0 p.m.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

I agree with one point that the hon. Gentleman for Mid-Oxon (Mr. Hurd) has made, and that is that direct elections have been debated regularly and interestingly, but in more or less everything else I part company with him straight away.

Although the debate is ostensibly about an order—the Draft European Communities (Defintion of Treaties) (No. 4) Order 1978—it is an order which designates a treaty to which the United Kingdom may become a party. It is concerned with the way in which this House ratifies, or does not ratify, a foreign treaty.

This is, I think, the first major debate—other than a late night debate, with half a dozen people in the House—whereby the Government wish to ratify a treaty under the procedure laid down in Section 1 (3) of the European Communities Act 1972. That, I think, is very important. I am informed that, until that Act was passed, this House did not have to ratify treaties entered into by a Government. All that happened, under the Ponsonby rules, was that if the House chose to disagree with the terms of the treaty within 40 days, that treaty was not considered binding. But, since our membership of the European Economic Community, at least in relation to Community treaties, the opposite procedure has applied. In other words, we have to ratify, as part of our new written constitution, treaties entered into not by Her Majesty's Government alone but by Her Majesty's Government as part of the EEC, and that is a very different matter.

The debate tonight is about something of which we have a working knowledge—direct elections to the EEC Assembly. We have a working knowledge of it not only because of the debates to which the hon. Gentleman referred but because we have had a Bill and that Bill has now become an Act. That, I suggest, is fortuitous. Any European Communities (Definition of Treaties) Order could come before this House when there had been no general debate about the issues, when there had been no Bill, and when there might be no knowledge of the matter in question. In addition, there might also be no treaty available in the Vote Office, which is the position faced by the House tonight.

It is not just any ordinary treaty, either to trade with Israel or to give wheat aid to some South American State, which some of them have been; it is a question whether this House should ratify a foreign treaty, or a treaty which is a matter of foreign affairs from the point of view of the United Kingdom, which sets up and establishes what could be a rival Assembly. That is what tonight's debate is about, and that is the question before the House.

The treaty is not available. What a reflection on the way in which we go about these matters. But it is even worse than that, because the order before us designates the treaty, as it says in the schedule, and the schedule refers to an act concerning the election of representatives of the Assembly, and so on. It does not say, in the schedule to the order, that there has been a Command Paper 6623, which was presented to Parliament by the Secretary of State in October 1976. The order does not even mention it.

This, I think, justifies up to the hilt the sort of thing that we have been saying time and time again—that the way in which the European Communities Act works, and the way in which the Government operate, or are forced to operate, by membership of this outfit, means that this House is being asked to approve things clandestinely, without openness.

We talk about open government, but the Government cannot even present the treaty that we are supposed to be discussing. Moreover, it is a treaty which does not present direct elections as we have discussed them. As my hon. Friend the Minister of State admitted in his introduction, Articles 7 and 11 of that treaty commit the United Kingdom in principle to the eventual adoption of elections by a uniform procedure. I know that they may not come for some time, but that is what it does. If that is not federalism I do not know what is.

When speaking on this subject the Foreign Secretary said: I am well aware that in 10 years' time events may have confounded any analysis that I make. The way that Europe has evolved has been extremely hard to predict. In my view it is time that we all recognised how unreal the debate about federalism has become."—[Official Report, 20th April 1977; Vol. 930, c. 206.] My hon. Friend the Minister of State had to admit that this non-existent treaty before us tonight is committing this House to elections throughout the EEC by a uniform process. Yet the Foreign Secretary not only says that the debate on federalism has become null and void—which it has not, because it is before us tonight—he cannot even predict which way the matter will go. We all know that there are differences of view about the way in which this Assembly will operate once it becomes directly elected if, indeed, we ever get that far.

Mr. Roper

I have listened with care to what my hon. Friend has said about this dangerous new commitment that we are taking on with regard to eventual elections under a common system. Does he admit that that obligation to have elections by a common system is one that was already apparent within the Treaty of Rome, and one that we have considered for some time within this House?

