§ 3.0 p.m.
§ Lord GORONWY-ROBERTS rose to move, That this House takes note of Cmnd. 6399, Direct Elections to the European Assembly. The noble Lord said: My Lords, on 1st and 2nd April, Heads of Government of the Nine Community countries, meeting as the European Council in Luxembourg, will consider the text of a draft Convention on direct elections. The Government need to be able to take up a position in discussion with other Community Governments. The views which are expressed in this debate and in the debate which is taking place in another place today, and which will there continue tomorrow, will guide the Government in their discussions at Luxembourg. As a basis for these debates and the 863 other political discussions which have also been taking place, the Government have published a Green Paper, Cmnd. 6399, setting out the issues for decision and the Government's own preliminary thinking. This is the subject of the Motion standing in my name.
§ I should like at this point to express my warm appreciation of the 22nd Report by the Select Committee on the European Communities on Direct Elections to the European Assembly. We are once more indebted to the members of this Committee, headed by the noble Baroness, Lady Tweedsmuir, for the work which they have put into this very valuable Report dealing with the considerations which the introduction of direct elections raises for the United Kingdom and, indeed, for your Lordships' House. For the benefit of noble Lords who may not yet have had time to study the excellent Report of the Scrutiny Committee, I should like, if I may, briefly to set out the developments which led up to the present situation.
§ The authors of the 1952 Treaty of Paris, in establishing the European Coal and Steel Community made provision for the Community's activities to be subject to some measure of democratic control at Community level. They did so by setting up an Assembly to consist of representatives of the peoples of the States and to exercise certain supervisory powers. A few years later the authors of the Treaty of Rome also incorporated a similar provision in the new Treaty, but they went a step further and included a provision, which is known to us all as Article 138(3), that the Assembly, which was at first to consist of designated members, should itself draw up proposals for elections by direct universal suffrage. Responsibility was put on the Council, acting unanimously, to lay down appropriate provisions and recommend them to the Member States for adoption in accordance with their respective constitutional requirements. To date, that provision remains unfulfilled.
The Assembly did carry out its part of the obligation by the adoption in 1960 of a draft Convention to provide for the holding of direct elections. But although a number of countries at various times during the 1960s stressed the need for a rapid introducton of direct elections, the
necessary unanimity was lacking, and discussions in the Council of the draft Convention made little headway. At the Paris Summit of December 1974 a further effort was made to make progress on the question. Heads of Government then noted that:
The election of the Assembly by universal suffrage, one of the objectives laid down in the Treaty, should be achieved as soon as possible. In this connection they"—
that is, the Heads of Government—
await with interest the proposals of the European Assembly, on which they wish the Council to act in 1976. On this assumption elections by direct universal suffrage could take place at any time in or after 1978".
The Prime Minister made it clear that the British Government could not take up a position on the question until after renegotiation and the referendum. The Assembly produced a new draft Convention in January 1975, the text of which is summarised in the Government's Green Paper, and reproduced in extenso in the comprehensive Report of the Scrutiny Committee to which I have referred. This text was of course available to the working group of officials which, following the European Council in July 1975, was entrusted with examining the problem.
§ The Heads of Government reverted to the question in Rome in December last year. They agreed then that direct elections should take place on a single date in May or June 1978, but that any country which at that date was unable to hold direct elections should be allowed to continue to appoint its representatives from among the members of its national Parliament. The Prime Minister, while accepting the Treaty commitment to the introduction of direct elections, made it clear that the Government required a further period for internal consultations before adopting a position regarding the date. Heads of Government also asked the Council of Ministers to submit a further report with the intention at that time of enabling the text of a draft Convention to be finalised at the next European Council, which will take place in Luxembourg at the end of this week.
§ My Lords, there seems little prospect now, given the remaining differences, that the European Council later this week will be able to reach final agreement on the text of the Convention, but it will certainly try to make progress on as many outstanding matters as possible. It will 865 probably then refer the matter back to Foreign Ministers to take the matter further and it may well be that a final decision will be possible at the European Council in July. During the course of this negotiation, Her Majesty's Government will seek to get the terms which this country wants, and they will have particularly in mind what is said in Parliament today and tomorrow. Of course, we must recognise that we may not get our own way on everything.
§ My right honourable friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary regards it as of the greatest importance that Parliament should be involved to the maximum extent at this time. He has taken note of the support which has been expressed for two Motions which have been put down in another place urging that a Select Committee should be established on the question of direct elections. The Government have great sympathy with this point of view, and have therefore decided to set up a Select Committee to look into the matter. Our intention is that the Government should not make final commitments before the Committee has reported.
§ We shall have to ask the Committee to work with reasonable speed. We do not wish to hold up the other Member States who want to go ahead with the introduction of direct elections, and we shall have to ask the Committee to work to a timetable at which decisions are needed in the Community. I would hope that the Select Committee, like the Green Paper, will take the subject in two parts, considering first those matters which need to be decided in the Community, and which are covered in Part II of the Green Paper.
§ In the period before the Select Committee Reports, we shall continue to play a full part in the work that is going on in the Community, including at the European Council on 1st and 2nd April. The House will wish to know also that even when the Convention is finally signed, it will still require ratification, and the Government would intend to seek Parliament's approval by means of a draft Order in Council, to be approved by an Affirmative Resolution in each House. There would thus then again be another opportunity for Parliament to debate this extremely important matter, without in 866 any way unduly delaying the process towards direct elections.
§ I should like now to address myself to the most important issues which will be before Heads of Government when they meet in Luxembourg. As your Lordships know I have had circulated in the Official Report a summary of the draft Convention as it stands at present. Incidentally, I hope that the House will appreciate that the Government could not properly publish the full text of a document which is still the subject of negotiation with our Community partners. The summary published in the Official Report, I am sure, makes sufficiently clear what are the outstanding points.
§ There is, first, the question of the size of the Assembly, and then the related one of the distribution of seats among Member States. The Government's Green Paper indicates that the proposals put forward by the Assembly itself on this point have not, so far, commanded universal support in the discussions in Brussels. Certain Member States have put forward alternative proposals. One proposal would involve a rather greater degree of what has come to be known as "proportionality". Another would ensure that there was not too great a reduction in the proportion of the total membership of the Assembly provided for any of the new Member States, as compared with the existing situation. This by no means exhausts the possibilities and I note here that the Scrutiny Committee's report most helpfully provides details of possible alternative formulae.
§ The Government's approach as regards size is that an Assembly of about the size, or perhaps a little larger, than that put forward in the Assembly's own Convention would be acceptable. As regards allocation of seats, we recognise a need to ensure a certain level of minimum representation for the smaller Member States. But we believe that the relationship between that representation, and that of the constituent parts of the larger Member States, must be taken into account. We do not think that the Assembly's proposals did justice to this latter consideration, and we will therefore seek a solution which gives the larger Member States a share of the seats closer to their share of the Community's population. This might be called a method of qualified "proportionality". It remains 867 to be seen whether agreement can be reached on this question, probably the most difficult of all, this week.
§ The second major question is the date of the first election. With the exception of Denmark, all the other Community countries favour holding elections at roughly the same time, rather than, for example, simultaneously with elections in Member States. The Government are inclined to agree with this approach, as it seems best on balance to have the whole Assembly elected at the same time for a fixed period. If national groups are elected at different times this could affect the smooth functioning of the Assembly. Moreover, to have a Community election day—that is, an election on the same day—is likely to help focus attention on Community issues, and to avoid the danger of the results of Assembly elections becoming simply a by-product of national pre-occupations during national elections.
§ We consider, however, and so do most other Member States, that the notion of a "single day" should be interpreted sufficiently flexibly to take account of the differing traditions in Member States as to the day on which elections are held. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister has made it clear in this context that the United Kingdom, for instance, would not be prepared to contemplate the holding of elections on a Sunday. In Belgium, on the other hand, Sunday is the day on which elections normally do take place. The precise degree of flexibility has still to be worked out, as has the actual choice of date for the first elections in 1978.
§ Discussions in the Community so far have pointed in the direction of a date somewhere in the second half of May, and Heads of Government, in considering this question, will no doubt be at pains to avoid any clash with traditional holidays in that period. Before I leave this question, I should perhaps stress that I have been talking only of the date for the first direct elections. The draft Convention would contain a provision for setting a suitable date of successive elections at about the same time every five years.
§ Another major question, and one which is of particular interest to the United Kingdom, is the incorporation in the draft 868 Convention of the derogations agreed at Rome in respect of those countries who might be unable to adhere to the 1978 deadline. The Danish Government also sought, and obtained, a derogation which would enable them to maintain a compulsory dual mandate in Denmark. I shall have occasion to return to this question later. They also sought a derogation to hold elections to the European Assembly at the same time as Danish Parliamentary elections. The precise legal form of these derogations has yet to be resolved, but the intention is that the United Kingdom will be able to continue sending nominated Members to the Assembly from this House, and another place, if we are, in the end, unable to hold the first elections in 1978.
§ If our Community partners set themselves this target, we may decide that we should try to meet the deadline, too, but we must at this stage retain the right to extra time to make the necessary arrangements, should this be required. I repeat that we shall, in good faith, do our utmost to meet the date in 1978 which appears to be the consensus of our partners. Nevertheless, it is good sense and good provision not to rush these matters and to provide for extra time, if necessary, so that we fulfil our obligations properly.
§ Perhaps this is the right moment to say that I am leaving it to my noble friend the Leader of the House to deal later with the point made in the Amendment of the noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale, to the Motion under discussion today, which concerns the method whereby this House should nominate members to the Assembly before direct elections are introduced.
§ Apart from the questions I have just mentioned, there are a number of other questions on which agreement in the Community is still outstanding. Discussions are continuing on the question of the legal form of the Convention, which is described in paragraph 27 of the Green Paper. There is also some difference of opinion on whether the Convention should refer, as does the Assembly's draft, to the "Parliament" or to "Assembly", which is the term used in the basic Treaties. In addition, there has been some discussion of the necessity for, and the drafting of, a provision such as Article 14 of the Assembly's draft Convention, 869 which would establish a procedure for further measures to implement the Convention itself should these prove necessary.
§ I should not leave this account of the state of the discussions in the Community without mentioning some points on which a consensus already exists. The first is the term of the directly-elected Assembly. The Assembly's draft Convention proposes five years, and there appears to be no disposition in the Community as a whole to alter this. Most Community legislatures have terms of four or five years, and it appears to be felt that this is about right. Then there is the question of the dual mandate, to which the Scrutiny Committee's report rightly devotes so much attention. The Green Paper indicates that the Government share the view which has emerged in the Community that the dual mandate should be optional. The Government recognise the heavy burden which the dual mandate places on existing members of the Assembly, and have no desire to perpetuate this. Equally, they would not wish to prevent any candidate who felt equal to the challenge from presenting himself or herself as a candidate for both Westminster and Strasbourg. The Government recognise, moreover, that a case can be made for maintaining a link between Westminster and a directly-elected Assembly, and accordingly the Green Paper suggests that the question of ex officio links between both might be considered later. This is clearly something which we hope the Select Committee will consider.
§ Members of this House will be understandably interested in the questions whether Peers would be eligible to stand as candidates and to vote. Nothing in the provisions to be agreed at Community level will prejudice these questions. They will be for decision by our Parliament, as is clear from the fact that they appear in Part II of the Green Paper; that is, matters to be decided by Member State Parliaments. I should like to reassure anyone who may have seen shades of difference in the wording used in the relevant paragraphs of the Green Papers, I think paragraphs 35 and 36. I do not think any such difference was intended—in fact, I know it was not—and in my view it would be wholly appropriate for 870 Peers to be able to vote or to stand for election.
§ The arguments for the introduction of direct elections to the European Assembly are strong. There is a commitment in the Treaty of Rome to the introduction of direct elections, though none as to timing or the method to be adopted. Until comparatively recently the consensus necessary for the implementation of this commitment has been lacking, but the feeling has now developed in the Community that the time is about right to introduce direct elections.
§ Against the background of our commitment to play a full and constructive part in all Community policies and activities following the referendum, the Government take the view that it is right that the United Kingdom should, if at all possible, proceed to direct elections as our Community partners decide to do so, though we may need more time than they do. Secondly, the Government consider that the introduction of direct elections will add a further democratic element to the Community's present institutional structure. Direct elections will, at Community level, complement the democratic control which is already exercised by national Parliaments through national Government representatives on the Council of Ministers.
§ Finally, I need hardly remind noble Lords that the existing arrangements are unsatisfactory from a practical point of view. There is, first, the consideration that the composition of the European Assembly changes each time the composition of a national Parliament changes, which may be harmful to the efficient conduct of the Assembly's work. But from a United Kingdom point of view a most important defect is the great burden which the dual mandate places on Westminster MPs. At the moment we are obliged to find 36 Members of both Houses to send to the Assembly. This situation causes great difficulties for the individual Members concerned, and does not facilitate the conduct of Parliament's business. With a larger Assembly—one increased from its present size of 198 members to nearly double, as is generally proposed, about 350—that problem would undoubtedly be worse.
§ I believe that most in your Lordship? House are likely to accept the necessity for the introduction of direct elections, 871 but some may be concerned that the establishment of a directly-elected Assembly will mean a step towards federalism, and that the acquisition by the Assembly of further powers, even though they fall short of federalism, will not long be delayed. I should like to reassure the House that the first elections to the Assembly will take place on the basis of the existing powers of the institution. I should add that I include the Budgetary Powers Treaty, signed in July last year, which has been debated by your Lordships' House; and I am glad to assure the House that the Government have just deposited our instrument of ratification of that treaty. The directly-elected members will continue to exercise the rights laid down by the present treaties. They may ask for further powers, but any extension of powers can only be granted by the unanimous assent of all Member Governments, and subject to ratification by national Parliaments. This is, of course, equally true of any other major institutional changes in the Community that may be proposed.
§ Then there are those who fear that the mention in the Patijn Convention of 1980 as the date for the submission of further proposals for a uniform system of direct elections, implies that we shall shortly be obliged to alter our traditional arrangements to conform with those in force in other parts of the Community. Once again, I know full well that this proposal does not fill all noble Lords with the same degree of horror; but I should like to state that in the Government's view this is a somewhat unrealistic deadline—1980 for a uniform system of elections—and I believe that many members of the European Parliament have themselves been coming to that view.
§ I do not know whether Heads of Government will maintain a reference to this date in the text of the Convention, but I can assure your Lordships' House that there is widespread recognition in the Community that the difficulties inherent in moving to a uniform system in the Community are so great as to rule out any prospects of an early move. It has, after all, taken the Community a long time to arrive at the present degree of relative consensus on the issue of direct elections—some 18 years, in fact—and there is every likelihood that the Convention, 872 if adopted, will remain in force for a good many years to come.
§ What, then, are the prospects for agreement among the Heads of Government at their April meeting? It is difficult to be precise, but there is a general wish to make progress. However, it will be evident from the account which I have given that there remain a number of practical issues still to be decided. I expect that the Prime Minister of Luxembourg, who will be in the Chair, will encourage his colleagues to make a serious attempt to resolve at least the major issues. The Government, subject to the views expressed here and in another place today, intend to play a full art in the discussions. I regard it as my duty, as I am sure my noble friend the Lord Privy Seal sees it as his, to listen most carefully to the views expressed by the House and, above all, to ensure that when this matter is discussed in Luxembourg we will have the fullest possible understanding of the wishes of Parliament including this noble House.
§ Moved, That this House takes note of Command Paper 6399, Direct Elections to the European Assembly—(Lord Goronwy-Roberts).
§ 3.31 p.m.
§ The PRINCIPAL DEPUTY CHAIRMAN of COMMITTEES (Baroness Tweedsmuir of Belhelvie) had given Notice of her intention to move, That this House takes note of the Twenty-second Report of the Select Committee of the European Communities on Direct Elections to the European Asembly. The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I would thank the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, for his tribute to the work of the Select Committee in producing this Report. I thank him for his careful exposition of the problems which lie before this House and this Parliament.
