§ 8.16 p.m.
§ LORD O'HAGAN
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. Your Lordships may remember a phrase of Shakespeare's, "Uneasy lies the head that wears the Crown". I am sure your Lordships can sympathise with me to-night when I say that uneasier still lies the head that wears a hereditary coronet, when preparing a debate on Second Reading of a Representation of the People Bill. I should like to make it quite clear to your Lordships that I am aware that it is slightly incongruous for me to be introducing a Bill of this nature in your Lordships' House when it involves elections by universal suffrage of which I, of course, have no direct experience, not even having had the vote as an ordinary member of the public. But, my Lords, I bring this Bill before you to-night because this House has a fine record for pioneering and for reconnoitring new territory where legislation is needed. We have an equally workmanlike record in discussing, in a calm and dispassionate way, subjects which are in the heat of political controversy, and I feel that we have something to contribute to the debate on this subject if we can carry out our normal role of dealing with these controversial matters in a cool and reflective manner.
My Lords, before getting on to the details of the Bill I should like to say that I have the feeling (it is an impression, and it may be wrong) that throughout the democratic countries, especially those in economic difficulties, there seems to be spreading something of a petulant impatience with Government by discussion and with the traditional democratic processes. It is my intention to attempt to bolster and reinforce those democratic processes in bringing this Bill before your Lordships' House to-night. But, apart from attaching great importance to the Parliamentary system, I am a convinced internationalist. At the same time as 1409 being one who has by choice turned himself primarily, even if an amateur CrossBencher, into a Parliamentarian of a sort, I am convinced that the world's problems are probably now too big for the individual nation-State to be able to protect its own people satisfactorily on its own and by itself. My Bill is an attempt to resolve these two difficult problems: the maintenance and sustenance of democratic control in a world that is growing more complex, more complicated and more inter-related.
But I am sure that bigger is not necessarily better. The more remote, the more faceless and the more complex the institutions which govern us become, the greater the need for reinforcing the links between those who govern and those who are governed; the greater the need to maintain a society based on consent, and the greater the need for the Executive to be publicly accountable. I submit this Bill to the House in the belief that democratic Parliamentary control is too important a principle to be confined to the individual nation-State. It is my view that the Common Market will not work, will not continue, will not succeed if it does not become more democratic; unless it becomes democratic I am convinced that it will not survive.
My Lords, before trying to explain briefly at this late hour the main elements in my Bill, I want to say why I am asking the House to look at this subject now when, as we all know, this time next year we may not even be Members of the Common Market. Your Lordships may wonder why I bother to keep you up so late now to discuss this topic. I have seen what has happened to our own British E.E.C. Parliamentary Scrutiny Committees, and I read one sentence from the Second Report of this House's Select Committee:Terms of reference, 1: the Committee was set up on 7th May 1974, some 17 months after the accession of the United Kingdom to the European Communities on the 1st January 1973.My Lords, Parliament failed to act quickly and democratic control is too important for a second delay. That is one reason why I bring this subject before your Lordships to-night. Of course, if we leave the E.E.C. my proposals, or anything like them, are automatically extinguished. The matter will be taken care of in that way. But if 1410 we stay a Member, I suggest to the House that action along the lines of my Bill becomes urgent. I would advise the House from my researches, that within the next year or so the European Parliament, as it has styled itself, will begin to become a real Parliament. As from next year, we at Strasbourg will have the right to reject and alter about one-twentieth of the total budget of the E.E.C., the budget which comes mostly from the pockets of the taxpayers of the Member States of the Community. That budget last year was about £2,000 million.
My Lords, apart from other powers which are already in the pipeline, the European Parliament will be able to cut off the funds which provide the administration of the Council of Ministers. It already has the power to sack the Commission, a power which by itself is a blunt and useless rapier, but which, linked to the new budgetary powers. becomes part of a pair of very powerful Parliamentary pincers. An assembly with this sort of muscle and claws is already on the way to being a real Parliament and with that sort of budgetary grip legislative influence is within its grasp and only around the corner. I suggest to the House that its Members should be able to devote themselves properly to the use of those powers, and should be accountable to the electors whose interests they represent at the European level of democratic control.
My Lords, I turn to the provisions of the Bill. Your Lordships may have seen a Written Answer to a Question of mine on April 4. I shall read it, because it provides the background to the Bill and sets it in its constitutional framework. The Answer that I received was the green light for my preparing the Bill. I asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether it is permissible under the Treaty of Rome, for a Member State of the E.E.C. to decide unilaterally to introduce a system of direct election to the European Parliament.The noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, answered:Article 138 of the E.E.C. Treaty provides that the Assembly shall consist of delegates who shall be designated by national Parliaments from among their members. A Member State deciding to introduce a system of direct election unilaterally would have to comply with that."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4/4/74; col. 1123.]1411 He went on to say that any specific proposal would be judged on compatibility with the Treaty by the European Court of Justice. That was the constitutional position as explained to me by the Government. I then began to prepare my Bill. I should perhaps say that other countries and Parliamentarians have tried to introduce Bills in the same unilateral manner. The present Belgian Government is supporting a system for direct elections to the European Parliament.
Going briefly through the Bill, your Lordships will see that it lays down a procedure for this country under which people would be elected by universal suffrage to serve as members of the European Parliament. Such people, together with Peers elected to serve as members of the European Parliament, would be eligible to be designated in accordance with the Community Treaties to serve as members of the European Parliament. Perhaps I should say here that your Lordships may have observed —and may have wondered at its omission—that there is no clause in my Bill which specifies how either House should designate members elected under this Bill as Members of their own Houses to be sent to the European Parliament. That is an omission but it is a deliberate one, because I felt it was wrong to introduce into a Bill something that sought to tell either House how to regulate its own procedures.
Clause 1 introduces definitions into the Bill, and that speaks for itself. Clause 2 provides for 36 combined constituencies, each returning one United Kingdom member. Why is it 36? In our Treaty of Accession we accepted what was written into the Treaty of Rome concerning the numbers which are representative of the European Parliament. My Bill aims to work within the Treaty, not to amend it; therefore, whether I like it or not, there are 36 members that we can send.
We have just under 40 million electors and, of course, in ideal circumstances one hopes that there would be more members, but that cannot be done through a Private Member's Bill of this kind. That has to be something decided at Community level. Your Lordships will see that subsection (2) of Clause 2 sets 1412 out two criteria for making up the combined constituencies. There are two aims here: to ensure that the M.P.s from the various parts of the United Kingdom are fairly represented, and to include a fair representation of the regions. Subsections (3) to (8) are detailed proposals for creating combined constituencies. All I would say about them to-night is that they follow closely the procedure under the 1949 Act for determining ordinary United Kingdom constituencies.
Clause 3 provides that the date of election to the European Parliament should be at the same time as a normal British General Election. I shall come to the reason for that later, but would explain that the sort of procedure one envisages is that the elector in a polling station might be given two ballot forms instead of the normal one, and that they would be of different colours. Then, when he had marked his votes, he would place them in different ballot boxes; and from what I understand of the skill of returning officers and those who supervise elections, their competence would be well capable of dealing with such a small addition to their task. I have omitted to explain that in Clause 2 there is a proposal to set up a separate boundary commission for elections to the European Parliament, but this would be very much on the basis of the existing boundary commissions.
Coming through to Clause 3 again, we see that subsection (2) uses the same lists of electors as for national elections. Subsection (3) lays down the alternative vote principle as the system of voting in this type of election. It is easy to be rude about all systems, and I shall say something about the reasons for my hesitantly choosing this system later on. I would briefly explain that all it involves the elector in doing is marking a first and second choice on his ballot paper. He would simply write "1" and "2" against the two names on the paper. When the votes are counted, any candidate who has more than 50 per cent. of the first choice vote wins, but if there is not such a candidate then the lowest candidate is excluded and the second-choice votes of the people who voted for him are redistributed as their first choice to the other candidates. We are familiar with a variant of this system in the Northern Ireland Assembly Act, so it has a constitutional precedent in this country.
1413 Clause 4 looks more complicated than it is, and it may be that it is phrased in a rather circuitous manner. It lays down rules on disqualification for the United Kingdom membership of the European Parliament. It aims at making a clear distinction between those M.P.s who are elected primarily to serve at Westminster and those who are destined mainly for Strasbourg. Clause 5 provides that members of the European Parliament are non-voting Members of the House of Commons. This is something which is bound to touch on the deep susceptibilities of those of your Lordships who have served in another place, and I will touch on the reasons for attempting to create this curious animal a little later on. All I would say at this point is that any member of the European Parliament has, under the Treaty of Rome as it works at the moment, also to be a member of his national Parliament. Somehow, the elected members of the European Parliament have to be slotted into Westminster in some way. Whatever way is produced as a solution to the problem, will, I am sure, seem awkward and unwieldy, and perhaps quite wrong, to many Members of another place, and perhaps to your Lordships as well. Clause 6 provides for a system of setting the whole thing in motion by means of Orders in Council, while the rest of the clauses are detailed transitional provisions that provide the working mechanism for so setting it in motion.
My Lords, I thought it right to canter briefly through the provisions of the Bill, but I should like to make it clear that both I and the person who drafted the Bill, Philip Mott, formerly legal adviser to Sir Michael Palliser and his team of our representatives at Brussels, and now a Fellow of International Law at Trinity College, Cambridge, are by no means wedded to the way we have chosen to try to implement the important principle that we are seeking to carry out in the Bill. All we have tried to do is to put forward the clearest and most practical plan for electing the British people's representatives at the Strasbourg Parliament. We do not claim to have worked out the only way; we do not claim to have worked out the best system. There are plenty of other systems: there are those of Mr. Michael 1414 Stewart and the variants proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Chelwood; many other systems. I am quite aware that some clauses may attract deep, perhaps violent, criticism from your Lordships because they touch on matters of great feeling. Perhaps I could make it clear that I am completely open-minded.