Mr. Spearing

I do not agree with my hon. Friend, for the simple reason that it is not apparent. I have before me the Article 138 in question. Paragraph 3 states that The Assembly shall draw up proposals for elections by direct universal suffrage in accordance with a uniform procedure in all Member States. The Council shall, acting unanimously, lay down the appropriate provisions, which it shall recommend to Member States for adoption in accordance with their respective constitutional requirements. In other words, it can be vetoed not just by the member of the Government in the Council but by this House. That is not an obligation, because it is written in as a veto. At least it is the only veto there is, because the other vetoes are not really there, unless there is a qualified majority. That is a non-existent veto, just as we have a non-existent treaty.

I am afraid that I disagree with my hon. Friend. I believe that I am right to disagree, quite apart from the fact that in the official literature no commitment to direct elections was mentioned at all. I can find nothing in the White Paper of 1971, published by the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath), which says anything about it, either. He was the man who should know, because he believes in direct elections.

Indeed, in an intervention to the Prime Minister on 29th March 1976 I said: the choice of our own electoral procedure is pending the entry into force of a uniform electoral procedure. He replied: I know that it is in the document, and if my hon. Friend will contain himself I shall explain what has to happen. It has taken 18 years or so to reach the present stage. I do not know but I am willing to have a modest bet with my hon. Friend that he will be retired before we reach the second stage about which he is so worried, because it will demand the unanimous agreement of all the member States before they ever get there."—[Official Report, 29th March 1976; Vol. 908, c. 910.] Sir Alec Douglas-Home, when Foreign Secretary, said the very same thing to this House in respect of direct elections themselves. That was not 18 years ago; it was 10 years ago. He said that we may have to have constitutional developments. He said that the matter would have to be unanimous in the Council and that it would have to come before this House. It is before it tonight. Therefore, I say to the Prime Minister that what Sir Alec Douglas-Home said 10 years ago may well happen again in respect of direct elections by common procedure. The law is quite clearly there. I see that my hon. Friend the Member for Farnworth (Mr. Roper) agrees. He is always fair in debate, just as I try to be.

Earlier in the debate the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) raised the question whether it is proper for the debate to proceed. Here we have a very important international treaty designated by this curious kack-handed, secretive procedure, not of tabling a motion to say that the House approves the treaty, Command 6623. That would be the open way of doing it. That could have been written into the European Communities Act if the hon. Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend) wanted it. That would have been the right way to do it. Had it been there, that would have been handed out to the Vote Office and the Table would have had a copy of it for reference purposes to see that we were in order in what we were talking about. However, neither of those things has happened, formally at least. So we have not got it with us.

Mr. Speaker, your predecessor in the Chair read out the ruling of Mr. Speaker of 21st February 1966, which stated that in the event of documents not being available there would be a list available in the Library and hon. Members could find out about it. My researches in the matter are not complete. Later in the debate I may wish to raise the matter. It is of great constitutional importance. We are asked to ratify a treaty which hon. Members cannot obtain.

The Lord President may say that in this typewritten memorandum "Command 6623" appears in brackets. That may be so, but Command 6623 is not available. If my hon. Friend does not say that on principle he will not put the motion, there might be some other treaty, about which there might not be so much interest, and which might not be available either. The Government would say "Ah, but Command 6623 was not available on the night of 23rd May. What are you worrying about?" I suggest that custom, practice and precedent in these matters are all. That is why the matter should not be entirely left for the moment. When I have made more inquiries I may wish to raise something about it.

I suggest that there is a wide variety of views about the way in which the Assembly, if it is elected, will operate. Some people say that it will be only an advisory chamber. It will not be an advisory chamber, because it has already changed the nature of the budget. It may have relatively limited powers, but it was admitted in our debates on the European Communities Act that there had been a tennis match between the Council and the Assembly over the last budget and that the Assembly had rung changes. The Assembly already has the sanctions of expenditure. Therefore, it could develop in ways in which the House would not wish it to develop.