§ I am, in particular, interested in the proposal of the Select Committee, and I should like to refer to that, if I may, in a minute or two. But I feel that my first job is to say that the Select Committee felt that after study of the Government Green Paper it might be useful to place certain further information and considerations before your Lordships as a contribution to this debate, which is of such undoubted importance. Although we 873 have made one or two recommendations, we have not sought to reach conclusions on matters of such controversy but, as an all-Party Select Committee holding widely differing views, our Members will no doubt express their personal convictions in this debate, as I would also hope to do myself. But our Report is an agreed report, and for this to have been achieved I am deeply indebted to all those noble Lords who have worked so hard and, not least, those Members of the European Assembly.
§ My Lords, in the debate on the procedure and practice of the House, about two weeks ago, the noble Lord the Leader of the House gave generous tribute to the 66 Members of this House who serve on the Select Committee and its subcommittees; and on behalf of every Member I would thank him. The draft convention prepared by the young Socialist rapporteur, Mr. Patijn, and adopted by the European Assembly has been the document (as has been explained by the noble Lord) which has been studied by the Permanent Representatives of the Nine in Brussels. The summary of the main points of their work was published in Hansard as an Answer to a Written Question on 10th March. When this draft convention is considered on 1st and 2nd April many noble Lords had hoped that a final decision would be made; but now the Minister who has opened this debate tells us that this is most unlikely and, certainly so far as this country is concerned, no decision will be made even at the next meeting of the European Council in July.
On this question of a Select Committee on Direct Elections, I must first ask whether it is to be a Select Committee of both Houses of Parliament. I must confess to a certain surprise on hearing this news because it is apparently intended to submit to the Select Committee the whole question in Part II and Part III of the Green Paper. But in paragraph 3 of the Green Paper, which refers to the matters discussed in Part II, the Government say this:
It will be necessary for Her Majesty's Government to be able to put forward British views on these issues at the next meeting of the European Council in April 1976.
This is a complete reversal of what the Green Paper says; and, of course, the two most important matters on which the Government had said they would take a
decision and contribute to the discussions this week are, of course, the size of the Assembly and the distribution of seats. One had concluded on reading the Green Paper that the Government, having made their decision on this fundamental matter, would then put their recommendation to Parliament either to reject or to endorse it.
§ So far as Part III is concerned, it was made clear in the Green Paper that these were matters on which there was no urgent need to come to a conclusion this week. We had always thought—and we say later in our Paper on behalf of the whole of the Select Committee—that a Speaker's Conference should be the method of considering voting and other electoral procedures, and that the Boundary Commission could consider questions such as the size of constituencies, and they could even have an interim plan for the first election.
§ Then I had thought that, as the Select Committee recommend in their Report, the matter of how you produce a link between the Members of the European Assembly and this Parliament could perhaps be referred to the Select Committee on Practice and Procedure, which the noble Lord the Leader of the House had announced would shortly be established. It is perfectly possible for us as a nation to have delegations on the question of the timing of direct elections so far as we are concerned, but I should have hoped that a Select Committee of this nature would not in any way delay the very important fundamental decisions which will have to be taken by the partners of the Nine. That was why I welcomed what the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, said: that he hoped a decision would be made to hold direct elections in 1978. Now, no doubt, it will have to be in the autumn as there certainly will be no decision in April.
§ Personally—and I must speak personally as we are an all-Party Committee—I would urge the new Prime Minister to press with conviction for direct elections for this country in 1978. This has been under discussion for many years, and long before we joined as a member of the Community. We well know that there are many practical difficulties, but if we really try, and if we care about it, the work will be done. Indeed, I submit to your Lordships that 875 it is most important that on this issue Britain does not lag behind. We are committed by treaty, and it means so much to all our partners.
§ Imagine what would happen if we do not manage to hold direct elections in 1978, or whatever date the nine members of the Community agree upon! This Parliament would be faced with the fearful task of choosing not 35 Members to represent Britain but at least 67, which was the number recommended in the Patijn Convention as being Britain's share out of a total of 355. And who would serve?—67 Members! What would the Whips have to say about it in another place? By whatever method this was done—or as proposed by the Amendment of the noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale, which he is to move later—I submit that the 67 representatives of Britain would not have the same authority in Europe as those elected by universal suffrage in the other eight Member States.
§ As we have already said, the two most important questions for decision by the European Council are the size of the Assembly and the distribution of seats. The Green Paper (Part II, paragraphs 15 to 19) describes the methods used for reaching the Assembly's recommendations and the criteria for distribution. The method is weighted in favour of the smaller countries. For example, Luxembourg, with a population of 58,000 people, has six seats because without that number she could not possibly man the specialist committees which are such a feature of the work of the European Assembly. It seemed from the Green Paper that the Government incline to the Assembly's recommendation for 355 seats, which can be increased if the Assembly's powers are extended or if other countries accede to the Community. There are however five other main proposals for differing numbers and redistribution of seats, and for ease of reference they are described on page 14 of the Select Committee's Report.
In considering which is the best system for the European Assembly, and for Britain, we must take into account the creation of Scots and Welsh Assemblies, and the future system of Government in Northern Ireland. Paragraph 14 of the Green Paper says that the Government's
preliminary view is that the issues should be kept separate".
But suppose a decision is taken for a European Assembly with 67 seats for Britain. This formula would probably give England 54 seats, Scotland 7 seats, Wales 4 seats and Northern Ireland 2 seats. If you compare Denmark and Scotland—because they both have about the same population, 5 million people—Denmark would have 17 seats and Scotland would have 7. It is true that we hope Scotland will have a devolved Government and will not be a separate State; but the Government have recognised the force of the aspirations of the Scots and Welsh because the paragraph I am now about to quote from the Green Paper was quoted by the noble Lord when he said:
the relationship of the constituent parts of the larger Member States must be taken into account".
I submit to the House as a personal view that it might be wiser to consider a slightly larger Assembly. I was rather attracted by Lord Reay's proposal, which would give the United Kingdom 80 seats, Denmark 12 seats and Scotland, I calculate, 8 or 9 seats.
§ I must draw attention to the concern expressed by the Select Committee in paragraph 18, that the Green Paper made no mention at all of the method used in this country to decide election procedures; namely, the Speaker's Conference. Now we are to have a Select Committee on direct elections, and I hope it will have Members of both Houses. I wonder whether it will be as well-fitted to consider this issue. Also the Parliamentary Boundaries Commission must be considered. I should think we could have used the well-tried methods. I was delighted to hear from the noble Lord that the Government consider that Peers should not only have the franchise but should also stand for election, because in evidence given before us a distinguished Member described this as the "greenest part of the Green Paper".
§ I understand that it is proposed in the first election, in 1978, that we should continue to use our present method of voting, the familiar "first past the post" method. But where minority Parties are fairly widespread, the result, for example, for the Liberal Party—which had 18 per cent. of the votes cast in the last General Election—would mean that they would not 877 achieve a single seat. All our European partners operate some form of electoral system that tries to give proportional representation to small Parties; even France has a variant of the alternative vote with two polls. The European Assembly is unique, and so are the proposed Welsh and Scottish Assemblies. It seems to me that in all three cases we should seriously bend our minds to some form of voting method which will accord with one of the Continental systems because it is inconceivable that if we ever come to a uniform procedure they, with their systems, will adopt the system of "first past the post".
§ I should like to place a few considerations before you on the powers of the European Assembly. The noble Lord said we will start with the present powers. These are described in paragraph 22 of our Report. As the House knows, new powers can be granted only by the unanimous decision of the Council of Ministers. However, when direct elections take place, the character of the Community will change and the effect on national Parliaments over the years will be profound. The European Members will have security of tenure for five years. National Parliaments are far from secure, so the Party balance in the Assembly may well not reflect that of a national Parliament. Party groupings within the Assembly are likely to reflect European thought rather than national thought, yet Ministers will remain responsible to their national Parliaments for their work in the Council, as there is no Community Government in the accepted sense.
§ I therefore submit to the House that the relationship between members of the European Assembly and our own Parliament is vital. The draft Convention of the Government's Green Paper proposes that a dual mandate should be optional. But we all know how very hard it is for our own representatives in the Assembly to work on the Continent, attend their Committees, travel here and there, and attend this House. This is bound to get much harder after direct elections. The Select Committee appreciated enormously the way that Members of the European Assembly have tried their best to attend our Committees, take part and let us know the feeling in the European Assembly.878
§ I should like to respond to the suggestion made the other day by the noble Lord the Leader of the House that one Wednesday in every month might become available for two short European debates, in addition of course to other opportunities available either at short notice or for major issues. This might help both this House and European Members to know definite dates. I understand this will be considered by the Select Committee on the Practice and Procedure of Parliament. That is why we as a Select Committee proposed the question of the link between European Members and both Houses of Parliament—particularly this one—should also go to that Committee.
§ There have been various solutions put forward as to how one could in fact have an effective link. Paragraph 35 of our Report draws attention to four suggestions. Your Committee did not favour the first suggestion put forward by Mr. Michael Stewart. We ventured to think it might not commend itself to Members of another place. The second suggestion did not appeal as we felt the European Assembly Members might not be attracted by temporary membership of your Lordships' House when the political power lies elsewhere. The third suggestion by my noble friend Lord Chelwood is for suppleants or running mates to take the place of elected Assembly Members on occasion. But this would not meet the problems of those who do not belong to another place. The fourth scheme under consideration by the Federal German Parliament could not apply to this country unless we adopted the "List Vote" system of election.
§ It is hardly surprising that our Select Committee cannot begin to suggest a perfect answer to this very difficult question. They would, however, like to propose one method which may be thought worthy of consideration. It would be capable of development over the years, because the increasing problems of the dual mandate may well mean that more Members who are not Westminster Parliamentarians will be elected to the European Assembly.
§ As a start, we suggest that United Kingdom Members of the European Assembly would have the right of access to the two Scrutiny Committees of both Houses, which I hope would meet jointly for the purpose. This would mean that a Government Minister from either House 879 could attend to give evidence. Standing Order No. 62 of this House, which allows any Peer to attend and speak but not to vote, might be adopted in another place if they thought fit. The seven subcommittees which we have formed from our Select Committee with power of co-option roughly match the twelve specialised committees of the European Assembly, because we have amalgamated some of the functions and we already exchange documents. The merit of the Select Committee procedure is that reports can be made, debated in the House and voted upon.
§ Your Select Committee consider that even closer links between the European Members and our Parliament would be of real value. Therefore, they recommend that they could have the use of the facilities of the House—I shall not say which, but leave people to decide what they might be—such as the Refreshment Department. Some people have said there would be far too many tables taken by those from overseas. When time permitted, they could also become working members on the Security Committee, but this would involve legislation. The Clerk of the Parliaments has been good enough to describe a single precedent, so far as this House is concerned, for strangers to be allowed to confer with a Committee. This was in 1933 in connection with the Joint Select Committee on Indian Constitutional Reform. The representatives of the Indian States and of British India were called in for consultation and took part in many of the meetings of the Joint Committee. Nevertheless, they were not considered to be members of the Joint Committee and were absent when the Report was finally considered.
§ It may well be that one or other or both Houses may wish to give more intimate access to British Members of the European Assembly who are not Members of either House of the British Parliament. I think this would do much to achieve greater understanding of the experience and attitudes of each assembly. Lastly, I should like to refer to the future scrutiny after direct legislation—
§ Lord DAVIES of LEEK
My Lords, I apologise to the noble Baroness for intervening. I have listened with interest 880 to the charming speech and to the workmanlike and brilliant way in which it has been delivered, but I see a real problem over this and I should like to ask for guidance. What is to stop European representation on this basis being by people who are members of no Parliament at all but merely British taxpayers from any part of the Realm? Am I right in saying that they could stand for the European Parliament and not be represented at all in either of these Houses? If that is so, what is the influence of this place or that place upon the European Parliament?
§ Baroness TWEEDSMUIR of BELHELVIE
My Lords, the noble Lord is absolutely right. If the dual mandate becomes impossible to undertake because of the increasing work and duties placed upon the Members of the European Assembly, then it is quite possible that there might be a few of your Lordships who might be Members, not having quite the same duties. What I am discussing is how we could keep a link between what will be the European Parliament and the Westminster Parliament. I had just come on to the question of scrutiny and was about to say that I believe that scrutiny will remain important for a very long time; but I also believe that it may be necessary to widen the scope for study of European matters other than legislation. Our terms of reference in the documents which come before us allow us so to do. The reason is quite clear: that with the high calibre of those who give their time and thought to European affairs, it is not surprising that there is a growing wish to study not only the draft legislation affecting every one of us but also the development of the Community as a whole, to consider ways whereby this country can contribute to the thought and direction of this union of nations, which has so much potential to give our world.
§ 3.55 p.m.
§ Baroness ELLES
My Lords, we have heard two very important speeches on the future development of democratic progress in Europe—the first, by the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, on behalf of the Government and, secondly, by my noble friend Lady Tweedsmuir, presenting the Twenty-second Report. We, on this side of the House, particularly welcome the statement made by the noble 881 Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, that the Government will in good faith try to meet the date of May or June, 1978; and we endorse that wish.
Before proceeding to the details of the Green Paper and the Twenty-second Report, I should like to ask one or two questions about the Select Committee mentioned by the noble Lord during his speech. I should be grateful if perhaps the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal could make some comment about this when he winds up for the Government. Would this Select Committee be a Joint Committee of both Houses, and would all Parties therefore be asked to serve on it? If such a Select Committee is being set up to discuss direct elections, it would surely be right and proper that Members of your Lordships' House who are equally eligible to be candidates as are Members of another place, should be represented on it.
The second point I should like to make has been touched on already by my noble friend Lady Tweedsmuir, regarding the competence of this particular Committee. As I understood him, the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, said their first task would be to consider those matters falling within Part II of the Green Paper, concerning Community decisions. I should like to ask how this is possible if these are to be concluded Community decisions at the beginning or the end of this week I should also like to ask whether there would be any deadline for the findings of this Select Committee if such decisions are to be made at the following European Council meeting in July. We, on this side of the House, took the statement made by the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, in good faith. We believe it is the intention of the Government to try to be ready for direct elections by May or June, 1978. But surely it is not consonant with setting up a Select Committee to study those preliminary questions which we have already been debating for some time. If no deadline is given for the work of this Select Committee, they could well delay the issues until far into the autumn, and even into the following year. Perhaps we might be given an answer about this now—
§ Lord SHEPHERD
My Lords, perhaps it will help the House and avoid 882 the matter being raised again if I deal with this now. The question of whether this Committee should be a Joint Committee of the two Houses is something about which we should like to consult the various Parties in another place and in your Lordships' House. There may be a case for a Joint Committee, or one for separate Committees having the power to meet together. Certainly the intention in setting up this Select Committee is not in any way to delay the advice on which the Government would base their final decision. I think it would be wrong to put a time limit on that at this early stage. However, this, again, is a matter for consultation between the Parties concerned.
With regard to competence and the area which this Committee should review, our view at the moment is that it should look at Part II, because that is where urgent advice is required. This is an offer we have made, recognising that we are dealing with a fundamental constitutional issue. We feel that Parliament should be consulted and ought to have an opportunity not only to debate but also to examine the matter, so that its advice may be given to the Government before they make their decision with their colleagues at the Council of Ministers.
§ Baroness ELLES
My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal for that explanation, and earnestly hope that a Select Committee, such as it may be, will not delay in coming to their findings in order that a proper timetable can be pursued on this matter. On this side of your Lordships' House, and I believe with the massive support of my noble friends, we firmly recognise the principle of direct elections to a European Parliament as being in accordance with the international legal obligations under the Treaty of Rome. It is also realised that, with the development of European institutions, it is more than ever necessary and desirable that the citizens of Europe should have the opportunity of a more direct voice in the affairs of the Community.
Already, it should be said, the European Parliament, with its obvious defects and shortcomings—and we all recognise these—is the only body which can, and indeed does, provide an outlet for the 883 protection and demands of the 250 million citizens within the Member States, whereby the Commission and, more important, Ministers of national Governments, through the Council of Ministers, can be questioned and called to account on matters of European concern. It is the only body in which debate can take place, and the only body which, regardless of national Governments, contains representatives of all Member States, covering the political spectrum from Right to Left—vital if there is to be any form of democratic expression and progress in European affairs. Therefore, we on this side of the House appreciate the importance of this debate which is taking place today.