§ LORD WIGG
My Lords, I am much obliged to the noble Lord for giving way, but he made one point which I think it is very important to clear up. He mentioned that his chief adviser and draftsman here was an associate of Sir Michael Palliser. Sir Michael Palliser is a civil servant. I do not know whether he is under the control of the British Government but he was at one time a member of the Foreign Service. Are we quite sure that this Bill has not been drafted, or has not been prompted, by Her Majesty's Government, and that Sir Michael Palliser, in his official capacity, has not prompted this Bill?
§ LORD O'HAGAN
My Lords, I can reassure the noble Lord absolutely unequivocally. I think it is something that I myself would never have aspired to. that I should be used by either Sir Michael Palliser or the present Government in the sort of way that the noble Lord seems to be hinting. But to make the point absolutely clear, the man to whom I referred retired from the Foreign Service to take up this position as a Don at Cambridge. I had got to know him previously, but only after his retirement. when I got the Answer from the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, did I get in touch with the gentleman to whom I have referred.
§ LORD WIGG
I am much obliged to the noble Lord. Let me assure the noble Lord that I did not intend to convey any thought of him being used, but I am suspicious of everything connected with the Common Market. It has a pretty murky background. I have studied the methods of propaganda which were employed (if I may use my phrase) to bewitch, bewilder and bemuse the British people. and I wanted to get this point absolutely clear.
§ LORD O'HAGAN
My Lords, I have tried to make it as clear as I can; and if I am a dupe, I am an innocent dupe. My Lords, let me touch on something 1415 about which the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, may also have strong views, and that is the alternative vote system. I did not pick this out as the ideal system. All I felt was that, as we were in a new situation, the reasons that apply traditionally in this country for sticking to "the first past the post" need not necessarily be the same reasons as should lead us to choose the best system of voting for this new type of representative. I wanted to ensure that in these very large constituencies there would be a chance for as many of the electors as possible to have a representative of their political framework in the European Assembly at Strabourg. That is the only practical intention behind my putting forward the alternative vote as a system to be adopted at the moment in my Bill.
Perhaps I should also say, on the question of the M.P.s without a vote, that any system will be objected to, and if I were to suggest to the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, another system might be such a one as included elected regional Peers in your Lordships' House who were then delegated to Strasbourg, it might be that such a system would attract equal wrath from the noble Lord as any other system I might put forward. So I put forward the system that I have chosen with very great deference and without claiming any monopoly of wisdom in this matter whatsoever.
My Lords, in bringing this Bill before your Lordships to-night I realise that I may be testing the temper and the tempo of this House, since I am asking your Lordships to put aside fpr a little while the very feverish mood that has now gripped the country; because I feel that the issues that lie behind this Bill, whether my Bill is any good or not, are important: that representation of the British people in the Community is something worth looking at. I ask that your Lordships should examine my Bill with calm binoculars, as a basis fcr serious discussion and as perhaps the embryo of legislation which will one day reach the Statute Book. I am not trying to tease the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, or to tease Her Majesty's Government, or to catch out the Opposition Parties and get them into some embarrassing situation in public. I am not trying to play any game of that sort, nor do I come to this House to try to do that sort of thing. My Lords, I 1416 may be misguided, but I count it as a privilege to be both a Member of your Lordships' House and a Member of the European Parliament at Strasbourg and, looking at the future of my country in the Common Market—if we stay in the Common Market—it is as a loyal Member of both Assemblies that I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord O'Hagan.)
§ 8.42 p.m.
§ LORD GLADWYN
My Lords, as your Lordships—or as many of your Lordships as are present—are perhaps aware, I withdrew the Unstarred Question which was down on the Order Paper for Answer to-day. I did so because very little interest was displayed in it and, in any case, it would probably, as we see, have come on almost in the middle of the night. It is true that it would probably have been the only occasion on which the rather great issue of Europe could have been discussed in this House in a general way before October. But I am conscious of the fact that the great majority of this House just does not want to discuss this great issue at the present time, preferring, as we have seen, a long discussion on safety belts. They would rather, if possible (and I think this is undoubtedly true), it were put into cold storage, as it were, until the pending Election, there being not much running to be made out of it from a purely Party political point of view. Nevertheless, I welcome very much the opportunity provided by the introduction of the Bill by the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, to say a few words—and I assure your Lordships that I shall be very brief—not only on the Bill itself but also, with your Lordships' leave, cn the background against which it is presented.
The background to the Bill is surely this. The Ministers, by unanimous vote, have recently decided—and I stand to be corrected by the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, though I hope I shall not be—in principle, that the European Parliament should be granted considerable additional powers over the Budget of the Community; in other words, in the disposal of what are now known as the Community's own resources—resources propres. These, as I think the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, has said, already 1417 amount to something like £2,000 million and are likely in a year or two to amount to considerably more, depending on the extent of the amount of the levies, the amount of V.A.T. which is chargeable to the Community funds, and so on. The chief argument for so doing—for the Ministers' decision, as I understand it—was that, once these very large sums are voted, national Parliaments can have no say in regard to their disposal at all. So this action of the Ministers, from my point of view at any rate, was as welcome as it was in some ways surprising. For it shows that the Ministers are taking the European Parliament seriously and that they presumably want it to progress along the road leading to some sort of European political union.
Here a clear distinction, which I have so often urged myself in this House and elsewhere, must surely be made between the simple desire for "unity", which is all that the Foreign Secretary would agree to in the recent Ottawa communiqué, as we all know, and the positive objective of "union". If indeed the Parliament is to be given real powers it must mean that it is regarded by the Ministers, including the British Minister, as an organic part of some kind of European political structure. There can be no other rational interpretation.
So we are, in other words, even now advancing towards a European entity of some kind in which the power, the authority, the government—call it what you like—will be, to some extent at any rate, controlled by a Parliament. Though I do not suppose the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, will do so, I ask the Minister to confirm that this interpretation of the Government's recent action is correct: that they are now advancing towards some kind of European entity—I repeat, whatever you like to call it—in which the authority, the Government, whatever it may be, will be to some extent in the long run controlled by a Parliament.
Whatever the Minister may say, it can hardly be denied that it is the present intention of all the nine Governments concerned to proceed in this general direction. But that does not mean, of course, that their present proposals are inevitably going to come into force. Not at all. They must first be discussed with 1418 the President of the European Parliament. Mr. Berkhouwer and some other Members of the Bureau are going to see the Ministers, and many of the Parliamentarians want powers of the European Parliament in respect of the Budget to be even greater than those now approved in principle by the Ministers. Since, of course, Treaty amendments will be necessary, the eventually agreed project—agreed, that is to say, we hope, between the Parliament and the Ministers—will then have to be ratified by nine Parliaments, including our own.
Few people seem to think, therefore, that the European Parliament will actually enjoy powers greater than it already has—powers of control over the Community Budget—before January, 1976, when the new financial year starts in Strasbourg. But there is considerable reason to suppose that by that date, that is to say, 18 months from now, it will have such powers. And there are perhaps even stronger reasons for thinking that soon thereafter it will be granted by the Ministers even more far-reaching powers of what is called "co-decision"; that is to say, the right to approve or disapprove various actions of the Ministers such as Treaties, the nomination of Members of the Commission, and so on. All that, as the noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, I think is going to mention in his speech, is to some extent examined in the report, now on the stocks, of Mr. Peter Kirk who is the rapporteur for the Political Committee on this important subject.
Anyway, in 18 months from now, or fairly soon thereafter, the work of the Parliament will be, or it is very probable that it will be, both highly important and extensive. That cannot be denied. That being so, it will either fold up or its members will have to be pretty well full-time politicians. Certainly it could not possibly continue on the present lines. For if it did, either all the Members of the British Delegation, apart from Peers, would lose their seats at the next Election or they would be unable to fulfill their functions. Unless, therefore—and this is the conclusion I should like to put to the House—the whole idea of European union is to fade away, some form of direct election in roughly two years' time will, by that time, have become an absolute necessity.
1419 The so-called "classical" European solution of this obvious problem is, as we all know, direct election on the same day all over the Community of a European Parliament of about 500 to 600 people; over-representation of the smaller members being somehow provided for; the Commission becoming the Government of Europe, dependent on Parliament; and the Council of Ministers being transformed into a sort of Senate, or Chamber of States, each country, as in America, presumably having two Senators. I believe myself that this is no more likely to happen than the intelligent imaginings two centuries ago of the famous Abbé Siéyès, who was always inventing constitutions, as your Lordships will know. But what can be done in practice is for all the countries concerned to elect their own members—36 in our case—by means of their own choosing. And there will be different methods in each country. The only difficulty here is that, under the Treaty, they must be members of their own national Parliaments. It is on this basis, therefore, that we must inevitably start.
There is another, purely pragmatical, reason for so starting. It must be obvious that for many years it is going to be very difficult—and I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, will agree with me here—to persuade the various national Parliaments that it is in their own interest to delegate some of their powers to a democratically elected European Parliament. If, however, such a Parliament is composed of persons whom the national Parliaments could regard as actual colleagues (for example, colleagues whom they see in the tearooms, and so on) forming part of the national Parliament itself, I think there would be far less grounds for suspicion and for the feeling that the national Parliament was in some way being over-ridden by a mass of foreigners over whom they had no control. For many years, at any rate, there must be what is called in the jargon which is commonly used, "an organic link" between the European Parliament and the national Parliaments if the European Parliament is to develop at all.