On the other hand, some hon. Gentlemen say that it will not be like that at all. They say that it will consist of a lot of people who do not want to come here or who may have come here and not wanted to continue and that it will not be very active. Some people, unkindly but not without point, have said that it will become Mr. Jenkins' poodle. There is evidence of that. Civil servants and servants of the EEC can speak in the EEC Assembly. The traditional split between the Executive and the legislature is all mixed up. That should make people pause for thought. Mr. Jenkins, speaking in the EEC Assembly on Tuesday 13th December 1977, said: May I say that one objective we have in mind —that is the Commission— is to be able to put forward proposals which will command the support of Parliament without amendments being necessary. It is nice to put up something which is within the ideas of Parliament. But does that mean to say that the Assembly has not any power?

If the Commission is to follow that line it means that the only proposals that it can put before the Council of Ministers are those which will be acceptable to this directly elected Assembly which is not supposed to have any power. Not only does it have powers over the budget in some manner or other, which is exactly the way in which this House gained its power; if Mr. Jenkins is correct, and there is no reason why he should not be—and there is no reason why another Commissioner should not follow the same policy—it will have other powers, too. Therefore, the views of the Assembly act as a constriction, as a sieve, sifting out matters which it does not like.

The Council may wish to act in all sorts of ways, but if the constriction of the Asesmbly's assent operates, the Council will never have the proposals before it on which it might be able to act. I do not say that that is what will happen, but it is clearly a strong alternative.

I come now to the effect of these possible elections, if ratification comes. We must not forget, of course, that there will be other Assemblies which have to ratify this treaty. I refer to the effect upon the parties and upon our democracy. Addressing the British Labour Club in Brussels on 6th February 1978, the Foreign Secretary, talking about the EEC debate, said: This debate has divided families in Britain and has, at times debilitated both our party and the country. I do not think that anyone would disagree with that. Whatever views we hold about the EEC, whether we are federalists, unionists, anti-EEC or whatever, we would agree about that. That is the situation without the fact of direct elections. When we come to the selection of candidates, when we come to the argument about what the Commission should be, when we get a "pro" Labour man against an "anti" Conservative man—if there are any—the cross currents can only further debilitate the traditional party structure and democratic machinery of this country.

Mr. Rooker

That is the idea.

Mr. Spearing

My hon. Friend may be right. Even if he is not right, I believe that a written constitution of the sort to which we are now binding ourselves would inevitably have that effect. Inevitably, in politics it is the unintentional and unforseen secondary effects which are the most virulent. I believe that that is true in respect of this treaty more than anything else that the House has had to debate, certainly this century.

The House may think that I am exaggerating. This is where I return to the treaty, which, alas, the House does not have before it, which my hon. Friends and I cannot consult, which the Government have not seen fit to put in the Vote Office, and which the order ratifies. The treaty is yet another addition to the written constitution of the United Kingdom. It may well be irreversible. The freedoms and the democratic processes to which we in the United Kingdom are heir and in which we are proud to participate, depend upon an unwritten, tacit agreement, upon the conventions of the constitution and ultimately upon confidence between those of differing political views—confidence in each other and in the system which we operate.

I suggest that if we ratify this treaty tonight that confidence will not exist for much longer in the same form. Inevitably this written form of constitution, the statutory elections and the statutory duties and responsibilities of those so elected, cannot fail to undermine the practice and traditions of this place and with it the freedoms and traditional democratic practices of the British people. That is why it is so ironic and so typical that when the House is asked to ratify the treaty we cannot get hold of it and hon. Members going to the Vote Office cannot get a sight of it.

Mr. Madden

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You have doubtless been told by Mr. Deputy Speaker prior to your arrival in the Chamber of the important matters which have been referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) concerning the non-availability of important documents relating to the order. You will know of the circumstances, which my hon. Friend has described at some length. I believe that these are important revelations which he has brought to the attention of the House. Surely the appropriate course of action for the Government to adopt would be to adjourn debate on the order so that the omissions of documentation can be repaired by the Government and the debate continued at another time when hon. Members are furnished with the relevant papers.