The matters for discussion are considerable, some of them falling within the competence of the Commission, some within the competence of the national Governments, and some within the competence of both. We have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, that the principle of direct elections is accepted and recognised, and we hope that this whole-hearted co-operation, which was promised by the Prime Minister following the referendum, will indeed be forthcoming. It is when attention is turned to the details of these direct elections that there appears to be hesitation, inconclusiveness and lack of decision. Indeed, one of the very few clear decisions in relation to the details which has been taken by the Government—and, indeed, by the Prime Minister personally—is those famous words "Never on Sunday", which means that the voting in this country should not take place on a Sunday. So the Lord's Day Observance Society will no doubt be grateful for that.
We shall no doubt be discussing at a later date matters which are of concern to and within the competence of national Parliaments, and therefore I should like to confine my remarks so far as possible to those matters which are to be decided at Community level. Our task has been greatly assisted not only by the Twenty-second Report of the Select Committee of the European Communities, but also by the Question put down by my noble friend Lady Tweedsmuir, concerning the work done on the Patijn draft Convention 884 by Coreper, which has already been referred to and is contained in the Official Report of 10th March.
The first matter of concern, on which there has apparently been no consensus or decision, is the legal form in which the direct elections will be initiated. Whether the legal form eventually adopted is by a convention or by a treaty, can the Minister agree that, if the number of representatives is to be changed, as it will be under the draft Convention, Article 138(2) will have to be amended and that amendment will require ratification by the Member States under Article 236 of the Treaty? This would also be a guarantee that the Council could not take such a decision without the sanction of Parliament.
With regard to the size of the new body which is to be elected, obviously this has created many problems and has been very fully discussed by both the Minister and my noble friend Lady Tweedsmuir. It has at least been agreed between Member States that the number of 198 under the treaty must be increased. The Patijn draft Convention—and here I should like to pay tribute to the enormous work done by my former colleague in the European Parliament, Mr. Patijn of the Dutch Socialist Party, because without his work it would have been very hard to get as far as we have got in the study of this immensely complex and complicated subject—proposed 355, and there have been variations up to 418. But I think it is true to say that the longer the matter is left undecided, the more alternatives will be produced and hope for an early decision will gradually fade away.
We would certainly support the two main considerations very clearly expressed in paragraph 18 of the Green Paper, that there must be a minimum number for Member States of six for Luxembourg and that the remainder must be based on a proportion of population. This principle, we think, is a very sound one and the most acceptable. I confess an attraction for the proposal of my noble friend Lord Reay of 387 seats—which is a personal opinion of mine—and no doubt my noble friend will be going into his own proposal more fully. The balance of population to seats, the minimum of seats available to the smallest State, fair representation of constituent 885 parts of a Member State are all relevant, but the first one must be decided at Community level, taking all these other factors into account. How far the number of electors should be considered is another question and I think it is fair to say that, in this consideration of constituent parts, every Member State will have its own problems.
We are not the only ones who are concerned with problems such as the relationship of Scottish Members of the European Parliament to United Kingdom Members of the European Parliament. After all, we are one Member State, the United Kingdom, and the Federal Republic of Germany will have precisely the same problems to deal with; Belgium has its own Walloon and Flem problems, the French have Brittany and so on. So I should like to emphasise that this Scottish problem is not a unique one. Perhaps it is also fair to say that, although there are 5 million people in Scotland, there are also 5 million in Yorkshire and over 5 million in the Greater London area. So, although I have the greatest respect for Scotland and its desires and aspirations, it must be seen in proportion to the total demographic situation in the whole United Kingdom. It would be fair to say that the population of Scotland, which is, after all, 5 million compared with the United Kingdom's 55 million, which is about one-eleventh, is represented in the House of Commons by 71 Members out of 635, which is something like one-ninth. So, without decrying the contribution of Scottish Members in another place, it could be fairly pointed out that they might be over-represented there rather than under-represented.
Another factor which it is also fair to point out is that in our country we have an enormous variation in the number of electors in a constituency as between one place and another. In the 1970 Election, to give one example, Ross and Cromarty—and I am very glad to say that this is a Scottish constituency—had 23,000 electors, but Billericay had 124,000 electors. I merely draw these points to your Lordships' attention in order to show that we also have our problems within the United Kingdom, which should be kept quite separate from the decisions to be taken as to the number of seats in the European Parliament as a whole.
886 With regard to the voting rights of individuals, I am sure that all Members of your Lordships' House will welcome the statement that there is a clear suggestion that Peers would be eligible both to stand and to vote, and, following on my Question earlier today about majority rule and universal suffrage, it would indeed be a great improvement if in this country we at last reached universal suffrage and Peers were also able to vote in General Elections in this country, as well as to have representation in the European Parliament. This would be a great improvement and would remove one of the long-standing anomalies in our country. Acceptance of the principle of universal suffrage also implies an assurance that all nationals of the Member States should have the right to take part in direct elections. The French, Italians and Germans all make some provision for their nationals, resident outside their countries, to take part in their own national general elections. We have not done this, and noble Lords will remember that this issue arose during the preparation of procedures for the referendum last year.
I would ask the Government to cooperate with other Member States, to ensure that all British residents in other Member States within the European Community are able to take part in direct elections, voting for British Members of the European Parliament. As in other Member States, the right to take part would require proof of having been on an electoral roll in the United Kingdom immediately prior to taking up residence abroad. I do not think that this is a very difficult administrative problem, and to my mind any excuse of administrative difficulty would be evidence of pure administrative incompetence and unwillingness to co-operate. If the other Member States, particularly those in the European Communities, can manage to provide voting facilities for their members overseas, perhaps we should look at this problem to see whether we can do something constructive about it.
With regard to the dual mandate, as we have heard and so often discussed, this raises immense problems. Those of us who have been both in this Parliament and in the European Parliament are only too well aware of those difficulties, particularly the onus lying on Members of 887 another place. But there is one very serious difficulty with regard to the dual mandate which possibly has not been considered sufficiently in relation to those Members from another place. It would be perfectly possible for them to represent one constituency in the national Parliament—covering, say, Westminster or Billericay, or wherever it may be—and a completely different constituency, a much larger one, of course, of about 800,000 electors in another part of the United Kingdom. To me, this seems to be an intolerable burden to place on any one person. He would have to look after not only his own constituency at national level but also a completely different and an enormous constituency at European Parliament level.
It seems to me—again this is a personal point of view and not one which has been accepted by my Party, although I understand it has not been turned down—that an arrangement, such as that in the Bonn Parliament, is very sensible, whereby the Members of the Berlin Parliament may attend the Bonn Parliament and have the right to speak but not the right to vote. In this way there would be a link between the Members of the European Parliament. It would mean that Members of your Lordships' House who were elected to the European Parliament would always have the right to attend and to take part in debates, but that on national issues they would not have the right to vote. Similarly, Members of another place who were elected to the European Parliament would have the right to speak but not the right to vote. The idea of having a Standing Committee on European Affairs would undoubtedly mean that European matters would always be relegated to certain individuals and would not become part of the general process of our national life. With the overlapping of domestic and foreign policies becoming ever more evident, it would be most helpful both to our own Parliament and to our Ministers that they should hear the opinions of Members of the European Parliament, although these Members would not, as I have said, have the right to vote on European matters. I hope that this consideration might be a compromise between the many excellent proposals which have already been made.
888 With regard to electoral procedures, Article 7(2) of the Patajn Convention represents the view accepted by all Member States, that the electoral system for the first direct elections should be within the competence of the Member State. I am sure that this is right. Any change at this stage in our present voting system might be considered a device for delaying the direct elections, if they are to take place in May or June 1978. We all know that the present system has its well-known defects. They are recognised by all, although the exact solution to remedy them is certainly not accepted by all. I hope that too much time will not be spent on this aspect. Following the first elections under Article 138(3) of the Treaty, Member States can concentrate on evolving a uniform procedure that is consistent with the demographic and political needs of Europe as a whole. The very many alternative systems which are already practised by the Member States show up the differences between the historical and the procedural traditions of these countries. Again, however, I must confess that my preference is for the German system, which is partly a first past the post" and partly a list system. According to the figures, it gives the fairest representation of electors within their own Parliament.
The Twenty-Second Report of the Select Committee also includes the question of the site. It seems unbelievable that Governments cannot make up their minds where to allow these poor Members of the European Parliament to settle. Can it be such an important political decision? If it is impossible to decide on this matter, no wonder that the Western World is drifting in total incompetence and disarray. It is quite incredible, but true, that we can be discussing the election of 355 to 418 very distinguished members of this country to represent us in a European Parliament and yet not know where to put them. It is time that Member States got together and took a decision on this, rightly or wrongly. Whichever is the most convenient place for effective and efficient co-operation between the main institutions and involves the minimum dislocation seems to be a reasonable principle on which to base such a decision.
I should like to say a word about the Amendment of my noble friend Lord 889 Lauderdale. In view of the debate—anyway, so far and no doubt it will have proceeded very much further by the time my noble friend gets up to speak—I hope that he will feel that the setting up of a Select Committee at this stage to look into the present methods of choosing delegates would not be timely. We want to proceed with matters which concern direct elections and I feel that the time to select members is not when direct elections are pending. Indeed, it would be neither helpful nor courteous to those Members who were elected only on 3rd July and who have already adapted themselves to the new conditions and the situation of working in the European Parliament if, after six months of service in that Parliament, discussions were again to be held as to whether a new method of selection should be adopted, for it is possible that then they would not be re-elected or renominated.
With regard to the timetable of the proposals which are coming before the European Council, could the Minister confirm that whatever the Council decides will still be subject to the consent of national Parliaments? And even if conclusions are not reached in April as to the size of the Parliament, can the Minister confirm that a decision at the July meeting of the European Council will not mean that there will be delay in the holding of direct elections in May or June 1978—that if a decision were taken in July it would still be possible, within the timetable of our national Parliaments, provided the political will is there, to reach elections at the desired date?
With regard to the powers of the European Parliament, I am sure that the consensus is that at this stage the powers of the European Parliament should not be enlarged but should be kept within the terms of the Treaty and the Treaty Amendment of last year, and that the first direct elections should be held on the basis of the existing powers. It has been suggested that no change of the present powers would affect the quality of the candidates who would wish to stand. Personally I do not think that is so. However, a very good many people—after all, 67 per cent. of those in this country voted in favour of staying in the Community and believe that the future of the United Kingdom will depend upon cooperation in Europe—are prepared to 890 stand for election, to play their part and to take part in commitments which will involve working in a directly elected European Parliament. It will be up to those who are elected to exert their influence to gain powers in the future, for history has shown that all Parliaments in the past have done this. If the Commission and the Council are to develop their roles in the decision-making processes of the European Community, it is all the more essential for a democratically elected body to influence, if not to control, those bodies.
Finally, let us remember how nations have been bitterly attacked for not having directly-elected bodies to legislate, to control or even influence their various institutions. After 50 years of authoritarian rule, in the last two years Portugal has already held one General Election, fairly and openly, for a constituent Assembly, has already produced a new Constitution and will shortly be going to the polls for a second time to elect its first democratic Parliament.
In Greece it is the same story. Within one year of the return of Mr. Karamanlis, a new Constitution and direct elections for a free Parliament in Greece were accepted. If these democracies can reach this stage, surely the old Western European democratic countries need not take another 10 years or so to produce the same results. Democratic Parliaments represent the needs and demands of contemporary society. To be effective, therefore, they must not remain static but move forward progressively and change. Perhaps it is worth recalling that even since 1945 our own Parliament in another place has changed its numbers four times. Our own House has undergone two major changes in 1958 and 1963, and nobody would be more pleased about these two changes than the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill. Indeed, it is only since 1928 that there has been universal suffrage in this country; that is under 50 years ago. Therefore, we should not deny the right of the European Parliament to effect the essential change needed by the Assembly if it is to be a living and vital embodiment of the needs and aspirations of the European people. The overwhelming majority of Europeans, through their representatives in the European Parliament, last year adopted the draft Convention based on direct elections. If 891 that voice is not to be stifled, if it is to be heard and respected, then there can be no conclusion but an orderly progress as fast as possible towards direct elections on the basis of universal suffrage, so that all the European peoples can be represented in their Parliament. To deny this right would be to forfeit the name of European democracy.
§ 4.22 p.m.
§ Lord GLADWYN
My Lords, as we see it on these Benches the Green Paper is on the whole a workmanlike and reasonable document, but, surely, all that this House and, indeed, I think the other place today and tomorrow, is really concerned with now is whether it represents a desirable negotiating position for the Government to adopt when—or, I suppose we must say now, if—they debate this question in the European Council. Therefore it was with surprise and some little apprehension that I heard the Government say that they proposed to set up a Select Committee to advise them, apparently, on the proposals contained in Part II, which is, after all, the negotiating position which they are presumably going to take up in a few days' time. Why are they now consulting Parliament and having a two days' debate in another place if, as a result of that debate, they are unlikely to make up their minds on exactly what it is that Parliament wants? That seems to be an illogical position. Therefore, as I have said, I view it with a little apprehension lest it might conceivably represent some delaying tactic, though I gather this is refuted by the Government. Nevertheless, I feel a little concerned.
I repeat, it is surely now Part II which this Parliament is being called upon to approve. All the points in Part III will have to be debated in Parliament when and I am afraid we must now say "if"—there is agreement on the necessary preliminary convention which will then be submitted to all the nine Parliaments for ratification, if possible before the end of the year. So, although severely tempted, I will not myself make any observations on such things as the dual mandate or the organic link, on which I have ventured to express my personal views to the noble Baroness, Lady Tweedsmuir of Belhelvie, and she said 892 very kindly that she would at least take note of them, perhaps in some future report of the Select Committee. I shall not go into them now, not because I think it would be out of order, but because it would be undesirable when really what we are discussing is whether Part II is a suitable negotiating basis. But in the course of the debate that we shall have on all the elements in Part III it will, as we see it, above all be necessary to agree on some electoral procedure other than that of the "winner takes all" that we have in this country now, which would result, as we think, in grotesque and quite unnecessary distortions. Last week in Stuttgart my leader suggested—and I think quite rightly—that no Community funds should be made available for any United Kingdom direct elections which were held on such a totally unrepresentative basis. But, my Lords, all this is for the future.
Before examining Part II, I should like nevertheless to say a word on certain observations contained in Part I, because I think they are relevant. In the first place, it must be clear that any attempt to get prior agreement on a common electoral law—I think this is substantially what the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, said—before the first elections take place would be doomed to failure. As I said in the course of a debate on direct elections which we had on 11th March in Strasbourg:For such time as Member States are states and not part of a federation or union it can lie only with them to determine by what means their representatives to the European Parliament shall be elected. In other words, any proposal for agreement on a common electoral procedure before the European Parliament can be elected can be supported only by those who, flying in the face of every political possibility, demand the establishment of a European Federation here and now, or by those who see in it a reason for ensuring that no kind of political union ever comes about at all.It must therefore be devoutly hoped that in spite of some suspicion, no member of the European Council will advance this argument during the forthcoming discussion at the highest level. For, if it should be so advanced it would undoubtedly mean that direct elections to the European Parliament would, in effect, be postponed until the Greek Kalends. I think I see the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, nodding his head.
§ Lord GORONWY-ROBERTS
No, my Lords; I very much regret interrupting a fascinating speech, but I was doing nothing except giving my undivided attention to what the noble Lord was saying.
§ Lord GLADWYN
My Lords, I am very glad to have the undivided attention of the noble Lord—and I hope perhaps of other noble Lords—on this important point. I do not see however quite why the noble Lord should dissent from what I said. My second observation relates to paragraph 12 entitled "The Powers of the European Assembly". Here I would say that though the European Parliament calls itself the European Parliament—this may not be generally known to your Lordships—it is indeed referred to as such in a Statutory Instrument having the force of law: namely, the Convention of Lomé. Despite that, it does not matter really whether we refer to it as an Assembly if the intention is to indicate that it does not at present have the characteristics of any national Parliament and indeed will not have them in all likelihood for a considerable time, whether or not it is directly elected.