Nor would it be in the least "undemocratic" if the European Parliament were formed on this basis for many years to come. The great point is that under 1420 such a system the various Oppositions in all the Parliaments would be represented in proportion to their numbers, and in the European Parliament the various Oppositions, by combining, might very well constitute a real majority. It is not impossible. In any case, under such a system the European Parliament would undoubtedly be to some extent the voice of the people and could be considered as such. And since it would have real and increasing powers it would be, and should be, a very salutary curb on the powers of the Ministers and on the necessary and inevitable bureaucracy at their immediate disposal —though it must be admitted that hitherto the bureaucracy in the shape of the Commission has, as often as not, sided with the Parliament as against the Ministers. This I know from my own personal experience.
I should like to make one final general point before I come to the specific plan put forward by the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan. But first I should like for a moment to congratulate him sincerely on his excellent speech, which I thought was full of enthusiasm, beautifully expounded and well worthy of this occasion. If the European Parliament is directly elected, if only on a national basis, and if it has real powers, surely in a few years' time it must be the body which will be primarily responsible for "screening" the European legislation at an early stage and sorting out that which has any contentious political aspect—and I mean "contentious" from the Party political point of view here in Westminster. Even now, the British delegation to the Parliament is quite well placed to perform these functions, though it could not do so completely at the moment. Its members sit on all the various Committees which deal with every aspect of the Commission's work; representatives of the Commission normally attend. The Committee meet in Brussels. You can ring up or see a Commissioner or Member of Parliament any moment of the day—and you do.
Therefore nothing which goes on in the Commission, even at an early stage, is likely to escape the eagle eye of the Members of the Westminster Parliament now active in Strasbourg. The only defect here, of course, is that there are no British Socialists present who could look 1421 at what is going on with regard to potential legislation from a British Socialist point of view, and report accordingly to their colleagues in Westminster. That is a pity; but eventually if this thing goes on at all there will be a full British Parliamentary delegation present in Strasbourg, or wherever the Parliament may have been transferred to in the interval. Indeed, now that the British Government have agreed in principle to the grant of what are after all real powers to the European Parliament, it would seem impossible, or at least highly paradoxical, for them not to nominate Labour members to the European delegation. But presumably that is something that must wait until we know the results of the next General Election.
For these reasons, it would look as if in a year or so the two Committees now engaged in screening the potential European legislation would become, by the nature of things, largely functi officio—there would not be much reason for their existence for more than two years after that. I would ask the Government to say whether they regard that as a possibility in the next few years. Surely they would not be in favour of the same work being done by British Parliamentarians in two places—or rather in three places—at one and the same time.
So we approach the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan. So far as I can see, unless I have got it wrong, this is a dressing-up in beautiful legal form (thanks to his intelligent legal friend) of the well-known "Stewart Plan", which was advanced one and a half or two years ago by Mr. Michael Stewart. I may be wrong, but I believe substantially it differs only in not arranging for representation of this House in the directly-elected Parliament which he imagines, but rather in allowing Peers themselves to stand for the European Parliament if they so desire. I have always thought that there is much to be said for this plan. But since it was originally formulated there have been, as we all know, rival plans, including a highly intelligent and very different one associated with the name (or rather the ex-name) of our new colleague. Lord Chelwood, whose maiden speech (on this subject or on others) we are all eagerly awaiting. If put into legal form, this last plan might well seem to be equally or at least as impressive as that 1422 put forward by the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan.
Nor can we ignore the fact that the whole problem of direct elections to the European Parliament has been turned over for a report by the Political Committee of the Parliament, of which I am Vice-President, to a highly intelligent and able young Dutch Socialist called Patijn, who is due to submit a draft report in the autumn for discussion by the Committee. I very much doubt therefore whether pending a study of this report—and indeed of a Report which I believe is now being drawn up by a British all-Party unofficial committee—it would be necessary for your Lordships to carry on very much further an exhaustive examination of the project of the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan. In other words I am all for the Bill having a Second Reading but I do not think one ought to let it go further than that, or devote too much time and attention to it. We ought to take note of it, put questions about it and try to improve it; but that is all. I repeat the noble Lord is to be congratulated on the enthusiasm with which he has advanced the Bill, but I can assure your Lordships that equal enthusiasm animates the members of the other bodies with which I am concerned who are at this moment poring over this admittedly very difficult question.
It is evident in any case that no serious and considered project for direct elections to the European Parliament, even on a national basis, is likely to be put forward by whatever Government are in power before, shall we say, some two years from now, when, as I said at the beginning of my remarks, we shall be obliged to do something about it. Whether it comes forward at all will depend on whether in the interval the Community folds up, which it may do, or whether the present Government decide to proceed with a Referendum on the question of continuing British membership of the Community, and what happens in that consultation with the people.
We must indeed cross these little bridges before we can discuss intelligently how best the European Parliament, if it is still to function as a democratic brake on the activities of Ministers, should best be constituted. One idea is, as your Lordships know, that it might to the 1423 extent of one half be directly elected on a European basis and one half nominated by the national Parliaments. I do not think that I would favour this solution myself; but this possibility, among others, will be examined intelligently by Mr. Patijn. The great, overwhelming issue before us to-day is how to curb inflation and thus to preserve the democratic nature of the free societies of Western Europe. It was, after all, a runaway inflation which broke the back of the so-called bourgeoisie in Germany, with subsequent vast unemployment, and it was responsible for Hitler and World War II. Mutatis mutandis, as they say, that situation might occur again. Many hold—and I certainly always have held—that the only sure way of avoiding such horrible prospects is for us to combine as closely as possible with our democratic European neighbours. That means not only monetary union, but also combining in the organisation of Western European conventional defence within the framework of the North Atlantic Alliance. This is a problem with which I am directly concerned as Rapporteur for the Political Committee of the European Parliament on defence.
But I seem to be embarking on a speech at this point that I would otherwise have delivered, so I will only end on this note. We can only hope that the Government, which from my point of view seem to have seen the light as regards the future of the European Parliament, and are apparently prepared, as Mr. Peart has shown, to argue out their case within the existing machinery of the Community, will at least do nothing to impede what I regard as a natural and beneficent process; and after the impending Election we may have a Government, whatever their precise political make-up, which will continue in the right direction. These are the general thoughts which I felt bound to bring to your Lordships' attention in your consideration of Lord O'Hagan's intelligent but, as I think, rather premature Bill.
§ 9.4 p.m.
THE EARL OF BESSBOROUGH
My Lords, I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, has moved the Second Reading of this Bill to-night, for although I cannot go all the way with 1424 him in its precise terms (nor can I agree altogether with the timing of its presentation in your Lordships' House) the time is coming when direct elections to the European Parliament or Assembly—call it what you will—will become necessary. I am all for some such Bill being discussed, not only in your Lordships' House but also in another place, although the likelihood of the present Government accepting it, or giving it sufficient time to go through either place is small. The fact that the Labour Party is not itself represented in the Parliament makes it seem unlikely the Government will be interested in the way in which Members of this Parliament should be designated or elected to a body to which they do not belong. If the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, is to be pacified, clearly the whole idea must be pie in the sky.
However, I am interested to know from the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, whether the whole question of membership of, or indeed, elections to the European Parliament is one of the questions which is being considered in connection with the overall so-called renegotiation. I think direct elections should come, if they are to come at all, at the same time as increased budgetary powers for the European Parliament. Since increased powers, as the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn has indicated, are now in sight—even if the Council's proposals do not go so far as Parliament might like—the time would certainly seem to be broadly right for both Houses to give serious thought to the whole question of direct elections in order to test the temperature of the water, and this Bill seems to me to give us an opportunity of doing this. In connection with budgetary powers, these are indeed being discussed to-day in Luxembourg by the Council of Ministers and a delegation of the Parliament. This is the very first and purely preliminary meeting—I hope not premature—now proposed under the proposed conciliation procedure which is designed to iron out differences of opinion between the Council and the Parliament.
On the details of this Bill, speaking personally, I might accept at this stage the principle of 36 United Kingdom Members—like France, Germany and Italy, this is our present allotment. I think the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, may agree, however, that ultimately the 1425 European Parliament should be a considerably larger assembly with each Member representing, perhaps, 400,000 electors instead of over a million on the electorate which voted in 1974—over a million voters in each of these groups of constituencies or combined constituencies, as the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, describes them. If we were to have something more like 400,000 electors, then that would double the number of members of the present European Parliament and make it more like the Congress, the House of Representatives, in the United States, or even, perhaps—I hope I shall not be misunderstood about this—more like the Supreme Soviet, where I think one member (and of course we know there is only one Party there) represents about 360,000 voters.
THE EARL OF BESSBOROUGH
At any rate it seems to me to be rather more important to have an electorate in each constituency somewhat smaller than you would have with only 36 United Kingdom Members of the Parliament.
Direct elections might provide a somewhat different Party group pattern than exists in national Parliaments. On the other hand, we know that national Parliaments are not always a perfect mirror of public opinion; nor, indeed, are those Member-State Governments which do not have fairly representative Coalitions. However, the main reason why I think that the present system of indirect election or designation is not now appropriate is that it means that Members of both national Houses of Parliament have to exercise this dual mandate, which, as I said in the debate on scrutiny procedures last December, is in my view an intolerable strain, certainly on Members in another place but also to a considerable extent on some of your Lordships who are trying to do this double job.