Mr. Roper

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I realise the problems that are before the House—at least, for those hon. Members who were not able to acquire a copy of the Command Paper in time for the debate by sending the appropriate document to the Vote Office and having one supplied to them.

Before giving your ruling on this matter, I ask you to remember the ruling given by Mr. Speaker King on 10th November 1965 on the question of the availability of papers. He made it quite clear that the matter of the supply of papers was not for the Chair but for the Government. Indeed, even the question of what papers were relevant was a matter not for the Chair but for the Government.

Mr. Speaker

I also have a ruling that was given by Mr. Speaker on 21st February 1966, in which he said quite clearly: I have decided, therefore to accept the recommendation of the House of Commons (Services) Committee that in future a Department should supply to the Library in advance a list of all those older papers which appear to it to be relevant to a forthcoming debate. Members will be able to consult this list in the Library and to order from the Vote Office such papers as they reqiure, besides, of course, any other papers which they may wish to have."—[Official Report. 21st February, 1966; Vol. 725, c. 34.] Perhaps the Minister would like to comment.

Mr. Judd

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. No one is more concerned than I am that the House should have every opportunity for proper scrutiny of all EEC matters. As my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing), with his passionate sincerity of commitment which nobody on either side of the House would challenge, has pointed out, this is a crucial issue.

But of course, Mr. Speaker, in the statement that you have just made you reminded the House that a list of relevant documents should be provided. The list of relevant documents has been provided in the form of the explanatory memorandum. Then, in your statement you said, Mr. Speaker, that it should be for the Member who so wished to go to the Vote Office and order or secure for himself a copy of those relevant documents which he feels he requires for the purposes of the debate.

All the documents referred to in the explanatory memorandum have been available in the past in the Vote Office. What seems to have happened is that this evening some hon. Members have found that supplies have been exhausted. If an explanatory memorandum is lodged on 11th May, as was the case in this instance, hon. Members have had ample facility to go to the Vote Office and secure the document that they want. It is not a matter of the document never having been lodged in the Vote. Office; it is simply a matter of supplies having been exhausted. If hon. Members had been to the Vote Office in sufficient time, they could have secured the relevant document. Therefore it is not in the spirit of the statement you have just made, Mr. Speaker, that we should have to take exceptional action tonight, because the document has been available in the Vote Office for two years.

Mr. Jay

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Would you be prepared to accept a motion, if I moved it, to adjourn this debate so that we can ascertain whether the Government really have—and I think they have not—complied with the ruling which you recently read out?

Mr. Speaker

In view of the ruling that was given by Mr. Speaker in 1966, I would be prepared to accept such a motion.

Mr. Jay

I beg to move, That the debate be now adjourned until such time as the relevant documents are before the House.

It seems to be perfectly clear from the statement that you have made, Mr. Speaker, that the Government are bound, when they announce the business for the coming week, to place in the Library a list of the documents which are relevant to the debate. Nobody disputes that the White Paper. Command 6623, is relevant to the debate. After all, it is the document that we are declaring to be legal in the United Kingdom. It is not merely relevant, it is essential. It is inconceivable that the debate could continue without it.

My hon. Friend the Minister of State says that, although the document was not available to any hon. Member who went to the Vote Office in the past 48 hours, at some date—I think 18 months ago—it was placed in the Library and, presumably, was available in the Vote Office. However, at some date unknown after that supplies became exhausted. Therefore, during the period since the debate was announced, which was only last Thursday, it has in practice not been available to hon. Members.

Surely it is not complying with the ruling to which you have referred, Mr. Speaker, if a Minister says "I have placed in the Library a list of the relevant documents but, unfortunately, the most relevant of them was totally unobtainable when the list was read." That does not seem to be complying with the spirit of the ruling or with the letter of the requirement.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke (Rushcliffe)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Hon. Members

No. This is a point of order.

Mr. Speaker

Order. It is not a point of order. The right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) is moving to adjourn the debate.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke

Will the right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) tell us when he applied for a copy of the relevant document, Cmnd Paper No. 6623? Will he tell us whether he has a copy of the document?