Even when it does get more power—and I am sure it will in such conditions—it is more likely to act as a democratic arbiter or a brake on the actions of a Council having many of the functions of a Government by possessing what are called "powers of co-decision" outlined in the authoritative report of Professor Vedel a few years ago. This is by no means the same thing as exercising final power over Governments, still less of being the sole fount of political initiatives. That is not to say that the European Parliament, even before its direct elections, should not be accorded certain additional "powers", if that is the right word to use. There is in existence a paper by Sir Peter Kirk, now being debated in the political committee, which advances certain proposals for giving that Parliament—that is, the present Parliament—a rather greater status, more particularly perhaps as regards the Conference of Foreign Ministers. I should hope that this sort of proposal, which could be adopted without any treaty amendment, might be agreed to by the Ministers before the direct elections take place. For this 894 would at least make the Parliament—or the Assembly, if you will—more attractive to men and women of first-class ability and political standing, and thus result in the first elections producing more suitable candidates.
So I arrive at Part II which duly lists the outstanding points which will have to be agreed by the Ministers, if there is any political will on the part of all of them to have a directly elected body in 1978. When I heard what the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, said about the likelihood or unlikelihood of the Ministers coming to any final decision at the end of this week, I must say I was slightly disturbed. Not so long ago the Ministers indicated that they would come to an agreement in the European Council on 1st April or 2nd April; that was the impression they gave everybody. Surely it is not more difficult to arrive at a decision on 2nd April than it would be on 1st July, or whenever they now propose to give a final decision—and I hope I have understood the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, aright.
Therefore, there is a feeling, on the part of some of us who are frankly Europeans, that possibly some of the Governments have rather cold feet politically. I do not say which Government, but there may be more than one. In other words, the will to arrive at a decision on a Convention is no longer so marked as it was only a few months ago. I find that depressing, and hope it is not true. Above all, I hope that our own Government have not got cold feet. Maybe others have, but after all our debates on the subject, I hope we would have fairly warm feet in Luxembourg in a few days' time. All this has now been discussed at official level for a long time. There is near agreement on most things, and I do not see why there should not be agreement on this if not in April, at least by 1st July.
The only difficult point is, of course, that of the number and weighted representation of the smaller Powers. The others are important, but with good will the Ministers could get agreement on that fairly soon; no one will dispute that. The numbers and weighted representation was, however, the subject of intense discussion in the Political Committee of the European Parliament towards the end of last year, as the noble Baroness, Lady Elles, knows, and the eventual plan put forward 895 by the excellent rapporteur, Mr. Patijn, was a compromise and—I also share the views of the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts—unduly weighted in favour of the smaller Powers. Naturally, there was general agreement that there must be weighted representation, if only for the fact that in the absence of some body equivalent to a Senate—this is the point—on the United States lines, the smaller States could hardly be asked to agree to a representation based on population and nothing else. For this would have resulted in no representation for Luxembourg in the European Parliament, five for Denmark, three for Ireland and so on. So we were all agreed that there must be a basic quota for everyone.
Mr. Patijn made great play with the argument that unless Luxembourg had six members, it could not be expected to play any suitable part in the European Parliament. Eventually, therefore, six members were adopted as the basic quota. There is considerable support for this at least, although the French are still sticking out for only three for Luxembourg, and the same basic quota for everyone else. Even if six is acceptable for this purpose, it is possible—I should have thought, and rather think that the Government also think—that the formula should not result in a country such as France, with about twice the population of Benelux, having much the same representation as Benelux in the European Parliament; still more so with countries like Denmark with 5 million inhabitants, and Ireland with only 3 million, having 17 and 13 representatives respectively, and the United Kingdom with a population of 50 million, only 65.
But, my Lords, whatever formula the Ministers arrive at will be used by local Nationalists in the United Kingdom and elsewhere as a political weapon to further their cause. They will say: "Why should Scotland, with 6 million inhabitants, be able to have only one-tenth of the British quota, while Denmark with nearly the same population as Scotland, will have 17 members if the Patijn proposals go through?" All such criticisms must be firmly rejected. Scotland—and, for that matter, Wales and Ireland—is part of the United Kingdom, and must be represented as a part of it, even if the United Kingdom should itself become a sort of 896 federation, in the manner of the German Federal Republic. After all, Bavaria is just as ancient a nation as Scotland; she even had a king until the end of the First World War. It is a long time since Scotland had a separate king. But there is no question of Bavaria having any further representation than she will have as a member of the Bundesrepublik.
Even Mrs. Winifred Ewing, the representative of the Scottish National Party in Strasbourg, was fair in this regard during her speech in the recent debate. She said that although Scotland would have a burning grievance, she would not want to hold up the idea of a proper distribution, which, "should not be treated too rigidly or unnecessarily worried over". If Scotland achieved total independence, for which she naturally agreed her Party would have a majority at the next General Election, then she would no doubt claim more or less equal representation with Denmark, but not otherwise. I have no doubt that when it comes to a General Election, all those in Scotland who do not favour separation from the United Kingdom will find out that the interests of Scotland—just like those of Bavaria, or Wallonia, or Sicily or Brittany and other places—will be better served by a team of six forming part of a more powerful national delegation than by a group of perhaps double that number, soon rent by internal political feuds.
My Lords, we can no longer hope that in a day or two's time the foundations of the European Parliament of the future will have been truly laid. It seems that the Council, even granted the necessary political will, will need a further meeting before reaching agreement. This would not necessarily be a disaster. If agreement is forthcoming, as the noble Baroness, Lady Tweedsmuir, said, by 1st July, our proposed timetable for 1978 could still be observed, even if negotiations take place not in May, but in the autumn—and why not? If the Council delays the decision beyond July—and, after all, it was set up to take these great decisions then I fear it may be the end of the whole project and, indeed, the end of all serious effort to work towards the end of political union. I regret to say it, but I believe it to be the case.
What it amounts to is that the Ministers, in their difficult task of making the 897 existing machinery work, need the stimulus provided by a directly elected Parliament; subconsciously I think they want it. Only if it exists, or is about to exist, will the Ministers feel obliged to advance down the general road mapped out by Mr. Tindemans, which we shall shortly be debating, and thus get beyond what might well be called the point of no return in the achievement of a genuine Community. Either one believes in this great conception, or one does not. All those who do must appreciate that the eventual decision on the direct elections of the European Parliament must be of supreme significance, and wish the Government well in what they can have no doubt is a genuine desire to create a democratic entity of a new kind in Western Europe, based fundamentally on popular enthusiasm and consent, capable of preserving what we call our free societies in what looks as if it might well be an increasingly totalitarian world.
§ 4.40 p.m.
§ Lord O'HAGAN
My Lords, I am surprised to be speaking at this point in the debate. Normally the cabal be-between the two Front Benches—and I should remind your Lordships that the last "1" in cabal stands for Lauderdale—ensures that in debates on the Floor of the House we Cross Benchers are nothing more than a geographical expression considered to have no identity of view.
§ Lord O'HAGAN
I am sorry to be met with such disagreement. My Lords, I am authorised to say by the convenor of the Cross Benches that the Amendment to which the noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale, will be speaking later does not wholly reflect the full consultations which took place between the Cross Benchers and the noble Lord the Leader of the House. It is true that the consultations about the method of selecting Members of the European Parliament did not, when I was there, include the question of a Select Committee, and I would certainly agree with anybody who would feel that those conventions adopted in the past for selecting members for Western European Union or the North Atlantic 898 Assembly should not be automatically transposed to the European Parliament.
However, I do not want to talk about domestic matters. I want to talk about a major international matter, the subject for debate today, which I am glad is being debated in your Lordships' House before the important meetings of the Council that are ahead of us. I was very glad to hear the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, say that he felt that Parliament should be involved to the maximum extent at this time. But I must say that if that is the intention of Her Majesty's Government, they have gone about it in a rather funny way, because the Green Paper issued fairly recently did not contain a very full discussion of many of the most fundamental questions which lie behind direct elections. Mr. Callaghan, when he spoke in Hamburg on 22nd January, said:I must claim on behalf of the British Parliament adequate time to consider the problem and examine the political, constitutional and financial implications of such a move.He was talking about direct elections.
The Green Paper does not cover many of the implications for your Lordships' House or for the other place. It does not deal fully with many of the questions that some of us who were lucky enough to be on the Select Committee were able to examine in more detail in our Twenty-second Report. I would say, if there was to be a Select Committee to examine the question of direct elections, that it should have been set up at a time when it could have considered all the very important consequences for this Parliament which direct elections will inevitably bring in their train.
There are differing views as to how much direct elections will affect both another place and your Lordships' House. I myself tend to the point of view that the infringements of our sovereignty were part and parcel of the Treaty of Rome, in so far as they went, and they will not be greatly increased by direct elections. But there are others who hold very strongly a different point of view. If they were to be consulted, I hope through the mechanism of a Joint Select Committee, I feel that it should have been done earlier.
I have a more serious complaint about the Green Paper, not because I disapprove of what it is trying to do, but 899 because I had hoped that it would have examined some of the more fundamental issues that now face us and will face the Government when they are called upon to state their position at the Council meetings. It is laid down in the Treaty that the European Parliament shall consist of representatives of the Member States as selected by their national Parliaments for the time being. We are discussing—and I am rather surprised that the Government have not asked us to vote on whether we approve of what they are going to do—the consequences of those direct elections.
If the European Parliament is to be a directly elected representative body, how will it fit in with the other bodies in the European Economic Community? Will it be more representative than the Economic and Social Committee? Will it be more representative than the Standing Committee on Employment, which is the Community equivalent of the Chequers type of situation, where you have the TUC and CBI represented at Community level? How will it relate to that body, which is gaining increasing importance? How will it relate to the Consultative Committee of the Coal and Steel Community, of which Mr. Joe Gormley is to become president next year, and about which he gave such interesting evidence to the Sub-Committee of the noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale? Above all, how will a directly elected European Parliament interlock with the representatives of the national Governments? Who will be more representative, those speaking for Governments, who may have been elected on a vote of under 40 per cent. of the national electorate, or those who are speaking for a variety of Parties, and perhaps none, in the European Parliament? These are fundamental questions about the way the Community is going, which must be examined, I feel, when we are examining the future of the Community Parliament.
My Lords, I am grateful that the Government have moved away from their pre-referendum stance in the Community, and are now playing a full part in the on-going affairs of the Community. But I believe that to do so you must have a vision—not a wishy-washy ethereal creation dreamed up by far-fetched federalists, but a practial goal towards which we, as a country, should be aiming inside 900 the Community. I myself believe that any real discussion of the future of the European Parliament must be part of a discussion of where the Community is going, where we are going inside it, and where the European Parliament will help us to be better represented, as individuals, as electors, and as a country, inside a Community which is now going to become more democratic. And it is from that deep feeling of commitment towards a democratic Community that I express my disappointment with the discussions so far, and as led in this country by the Government.
I should like to welcome the Green Paper. It marks a continuation of an important process whereby the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is becoming more closely involved in the work of Parliament through the issue of Green Papers and White Papers. Spared, as they are, from the legislative treadmill, I feel that it must be a good thing for them to become more closely involved in the work of our national Parliament. Having said that, I wish to express the hope that, whatever faults we may find with the way that the discussion has been held so far, we will not allow them to obscure the important reasons for hastening on with what is part and parcel of the way the Community was originally envisaged as moving towards by the founders of the treaties, as the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, reminded us.
I wish to conclude, therefore, by looking at some of what to me are the more fundamental reasons for moving towards direct elections. I happen to be a passionate Parliamentarian, whether from heredity or some other reason, and I believe that the principle of Parliamentary government is so important that it should not be restricted solely to the nation State. I believe that we in this country, who have managed to evolve a system of government which has been gradually extended, altered, and in one way or another, adopted round the world, should now be able to make a great contribution to the extension of Parliamentary control above the nation State level. In every other sphere we are moving away from the nation State. There is OPEC, there are multi-national companies and world-wide organisations; economies are no longer run by Chancellors of the Exchequer on an annual basis. 901 I feel that in order to match these challenges of the contemporary world, we need to extend the Parliamentary method above and beyond, but complementary to, our own national Parliament.
There are many in this House and elsewhere who feel that direct elections pose a threat to our system of Parliamentary government. Far bigger threats have existed and do exist; devolution, increasing disrespect for the law, some may say, and those processes by which all Governments in the world are becoming closer and closer interlocked and so not wholly within the control of their own national Parliaments. I would say, therefore, that those of us who wish to see the continuance of a society based on consent and Government based on the wishes, freely expressed, of the peoples in the countries of Europe, should not see the proposals for direct elections as a threat to Parliamentary government but as a reinforcement of it. I hope that as we examine the principles, to which some of us attach such importance, we will see that the various mechanical details which now present such apparently insuperable problems can, with a will and an effort to deal with them, soon be overcome. I am looking forward to the prospect of direct elections. I hope it will not be too long before they come, and I very much hope to be playing a full part in them.
§ 4.55 p.m.
§ The Earl of LAUDERDALE rose to move as an Amendment to the above Motion, at end to insert ("but calls upon the Leader of the House to implement his undertaking given on 3rd July last that he would initiate consultations in all quarters of the House with a view to agreeing terms of reference for a Select Committee to propose to the House the most appropriate method of choosing the Members of this House to serve in the European Assembly pending the introduction of direct elections to that Assembly."). The noble Earl said: My Lords, perhaps I may be allowed to express some surprise that it is only now that my name appears on the paper to move an Amendment which has already been discussed. None the less, I move the Amendment and let me make it clear that it is an Amendment to the Government's Motion and not an Amendment to that moved by my noble friend Lady 902 Tweedsmuir of Belhelvie, to whom we are all indebted and by whom we are all captivated all the time.
§ I move this Amendment in the name of realism. Having just learned—having been edified, as I always am, by the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn—that some countries seem to be getting cold feet about the early application of direct elections, let me say that I have studied the Green Paper with some care. I confess that I never knew what "sub-nothing" meant until I read it, but I find that despite contradictions of argument and obscurities of language, there is one theme, and that is that "consultations…and procedures…should not be rushed". That theme was, of course, endorsed by the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, with all his splendid celtic decorations of language, when he mentioned that a Select Committee would he set up to deal with Part II of the Green Paper; and then we were told in a helpful and instructive intervention by the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, that it had not yet been decided whether it should be a Select Committee of both Houses or of one.
§ Delay is in the air and, having gone through the Green Paper and having found half a dozen objections there, having studied the Written Answer given the other day by Lord Goronwy-Roberts to my noble friend Lady Tweedsmuir and having found another six there, and having had some part, a minor one, in commenting on the Select Committee's Report, I notice that there still survive another four there. All these, however noble Lords may wish it another way—whether we want to hurry or to go slowly—all these add up to delay, despite the urgency, which I recognise, of easing the burden of the dual mandate.
§ We must understand the context of the whole matter we are discussing. The European Community is still a gathering of national States, for better or for worse. These national States still focus their sovereignty on their home Governments. They still go two ways on defence and they go many more than two ways within, let alone outwith, the currency snake. These many different ways on exchange rates reflect the nine countries' different behaviour on inflation, on wages and prices, on investment, on hours and intensity of work. To add to those, let 903 us look at today's report by the Cambridge Economic Survey forecasting that it may be necessary—and there is certainly pressure for this in certain quarters—to revert to a policy of tariff protection, which would be counter to the principles of the Economic Community.
§ These are unpalatable and unpopular facts, but I do not stand in this House as one who, to my knowledge, has ever said anything popular. What is absolutely certain, and what must be clear to the most starry-eyed enthusiast, is that the mere institution of mechanism can never correct the differences and divergencies to which I have referred—short of economic and political union. Economic and political union cannot be created by direct elections or even as a result of them. I doubt whether they would even advance it.