Meetings of the European Parliament have now become so frequent that it has become impossible to remain a satisfactory Member of this House. So far as I am concerned, on nearly every occasion when I was anxious to speak here on one matter or another I found that I had meetings in Brussels or some other capital of the Community. For example, I was attending meetings in Brussels all yester 1426 day; gave a reception to the President of the Commission in the evening; and should to-day have been travelling from Brussels to Luxembourg for a plenary session. But when it was suggested that I should speak here this afternoon I decided to return, and shall in consequence go off to Luxembourg first thing tomorrow morning, spending the rest of the week there—all day and maybe some of the night in committees or plenary sessions. It is a hard-working Parliament. Whether it was worth returning to your Lordships' House this evening, with such a thin House, and with clearly so little interest in these matters, I rather doubt. But on this whole question of the problem of the dual mandate I think my noble friends Lady Elles and Lord Reay, who I am glad are with us this evening, and who are both, I may say, conscientious and assiduous attenders of the European Parliament, must feel rather in the same way as I do.
Before concluding all I should like to do is to pay a particular tribute to our Leader, Mr. Peter Kirk, and his deputy, Mr. Scott Hopkins, and their colleagues in another place for their tremendous efforts which bring them sometimes near to the limits of exhaustion. I am sure that if the noble Lord, Lord Chelwood, were here—he asked me to say how much he regretted that he could not be with us this evening—he, too, would confirm that we lead a very difficult life. Having mentioned Mr. Kirk, I would also say that he has produced an important draft Report on the Powers of the European Parliament on behalf, as the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, said, of the Political Affairs Committee. I hope that noble Lords in this House—and I understand that this document is available to your Lordships—will have an opportunity of studying it. For it seems to me that the powers of the Parliament are considerably more important than the precise method of designation or election of its Members.
I would therefore support the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, in his general views, and if renegotiation is successful I would hope that a Green Paper, or maybe a White Paper. would be quickly prepared. and that in this there would be a discussion of alternative methods of electing or designating this Parliament which would certainly include all the main features of the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan. 1427 Upon so important a constitutional matter, I think that the Government and the Opposition should agree on a consensus Bill which could be put before both Houses. From this, my Lords, you will see that I certainly do not want to discourage the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan; I welcome his initiative. But I hope that this evening he Mill see fit to withdraw the Bill, which has indeed proved to be a very useful subject for discussion.
§ 9.16 p.m.
§ LORD HALE
My Lords, the House will be grateful indeed to the noble Earl who has travelled so far in these last few days, and who has been so fully occupied. I have been privately playing hell outside and talking about walking home to Dulwich and not waiting any longer, and must therefore pay him a special tribute in admiration of his obvious devotion and sincerity. We are indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, for his exposition of principles. However, I must point out that the two noble Lords to whom I have so respectfully referred opened by saying that this is not the moment to talk about that subject, and then went on to deal with it in much more detail than I had contemplated would be necessary on my part if I made some observations.
§ LORD GLADWYN
My Lords, I did not say that this is not the moment to discuss it. I said that it was obvious that noble Lords would not want to discuss it, which is a different thing.
§ LORD HALE
My Lords, I regard this as a discussion document, and I thought that it had been presented as such. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, to whom we are indebted for presenting this Bill with his customary clarity and modesty, said, as I understood him, that the Council has six alibis and that you have only to use one in the end. In the meantime, you can have a discussion about which is the most suitable alibi—either attending the funeral or going to the races—according to the composition of the jury. The noble Lord said that this is not necessarily the best plan, but that this is the plan which has been drawn up. I am bound to say—and I say this without promising that I will continue to say it indefinitely on other occasions when we discuss it—that, looking at it, I like it very much.
1428 I have said before, and I apologise for repeating myself, that when I was a member of the Council of Europe we found something there which was really inspiring. It was a Labour Party rule that members did not stop more than two years and I had two very happy years there. I was Chairman of the Human Rights Sub-Committee and rapporteur on penal reform. I visited prisons all over Europe with members of all the nationalities in Europe. I had to preside over a Committee on Human Rights which contained a Greek Monarchist and a French Socialist and I never knew which was the more Right-wing of the two. However, we had a considerable degree of amity and gradually, although we were always complaining about being frustrated through not being able to do anything, the Council of Europe had a considerable record of achievement to show for its labours.
They were done by consultation; they were done by advisement; they were done by debates; they were done by committees; they were done by Government recommendations; they were done by summoning the Council of Ministers in a manner analogous to that used by the Parliament of Europe to-day, although the Parliament of Europe at least possesses a vital delaying power which can cause it to be a nuisance to unaccommodating Ministers. Therefore, I found myself wondering how far the legislative power really would help. After all, legislative power for Parliament means re-negotiation. The word is getting rather unpopular and rather less used, but legislative power obviously means a reconstitution of the institutions as they are established at the moment.
The second point I want to make about the discussion group, as we are Members of the Common Market whether we like it or not—quite a number of us, like me, are not sure whether we like it at all; we realise that it may crash at any moment and that the crash may not at all come from any events involving us—is that it has been said that the Germans know the rules and try to observe them, that the French know the rules and do not try to observe them, and that the Italians have not yet taken the trouble to find out what the rules are. How far that is fair I do not know, but it is idle to say 1429 that a universal law is being implemented and applied. I happen to be a member of the Select Committee on the E.E.C. documents, and therefore I cannot pursue that point because we agreed, willingly and properly, that we would not pursue our discussions impinging upon the matters that we were discussing with our colleagues upstairs, and I entirely agree with that.
But we can generalise, and no one would in the least object to saying that the institutions are often admirable, that the documents are often admirable, that they are drafted with a very obvious desire to secure the maximum consensus of opinion. They do not seek to be arbitrary and they do not seek to be oppressive. But, over and about it all, there is the money problem, and mankind, which talked about its Frankenstein, has created a Frankenstein that it cannot control, does not know how to control, which threatens this country and Western Europe with ruin. I cannot find anybody who is prepared to say, "This is how we must deal with it". Indeed, so far as this country is concerned economically, almost every Chancellor has had to say for years that we do not control our own affairs; that we have to depend upon international finance; that we are bound by international prices. I have never suggested that we should consider these matters in the light of pure self-interest, but we are now reaching the stage when we have to consider very little but self-interest for the time being, because self-interest is pre-eminently necessary to our preservation.
Basically, I profoundly agree with the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, that in the end, if we tread this road, it must be the road to an increasing measure of political union and, most certainly, to a common currency and a common economic policy, and, in my view, unless that is the objective the objective is hardly worth while. Can it be achieved under present circumstances? The advantages of the common policy are very great, and as it has just occurred to me that I really should be speaking about the noble Lord's admirable Bill, I will divert my attention back to the Bill and deal with it.
It is an admirably drawn Bill and an admirably drawn discussion measure, and I really feel that we should seriously consider the advantages. After all, as we 1430 said the other week, the final legislative power in this country is in Parliament but is basically in the Cabinet. Basically, under a Party system—unless the Party system breaks down, as it has not yet done—the decisions are made by the Cabinet and the legislation is dealt with by the Cabinet. The House of Commons has only the residual power of forcing resignation upon the Government and that power, despite some recent decisions made irrelevant by the special circumstances, still subsists. That is its residual power.
A Parliament of Europe which did not have legislative power could exercise great influence. It would not be split by unnecessary divisions; it would not do the one thing that at the moment makes democracy so much a subject of re-thinking. All of us passionately believe in democracy, although we have never really had it. We have had as great a measure as anybody, but the price you pay for democracy when you are competing with dictatorships or oligarchies is the price of delay. It is the price of producing plans and seeing, under an inflationary system, the cost going up after each and every reconsideration. It is the cost of consulting with the local authority, with this, that and the other, the cost of giving righs of appeal, the cost of delay, which has probably contributed more to our public expenditure than any other single item; that, and interest rates.
Thus, I suggest that the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, has done a considerable service in presenting to us an admirably drawn Bill which deals with all the problems. Again I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, in the point he made, and, in fact, both noble Lords made the point about the difficulty of having a Member of the House of Commons as a member of the Parliament of Europe. If we get into the full stream of the Common Market, if we settle our present problems, if a measure of renegotiation is successful, it is impossible for anyone to be effectively a member of both. I know that the one Englishman who succeeded most in impressing the Members of the Council of Europe was John Edwards, who served as President of the Council for a year or more, to everyone's satisfaction except that of his constituents who defeated him at the next election almost certainly because he had not been able to spend sufficient time in his constituency dealing with its problems. If 1431 you have elections, whether there are a million votes or 400,000 votes there may still be control by the Party system. I do not much mind if there is not. We are always hearing about a business man's Government. I have not much faith in any Government. In its battles I think this Government have done very well indeed and I am not stinting my praise or approval. As I have said time after time I still think the Government are facing problems which are virtually insoluble, and will soon be under criticism for not having achieved the impossible.
Meanwhile, Governments have deprived themselves of the right of arguing that membership ought really be for Members of Parliament or Members of either House, Peers of Parliament, because ever since 1918 Governments have had a habit of often introducing, straight into the Cabinet, men who have had no political experience, men who have never taken part in a Parliamentary debate. We have had scores of them over the years. I do not say they were outstandingly successful. One I remember particularly was Walter Monckton who won the House of Commons in five minutes by sheer charm, and kept them charmed all the time he was Minister of Labour. He achieved some astonishing successes without—as one whom I knew well enough to respect and to speak to on friendly terms—knowing much about politics even at the end. He knew how to make people love him and how to make people listen to him, and he enjoyed a degree of affection which few Ministers have ever enjoyed. As for the rest, I do not think they have been terribly outstanding, probably no better than the other Ministers. Really outstanding Ministers have been few and far between.