Mr. Jay

The hon. Gentleman's intervention shows that I was wrong to give way, as I was about to make those matters clear.

As soon as the announcement was made last Thursday that the debate would take place today, I went to the Vote Office and asked for the document. I was told that it was not available but that if I put in a request the Vote Office would ascertain whether it could obtain it. I continued to make requests for the document on six occasions between Thursday afternoon and today. Finally, I secured a copy today—it may have been late last night—after a good deal of persistent effort. At that stage I had a copy of the document, but many hon. Members have found it not possible to obtain a copy in the past 24 hours. I do not think that it is complying with the regulations that in order to have a copy of the most important document in the debate it is necessary to devote almost one's full time for four days to that end.

Mr. Judd

I have already made plain how seriously I and my colleagues in Government take the availability of documents. In the best possible spirit, I suggest to hon. Members that if we are to be certain in future in our consideration of EEC matters that the spirit of that which the House has laid down is being observed, a great deal of co-operation is required between the House, the authorities and the Government.

In good faith we prepared an explanatory memorandum. I listened carefully to what was said about secretiveness and the contradiction in terms of open government. When that was being said, I was reading the explanatory memorandum. Although I accept that there may be argument about whether the memorandum could have been better drafted, it is an honest attempt by the Government to fill in the background of that which is before the House.

Mr. Buchan


Mr. Judd

In the context of the explanatory memorandum, we referred to all the relevant documents. These documents had been available to the House. If the Government had received any indication that supplies had become exhausted, and if the authorities had received such information, I am sure that action could have been taken to put things right.

We have already been told by my right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay), who has associated himself with the motion, that he has been able to secure the relevant document. Therefore, it is not a matter of the document not being available. I suggest that many hon. Members who have raised this issue—I understand the spirit in which it is raised—have also been able to obtain access to the relevant document. Therefore, I feel that in the circumstances the spirit of what was laid down by the House is not being breached on this occasion. After careful consideration, I feel that I have no alternative but to oppose the motion.

9.30 p.m.

Mr. Ronald Bell (Beaconsfield)


Mr. Speaker

Order. I wonder whether the House would like to come to a quick decision on this matter. Shall I put the Question? [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes."] The Question is, That the debate be now adjourned. As many as are—

Mr. Ronald Bell

I think that there is a certain danger of these matters being passed over too lightly. That was indeed the burden of the main debate before the motion to adjourn the debate was moved. With respect to the Minister, it is no longer a point of order whether the technical requirements of the document which you read out, Mr. Speaker, have been complied with. I doubt whether they have been, because putting an explanatory memorandum in the Vote Office is not lodging a document in the Library, which is what Mr. Speaker's predecessor ruled should be done.

This is a matter of the highest importance. If the motion were to go through tonight, a considerable number of questions—I confess that I do not know which ones, because the explanatory memorandum may or may not correspond with the White Paper—will be permanently removed from the competence of Parliament. That is what we have to get clear. They become designated treaties under the European Communities Act 1972 and they become the law of the United Kingdom which we cannot thereafter repeal or alter. It is an irreversible process and it will be decided tonight.

If we pass the order, among other things we shall be committed to direct elections in future on a uniform system throughout the Community. The House will not be able to debate that matter again. Therefore, we are dealing with a matter of the highest importance.

The document containing the matters which will be removed from all future

consideration by the House is not before us. It is no use saying that if, when the business was announced, hon. Members had put in for the document they might have got copies just in time, as did the right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay).

The answer is that the nature of this business is not at all clear. I confess to having been totaly misled. It is rather fortuitous that I am here this evening. The title of the document sounded totally innocuous—European Communities (Definition of Treaties) (No. 4) Order. How was anyone to know that on an order called the "(Definition of Treaties) … Order" we were going to vote away for ever our right to consider the important matters in that treaty? Perhaps we should read through every document that is mentioned, but we do not. I put it to hon. Members—the decision lies with the House, not with the Chair—that, whatever their view of the European Communities, this is too important a matter to be rushed through without the relevant document.

