HC Deb 15 January 1990 vol 165 cc17-9
56. Mr. Rooker

To ask the Lord President of the Council if he will bring forward proposals for an institutional link between the House and the European Parliament.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I have no plans at this stage to bring forward proposals for a formal link of this kind, but I am giving careful consideration to the Procedure Committee's important discussion in its recent report of the other possible aspects of this matter.

Mr. Rooker

Does the Leader of the House agree that Members of the European Parliament are not elected to be a mouthpiece either for this House or for the British Government? Nevertheless, because of the nature of the subjects and the interchange of legislation between the European Parliament and this House, some type of institutional connection would be valuable to all concerned, whether they be elected for the governing party or the opposition parties. At least that would save the time of the chairman of the Tory party, who last week called in dissident Tory Members of the European Parliament and threatened them with expulsion from the Tory party because they were not toeing the line in Europe. We do not want that type of confusion; people should be allowed to speak freely. We in this House should have the means of input with Members of the European Parliament when they get to grips with that end of the legislative operation.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The hon. Gentleman's case does not need to be supported by unjust accusations against my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. The Procedure Committee has made recommendations for developments in this area. In recent years there has been a steady series of changes, informal and formal, so that Members of the European Parliament increasingly attend Back-Bench meetings of both major parliamentary parties. Certainly the European Democratic Group meets regularly in the Palace of Westminster. There are a number of initiatives, including that taken by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, to inrease such informal contacts and there will be others. They all deserve to be considered sympathetically.

Mr. Stanbrook

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the cause of many of the difficulties that we have had in recent years with the European Parliament is that Members of that Parliament are in a political vacuum? That arose largely because the House agreed to the direct election of Members to the European Parliament. Would it not have been better to have had indirect elections of Members of this House who could have served in Europe by rota? All of us would have had the experience of exercising responsibility towards the European Community.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

My hon. Friend is entitled to advocate such an approach, but it is not required by or compatible with the arrangements made with the EC. Most people believe that it is difficult to combine both jobs, and one consequence of trying to maintain the dual mandate was that we moved to direct elections.

Mr. Benn

Is the Leader of the House aware that the problem derives from the fact that, under the treaty of Rome, Members of the European Parliament have no control over the legislation and, under the prerogative, the House of Commons has no control over the Ministers who go? Therefore, both the European Parliament and the House of Commons are impotent observers of decisions taken in secret by the Council of Ministers on the instructions or the advice of the Commission, which is elected by nobody but appointed by Governments.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

That is a very compact oversimplification of the position. As a result of the Single European Act among other things, Members of the European Parliament have a significant role in legislative matters coming before the European Parliament. As a result of hon. Members' continued consideration of the recommendations of the Scrutiny Committee and others, hon. Members also have a significant influence on the position adopted by Ministers in the Council of Ministers.

Mr. Dykes

The Lord President rightly says that there are growing party and personal links, but is not part of the equation missing if we do not have the institutional links suggested by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker)? We need the formal linkage of membership to, for example, a Select Committee for the Members of the European Parliament, and MEPs should have facilities such as telexes, a fax room and telephones as are provided in other national Parliaments.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I cannot comment in detail on the Select Committee's recommendations on this. However, my hon. Friend will remember that the report recently submitted by the Select Committee concluded that there were no strong arguments for recommending formal links such as he suggests. There is certainly a case for looking at the improvement of physical communications by post as well as telecommunications.