Therefore, what the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, does with the Bill at the end of this debate is a matter entirely for him. I would have welcomed, had there been time, a Committee discussion. I disagree with two noble Lords on one point. I think it is a good time to talk it over, cheerfully and frankly, and without being too much distressed by the later implications. I think we can say what we really think, and say that we are still prepared to look at their proposals. I hope that the Government will reply kindly and sympathetically. I am 1432 very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, for introducing this debate to-day.
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ BARONESS ELLES
My Lords, may I first say what a great pleasure it is to follow the noble Lord, Lord Hale, who, while not being a member of the European Parliament, nevertheless brings his experience of the Council of Europe with great feeling to our debates. He has also put forward a very fair and penetrating assessment of the attempts that the Communities are now trying to make in order to solve the very many problems which face us in the Western world. With his legal expertise, the noble Lord is obviously doing an excellent job on the Select Committee dealing with E.E.C. procedure. The House is very fortunate in having the benefit of his wisdom and experience to-night, and I know members of the European Parliament who are here will be grateful for his intervention.
I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, for producing this excellently drafted Bill for discussion tonight. There are many reasons why I particularly welcome this opportunity to discuss this Bill. First of all, I think it is a very valiant attempt to democratise a international institution. At the present day, we havea great many international institutions, both functional and multipurpose. They are always filled by delegates and not by democratically elected representatives. So far none of those international institutions which develop close contact at regional level for political, economic and commercial reasons has elected representatives. This Bill is now attempting to make a positive contribution to associate the peoples of the nine Member States, including the British, to bring them into closer contact with each other, to share common problems and to seek some common solutions.
My Lords, I welcome this Bill for another reason. In this country, we are suffering from a certain disillusionment with democracy. This was shown in our own last General Election. There is a slow evolution from a long-established two-Party system which is gradually changing into another kind of system. People are somewhat sad to see the developments that are happening all over Western Europe. There is not one Government in any of the Member States 1433 which does not now have a minority. I am not saying this by way of any criticism; this is just one of the political facts with which we are now faced. There is growing disproportion between the way electors vote and the results, and therefore between the express wishes of the people, in that one is left with minority governments because of the votes cast by electorates and the consequences of seat distribution—as, indeed, we had in our own last General Election.
I should now like to turn to one or two points in relation to the Bill before your Lordships' House. There is general agreement between all the Member States that direct elections will not be held on the same day by uniform methods for some time to come. It is inevitable that one will have to wait for some time before we reach that situation. But every Member State has been encouraged to so organise its direct elections in accordance with national legislation, or modified legislation. This Bill, which puts forward some very interesting proposals, is on the basis of what is not forbidden, while observing the only condition laid down in the Treaty of Rome—that Members of the European Parliament must be Members of their National Parliaments, and this, of course, the Bill manages to do, admirably drafted and thought out as it is.
Although elections fall within the competence of the Member States during this transitional period, there are certain common principles which were laid down in the draft Convention of 1958—a Convention which was drafted by a Working Party from the Political Committee of the day. These common principles were contained in this Convention which was, in fact, passed by the European Parliament and submitted by the Commission to the Council for a decision. I think we are still waiting for that decision. But I should just like to draw attention to the fact that some of the common principles which were stated in that document do not appear to be adhered to in this Bill. I do not say this in any spirit of criticism, but merely to point out that, excellent as the Bill is—and indeed as Lord O'Hagan himself has said—there are many alternatives to the solution of the problem of how we are to organise our direct elections.
I think, in particular, of one point; the question of the date on which the 1434 election is to be held. Article 14 of this Convention says quite clearly that an election to the European Parliament should not be held on the same day as any other national election in the Member States; whereas Clause 3, if I read it correctly, states that the election to the European Parliament should be held on the same day as a General Election throughout the United Kingdom. I can see a great many reasons why it is not at all a good idea to have it on the same day as a General Election. Certainly, the first time there will be untold confusion. It will be very difficult for political Parties—and I regret, for the benefit of the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, that in his eyes it is bound to be propaganda—to put the European case to the electorate at the same time as discussing local domestic policies. Therefore, it will be very difficult for political Parties to keep these discussions clear and to present their ideas clearly and honestly to the people at one and the same time. So I think some difficulty might arise on Clause 3.
Another point in the Bill which leaves some room for doubt—and I quite understand the reasons why Lord O'Hagan has followed this line—is the consequence of having only one Member per constituency, instead of possibly having a system of multi-Member constituencies with a list from which a proportion of the candidates could be taken. I am not saying it is the best method, but it is one of the alternatives which might be considered at a later stage. Thirdly, and not to over-emphasise the point, there is the question of the voting system. The Royal Commission on the Constitution made what was one of their very few unanimous recommendations, which was contained in paragraph 788 of the Report. They suggested that the single transferable vote was the one most likely to give Parties representation in proportion to their support in the regions. This may also be true if you use this system on a larger scale.
I am not sufficiently expert in this form of science to give any sort of answer or make any sort of comment, except to say that it might be a better way of doing things than using the alternative vote; the system proposed in the Bill before your Lordships' House. As I understand it, it has the advantage that no candidate who has a minority vote can be elected. 1435 Nevertheless, it has certain disadvantages. I think it leads to a much greater variety of Parties, possibly with independent candidates being elected and in the end it still means, as in our own system, that you have only one Member representing the views of an enormous constituency. On the basis of the 30 million who voted in our last General Election, it would be something like 800,000 electors per representative. Therefore, we are not necessarily getting the best way of achieving a democratic representation by the methods proposed in the Bill. It is in no way a criticism, but merely to suggest that there are other ways of looking at this problem, and the ones in his Bill, as he rightly says, may not necessarily be the right ones.
There are many considerations to be given if we have direct elections. Very close consideration must be given to the liaison that will be necessary between the European Members of Parliament and their own Back-Benchers and Ministers when speaking in the European Parliament, because although some doubt the relevance of the problems which are discussed in the European Parliament, in fact the problems we are discussing are the same problems as national ones, but viewed, some may say, through a looking glass; we are looking at them at a different level and in a different way. Nevertheless, the problems are the same, and are very real.
Despite the fact that the European Parliament has no legislative powers, let us have no doubt that our representatives, both of this House and from another place, who represent this country in the European Parliament indeed discuss very many problems of great relevance to the people of this country. If I may, without taking up too much time, I would give your Lordships a very short list of the kind of subjects that we are discussing, and the effects that the contributions of the British delegation have made to improve and amend, and at any rate put forward the views of the British people in order that their wishes, needs and demands should be met. The first is the Common Agricultural Policy, which was modified very considerably by the contributions made by your representatives in the European Parliament debate, so much so that Commissioner Lardinois was moved to reconsider the whole system 1436 of the Common Agricultural Policy and made proposals to the Council which would save the agricultural fund £400 million annually up to 1978. I think everybody will agree that that was some achievement.
Others of our Members proposed methods to have a public accounts system to control the expenditure. This again was accepted. The sugar producing countries of the Commonwealth had renewed mandates to import their 1.4 million tons of sugar to this country during the transitional period. This was an undertaking in the treaty of Accession, and it was repeated again in the European Parliament quite recently, due, I would say, entirely to the efforts of one of our Members and the support he got from his British colleagues.
We have been discussing continually—and here I would welcome members from the trade unions to help in our deliberations—for the last few years worker participation, mass dismissals, supervisory boards, and only recently passed a resolution for the 40 hour week and four-week holiday for all workers throughout the Community. We have been discussing the application of the European Social Fund, which is going to be used partly to help the shipbuilding industry, and we alone had £24 million paid to activities in this country. Only to-day—and I end with this shopping list, so to speak, of activities that we have been embarking on in the last year—it was announced that over £500,000 is going to be paid by the E.C.S.C. under finance available under that Treaty for British research projects to study safety in the health and mining industries.
I wanted to list these merely to show that we are engaged in real problems and we try to seek solutions which are for the good of our people, and that the whole thing is not just a myth, something that happens in vacuo. There are, however, certain implications of a general nature which I should like to mention briefly. First, there will be a new responsibility for all political Parties in this country as to information, organisation, selection of candidates and the formulation of European policies. Secondly, there must be a clear defining of the responsibilities between local or regional Government, national Government and the European institutions. Thirdly, the power of the 1437 European Parliament must increase to enable its Members to exercise their democratic rights, once they are acquired, in the decision-making processes of the Community. Fourthly, the site for the European Parliament must be fixed eventually, because although it has been mentioned that the dual mandate will no longer exist if we have direct elections, it must be made perfectly clear that one of the main problems will still exist for members of the European Parliament.
At present, the continual moving from Brussels, Strasbourg and Luxembourg doubles the work and expense, and also halves the time of the members. Being directly elected will still entail this travel, whether or not you have a mandate in your own House. Indeed, you will have to go to your enormous constituencies at the week-ends, or whenever it is, in order to explain your European policies to your constituents. At the moment, Members of the other House go to their own constituencies at least every weekend to keep in contact. But the problem of travel is not removed by having direct elections. Like my noble friend Lord Bessborough, we are all engaged in travelling the whole time; and for the Record, and I know my record is no better and no worse than that of anybody else who serves in the European Parliament, in the last five months 52 days have been spent on the Continent. involving 38 flights, each flight entailing four or four-and-a-half days in daylight, travelling in coaches or cars to the airport, hanging around for tickets, going through the passport control, having luggage searched every time by the Customs officials, waiting for planes, hanging around in planes because they take-off late, and so on and so forth.