Mr. Roper


Mr. Speaker

Is it the will of the House that I put the Question?

Hon Members


Question put, That the debate be now adjourned:—

The House divided: Ayes 61, Noes 119.

Division No. 224] AYES [9.34 p.m.
Aitken, Jonathan Fowler, Gerald (The Wrekin) Powell, Rt Hon J. Enoch
Atkinson, Norman Gow, Ian (Eastbourne) Price, C. (Lewisham W)
Bean, R. E. Grocott, Bruce Richardson, Miss Jo
Bell, Ronald Henderson, Douglas Robinson, Geoffrey
Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N) Hoyle, Doug (Nelson) Rodgers, George (Chorley)
Bidwell, Sydney Jay, Rt Hon Douglas Rooker, J. W.
Biffen, John Kilfedder, James Ross, William (Londonderry)
Body, Richard Lamond, James Skinner, Dennis
Buchan, Norman Latham, Michael (Melton) Spearing, Nigel
Budgen, Nick Leadbitter, Ted Spriggs, Leslie
Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P) Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough) Stewart, Rt Hon Donald
Canavan, Dennis Loyden, Eddie Thomas, Ron (Bristoll NW)
Clemitson, Ivor McDonald, Dr Oonagh Tilley, John (Lambeth, Central)
Cook, Robin F. (Edin C) Marten, Neil Torney, Tom
Craigen, Jim (Maryhill) Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Welsh, Andrew
Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun) Maynard, Miss Joan Wise, Mrs Audrey
Evans, Gwynfor (Carmarthen) Mikardo, Ian Woof, Robert
Evans, John (Newton) Mitchell, Austin
Fernyhough, Rt Hon E. Moate, Roger TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Flannery, Martin Molyneaux, James Mr. David Stoddart and
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Newens, Stanley Mr. Max Madden.
Forrester, John Noble, Mike
Armstrong, Ernest Blenkinsop, Arthur Braine, Sir Bernard
Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne) Boardman, H. Brooke, Peter
Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (Heywood) Boothroyd, Miss Betty Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)
Bates, All Bottomley, Rt Hon Arthur Brown, Ronald (Hackney S)
Cant, R. B. Janner, Greville Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Cartwright, John Jenkin, Rt Hon P. (Wanst'd & W'dt'd) Rifkind, Malcolm
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Jones, Alec (Rhondda) Roberts, Michael (Cardiff NW)
Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol S) Jones, Barry (East Flint) Rodgers, Rt Hon William (Stockton)
Cox, Thomas (Tooting) Judd, Frank Roper, John
Crawshaw, Richard King, Evelyn (South Dorset) Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Dalyell, Tam Lamborn, Harry Rowlands, Ted
Davidson, Arthur Lawson, Nigel Sainsbury, Tim
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil Lester, Jim (Beeston) Sandelson, Neville
Dewar, Donald Luce, Richard Sever, John
Dormand, J. D. Lyons, Edward (Bradford W) Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James MacGregor, John Sheldon, Robert (Ashton-u-Lyne)
Duffy, A. E. P. McGuire, Michael (Ince) Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)
Durant, Tony Maclennan, Robert Smith, John (N Lanarkshire)
Dykes, Hugh Marks, Kenneth Smith, Timothy John (Ashfield)
Eadie, Alex Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole) Stanley, John
Ewing, Harry (Stirling) Mates, Michael Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)
Ford, Ben Mawby, Ray Stewart, Rt Hon M. (Fulham)
Forman, Nigel Meyer, Sir Anthony Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley
Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John Millan, Rt Hon Bruce Thorpe, Rt Hon Jeremy (N Devon)
Golding, John Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe) Tierney, Sydney
Goodhew, Victor Morris, Rt Hon Charles R. Tinn, James
Graham, Ted Morrison, Hon Peter (Chester) Viggers, Peter
Gray, Hamish Moyle, Roland Wakeham, John
Hardy, Peter Murray, Rt Hon Ronald King Walder, David (Clitheroe)
Harper, Joseph Nelson, Anthony Walker, Rt Hon P. (Worcester)
Harrison, Rt Hon Walter Newton, Tony Weatherill, Bernard
Hart, Rt Hon Judith Normanton, Tom White, Frank R. (Bury)
Haselhurst, Alan Nott, John Whitlock, William
Hawkins, Paul Oakes, Gordon Williams, Alan Lee (Hornch'ch)
Horam, John Page, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby) Woodall, Alec
Howells, Geraint (Cardigan) Pardoe, John Wrigglesworth, Ian
Huckfield, Les Parker, John Younger, Hon George
Hunt, David (Wirral) Price, William (Rugby)
Hunter, Adam Radice, Giles TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Hurd, Douglas Rees, Peter (Dover & Deal) Mr. Peter Snape and
James, David Rhodes James, R. Mr. Jim Marshall.