§ We in the Select Committee were interested to hear in public evidence the representative of the Foreign Office, Mr. Butler—Under-Secretary for European Integration—answer the question: how long a time it seemed likely that we might have; how much grace Britain might have before uniform procedures could be established. He said he thought 1980 was extremely optimistic and a Dutch colleague of his gave the opinion, which he quoted with obvious sympathy, that two decades was more likely.
§ The critical question today is therefore not to dodge the issues by taking note of the Green Paper's verdant pastures of verbosity but to come to a decision, if necessary by a vote, on what we do about the vacuum meantime. It is by no means clear that Parliament has yet found a worthy way of picking MEPs—if I may use the acronym to describe the Members of the European Parliament—to represent the peoples of the United Kingdom as required by Article 137 of the Treaty; whether we have found the right way to appoint them so as to fortify them with maximum credibility, and arm them with maximum authority to carry forward the work of building some kind of European union. To think that that can be assisted or advanced by premature direct elections, eliciting a popular poll smaller than is elicited in local government elections—perhaps as low as 6 per cent., which is 904 often the trade unions level—would be to believe anything, as it would be to believe that that would arm our representatives with credible authority.
§ For that reason, I submit that the issue in my Amendment has not been overtaken by events. I therefore make no apology for seizing this fourth chance in four years to raise the matter. For that reason, among others, I invite your Lordships not only to hold the Leader of the House dear, as we all do—and I hope that he will still be dear to us after today's discussions—but also to hold him to his undertaking of 3rd July last, to which I shall return.
§ Our representatives in the European Parliament are appointed by Parliament in accordance with Article 137 to represent the peoples. The names appear before each House on a Government submission, and, once they have been approved, that approval kits them out with the equivalent of a Writ of Election in the other place, or a Writ of Summons in this House. It kits them out as representatives of the peoples of Britain in exact accord with the requirements of Article 137 of the Treaty. In other words, Parliament as a whole is taken to be the representative of the peoples of the United Kingdom for this purpose.
§ I use the words "Parliament as a whole". Our procedure matches two out of the three requirements of Article 138 of the 'Treaty. The first is that MEPs should be designated by their Parliaments, always as representatives of the peoples, and the second is that they should be chosen from their Parliaments' members. However, Great Britain is still in breach of a third Treaty condition. That is that the designation should accord with a procedure "laid down"—not guessed at, not culled out of history, not thought up because it suits the Western European Union, but "laid down" by each Member State. By continuing the practice that is thought good enough for the Western European Union, this Parliament has not "laid down" a specific procedure for the European Parliament.
§ Thrice I have raised this affair. Thrice I have been turned aside with soft words, with taffeta phrases, with silken terms, with spruce affectations. In fact, each House of Parliament, instead of laying down a specific procedure, has simply 905 bent the knee to Party management, has accepted this choice made by the Whips and has agreed to the names on the nod with what I can only call a charade of blanket approval. Of course they are splendid names. They are 36 good men and women and true. The identities of the persons to whom we need to be indebted for such exacting service are not in question. But the fact is that the Whips' nominations from the two major parties result in anomalies which mock the gravity of the whole matter, indeed the gravity which brings us here this afternoon to discuss direct elections at all.
In this House, about 20 per cent. of working attenders are disfranchised by the present system. There are more than 50 Cross-Benchers, some 20 Law Lords, and some 26 Bishops. All are valid Members of this House. This House is a valid element of Parliament, which, by the practice which we have followed under Article 137, is taken to represent the United Kingdom peoples as a whole. On 3rd July last year, in column 432 of Hansard, I moved for a Select Committee simply to propose the method of choosing Lords' Members best suited to secure the representation of all sections of this House. The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, gave a clear undertaking. He said:
…I am willing to agree in principle to the establishment of a Select Committee…. The Government are willing to undertake consultations in alt quarters of your Lordships' House and in another place."—(Official Report, 3/7/75; cols. 432–3.)
The noble Lord went on to say that he was willing to have the Select Committee set up once terms of reference had been agreed. Mr. Short said in another place on 17th July:
I hope that before long a Select Committee will be set up."—(Official Report, Commons, 17/7/75; col. 1724.)
That was last July. A little later still, the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, said on 29th July, that it was the Government's intention,
that a view would be known before the opening of the new session of the European Parliament".—(Official Report, 29/7/73; col. 884.)
When that new Session opened nearly three weeks ago on 10th March, I put down my Amendment.
Of course there are all sorts of patterns that may be woven to deceive in this matter and, without attributing to the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, any thought of deception of any kind at any moment of the day, even when he is fast asleep, I cannot help saying that he resorted to a diversionary tactic at Question Time on 23rd March. He tried to argue that MEPs,
…do not represent this House…. They go as members of their political Parties"."—(Official Report, 23/3/76; col. 544–5.)
That is a difficult argument to sustain. First of all, by our action at all under Article 137, the MEPs go as representatives of the peoples. Secondly, the Treaty requires them to be designated by Parliament. The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, admits that this is done,
so that they can be seen to be a member of the Houses of Parliament.
Once a Government, a Party or even a Back-Bencher, carries a vote here, that is a vote of Parliament. And I repeat, in this context Parliament is taken to be the representative of the United Kingdom peoples. The Party labels are as irrelevant to the constitutional structure of the European Parliament as to a writ of election or a writ of summons to either House of this Parliament. It is Parliament which validates MEPs' credentials as representatives of the peoples of Britain. Assignation by Parliament can mean only designation to represent the peoples whatever label MEPs care to display on arrival. We may be told that consultations were held. It is pertinent to ask whether such consultations were with all quarters of the House and how far they were with the Cross-Benchers, the Law Lords and the Bishops. It is still more pertinent to ask when and with what haste they were held.
§ Lord O'HAGAN
My Lords, since the noble Earl has asked a question about the Cross-Benchers, perhaps I may have leave to answer him. We were consulted very fully and on several occasions about the methods of choosing Members of both Houses before direct elections, but not on the question of a Select Committee. In other ways, so far as I am aware, we were very fully and most courteously consulted.
The Earl of LAUDERALE
My Lords, I am much obliged to the noble 907 Lord. I do not doubt for one moment that the discussions would be of a courteous nature. But I am interested in his revelation that they were not about the terms of reference for the Select Committee, and it was that which the noble Lord promised. Indeed, I am wondering how far these latest discussions occurred within the time limit which the noble Lord set for himself, which was 10th March. I understand that several meetings were cancelled at the last moment. It would seem to the curious outsider that the Government have indulged in sweet, reluctant, amorous delay. One is reminded of that line in Cymbeline:…one that rode to his execution man, Could never go so slow.I think that they were dragging their feet on those consultations, until my Amendment went down, and we have already had it from the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, that even when the consultation did speed up they did not relate to the terms of reference of the Select Committee to which the noble Lord had agreed in principle.
This is no Party matter.Tory and Whig in turn shall be my host, I taste no politics in boiled and host,wrote Sydney Smith. This is not a Party matter. Indeed I have been chided, not for the first time, by my own Front Bench. This shows that Party politics has nothing to do with it, but of course—
§ Baroness ELLES
My Lords, if my noble friend Lord Lauderdale will allow me to say so, I certainly did not chide him. He always uses his words with extreme care, but perhaps he would care to change that particular word this time.
§ The Earl of LAUDERDALE
My Lords, I am much comforted that my noble and dear friend on my own Front Bench did not intend to chide, but I am a sensitive plant and the slightest, chilliest wind has its effect.
Of course the big battalions, that is the unholy alliance of the Front Benches, united by the cohesive power of public plunder will support one another in contradicting and opposing the Amendment which I have put down now, although it is perhaps worth recalling that on the occasion when we last discussed this matter, last July, the noble Leader of 908 my Party gave me full encouragement to go ahead: "It is all right," he said; "We have got it agreed"—
§ Baroness ELLES
My Lords, if my noble friend Lord Lauderdale will allow me to read the relevant passage from Hansard, he will see that my noble friend Lord Carrington, the Leader of our Party, stated at column 424:It would seem to me much wiser, therefore, if your Lordships were to pass the Motion of the Leader of the House, but ask the Government to initiate discussions between both Houses of Parliament to see whether, in the future, it is desirable or proper to continue the traditional method of selection, or whether some change ought to be made."—[Official Report, 317/75.]He did not, at any time, go so far as to say that he supported the idea of a Select Committee. Whether he said so in private to my noble friend is quite another matter, but I must confess that I could find nowhere in the debate any record that he deliberately and directly supported the idea of setting up a Select Committee.
§ The Earl of LAUDERDALE
My Lords, I am much obliged again to my dear, noble and fair friend. But I must say that as a matter of fact there was a good deal of hubbub at the end of that debate. It was not of course the result of anything that I did. In the course of it words were spoken, within earshot in this Chamber, although they may not have been within earshot of the Hansard reporter, to the effect which I have just said. Even forgetting my quotation of my noble Leader, I believe that the words as she has quoted them now are susceptible of the interpretation which I have just put upon them.
The big battalions—and it is time that the other side intervened: no doubt they will have a go later—will say that the Cross-Benches, the Law Lords and the Bishops lack political power for want of Party cohesion, and so they can be ignored. It will be said that they have neither power, nor the wish for it. But they are a valid element in Parliament; all of which is taken to represent the peoples of Britain for this purpose. Not only are they a valid element in Parliament, but, as we know, they help us greatly.
It may be said that agreement could not be reached with the other place, but my 909 Amendment, and the one to which the noble Lord referred when he answered at that time, was for a Select Committee of this House about our representation. Are we no longer masters of our own procedure'? It may be said that the House of Lords has no standing in the question of representation because it is non-elected. But where then is the equity if representation is what people have in mind? Where is the equity, in representative terms, when one Liberal MEP represents six million votes and one SNP represents 750,000 votes? I grant that 10 of them are worth one of us in Scotland, but that is a subjective judgment.
It must be said that the House of Commons needs our help in order to field more Socialist Peers and so ease the House of Commons' problems in its pairing arrangements. Our House is an integral part of Parliament. Our scrutiny committees are more and more active, and are more and more cited and respected in the other place. It is Parliament as a whole which picks the representatives of the peoples in accordance with Article 137. It may be said that Socialists in this House would dislike their choice being at the mercy of other Parties. At least one alternative method would be for the Socialist Party to have a system of election of its own, and this is one of the matters that a Select Committee could consider. Alternatively, it might be decided, as a result of Select Committee consideration, that the Committee of Selection which already picks the Panel of Chairmen to sit on the Woolsack, might make a suitable pick.
It may be said, it will be said, and it has been said, that non-elected Upper Chambers can have no part in the representation of the peoples of the EEC as required by Article 137. But in France 12 out of 36, in Italy 18 out of 36, and in Eire two of the MEPs are elected by a Senate which, in itself, is either non- or only partly-elected. It may be said that elsewhere MEPs are not elected by their Parliaments, anyway. But in at least three cases the opposite is so. In three cases a process known as selection follows Party group election. Luxembourg and Britain are the odd men out. It may he said that the Select Committee on direct elections could deal with this interim problem also. If that is to be said, we shall need to know, I shall want to know, that the 910 matter is to be officially referred to the attention of that Committee by the Government. As it is, we are told that that Committee would give itself only to Part II of the Green Paper.
The noble Lord, the friend of us all, agreed in principle to a Select Committee on the interim problem, and that was confirmed in the Commons. The noble Lord gave an understanding about consultation on the terms of reference, and the evidence so far available to your Lordships this afternoon is that those consultations were not on the terms of reference, or not wholly so. The noble Lord even imposed a time limit on himself, which he has since overrun. With all the youthful innocence of a Peter Pan the noble Lord told your Lordships on that occasion:I suggest that he "—that is me—takes what I have said. It has been said in good faith."—[Official Report, 3/7/75; col. 434.]My Amendment, my Lords, gives him the opportunity to tell us the position, and gives the House the opportunity to pronounce upon it. My Lords, I beg to move.
§ Moved, as an amendment to the above Motion, at end to insert (" but calls upon the Leader of the House to implement his undertaking given on 3rd July last that he would initiate consultations in all quarters of the House with a view to agreeing terms of reference for a select committee to propose to the House the most appropriate method of choosing the members of this House to serve in the European Assembly pending the introduction of direct elections to that Assembly,") (The Earl of Lauderdale.)
§ 5.20 p.m.
§ Lord GORDON-WALKER
My Lords, I listened with very great care, of course, to the arguments and indeed the embroidery of the speech of the noble Earl. Carefully though I listened, I must admit that he did not succeed in shaking in my mind the brief and trenchant points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Elles, in anticipation of the speech that he made. The noble Earl said that Party labels are irrelevant to the European Parliament. This is not true. The European Parliament works entirely through political groups, and it is therefore perfectly right 911 —it is not in the treaty, but in the practice of things—that the primary choice of Members to represent this House and another place in that Parliament should be made by the political Parties. The noble Earl asked whether we are masters of our own House. Of course we are, my Lords; we are the masters of our own House, and we settle things by Divisions. I should like to say that, because of the arguments of the noble Baroness and the one I have just mentioned about political groups, I would certainly vote against this Amendment if it were put to a Division. If it were put to a Division, I think that the noble Earl would find that there is rather more opposition to it than is to be found on the two Front Benches.
My Lords, those who, like myself, want and favour the earliest possible date for direct elections recognise, and must recognise, that a certain price has to be paid, as for any advance in any other field. The chief price that has to be paid is, I think, that direct elections would snap the link which now exists between national Parliaments and the European Parliament. That link has provided the European Parliament with what one might call ready-made Parliamentarians—people who arrive there as Parliamentarians—and these Parliamentarians, including of course Members of your Lordships' House, have contributed very much to the degree of vigour that the European Parliament now possesses. It is by no means certain—I think, indeed, it is very improbable—that this link will continue after the introduction of direct elections. It is impossible to say what sort of candidates would run for the European Parliament, but it seems to me extremely improbable that the same candidates would run for that Parliament as run for the House of Commons. It seems to me that for a very long time to come young and ambitious politicians in this country will seek advancement naturally in the House of Commons; and it seems to me also that constituency Parties on either side would be against choosing for election to the House of Commons candidates who also stand for the European Parliament. They just will not elect such people because they want them to concentrate on the job they have in mind.
912 Some people hope to preserve the link by some form of dual mandate. Such hopes seem to me quite illusory, at least so far as this country is concerned—they may not be illusory in other members' countries. I want to say one word about the proposal for having temporary Members of the House of Lords. First, I do not like the idea at all of what you might call in and out Members". Secondly, in any case, if such a proposal were made in any quarter it would be an internal matter for your Lordships' House, and could be properly and exclusively settled and decided by your Lordships. In any case, even if this proposal were made and carried it would not really provide a link between Members of the European Parliament and our Parliament as such if those Members of the European Parliament had relations with only this House and not with Parliament as a whole.
I quite agreed with the noble Baroness, Lady Tweedsmuir, when she said that the only workable proposal is that Members of the European Parliament should take part in some Scrutiny Committee, joint or separate, on economic affairs. I think this might be useful, but it would not be a dual mandate in any sense of the words. It would not give such Members any link with Parliament as such, but only with a Committee, or a Joint Committee, of Parliament. And if, as is most probable, direct elections led to more frequent meetings of the European Parliament and its committees, Members of the European Parliament would find their time so much taken up that they would very often have to miss attendance at the Select Committee, if that were the proposal which found favour. Therefore, we have to rely, not I think on substitute solutions for the snapping of the link but on the emergence of what one might call a new breed of Parliamentarians in Europe. These may take time to emerge fully, but I am sure they will emerge—people who learn their experiences direct in the European Parliament and become European Parliamentarians by practice and experience. At least such people would not be liable to be recalled at short notice to take part in urgent debates in another place—a fate, I may say, that befalls not only British members of the European Parliament but all members of the European Parliament from time to time.