If anything positive were to come out of this debate it would be a request to the right honourable and noble Lord opposite that he should see whether something could be done to enable those Members who serve as delegates to the European Parliament to have some degree of immunity and speed in order to pass all these tiresome formalities to which we are subjected; and it is not only for ourselves that I ask it, my Lords, it is also for our fellow Members who will be coming from the Benches opposite in due course.
1438 Coming back to the immediate effects of the Bill before your Lordships' House, we have to remember that the European Parliament is a unique institution. It is the only one in which Members from the nine Member States have any opportunity to express the voices of the public opinion of all the peoples in the Communities. It therefore deserves the consideration of your Lordships as to how to make this unique institution as democratic as possible. If we say in this House, and in the country, that we believe in Parliamentary democracy, it is up to us to support the Bill before your Lordships' House, and to give it due consideration. It may not be the right answer, but it is an answer; and I warmly thank the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, for having produced it to-night.
§ 9.48 p.m.
§ LORD WIGG
My Lords, I probably strike a discordant note, but on one point I can join with every speaker in the debate, in paying tribute to the diligence of the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, which has led to the introduction of the Bill. If he will permit me to say so, he has found the secret of being an effective Parliamentarian. What matters is not inspiration, but perspiration.
When I first became a Member of the House of Commons, in this Chamber, I quickly spotted something. There was a noble Lord opposite, the late Lord Winterton, whom I had always thought of as an object of fun, because the Press frequently treated him as such, but he was a very great Parliamentarian. I do not think that he was a man of first-class intellect, but he had gone into the House of Commons as a very young man. He came to love the place. He spent innumerable hours there, and he did what Lord O'Hagan has obviously done, and what I have tried to do in my humble way: he did his homework, and there is no substitute for that.
I wish all the speakers to-night had done their homework. Regarding the noble Baroness who has just spoken, just imagine a Labour Minister of the House of Commons coming down and giving a catalogue of all the things that had been done in the House of Commons, and then going back to his constituency, meeting his political opponents and giving a list which could be a list much more 1439 formidable than that promised by the noble Baroness. What would the answer be? In every newspaper that deigned to write about it would be the slogan that the "gentlemen in Whitehall know best". Or, again, imagine that she made an appeal to my noble friends to provide facilities or an exemption from formalities for Conservative Members of Parliament travelling abroad.
§ BARONESS ELLES
My Lords, will the noble Lord give way? It was not for Conservative Members of Parliament; it was for a delegation which will go there in future, including Labour Members of Parliament.
§ LORD WIGG
It was for Conservative Members of Parliament because Labour Members do not go, thank God! I am just putting the supposition that a Labour Minister made a concession on the same grounds, which could be done very easily, for Labour Members of Parliament. Just imagine the outcry ! Imagine the cartoons in the Daily Mail and the Daily Express, that a Labour Minister, let alone a Member of Parliament, should dare to want to travel in a first-class carriage so that he could do some work. We should be reminded about democracy.
Then the noble Earl, Lord Bess-borough, talks about representation of constituencies of 400,000 people. In answering that point may I say a word to the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, about what being a Member of Parliament really means? When you become a Member of Parliament you hardly realise it. You are there; you are a Member. Then, almost as if something has hit you, you quickly find out. Through your postbag, which will dwindle or grow according to the extent to which you do your job, you discover that you are a link between the old lady who cannot read or write, the young couple who are bewildered, the man who has gone to prison—and of course all those who go to prison are innocent; all my constituents were, anyway. They are coming to you. You are the only link betwen the small man and the big world and the resources of Parliament. It is not merely a question of representation.
The noble Baroness, Lady Elles, talks about Members of Parliament going back to their constituencies every week. Stuff 1440 and nonsense! They go back every week when they think there is going to be a General Election; but the idea that Members of Parliament go back every week and talk to other Members of Parliament about policy is absurd. They are far too busy for that. But for a Member of Parliament who is really active the House of Commons is a grinding place, and Parliamentary democracy as it functions will not function as expressed through Lord O'Hagan's Bill, complimentary as I am about it.
I turn to another point of the noble Earl, Lord Bessborough. I am surprised because obviously serving in the European Parliament, which is a stage beyond such institutions as the British Parliament, those who go there will know all about procedure; yet the noble Earl— and I do not doubt his sincerity—says that what happens to Lord O'Hagan's Bill depends upon the Government. Of course it does not. The noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, knows perfectly well—he will have done his homework—that the Rules of Order in the House of Commons limit the Peerage. That is laid down not by the Labour Government but by the House itself. That is an institution that has some Rules. You know where you stand. You are not at the beck and call of the opposite side of the House. If the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, does not get a Second Reading for his Bill by June 28 it is a dead duck. I can tell him before he starts that it is a dead duck anyway. It will not get a Second Reading in the House of Commons. It will not get there in time. Even if it did there are plenty of my friends who are waiting around the corner to cut its throat.
THE EARL OF BESSBOROUGH
My Lords, all I wanted to say to the noble Lord was that while, like the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, and the rest of your Lordships, I think this is a very well-drafted Bill, I think that on such an important constitutional matter it would be desirable to produce a consensus Bill preceded by a White Paper or a Green Paper.
§ LORD WIGG
My Lords, if there is one thing I am suspicious about it is this consensus Bill and what is called "moderate opinion". Moderate opinion simply means Tories who have not got the guts to call themselves Tories. That is moderate opinion in this country. 1441 The point I am making for Lord Bessborough's consideration is that he is wrong when he suggests—I do not suggest that he knew it; it was just ignorance on his part, being very charitable—that the future of Lord O'Hagan's Bill depends upon right honourable Members sitting on the Government Benches in another place.
§ LORD WIGG
It does not. This Bill will make no progress. If I may say so to him, I am delighted that Lord O'Hagan is serving his apprenticeship by introducing a measure as diligently, as courteously and as lucidly as he has done this one, but I am also delighted that he is not going to make any progress—and I for one will have blood on my hands because I hope I will help cut its throat. My argument is not with Lord O'Hagan. I want to hear from the Government, because there are plenty of people who are watching and who are suspicious about the Government's intentions in relation to the Common Market. I am not one of them, because some of the senior Members of the Government are very able Parliamentarians, and they can read the signs as well as I can.
Let us get one or two things clear. The Labour Party's Manifesto at the General Election was quite clear in committing the Labour Government to halt any further progress of British integration pending the outcome of renegotiations, and to a submission to the nation in an Election on a consultative referendum. If there is any doubt about this, let us remove that doubt from the minds of our own people. But it is equally important to remove it from the minds of others; and here the members who, at the country's expense, go backwards and forwards to Brussels or Luxemburg can perform, as they say, a good service, because they can try to convince their European colleagues that the British people mean business. In these matters I speak clearly for myself. At the last General Election, to the limit of my physical ability, I spoke in as many constituencies as I could, and I emphasised two key points. The first was that a Labour victory would restore to the British people the right to accept or reject the renegotiated terms of the country's membership of the Common Market; 1442 and, secondly, that a Labour victory would, if the renegotiations were judged by the people to have failed, free the Government of the day from the obligations imposed on them by the Treaty. That is what I stand for; and, as I say, I campaigned with all the diligence I could. But if there was any sign of the Government going back, even by a jot, on the clear implications—not implications; it is quite explicit—contained in the Manfesto, I for one will campaign against it with as much enthusiasm as I campaigned for it at the last General Election.
§ LORD GLADWYN
My Lords, would not the noble Lord admit that, in spite of his tremendous effort, only 37 per cent. of the electorate voted for the policy described in the Socialist Manifesto?
§ LORD GLADWYN
Would the noble Lord not admit that, in spite of his own efforts, only 37 per cent. of the electorate voted in favour of the Socialist Manifesto?
§ LORD WIGG
But the argument is not based upon the counting of heads; it is based upon how many Members there are. The claim of the Heath Government was an utterly dishonest and dishonourable claim, but he got the full-hearted consent he said he would get because he had a majority in the House of Commons. Now the argument goes against them, and we fall back. I do not expect anything better from the noble Lord than such nonsense. He has been blinded so much by his own nonsense that he has come to believe it. Therefore I regard him as an innocent and perhaps he would let me continue with my speech.
The undertakings at the General Election were perfectly clear. I want to tell noble Lords of my own experience, just as a by-the-way so that we understand where we are. I went last 1443 Wednesday night to a little place in Yorkshire mid-way between Bradford and Leeds, out in the country, a civic centre, no bus service, a hall holding 800 people. It was crowded. It was not crowded because of me. I was only one of three speakers: Mr. Enoch Powell was one and Jack Jones was the other. We certainly did not consult with each other as to what we were going to say, but we all said the same thing, that what we want, what the British people demand, is the right to exercise their sovereignty.
What I would say to the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, is this: what he is doing in his Bill is putting the roof on before he has dug the foundations. His Bill will he all right and will make sense when the British people have been consulted—not bulldozed as they were bulldozed by the Heath Government—when they have given their full-hearted consent, when they know what they are doing, and I will be as enthusiastic for their decision as I am opposed to it now. I do not want to discuss, and never have wanted to discuss, the Common Market or entering the E.E.C. in the nonsensical, farcical propaganda terms which have been put to the British people because I know full well, as any other commonsense person—I am claiming no more than that—that all the things we want from an economic point of view could be obtained inside a Free Trade Area.