Question accordingly negatived.

Original Question again proposed.

9.46 p.m.

Mr. John Biffen (Oswestry)

That interlude emphasises some of the points made by the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) in his strong protestation against a written constitution. I find myself profoundly in agreement with those remarks. They were inherently Tory remarks and a Tory analysis of our situation.

The hon. Member was quite right to remind the House that this evening's debate is part of a wider process, the process whereby this House is trying to determine what is the appropriate relationship between this country and sister European countries. That debate was not terminated by the European Communities Act, by the referendum, or by a decision to proceed with a directly elected European Assembly; it is a debate that will proceed and in which those who are determined to preserve the interests of national Parliaments as the forums for decision taking will count this evening as one of the darker hours. Even so, there will be those who will keep watch and who will record their votes, and who will hold in trust for the future the traditions of parliamentary independence that we have inherited from the past.

In doing that, we shall be none the less good Europeans—if I may use a meaningless phrase—for what we shall be seeking to do is to establish the kind of institutions which we think should have primacy within the European Community, for if the European Community is to have a chance of success, it must be an organic and evolving institution.

The hon. Member for Newham, South was quite right to warn us against the chains that are made and fashioned from seeming paper constitutions, for if we consider the paper constitution to which we are committed, the Treaty of Rome, we find that it is now observed in the breach, in the sense that the Luxembourg Accord gives the right of national veto in terms which are totally contradictory to the provisions of the treaty. Yet we know that that is the safety valve without which the Community could not proceed. It seems to me that it is likely that it will be a safety valve and a device of increasing significance as the diversity of the Community is enhanced by the prospective membership of Spain, Portugal and Greece.

In that circumstance we are now being invited to make a commitment to a directly elected European Assembly, for that is the purport of this evening's vote. A number of other significant issues, such as the remuneration of Members, have been raised, but the central issue is whether we are to make a commitment this evening. With the option before the House, in however unsatisfactory a form, shall we or shall we not consent to a directly elected European Assembly?

It seems to me that the central question is whether this is a natural and evolutionary development, likely to facilitate the happy reciprocal workings of a European Community, or whether it will add a point of developing discord. I believe that it will add a point of developing discord. I regard it as inherently artifical.

The first artificiality which strikes me is the extraordinary attempts now being made to cobble together some kind of political identity on transnational frontiers. I look, for eample, at the groupings of the Socialist parties within the Community. What sort of deliberations will take place within those groupings? I would say that the present courteous mutual debate between the Manifesto Group and the Tribune Group is as nothing to what will be the range of discord within the Socialist Group in the Europea Community.

Then I look at the Conservative Party, hawking around and trying to find allies of some sort or other—I shudder to think that they might be the Italian Christian Democrats—but, wherever I look, I ask myself the one simple central question: when it comes to the defence of exclusive fishing rights or to arguments in respect of the Milk Marketing Board, to what continental European parties do the Tories turn for sustenance and support? My bet is that they will find that most Christian Democrat parties of continental Europe will be more disposed to take an adversary role in respect of their interests as perceived by the Tories in this country, and, ironically, they will find themselves making common cause with the British Labour Party. It seemed to me that was precisely what happened over the Milk Marketing Board issue.