913 With regard to the date of the introduction of direct elections, I have long doubted whether the time limit of 1978 would be achieved, and I was therefore not surprised by the remarks made by my noble friend Lord Goronwy-Roberts that there would be no decision in April, as many people expected, and possibly not even in July. My noble friend Lord Shepherd said that the purpose of the Select Committee which has been proposed was not to delay, but it seems to me that the practice of it will be to make for a greater delay. You have to fix the terms of reference, about which there might be a lot of disagreement; you have to await the Report, which may take quite a long time to reach, especially as we are now approaching various holidays, vacations and recesses; and you have then to debate that Report. I think this proposal of a Select Committee will most please those who want the maximum delay in the introduction of direct elections.
It is not only the United Kingdom which is to blame for the delays; France seems to be weakening a great deal in its original proposal to support the idea of direct elections, and there are still very great disagreements on the number and distribution of seats—and, of course, the United Kingdom cannot make arrangements for elections until those have been settled. We cannot make detailed arrangements until the number of seats and the number of constituencies are known. Nor, indeed, can the political Parties prepare their organisations to fight these elections until they, too, know what constituencies we are going to have, how many and so on. My noble friend Lord Goronwy-Roberts seemed, none the less, to be talking all the time about the introduction of elections in 1978. I am much less sanguine than he is about this. It was generally agreed—it has been agreed for some time—that if Ministers failed to agree by April (and a fortiori, by July) direct elections would have to be postponed beyond the original, hoped-for date of 1978; and I think it will go long beyond July if we have to wait for the Report of the Select Committee.
It seems to me that there is some advantage to the United Kingdom in a certain delay in the introduction of direct elections (though not as great a delay as I think the Select Committee may bring 914 about) because it must take us some time, and a bit longer than other countries, to adjust ourselves, our procedures, and so on, to the organisation of these vast new constituencies. It is most important that we should introduce direct elections simultaneously with other countries. It will be very awkward indeed for us, as the noble Baroness, Lady Tweedsmuir, pointed out, if we have to find 67 or thereabouts new Members from our own two Houses. There must be a limit on the number that can conic from this House; and there may be 60, 55 or 50 from the other place. It will place an enormous strain on the House of Commons if we have to send a full quota of nominated people if we lag behind the introduction of direct elections. Therefore, I welcome some of the delay, although I do not welcome the delay which I think I foresee.
I have not heard this view expressed so far, but I am sure that it will be expressed. Some have said that there should be no direct elections until the powers of the European Parliament have increased. It seems to me that that is tantamount to opposing the introduction of direct elections. Whether or not those direct elections would speedily bring about an increase in the powers of Parliament, it seems to me certain there will be no effective increase in the powers of Parliament until direct elections have been introduced. I believe that direct elections will lead eventually, and perhaps gradually and by fits and starts, to the increased powers of the European Parliament. I think that one can find some assurance for that faith by looking at the evolution of the United States Senate. Originally the Members of the U.S. Senate were appointed by State Legislatures to the Senate just as the European Parliament is now appointed by the Parliaments in the Member States. At that time, the Senate had very little prestige and the House of Representatives was far more important. When direct elections for the Senate were introduced, it soon began to acquire prestige and power, partly also because it had greater security of tenure than had the House of Representatives. Of course, the European Parliament after direct elections would have a greater security of tenure than almost any other Parliament in Europe. At any rate, soon after the 915 introduction of direct elections, the U.S. Senate became the more significant of the two Houses of Congress. That was really directly due to the introduction of direct elections.
Even after direct elections, the increased powers of the European Parliament will be slower than many people hope and think. Since I have been a Member of the European Parliament, it has struck me that the real cause of the weakness of the European Parliament is the absence of a Government in the European Community. A Parliament that is not guided by a Government, that is not able to criticise a Government, that is not able, at a pinch, to overthrow a Government, is no real Parliament at all. It exists in a sort of a vacuum which is the present state of the European Parliament.
My Lords, it will take time, and a long time, for something like a Government to develop in the European Community. Some people hope that the Commission will form that Government. But it seems to me to be absolutely wrong that a body of civil servants should in any sense become a Government. The only possible future Government in the Community would be the Council of Ministers. Indeed, they are very slowly moving that way with the development, for instance, of the European Council which is something beyond and outside the provisions of the Treaty of Rome. The powers of the European Parliament will grow in step with the evolution, under the pressures of the European Parliament, of something like a Government. Such pressure by a European Parliament can come only after the introduction of direct elections.
§ 5.34 p.m.
§ Lord DIPLOCK
My Lords, grateful as I was to the noble Earl for his tribute to the political potentialities of Law Lords, I hope that I shall not be out of order if I speak to the Motion moved by the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts. The Treaty calls for direct elections and I take it as being beyond argument that we should meet our commitment to that; and meet it with the least possible delay. But we must recognise that it involves a significant change in the constitutional structure of the Community; and whether that change will be 916 for the better or for the worse depends upon the steps that we in this country and in other Member States are prepared to take to ensure close understanding and co-operation between the Members of the Assembly and the Members of the national Parliaments of the States. When I use the expression "Assembly", that is not in any denigratory sense; it is to distinguish it from "Parliament" which I use in the sense of a national legislative body.
Because direct elections were written into the Treaty by the founding fathers there is a tacit assumption that direct elections will give the Assembly a legitimacy—to use the word in the Patijn Report—that it now lacks; and that that will increase its influence and effectiveness as a constitutional organ of the Community and will justify, at any rate gradually, an extension of its powers.
That might have been a certain consequence of the institution of direct elections if the various organs of the Community had operated as the founding fathers thought that they would. They contemplated—I think there is no doubt—that the task of ascertaining the different circumstances between Member States and making the appropriate allowances for these in Community law could safely be left to the Commission as the sole initiators of legislation in the Community; this task would be done before their proposals were submitted to the Council. The Assembly was not conceived as an appropriate organ to remedy any failure by the Commission to do this. It has no effective means itself of doing so. It is not organised, and I hope it will never be organised, to work in that way. It is the watchdog, the necessary watchdog, of the European interests and not the interests, the separate interests, of the individual States.
Again, the founding fathers contemplated that if Amendments were thought necessary to proposals for legislation by the Commission in order to meet the criticisms of the Assembly, the Commission itself would make those Amendments. Amendments by the Council on its own initiative, it was thought, would be the exception and not the rule. The function of the Council as laid down in the Treaty was to vote upon the legislation submitted to it by the Commission, to pass it by the required majority, either 917 simple or qualified, depending upon the nature of the instrument, or to reject it. But it has not worked out in that way.
After the initial task under the Treaty of removing direct obstacles to free trade between the Member States and long before the accession of this country, the national Governments were not content to rely upon the Commission adequately informing itself of the circumstances special to individual States and to make appropriate allowances for them in the legislation is proposed. Since accession, the experience of the Scrutiny Committee in this House suggests that this failure by the Commission to consider the special circumstances peculiar to this country exists from time to time, particularly in the growing field of harmonisation of national law. The result of this has been that the Council's working parties leading up to Coreper now constitute the machinery for the reconciliation of divergent national interests where this is worked out in detail, and the Council has assumed to itself—and necessarily assumed to itself—what was never contemplated by the Treaty, a wide revising function of legislation drafted by the Commission. Direct election is no cure in itself to that problem, and it presents a risk, unless steps are taken to avoid it, of accentuating the tensions between the Commission, the Assembly and the Council. Those tensions exist, and everything should be done to minimise them and not to accentuate them.
If one is looking at realities, it seems most likely that Members of the Assembly, unencumbered by the dual mandate (which is an impossible burden if they are going to do their job), are likely to press for an expedition of the legislative process, which means less time, less trouble and less consideration to be given by working parties of the Council which holds up the legislative process. They will press for an extension of the field of Community activity in the harmonising of laws, moving into the environment and other fields, and they will press for a transfer to the Assembly of powers, legislative and budgetary, which at present do not lie with them but with the Council. This has already been advocated by nominated Members. It will be advocated with more vigour by directly elected Members, if only for the 918 reason that they will have more time to devote to it, and they will have but a single power base whereas nominated Members have two: one in the Assembly and one at Westminster.
My Lords, if one is being realistic, I doubt whether directly elected members will be more representative of the people of this country than those Members of Parliament who constitute the nominated Members now. It seems to me that the candidates for the Assembly will have to be nominated by the political Parties in this country because, costs apart (which might be dealt with by paying for their expenses), the availability of the political machine would be an essential for anyone seeking to be elected in the enormous constituencies that there will he. Secondly, it is unlikely that elections to the Assembly will be fought in practice upon European issues. There are very few of them in which the public has sufficient knowledge to have any opinion at all. The fixed term for which Members are elected makes it difficult to arrange that the elections will coincide with those very few occasions where there is a European issue upon which Parties will differ in their views.
The successful candidates to the Assembly will reflect in their numbers the relative popularity of the two main Parties—I regret to say only "two main Parties "—at the date of the election. Thirdly, the fixed term makes it likely that the Party balance, the United Kingdom Members in the Assembly, will become out of step with the Party balance in the Parliament of the United Kingdom. That will happen too in other Member States, though perhaps less so in those which do not adopt the electoral system of "winner take all".
On the credit side, the elected Members will have more time to devote to their duties. On the debit side, there is a danger that the national Governments will place an even greater reliance upon the Council working parties and on the national scrutiny committees to take account of the special circumstances of their own Member States. If that be so, there may also be upon the debit side—unless we take steps to prevent it—an increased resistance to any extension of the Assembly's powers, particularly in a legislative sphere or in the budgetary field, which affects the British taxpayer 919 with whom the national Members of Parliament are most directly concerned.
The dual mandate—whatever burden it places upon those who have the public spirit to undertake it—ensures without any formal machinery that the United Kingdom Members of the Assembly are aware of the current opinion of people, Parliament and the Government on Community issues. Accession confronted us with a new situation for which new constitutional devices were needed. To meet that situation we produced the scrutiny committees. They are still finding their feet; but I venture to think that the Twenty-second Report upon this matter shows that there is a useful function that they can perform. Direct elections will also call for a new constitutional machinery to ensure at least as close co-operation between the United Kingdom Members of the Assembly and the United Kingdom Members of Parliament as there was without machinery, informally, through the mechanism of the dual mandate.
There is no ready-made solution. In looking for a solution we must be bold, for this is a new constitutional situation. I have no suggestions, but the matter needs much more careful study and I welcome the proposal to set up a Select Committee. Like others, I hope, being politically naive, that it could be a joint Committee of the two Houses. One of the most important matters the Committee will have to consider is the constitutional machinery to be set up to ensure co-operation between Members of the Assembly and the Members of the United Kingdom Parliament, if the Community is to progress. If it is not to progress, then we made a mistake in joining it. There is no time to lose.
§ Lord BOOTHBY
My Lords, may I ask the noble and learned Lord one question before he sits down. Are we to gather from his remarks that under the system of direct elections to the European Parliament it will be virtually impossible for an independent candidate to be elected?
§ 5.52 p.m.
§ Lord WALSTON
My Lords, I would certainly echo the closing words of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Diplock, 920 apart from his final single word. He told us there is no time to lose on this matter, there is no ready-made solution, and that in looking for a solution we must be bold. That is surely right; and the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, was also right when he said, during what seemed to me an absolutely admirable speech, that we are now embarking on a great new phase in Parliamentary history. In this country we pride ourselves on having the Mother of Parliaments and on the fact that we have shown many other countries hew to achieve Parliamentary Government. We are right to take pride in that but, as the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, so rightly pointed out, things are now changing very rapidly and what was an effective and admirable model for Parliamentary Government in the days of good Queen Victoria is not necessarily right for the present time. The noble Lord pointed out some of the international organisations which may not control our destinies but strongly affect them. For example, we have NATO, GATT, the IMF and multinational companies. There is the new Convention which is about to come out on the Law of the Sea.
In addition, as the noble Lord so-rightly pointed out, there are growing up in Brussels parallel organisations, some of which are non-Parliamentary organisations such as the Social and Economic Council and the Coal and Steel Community. Unless Parliament is able to take account of these factors and to recognise the changes and become a vital and powerful organisation, we shall find that Parliament simply slips into the background. It will be looked on as a nice talking-shop with a few old fuddy-duddies there like my noble friend Lord Gordon-Walker and myself. Some of us at least may be decorative, but it will have no impact or attraction for the young people coming along. They are the ones who are needed to mould the future of our country and of Europe, and they will not be tempted to go there. Therefore, we must ensure to the best of our ability that the new arrangements which are being made for the new Parliament take account to the greatest possible extent of these new needs in order to fill the void which would be left if these changes were not made and if we did not play our part in them.
921 Although I consider myself to be a good European, I hope it is not unduly chauvinistic to say that without the influence of this country and without the experience and ability to improvise that we can offer, the progress of the European Parlament will be very much slower and less effective. Therefore I accept entirely, in principle, the holding of direct elections and, in principle, that we must have those elections in 1978. If some of our partners are not able to achieve direct elections by 1978, so much the worse for them and for the Community. But—for Heaven's sake!—do not let us be the ones to drag our feet and say, "There are an awful lot of difficulties; we like the idea but we must refer these matters to a Select Committee and set up a Speaker's Conference, and consult with these and those". By all means let us consult with all these people, but do not let us delay until all the necessary consultations have been completed. If we do that, we shall make no progress whatever.
My own preference is to accept direct elections in 1978, in principle, and to hold elections, in principle, on the same date as the rest of the Community. But I believe we should say that during the first five, or possibly ten, years there should be an interim period when we do not necessarily hold those elections on the same date. I believe there is a very real danger that if we have them on the same date throughout the whole of the Community, we may well have a derisory poll. The only time I agreed with the noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale, who is not at the moment in his scat, was when he pointed out this danger. I have no inside information about this but if, for instance, we were to have our own General Election at some time during 1977 and then within 12 months or so to follow that with elections for a European Parliament, I do not believe we should find it easy to get the right people to come forward as candidates, or that we should have the 60 per cent. to 70 per cent. poll that we ought to have for a matter of this sort. We run a very real danger of having a 20 per cent. to 30 per cent. poll, which would be disastrous, and also of having a protest vote such as often takes place in local government elections.
922 We may find that the majority of those whom we elect to represent us in the European Parliament are in opposition to the Government of the day in Westminster. That cannot add either to the prestige of the European Parliament or to co-operation between the Government of the day here and the European Parliament. I believe we should give very serious thought indeed to the entering of a reservation, when we accept direct elections, that, depending on when our own national elections take place, we may find it more suitable for the first five years, or possibly ten years, to have the elections coinciding with our own national General Elections. The question of "first past the post", and so on, has been raised, together with the question of the Select Committee; and I hope that my noble friend the Leader of the House will explain that to us in more detail when he winds up.
I believe that at this stage it is essential for us to adhere to our present system of elections. I do not think it is possible, in the short time at our disposal, to work out a really effective new scheme which would be entirely satisfactory. That does not mean to say that I am satisfied with our scheme for a European Parliament, although I am satisfied with the scheme for our own Parliament. But I think that we should, and the Select Committee, I hope, will give very serious thought as to the best means of ensuring that the very substantial minorities in this country who do not feel that they can belong to either of the two major Parties still are able to have a certain number of representatives in the European Parliament. Without that, I think that there would be a very great weakening of the influence of that body.
May I now come to the next point which I touched on earlier, of how we can ensure that the right people come forward for the European Parliament. There can be no doubt at all, and I think my noble friend Lord Gordon Walker made this point, that at the present time the able, ambitious—in the good sense of the word—eager, young and middle-aged man who wants a political career looks to the national Parliament and does not look to Europe, and it is only natural that he should do so. The reasons are that the 923 national Parliament is known, it is understood, there are prospects for promotion all the way up to the highest levels and there is a prestige attaching to it, which stems from people knowing what a Member of Parliament is and reading about him in the papers, and he has his own job to do for his local constituency and can influence, to a greater or lesser extent, the affairs in his own country. At the moment, nobody can pretend that a Member of the European Parliament can do any of those things whatsoever, and if we are to get the right people, as we must do, there must be prospects for them, there must be, as it were, a career structure, and we must know far more about the new European Parliament, and they, the people whom we want to tempt to present themselves as candidates for it, must know far more about it.