§ LORD WIGG
In a moment. The noble Lord must learn a little patience and just occasionally a little Parliamentary courtesy. In a Free Trade Area: that is one. The second is this: any co-operation—and as an international Socialist I am in favour of it—could be obtained on a functional basis. You do not need the cumbersome, corrupt, amorphous, unwieldy, bureaucratic set-up that you have in Brussels in order to do all the things that you want. They can all be done except one. There is something outside that cannot be done. I watch the cloven hoof of his Lordship. Oh yes! I know about him back to the early days of NATO. I have even talked to the late General Eisenhower about what he thought about him but I will not humble the noble Lord, it would not be fair. 1444 What it is really about, and always has been—and this comes out in Mr. Heath's Godkin Lectures, what he wants and what he is not going to get—is a full economic and political union having its own independent deterrent. That is why I am opposed to it in the ultimate.
What I am saying is this. I am a democrat. I believe in my fellow countrymen. I trust my fellow countrymen. I will accept my fellow countrymen's decisions. But for me the keynote is very simple. To me, government by consent is an essential part of the democratic process and that consent must be won not by propaganda, not by false promises nor untrue assertions. That consent must be won by an honest statement of the facts. For British people can be trusted to face reality, however grim that presentation may be, but they expect their Leaders in both Government and Opposition not to be afraid to tell them the plain, unvarnished truth. They will demand the right to control their own destiny. They are going to be ruled not from Luxembourg, not from Strasbourg, not from Brussels; they are going to be ruled by a freely-elected Government, meeting here in Westminster, responsible to the people who sent them here. That is the foundation upon which the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, should build a Bill at some time in the future—and it may even be that I shall support him.
§ 10.5 p.m.
§ LORD REAY
My Lords, I should like to join with other noble Lords in paying a tribute to the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, for his skilfully-drafted Bill which has, in the form of a precise proposal, given us the opportunity to have a discussion on this matter. I think we may probably need to make up our minds quite quickly on this matter if and when the renegotiation question is successfully out of the way. I agree completely with what the noble Lord, Lord Hale, said about how apposite it is to start a discussion on this matter and I think it is entirely appropriate that we should now do so.
I believe that the demand for a dual mandate, particularly for those in another place, will surely require a step to be taken in the near future in the direction of establishing, as my noble friend Lady 1445 Elles said a single seat with directly-elected Members who have only the one mandate. I agree with my noble friend Lady Elles about the waste of time, energy and money which is involved in all the journeys that have to be made. Plainly not all of these can be removed in the future if a more efficient system is established. Nothing can alter the fact that this country will remain an island, but I think it will be possible to remove some of the inconvenience my noble friend described. Certainly there are great obstacles to be overcome before we arrive at a final system of direct elections in Europe. There will have to be increased numbers in the Parliament, based on an increased representation for the larger countries, which are at present relatively under-represented—but of course we have neither the staff nor the buildings to accommodate larger numbers.
There will need to be a uniform system of elections as provided for in the Treaty, and I am quite sure that elections would have to be independent of national elections: otherwise it will be impossible to build up stability in the voting balance within the Parliament. So therefore the question arises as to whether an interim solution is possible. I think that it may very well be and that there could be a considerable advantage in introducing some system of direct elections, not going so far as was ultimately envisaged in the Treaty, but allowing considerable discretion for variation to the Member States during this interim period to have their elections to the European Parliament at the same time as their national elections. In such a way, the principle of direct elections could be introduced and the progressive transfer of powers to the European Parliament could be made more acceptable.
However, as I understand Article 138 of the Treaty, even such an interim system with some latitude allowed to Member States, while quite compatible with the Treaty, would require unanimous recommendation of the Council. It is for that reason that unilateral action by a Member State, such as a Bill of this kind (if enacted) would entail, is only compatible with the Treaty if the principle of nomination in fact by the national Parliament is maintained at the same time. Hence, the ingenious and rather legalistic solution of nominating those Members who have 1446 already been directly elected. But I wonder whether this would really meet the legal requirement. Can delegates really be said to be directly elected if, between the moment of their election and their entitlement to assume the seats to which they have been elected, they require nomination by the national Parliament? I wonder whether this could still be called direct election? It will be interesting to have the view of the noble Lord who is winding-up from the Government Front Bench to-night. If this is not possible, it looks as if it will be impossible for a Member State acting unilaterally to introduce a system of direct election for its members. It will have to be by a uninimous decision of the Council which will presumably lay down guide lines for Member States, and the limits within which they can use their own discretion.
I should like to say something about the method of voting which the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, chose. It looks as if he tried to combine our traditional single member constituency system with some element of proportional representation. I believe that this system is called the single transferable vote, as opposed to our single non-transferable vote—the system we have at present. I am not sure whether this system is very satisfactory. I am not sure that a system which gives a value to the second choice of voters, where the least popular candidate is equal to everyone else's first choice, is really an improvement on our present first past the post system. We shall have to break further from our tradition and have multi-Member constituencies, which is something my noble friend Lady Elles touched on. I am sure that any uniform system throughout the Community will have to be on the basis of proportional representation. Proportional representation is the rule on the Continent, and experience is providing us with arguments to support their point of view rather than the reverse.
But the only satisfactory basis for proportional representation is multi-Member constituencies. I know that the argument is that this would remove the element of direct contact, the direct link, between a Member and his constituents. But it must be remembered how much larger those constituencies would have to be. A European Parliament of the Nine—and that is leaving out the possibility in 1447 the future that there might be other European countries joining the Community—with just over 500 members, which is more than 2½ times its present size, would mean an average constituency electorate of about 350,000. As the noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, pointed out, under Lord O'Hagan's Bill the average would be about a million. I am not sure whether Members would welcome, or be able to make much of, the opportunity for direct contact with a million electors, or even 350,000, particularly if their Parliamentary work were to be in Brussels. I should have thought that when you moved on to figures of that size there was no longer much to be lost by having constituencies of, say, 1½ million with five candidates, or 3 million and ten candidates. Then you would have the advantage of being able to give better and more accurate representation of the electorate's choice of Party taken as a whole.
THE EARL OF BESSBOROUGH
My Lords, will the noble Lord allow me to interrupt? I have the figures here of the average British constituency, American constituency and, indeed, Russian constituency. The average American constituency in 1962 was 465,000 voters. I think the average member of the House of Representatives would say he was able to represent them and keep in touch with his constituency. The numbers my noble friend Lord Reay has proposed would be even smaller. He suggested 350,000. I do not think that it is beyond the realm of possibility for a man to represent those numbers.
§ LORD REAY
My Lords. I am not proposing anything that I wish to be taken as a definite and final conclusion as to the system we should choose. I am introducing for discussion another possibility. What has been said about the United States may well be correct, although it is well known that they have substantial staffs to enable them to handle the communications with their constituents while they remain in Washington. I am sure we would need to be prepared for substantial public expenditure to cover this. But I still think that when you move on to constituencies of that size you are losing the great distinction between the multi-Member and the single-Member constituency, and you 1448 may not be changing things so very much from the point of view of proper representation of your constituents if you introduce multi-Member constituencies.
My Lords, I would end by saying that this Bill must plainly be seen as simply an opportunity for us to discuss a matter which is likely to become important in the future, and I understood that this is the way in which it was seen by the noble Lord who has introduced it. For my own part, I should be quite happy to support a Second Reading of this Bill in the traditional manner, but plainly it is up to the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, to decide.
§ 10.16 p.m.
§ THE PARLIAMENTARY UNDERSECRETARY OF STATE, FOREIGN AND COMMONWEALTH OFFICE (LORD GORONWY-ROBERTS)
My Lords, before I address myself to the prescribed subject of this debate; namely, the noble Lord's Bill, perhaps I may refer to the main points made by other noble Lords in the course of an extremely interesting and useful debate. The noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, raised a number of points, which however turn upon his concern that this country should as soon as possible move on to some form of constitutional union in Europe. My right honourable friends and I from this Box have repeatedly said that such a proposition must of course await for consideration the results of the extensive and fundamental renegotiation which is now proceeding.
The noble Lord particularly asked me if the lifting of certain reservations which we had means that we are moving towards such a political union. He referred to our lifting reservations on June 1, I believe, which would enable the E.E.C. to proceed with its ongoing business. We have done this in accordance with our undertaking soon after the Election that, without prejudice to the effective renegotiation of certain terms which we regard as being absolutely essential to the viability of this country, we would not do anything to hinder what is called the on-going business of the E.E.C. It is in that spirit that we co-operated by lifting these reservations. The noble Lord is entitled to interpret this as being favourable to his central and strongly held belief and hope, but I am bound to put it into perspective so far as Her Majesty's Government are concerned.
1449 The noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, in what I regarded as an extremely prescient and cogent contribution to this very important discussion, put his finger on the main point. This kind of Bill, a massive Bill with ramifications and detailed provisions, must of course be the result of considerable preliminary examination and preparation and represent a consensus approach to the provisions which we may indeed wish to introduce. Consensus is all in Bills of this kind. This is a Bill which would enable a marriage to proceed and it depends, as all marriages do, on the utmost consensus during a fairly long period of preparatory engagement and finally during the marriage itself, and certainly on the marriage settlement.