I say, therefore, that this is a contrivance, an artificiality. That is my first observation upon the directly elected Assembly—that it will place upon this country a dimension of total artificiality in its political relations with neighbouring European countries through some attempt to contrive a confederation which will bind a series of national political parties. I say frankly that the Community is still a sufficiently tender flower as not to be able to afford the chill winds of that kind of artificiality.

The second cause for unease concerns the competition which, I believe, will come between a Continental Assembly with a direct mandate and national Parliaments, and more particularly our House of Commons.

There has been reference to the considerable funds that will be at the disposal of European Assembly Members. I do not particularly wish to take part in that controversy. I do not believe that money will purchase loyalties. Patronage helped to contrive the Union between Ireland and Great Britain, but patronage could not survive the onslaught of the Roman Catholic Irish population throughout the nineteenth century. Neither do I believe that one can fashion some European loyalty which will override national loyalties, unless there is a popular will and desire for it.

Into this situation I see interposed the dangers of a directly elected Assembly wanting to reinforce its already established spending power. Secondly, I believe that a directly elected Assembly will wish to enter into some kind of partnership with the Commission to try to establish the fact that the Assembly and the Commission have enhanced powers, to the detriment of the Council of Ministers answering to their national Parliaments. Such a development, in the context of prospective enlargement, is foredoomed to failure.

Given that analysis, I cannot believe that it will be in the long-term interests of those who want to promote a working Community partnership that we should proceed with a directly elected European Assembly. If this House has to make the gesture, so be it: we should not be so unsure of ourselves that we shrink from making the gesture and carrying on the fight—for I believe that we do so on a far wider range of interests than are immediately represented here.

Although I have no doubt that when the vote is held this evening it will be one more that will go the Government's way, those of us who will be in the Opposition Lobby will be carrying forward the argument knowing that time is on our side—and that we will win.

9.56 p.m.

Mr. John Roper (Farnworth)

The hon. Member for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen) has been a consistent opponent of the process of European integration, so his speech can have come as no surprise to the House. But there was one part of it with which I agreed. It is, of course, not surprising that it is difficult to create transnational political parties. That process will take time. The surprising thing is that they have gone so far along the road to their creation.

Inevitably, there are many issues in the European Parliament—as there was a week or two ago over the Milk Marketing Board—in which national interests override the interests of political parties. But there are also regular occasions—this week is a good example—when party political interests clearly override divisions between Members from different countries.

I have in mind the hearings which will take place tomorrow in Brussels on human rights in Argentina, which were determined by the Political Committee of the European Parliament and which then, by some parliamentary device, were boycotted by the non-Socialist parties. Thus, the Socialist Group, including my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) will be taking an active part in those hearings.

Clearly, in such matters party divisions are far more important within the European Parliament than divisions at national level. We shall see in future a number of issue in which party interests will outrun national interests, but that process will take time. As the hon. Member for Oswestry said, it is not surprising that there is difficulty, particularly on the Conservative side, in finding a party with which they can form a group.

There have been a number of debates on this subject, and this will not be the last. As the hon. Member for Mid-Oxon (Mr. Hurd) said, we shall still have to have debates on the order laying down the details of the electoral procedures and of the boundaries, later in the year. But those debates will be matters of detail. Tonight is the last debate on the principle of direct elections.

Since I have been somewhat experienced in earlier debates, I feel that this is a useful occasion on which to start by declaring a non-interest. If one starts to discuss the salaries of Members of the European Parliament, one is frequently interrupted and asked what one's intentions are. I therefore begin by declaring a non-interest.

The hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) discussed at length the problem that might arise if a Member of the European Parliament were of a different party political complexion from a Member of this House. In rural Oxfordshire it may be unusual to have a local authority of a different political complexion from that of the Westminster Member of Parliament, but in other parts of the country we frequently have situations in which the local authority is Conservative-controlled but the local Member of Parliament happens to be Labour. We have known for some time that representatives at different levels of government—

It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.