One thing which has not been mentioned—perhaps it is bad taste to mention it, but it certainly should be mentioned—is how much the European Member of Parliament will be paid. Is it the kind of job for which you need to have private means, where you must have your own occupation and serve as a Member part-time, or will it be a career in itself? That is one of the things that must be known about it. We must know, too, what forms of promotion are open to the Member of the European Parliament. Those of us who are in it know that if we are lucky—if that is the right word—we might become a rapporteur of a Committee. We might even, if the balance of Party and nationality and everything else goes in our favour, even become a vice-chairman or possibly a chairman of a committee. But who in this Chamber, let alone in the country outside, has ever heard of a chairman of any of the committees of the European Parliament? It is not a job which carries any prestige. You do not come strutting back into the Chamber, with everybody congratulating you because of it; nobody would know about it. This is not an insignificant matter. If we are to get the ambitious man, who wants a career in politics, to go into the European Parliament, there must be this form of career structure.
There must also be a lot more knowledge throughout the whole country about 924 the European Parliament. I know that it is usual to blame the Press for not reporting. But why on earth should the Press report things that nobody wants to read? I do not blame them for not reporting. One newspaper, or occasionally two, covers the European Parliament extremely well, but I hope that the provincial Press, in particular, will give far more attention to the proceedings of the European Parliament, especially when it deals with matters which affect a certain area and when Members from that area are taking part. In that way, through the provincial Press, I believe that something can be achieved in spreading knowledge about the European Parliament far more widely than is the case at the present time.
I would turn for a moment to the Commission itself. Of course, the Commission is a curious anomalous body and it is described as being made up of civil servants or bureaucrats. To a very large, if not entire, extent, it is composed of people who have had a very distinguished political career, and who themselves, in their own right, are distinguished politicians, and, quite rightly, they use their political skills in their jobs as Commissioners. I believe that the Commission should become more frankly political, and that it should emerge riot from its shadows, because it certainly is not in shadows, but from this limbo of "Which side of the fence are we on? Are we officials, are we politicians?" into being frank, full-fledged politicians. I believe that the European Parliament should have a very much greater say in the near future in appointing or nominating, at least, the Commissioners, and it might well be that a qualification for becoming a Commissioner was service with distinction in the European Parliament itself. I do not know whether this is feasible, but if it were it would certainly give that ladder of promotion which is such a very important aspect of the matter.
People have spoken about increased responsibilities of the Parliament. It is essential, if we are to get the right people, that there should be increased responsibilities of the Parliament, but that cannot happen until we get the right people. It is a chicken and egg situation. All one can do is push for it, watch, wait, be somewhat patient but by no means complacent and not letting things jog on 925 just as they are. To sum up, so far as membership of the Parliament is concerned, the overriding objective, to my mind, is to ensure that good people present themselves for election, and this can be achieved only by giving them good pay, more power, more prestige and greater prospects.
Finally, I would turn briefly to the relations of the European Parliament with the United Kingdom Parliament. I start from the premise that the dual mandate is unworkable, and I do not think I need elaborate that at all. I also agree with my noble friend, but not, I am afraid, with the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, that honorary membership of this House is unsatisfactory. I do not think that non-voting membership of another place is the right answer and, in any case, it would probably need constitutional changes which would take a long time and delay the whole procedure. Therefore, my own inclination, without, I confess, a great deal of knowledge of procedure in these matters, is for the setting up of a European Grand Committee of both Houses which would meet approximately four times every year, of which all Members of the European Parliament would automatically have membership in that they were entitled to be present and entitled to speak, but probably not entitled to vote. Descending from that Grand Committee, there would be the equivalent, the successor, of the Scrutiny Committees—joint of both Houses—with Members of the European Parliament again entitled and encouraged to attend and to speak, though, at any rate in my experience, there is no question of voting.
At the same time—here I support what the noble Baroness said—it is very important that there should be what one would call the general facilities of both Houses available to Members of the European Parliament. They should have the use of libraries, writing rooms, smoking-rooms, bars and dining rooms, because it is by rubbing shoulders in that way with the United Kingdom Members of Parliament in both Houses that there will be the greatest chance of an understanding of the problems, both here in the United Kingdom Parliament and in the European Parliament—far more than through any formal type of organisation.
§ Lord GLADWYN
My Lords, may I intervene to ask one question of the noble 926 Lord. I am fascinated by his idea of a Grand Committee, and I think it is a very good one. However, does the noble Lord think that this Grand Committee should hold its meetings in public? If it did, there would be no great difference between having members of the European Parliament speaking their minds either in the House of Lords or in the House of Commons.
§ Lord WALSTON
Yes, my Lords. I would certainly expect this Committee to hold its meetings in public. I am led to believe that administratively this is very much simpler than having honorary membership of either Chamber. In summary, therefore, let us press ahead with enthusiasm for May 1978 direct elections to the European Parliament. This will probably depend upon when our own General Election takes place. Through the Select Committee of both Houses we must now start thinking very seriously about all the longer-term problems which have been raised today and which will be raised from time to time: proportional representation, a career structure for the members of the European Parliament and the various forms of contact that there should be with the United Kingdom Parliament. But, above all, do not let us allow our uncertainty about all these highly important matters to be used as an excuse for delaying our acceptance of, and even our initiative in pressing for, direct elections as soon as possible.
§ 6.12 p.m.
§ Lord DUNCAN-SANDYS
My Lords, the Green Paper which we are debating poses a large number of questions, some of which are to be answered at the Community level and some at the United Kingdom level. To a certain extent, the answers that we give are dependent upon one another, in particular in relation to the timetable. I start on the assumption that, like the Government, the great majority of Members of both Houses accept the principle of direct elections. It remains to be decided how and when they are to be held.
The arguments advanced in the Green Paper in favour of holding elections throughout the Community on the same day or in the same week are overwhelming. I recognise that there is the possibility of a low poll. A low poll would be distressing, but I think that is a risk which 927 we shall have to take. By waiting for a second European election, I am not sure that our prospects would necessarily be any better. It is up to us to stimulate interest in the issues. If we hold these elections throughout the whole of Europe on the same day or in the same week, there is no doubt whatsoever that that in itself will stimulate increased interest. Also, I regard 1978—whether it is May or whether, as the noble Baroness suggested, it is the autumn—as a reasonable target date.
On the assumption that we adhere to our existing electoral system, I do not see why this timetable should not be achieved. The electoral machinery will be the same. While a number of constituencies will be grouped together, their boundaries will be unaltered. Also, while there may be a case for giving the vote to nationals of other Community countries who are resident in Britain, there is no need to make this change at the first election; at any rate, I suggest that we should not think of doing so, if it would cause delay. It will remain to be decided which constituencies are to be amalgamated, and on Party political grounds this will no doubt prove to be a very controversial issue. However, delay will not make the decision any easier.
As regards the composition of a European Parliament, a total membership of about 350 seems to be reasonable. Its seat should, of course, be in Brussels alongside the Commission and the Council of Ministers. It is a nonsense for the European Parliament to be a kind of travelling circus. I agree with the expression of opinion in paragraph 19 of the Green Paper that the distribution of seats among the Member States should, so far as possible, be related to the size of their populations. One would have thought that went without saying, but undoubtedly it needs to be said and to be emphasised at this moment. While a small country like Luxembourg must not be denied a voice in the European Parliament, at the same time it should not be allocated a wholly exaggerated representation. A uniform system of election throughout the Community is also desirable, but it will take quite a long time to agree upon what it should be, to pass the necessary legislation and to set up the administrative machinery 928 to carry it out. In my opinion, the adoption of a uniform system should certainly not be allowed to delay the introduction of direct elections as soon as practicable.
Then there is the question whether we should adopt some form of proportional representation. Certainly it seems to be most unfair for the Liberals and other minority Parties to have no representation. It would be a complicated undertaking to introduce an entirely new system, such as the transferable vote. I submit to the House that it might, however, be possible to reserve a limited number of seats for allocation to candidates on Party lists in proportion to their total national or regional votes. Administratively that would not be very difficult, if it were thought to be desirable. Again this need not cause delay, or provide any argument for postponing the elections.
Apart from these organisational questions, there is a problem to which I think insufficient attention has so far been given—namely, the establishment of effective and continuing links between the British Members of the European Assembly and the Parliament and Government in Britain. Like the noble Lord, Lord Walston, I consider this to be a matter of very great importance. So long as the power of decision in the European Community rests primarily with the Council of Ministers, it is essential that the Members of the European Parliament should have direct access to the Ministers of their respective countries and to the national Parliaments to which those Ministers are responsible. As has been suggested, this might be achieved by some kind of Standing Committee, or a Grand Committee, or a Scrutiny Committee, or whatever it might be called, whose membership would be composed of the members of the European Assembly and representatives of both Houses of our Parliament at Westminster. Of course, it would be necessary—I emphasise this in particular—for the Ministers responsible for the subjects under discussion to attend and to take part in these discussions. I assume—to this again I attach great importance—they would be willing to answer formal questions of which they had been given notice.
In order to give the Committee the opportunity to make its impact upon 929 national opinion—I am referring to a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, a few minutes ago—the Sessions of the Committee should normally be held in public, although there might be occasions when it would be desirable for private Sessions to be held for more informal discussions and to enable questions affecting the national interests to be raised without publicity.
It is quite clear that direct elections are going to be introduced and it is highly probably that most of the States of the Community will hold their first elections in 1978. If they can do it, there is no reason why we should not be able to do it also. As the noble Baroness, Lady Tweedsmuir, and the noble Lord, Lord Walston, said, we must not lag behind. If we were to drag our feet, it would create the very worst impression in the Community and inevitably weaken our influence in Europe. We must make up our minds here and now that we shall hold direct elections to the European Parliament in 1978 and get down to the task of working out the administrative arrangements involved and pass the necessary legislation without delay. The introduction of direct elections to the European Parliament is an important step forward and will, no doubt, soon be followed by an increase in its powers. But as the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, said earlier, this must be viewed in relation to the wider objective of building a truly united Europe which alone will enable us and our fellow Members of the Community to deploy our full economic strength and to exercise our rightful influence in the conduct of world affairs.
§ 6.23 p.m.
Lord BRUCE of DONINGTON
My Lords, in the course of his excellent speech, the noble Lord, Lord Duncan-Sandys, said that he took it for granted that the advantages of holding direct elections in Europe were self-evident and that all we were really concerned with was, first, the speed with which this should be accomplished and, secondly, the practical steps that should be taken towards its accomplishment. I am indeed sorry at this stage of the debate to have to sound a note of dissent. The first question that I asked when I first heard of the possibility of direct elections was: what useful purpose will it serve in the furtherance of the aims of the European Community? 930 In what way will it facilitate the ability of my own country to participate in the fulfilment of Community objectives? To these questions I have received no reply and the Government have offered no explanation.
When many of us from this House and from the other place first went to the European Assembly, we became aware that significant moves had already been made towards European union—now I have mentioned the term—and also to direct elections in Europe. We had not heard of it before. This was not a matter that was raised at any time in the referendum campaign, and if one looks at the three Manifestos that were issued—the Government's, the pros and the antis—nowhere was it mentioned that entry into the European Common Market would involve the obligation, in small print in Article 138 of the Treaty, to hold direct elections. In fact, during the course of the campaign itself the Government went out of their way to reassure people that there would be no substantial changes in the British constitutional position, other than those that were specifically referred to in the renegotiated terms at Dublin.
§ Lord GLADWYN
My Lords, if I may intervene, will the noble Lord admit that the obligation to hold direct elections is in the Treaty which was put before the British people. Therefore, nobody suggested that there should not be direct elections; all Parties said that there should be.
Lord BRUCE of DONINGTON
My Lords, I am well aware that the matter is in the Treaty, but if the noble Lord is under any illusion that this matter was given any prominence in the campaign itself, I have a hoard of newspaper cuttings about a foot high which will illustrate the prominence that was given to this matter. And, of course, it is reasonable to know why. Everybody is aware—or should be aware—that the European Parliament does not exist as a Parliament. It is referred to in all the official documents—if we are referring to official documents—as "the Assembly" and in introducing the debate my noble friend Lord Goronwy-Roberts was scrupulous in referring to it as "an Assembly". "Parliament" is the name which the Assembly has given to itself; the conventional name by which it has become 931 known, and part of the debate is taking place on the subconscious supposition that it is, in fact, a Parliament. It is nothing of the kind.
The European Assembly has three powers only. It has the power to dismiss the Commission, as indeed the noble Baroness has pointed out in her Committee's Report, but what it does not say, of course, is that the Council can immediately instruct the Commission to continue for any length of time it likes and also can itself appoint the new one in any event.
It is supposed to have the power of being able to reject the budget, but in point of fact if it did, all that would happen would be that the Council would be empowered to permit the Commission to expend per month one-twelth of the annual expenditure in the previous year plus any further expenditure that it desired to make. The third power is the marginal power over the content of the Budget itself. It is quite true that the Assembly has the power to control approximately 1.5 per cent. of the total Community budget.
These are not the powers of Parliament. These are powers that are given to an Assembly which has no powers other than those I have suggested. The justification for holding direct elections therefore rests on the following grounds. First, there is the statement made by the Government in the Green Paper where it say:There is now a strong feeling in the Community that the time has come to do this.I have not obtained much evidence that there is a strong feeling in the Community. After all, "the Community" means the peoples throughout the Community. In so far as the peoples of Great Britain are concerned, I would say that at the present time, probably without adequate justification, if anything the people of Britain are somewhat disenchanted with the Community.
§ Baroness ELLES
My Lords, will the noble Lord allow me to interrupt him? When speaking of the strong evidence for the decision to go towards direct elections, would he recall that the vote last year in the European Assembly—as he wishes to call it—on the draft convention of 932 Mr. Patijn was 16 in favour and 2 against? That is indicative of the will of the Community to go ahead.
Lord BRUCE of DONNINGTON
My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Elles. I was referring to the Community in its wider sense, as being the 250 million People within it, and I was saying that there is little evidence of this strong feeling. In our own country, probably without very much justification, there is a certain disenchantment with the Community at the present moment; a disenchantment shared, to some extent, by the Chancellor of the Exchequer who made some observations recently about Common Agricultural Policy, and also by Mrs. Shirley Williams herself.
My Lords, some of the other justifications which commend themselves to many of my noble friends are, first, that after all the Government have committed us to it; they have said that we should have direct elections by 1978. As I understand the position, the purpose of a Green Paper is for discussion. I was most grateful to my noble friend when he said that the Government would take full note of the views expressed, not only in this House but in another place, before any firm decisions were arrived at. For this, I am grateful. It is really no argument in favour of direct elections that your Government have already committed you to it without having any prior consultation with you.
Another argument used in favour of direct elections is one of legitimacy. I could not possibly add to the words that fell from the lips of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Diplock, who I think dealt very adequately with the legitimacy question, although I am bound to say that by inference I would hesitate to regard my colleagues who attend the European Assembly with me as illegitimate in any sense of the term. They are selected or appointed by people who have been elected. I do not think there is a noble Lord present this evening who listened to the words of the noble and learned Lord who would regard legitimacy as being of any consequence.
My Lords, more serious, and perhaps more important, is the subconscious assumption that if we had elected representatives in the Assembly, we would in 933 fact be able to secure more powers for a democratically elected Assembly. The assumption is that if we had direct elections, then we should be able to get more powers to be democratically exercised. This is something we need not conjecture about at all; as the late Aneurin Bevan once said, you do not have to read the crystal ball when you can read the book. On this, the intentions of the Council, the Commission and the British Government are quite clear. M. Tindemans thought that all that would be done in the progress made in giving more powers to the European Assembly, would be that it would be given powers to initiate ideas. At the moment, of course, it cannot. It has no powers of initiative at the present moment. He also thought that it would be taken into consultation, and that this would be written in to the Treaty. If that is all that M Tindemans can offer us, that does not turn an Assembly into a Parliament. It does not give the Assembly any more powers than has at present the Politburo in the USSR, or the Spanish Cortes. Mr. Ortoli, speaking in the Assembly on 10th and 12th February, said himself that he was very doubtful whether the European Assembly could be given legislative powers.