The noble Baroness, Lady Elles, in a speech which I found extremely attractive, analysed, among other things, the electoral methods, of which there are an intriguing number to hand and which will need to be compared and contrasted before finally we introduce into a Bill one preferred solution. The noble Baroness said that there are many alternatives. Of course there are, and I shall come to that point when I address myself to the Bill of the noble Lord.
The noble Lord, Lord Wigg, raised the question of the Labour Party and the Labour Government's intention to give to the people of this country "the right to accept or reject the terms as they emerge from the process of renegotiation". As my right honourable friends in the other place and here have repeatedly given, I can give a categorical assurance that in no way will this Government depart from that pledge.
The noble Lord, Lord Reay, like almost every other noble Lord who has taken part, quite rightly pointed to "the great obstacles to be overcome". They are the difficult preparations of examination and of comparison that must be carried out before, as a Parliament and a people, we can consider a properly devised and a properly comprehensive scheme for elected representation in an outside international body. The noble Lord referred also to one aspect of the Bill which I, too, found rather more unacceptable than other parts of it; namely, the suggestion that nominations should be restricted, albeit to Members of Parliament. I am not at all sure that any country which may be participating in this arrangement at 1450 a later time would find that acceptable. As an old-fashioned Liberal, if I may so describe myself for a moment, it seems to me that universal suffrage goes hand in hand with universal entitlement to he nominated to seek that suffrage and I find it a little unacceptable. Have I misunderstood the intentions of the noble Lord?
§ LORD O'HAGAN
I am afraid that I failed to explain myself when introducing the Bill or that my partner in crime failed to explain to me the Explanatory Memorandum. Certainly I should not have brought before this House a Bill which suggested that anybody should be restricted in standing for election to a European Parliament. It is not part of my intention that that should be so. I think that anybody with suitable qualifications for standing for membership of another place should be able to stand for membership of the European Parliament. That is certainly my intention, if it is not spelled out in the Bill.
§ LORD GORONWY-ROBERTS
My Lords, I am sorry if I misunderstood what the noble Lord said and, indeed, I accept what the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, says about the intentions of the Bill. It is what I would expect from him. The section which deals with this is somewhat difficult to understand, but that is not a peculiar feature of this draft. We are familiar with this difficulty of clarity of language so far as laymen are concerned in various Statutes.
§ LORD REAY
My Lords, the point I was trying to make was that it appears to be the case that if a Member State introduces unilaterally, without having the prior agreement of the Council, a system of direct election it cannot do so and stay within the Treaty unless it preserves the principle of Member States nominating the Members of the European Parliament from the membership of their own Parliament. Therefore, as I understood it, the device that the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, was proposing was that after Members, according to whatever criterion he was proposing, had been elected out of the constituencies they should be nominated by the Parliament in order to deal with this objection. I was raising doubts as to whether this would really satisfy a proper description as to what would constitute direct election.
§ LORD GORONWY-ROBERTS
My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, who has put the point with great clarity. Indeed Article 138 and the sub-Articles 1, 2 and 3 bear out what he has said explicitly. I now turn to the Bill presented by the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, and I shall deal with it as briefly as possible, the hour being so late, and indeed the debate having proceeded in a way which gave the Bill a proper hearing and an effective discussion. Like other noble Lords I wish to compliment the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, on his initiative in raising this important matter and thus enabling your Lordships to discuss the ideas which the Bill contains. The fact that the Bill is not acceptable to Her Majesty's Government, and I do not think that it is acceptable in this form to most noble Lords who have spoken in this debate, and indeed it might not prove to be practicable to be processed as a piece of legislation, does not in the least detract from the fact that hard work has clearly been put into it as a document for discussion. Indeed, as the noble Lord explained in his excellent speech, that was his intention and to-day's debate shows that he has attained his objective.
While, of course, this discussion cannot be the last word on a subject of this importance and wide-ranging complexity it is a useful part of a process of discussion which must continue for some time. Having said that, may I briefly indicate why, in our view, the Bill is not acceptable. The first reason—and here I come to the central point of the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn—is that Her Majesty's Government are seeking to renegotiate certain of the terms of British membership of the E.E.C. The outcome will be put to the British people for decision. Policy towards the European Assembly—and I would add towards the process of constitutional union—will naturally be decided in the light of that outcome. So the Bill is premature in that sense. As we see it, a Bill should be prepared and should come forward if the British people have accepted the terms of continued membership in the E.E.C.
Secondly, if and when we come to that —and we shall come to it, I repeat, if the renegotiated terms are acceptable to our people—the way to decide the method of our electoral participation will clearly not be on the basis of a Private Member's Bill.
1452 I do not intend to detain your Lordships with a detailed analysis of the Bill before us but obviously the electoral and indeed constitutional changes and innovations which would be necessary are complicated and detailed and would need considerable preparation in depth and detail. Even comparatively minor changes in our electoral laws, as noble Lords will know, while involving mere changes in boundaries of constituencies, require the most careful and detailed preparation, involving carefully drafted sections and subsections, and indeed Schedules.
Any measure dealing with the entire field like this one would need very careful and detailed preparation indeed. There would have to be examination of a mass of practical questions—the method of voting (and the debate has shown how necessary it would be to examine the whole field of alternatives in this respect), the whole question of dual membership, the question of constituency boundaries, of single member representation for rather large segments of the population, or whether, in order to overcome this, one should increase the totality of membership of the Assembly, so that in each country there would be more members available to break down the pro rata representation, although I incline to the view that the noble Earl presented, that if we come to decide this kind of point, the American example should encourage us to believe in the efficacy of quite large constituencies. But all these things need to be considered before a Bill is brought forward for consideration as a Statute.
The document before us, of course, does not do this. That was not its purpose. It fairly sets out one set of suggestions which appeal to the noble Lord and his friends who assisted him in this drafting; one set of suggestions illustrative of the way in which a direct election to an international assembly might be effected. These suggestions are eminently arguable; they are not demonstrably preferable. They should be argued over a very long period of time on the basis of the fullest possible information and expert advice and opinion, and popular opinion. Then, in a consensus Bill the preferred solutions, point by point, clause by clause, should be 1453 examined by Parliament through the successive processes of Parliamentary treatment.
If I may briefly delay the House, let us take the method of voting. This is almost the touchstone. The suggestion of the noble Lord is the alternative vote, presumably on the Australian analogy. It is one arguable suggestion. Some of us may feel that if one is venturing into the sphere of proportional representation, then the single transferable vote is obviously the right one to adopt. I see one or two noble Lords blench, but I can assure them that S.T.V. has a mathematical beauty, if not a complete utility. The noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, understands perfectly what I mean. However, these systems are arguable up to the point of presenting Parliament with a Bill. In that Bill there must be a preferred solution, as the noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, said, and this applies to the method of election and to how we vote.
Then there is reference in the Bill to a composite Boundary Commission. The noble Lord, Lord Wigg, and I were Members of another place when the Acts of 1949 and 1958, which really effected quite radical changes in the electoral law of this country, went through the other place, and through this noble House. Of course, in regard to the Boundary Commission, the four Boundary Commissions were carefully provided with detailed criteria on which they had to work from the start. This Bill inadequately mentions the criteria on which the Boundary Commissions operate, as to either the constituency, the attainment of a quota, or coming somewhere near a quota, which are laid down precisely by Parliament to the Boundary Commissions. Parliament must form a view and give clear directions to any proposed Commission.
As I have said, the Bill is unacceptable to Her Majesty's Government. I really do not think it was intended as such. The noble Lord indicated that he hoped this would be the vehicle of ideas and suggestions which could be constructively discussed. If they have been, I believe he has attained his real purpose. Our discussion to-day advances our thinking, and, in that sense, the noble Lord has indeed rendered a service. I hope that, having attained his object, he 1454 will respond to the invitations made by his noble friends, and indicate in his winding-up speech his intentions in regard to the Bill. I do not think he thinks the Bill should proceed, but the discussion should proceed, and he has signally helped to start it on its path.
§ 10.37 p.m.
§ LORD O'HAGAN
My Lords, I shall be very brief. I should like to thank everyone who has spoken in the debate for their varied contributions, which have been excellent in different ways. Whether the participants came from Dulwich, Brussels or Dudley, they all added something to the discussion to-day and I am grateful that we have had such a penetrating examination of my Bill—too penetrating in many respects, in revealing the many defects in the Bill that I have brought before the House. As to the future of the Bill, I am in the hands of the House. The noble Lord, Lord Wigg, quite rightly pointed out that the life expectancy of this Bill is very low, whatever happens to-night. The noble Lord. Lord Goronwy-Roberts, has indicated that many of its propositions were eminently argued, and that it served a useful purpose in providing a forum for discussion. As I understand the normal practice of this House on Private Members' legislation, we often do not have a vote on Second Reading. If everyone in your Lordships' House felt now that we should proceed with this Bill and continue the useful process of discussion on this subject, then I would not seek leave to withdraw the Bill.
I should not like to make this evening less constructive at the end than it has been through the day, by introducing a contemptuous note at the conclusion of our proceedings. I should like to catch the feeling of the House as to whether, as its head is on the chopping block with the henchmen of the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, waiting in another place, it really is incumbent on me to withdraw it now, or whether, in the sense that it has provided a useful form of discussion pending negotiation, it might be useful to keep it on the stocks in this House and let it rumble through, because people can always amend it and cut it to pieces on Committee. If everyone feels, bearing in mind it has a very tentative future life in another place, that it might be a good idea to allow Private Members' 1455 legislation, as is usually done, to ramble through Second Reading without a Division, then I will not seek to withdraw the Bill. But if any noble Lord feels I should withdraw the Bill, I will happily do so.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.