My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary, at a meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party reported in The Times on 5th March—otherwise, I should not have referred to it—said:More power to the European Parliament and PR. Relax! My own view is that when you recall that it has taken 20 years for the original Euro Members to get as far as this and the amount of effort needed, I do not believe anyone will want to make any further changes for the rest of this century. I have no doubt that directly elected European Members of Parliament will feel they have greater authority because of the very fact of having been elected, and will continue to claim more powers from their national Parliaments and national Governments. Nevertheless, it will still be the decision of national Governments and Parliaments whether they intend to surrender any further powers and no one can force them to do so except the state of public opinion in their own countries as reflected in their own national Parliaments.So much for the direct elections to the European Parliament securing, per se, of itself more powers for the European Parliament to act in a democratic manner.
My Lords, of course, the final argument is the unworkability of the dual 934 mandate. It is said that the necessity of travelling from this country to Luxembourg, to Strasbourg and to Brussels to participate in the various committees that are an essential part of the structure of the, Assembly, imposes a very great physical and mental pressure upon Members of Parliament. I would be the first to admit that the duties are arduous, but they are not impossible. I well remember the days in another place, of which I was a Member for 1945 to 1950, and the conditions under which we had to work then, where we were not blessed with half the facilities, the secretarial or telephonic space, or anything else, that Members in another place have at this time. I do not think any Member of Parliament who organises his or her time efficiently, and bearing in mind that most Members in fact specialise in one, two, or at the most three subjects, find it an intolerable burden to take part in the dual mandate. But if there is a problem there, if it is too onerous, then the remedy lies in the Assembly itself. Many of my noble friends will agree with me when I say that a good deal of the time spent, particularly in the plenary sessions of the European Parliament, is a waste of time. They would also agree, I think, that a very large amount of the documentation cascaded upon them by the Commission is entirely unnecessary, and in fact would be dealt with by a European Assembly equivalent to the Scrutiny Committees, both in the other place and in this House.
The dual mandate of Members of Parliament, whether they be from another place, or from here, has its complement. The Council of Ministers itself is an example of the dual mandate. Every Minister who performs his own function within the national Government here at home, who bears all its considerable responsibility, and, indeed, at this time gravities, in addition to which, whether he be the agricultural Minister, the Labour Minister, the Prime Minister, or the Foreign Secretary—all have the dual mandate in Europe.
As I shall endeavour to show, there is a good deal of appropriateness that the dual mandate that exists so far as the members of the Council are concerned should in fact have its reflection in the dual mandate from Westminster itself. It has its advantages. If Members of 935 Parliament here find difficulty in persuading the Commission, or, in their organised expression through the Assembly proceedings, in persuading the Council, being Members of Parliament in their own national States they are in a position to influence their own Ministers on the Council of Ministers. As I think the noble and learned Lord, Lord Diplock, implied in the remarks he made, the power of a Member of Parliament acting on the dual mandate to influence the Council directly through his own Prime Minister or his own Foreign Secretary is probably a good deal more potent than the power of individuals selected quite separately and elected to the European Parliament.
If it were a question of the European Assembly becoming a European Parliament, a Parliament from which Governments could be chosen directly then I should be very much in favour indeed of having direct elections to that Parliament. My problem, as a person who wishes to see Britain play her full part in the development of the European institutions, is to secure the most effective means of doing that. I think that in pursuing the structures and the institutions we are tending to pursue the shadow rather than the substance. There is no doubt that the civil servants, excellent as indeed they are, in Brussels, Luxembourg and elsewhere, would like to have direct elections. I am not suggesting that they are unscrupulous enough to be advocating direct elections to suit their own convenience—they have been there in many cases for a number of years, and the Commission itself has been there for 18 years—but my general impression of them is that they like a quiet life, as indeed does the bureaucracy of Parliament itself tends to like a quiet life; and who can blame them? I think that the dual mandate enables those representatives who are sent from the other place and from here to the European Parliament to have a much better chance of making the institutions themselves work, of getting things done, than would be the case if we have a directly elected Parliament of people who are outside the scone of their own national Governments.
My Lords, it has very often been used as a final argument that we must not appear to be dragging our feet, we must 936 not lag behind. I am not sure quite what that means. You can be in a hurry to do a number of things which you yourself think may be very wise, but you need not necessarily be doing the right thing. I think that the problem of Europe, the problem of our participation in it, is not to legitimise a farce but to convert a farce into a reality.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ Baroness SEEAR
My Lords, we are this evening discussing two basic issues, the importance of direct elections on the one hand, and the method by which those elections should take place, on the other. The importance of direct elections goes, of course, to the very heart of the new Europe as we see it. The idea of a European Community born out of the Second World War has been one of the few great constructive political ideas of the second half of the 20th century. But great political ideas need appropriate institutions and so far the institutions have not matched the size, the magnitude, of the idea. If we do not give the concept of Community the institutions it requires, then the Community will not grow and develop as a political entity, and if it does not grow and develop then it will decline for it is impossible to stay as it is at the present time.
If it declines it will become, as it shows signs already of becoming—let us admit this—little more than a free trade union, the partners in that union being increasingly nationalistic Governments which take their part in Europe, indeed but see it not as part of the building of a united Europe, not in the development of the European idea, but simply as another means of furthering their own immediate national interests. Some of the speeches that we have just heard, and perhaps particularly some of the quotations we have been given, underline the fact that here is indeed a danger that that is the way in which many people would like to see Europe going. I think it does help to conceal the fact that we are divided in this matter, that there are a great many people who do not want the European idea to develop. Those of us who do take the line that it is important now to develop the Community institutions, but those who really do see Europe continuing as a Europe des parries, of course, will not want to see 937 the growth of those institutions. I think we can see the speakers tonight lined up on either side of that divide.
My Lords, we need to see Europe grow, surely, because of the political possibility of Europe against the ineffectiveness of individual national action in the world today; and in this country we need in our own narrow interests, short-term indeed and long-term as well, Europe to come together for economic reasons. Unless that is so, we are not going to reap the benefits which we in this country of all countries so greatly need to reap—the benefits of a better division of labour inside Europe, a better use of our economic resources than we have at the present time. It is a case of deciding whether we go forward with that idea or whether we do not.
When we are told, as we have just been told by the Government, that they are still thinking about the best way of having direct elections; when we are told that there is to be a Select Committee to look into the way of carrying out those direct elections; when we are told that it may not be possible for us to have direct elections, although the other countries may go on and do it without us, that we shall continue by nomination, then I fear that we inevitably must believe that the Government are not at all committed basically to the full development of the European idea, or, perhaps, that while there are many inside the Government who are there are others who most emphatically are not. When we hear from nominated Members of the European Assembly that they had not heard of direct elections until recently, one can only say they cannot have been listening. When they tell us that there is no support by public opinion for these elections—although the noble Baroness, Lady Elles, reminded us that the vote in the Assembly was overwhelming—perhaps we have to say that that is because the people in the Assembly are not very representative of the people for whom they speak. That could be the case.
The question is: are the Government really intent on furthering the European idea and, with it, building the institutions that are needed? Is it really impossible for the Government to commit themselves to direct elections in two years' time? We are told that they need 938 time. Let us take that on its face value and take it that it is not a delaying tactic, although I am bound to say bluntly to the Government Front Bench that to many of us who have worked for direct elections and for the European idea for 20 years it looks very like a delaying tactic. But if it is not, why is it so impossible to go ahead by 1978? Why do they need a Select Committee? Why cannot they have the Boundaries Commission to look at the boundaries and the Speaker's Conference to look at the way in which the elections should take place? Is it really so difficult? I cannot believe that if this was regarded as a major political issue—to us it is a major political issue—the Government would not find the time and the wherewithal to make up their mind, make the arrangements and have the elections in what now looks like being a period of two and a half years. Is it really beyond the ability of Government, with a Boundaries Commission and a Speaker's Conference, to be able to come to a conclusion and, having come to a conclusion, put it into action?
After all, it is not as though we are doing something which is totally and for ever irrevocable. If we put forward proposals now which need modification later, that is not beyond our power. We have modified our system in this country time and again. Why should we not be able to find a workable scheme—a scheme which is perhaps imperfect but workable—to enable us to have elections in 1978? If it does not work out 100 per cent. perfectly the first time—and however long we wait to work out our scheme it will not be 100 per cent. perfect the first time—it will be perfectly within our power to make the modifications that are necessary as time goes by. The Government will have to tell us tonight what the real reason is behind the proposed delay, for unless we are convinced that there are technical reasons, we shall draw the only inevitable conclusion—sadly though we will do it in many cases—that the Government are having second thoughts about direct elections and, with it, about the further development of the European idea.
This is about the need for direct elections. It is also about the mechanism by which we should do it. Are we to keep in this country for elections to the European Assembly the system of "first past the post" which we have for elections to 939 Westminster? What conceivable justification could there be for so doing? Speaking for the Liberal Benches in arguing that it should not be the system of "first past the post", of course it will said that I am pleading the special case for the Liberal Party. In fact, I am not pleading any special case. I am asserting the plain right of the 5¼ million people who vote Liberal in the last election to have proper representation in the European institutions. I am glad to say that I recognise and thank the many noble Lords who today have confirmed that they recognise the monstrous unfairness of the system, the undemocratic nature of the system which so patently and blatantly denies ordinary basic democratic rights to a very large section of the population. It is a right that we claim and not a concession that we plead.
Moreover, even the strongest argument used against proportional representation—preferably proportional representation by the single transferable vote, which would be a very appropriate way of selecting 67 Members for the European Assembly—simply does not stand up in the case of the European Assembly. We are told, correctly, that proportional representation by the single transferable vote requires very large constituencies, but they are going to be enormous constituencies in any case. The objection to a very large constituency is that it prevents a close personal relationship between the elected Member and his constituents, and I agree that that relationship, where it is properly organised, is a valuable part of British political life. However, I do not think that it is of such overwhelming importance that it overrides all other arguments for change in the electoral system. It is undoubtedly of value. But what kind of close personal relationship will there be between a person who represents one sixty-seventh of the 55 million people of the United Kingdom? So that argument simply does not stand up.
If that argument disappears, what argument is there against seeing that the people who are sent to the European Assembly to exercise growing democratic control—whatever the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, may say, that is the intention and purpose of the European Assembly, which will grow in influence as time passes—are fully representative of the people of this country? It is an 940 insult to us on these Benches to say that people nominated from Parties which did not get a majority in this country—neither the Government nor the Opposition got the majority; taken together they represent the majority, but that leaves out a very large section of the population—are adequate as representatives of the people of this country. It is an insult to us and to the people whom we represent. In asserting the claim for Liberal representation in the Assembly now that and worked for the European idea from the day the Treaty of Rome was passed. We spearheaded the campaign in this country. Our leaders were the leaders of the European movement. To deny us representation in the Assembly now that it is an established fact is something which I believe goes against all the sense of fairness which is so strongly represented in your Lordships' House.
The case for direct elections is built into the Treaty of Rome. It is an essential development of the European idea and our future is tied up with the development of the European idea. It cannot be impossible to make the progress which needs to be made in provisions, in schemes and in the various administrative provisions necessary to carry out those elections in two years' time. There is no good reason why the people who represent us in Brussels, as we hope it will be—Strasbourg for the time being—should be other than proportionately representative of the people of this country.
§ 6.58 p.m.
§ Lord REAY
My Lords, I begin by taking up some of the points made in his opening speech by the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts. In the stirring rhetorical flourish with which the noble Lord concluded his remarks, he said how much the Government wished to have the opinion of Parliament on this matter. To that I can only reply that they have not given much time to have that opinion and to take account of it before they go to the Luxembourg meeting. It is perhaps for that reason that they have established a Select Committee, and my criticism of that is that it comes much too late, not in so far as the Select Committee has been asked to deal with those matters coming under Part III of the Green Paper but of those matters coming under Part II. To announce the creation of a Select 941 Committee at the beginning of the week when the final decisions are proposed to be taken seems to me extraordinary and I should like to ask the Government if they have informed their colleagues in the Council that they have done this.
I also thought that the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, did not make it plain whether or not Her Majesty's Government were now in a position to reach decisions this week. On the one hand, the noble Lord gave the impression that these matters were now placed in the hands of Parliament and that no decision would be taken until Parliament had reached a conclusion; on the other hand, he did not explicitly say that Her Majesty's Government were not in a position to reach decisions in the Council this week. With all due respect to him, I did not feel that the noble Lord the Leader of the House clarified the situation and, if he does so later this evening, I believe that we shall be grateful to him—that is, if he does not wish to do so now. The third point which I wanted to take up from the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, was one which interested me very much.
§ Lord GORONWY-ROBERTS
My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord will allow me to explain, though I do not want to hold up his speech because I know that he makes a substantial contribution whenever he speaks. The Luxembourg President has indicated that he hopes for progress at the April Council of Ministers. We shall go there hoping to contribute to substantial progress; hopefully, to come to final decisions. But, in all honesty, we do not think that, apart from ourselves, other Members are in a position to expect that the Council will reach that finality in April. We are in any case anxious to have the comments and views of both Houses of Parliament before our Ministers go to the Council meeting. At no point in my speech did I indicate that we were suddenly unable to promise finality in April. I said that we wanted to hear what both Houses had to say so that our Ministers could go fortified by the views and advice of both Houses and working for the greatest possible progress in April, but I was unable to say—and who could say in Britain or, indeed, in more than one other European country?—that finality would he reached in April.
§ Lord SHEPHERD
My Lords, I have to wind up the debate. The noble Lord behind the noble Lord, Lord Reay, was making so much noise that I could not quite hear what the noble Lord, Lord Reay, was saying.
§ Lord REAY
My Lords, I said that it looked to me as if the Government were gambling on the possibility of there being other Member States which were also not in a position to reach a final conclusion this week. What I fear is that Her Majesty's Government may find themselves the only country in this position or that they will find themselves one of a minority which are in this position, in which case they will again have to enter a reservation.
The other point which I should like to refer to in the noble Lord's speech was his description of what would happen if direct elections proceeded in the other Member States of the Community but not in this country. I regret to say that it seems to me that this is an eventuality for which the Government are increasingly trying to prepare us. What the noble Lord said was that in such a situation we should be able to continue to send nominated Members from this House and from another place. However, the summary of the conclusions of the Rome Summit, issued on the authority of the Chairman, Mr. Aldo Moro, does not say that. It says,Any country which at that date—that is to say, in May 1978—is unable to hold direct elections shall be allowed to appoint its representatives from among the elected Members of its national Parliament.In that case—
§ Lord GORONWY-ROBERTS
My Lords, it is perfectly true that at the December meeting that phrase occurred in the communiqué. We have since made it absolutely clear that, in the derogation—if it comes—in 1978, we shall expect to send Members from either House of our Parliament. I am not aware, since that time, and since we have made our position clear in the interventing months, of any resistance to this among our partners in Europe.
§ Lord REAY
My Lords, I am sure that the House will be interested in that further clarification. I felt that the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, gave a very good description of the background to the position in which we now are in relation to direct elections when he listed the various obligations which have now accumulated for us to hold direct elections. I should like to say to the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, who implied that the electorate in this country during the course of the referendum did not have the provision for direct elections drawn to their attention, that the Treaty of Rome is not a secret Treaty. It has been in existance for 17 years and it was open to anybody at that time to give what publicity they wished to it. I should also like to point out to him that, at the time of the referendum, the European Parliament had already adopted the Convention on direct elections. So I really think it a little far fetched to maintain that the British public has now for the first time had these matters sprung upon it.
Lord BRUCE of DONINGTON
My Lords, I did not suggest that the Members of this House or possibly students of politics or those with an active political interest were unaware of the provision. What I said, and what I still maintain, is that it was not widely known among the population as a whole and that it was not one of the leading issues that were publicised in the national Press throughout the campaign.
§ Lord REAY
My Lords, I do not believe that it was a leading issue and I do not think that any of those who took the opposing side in the case of the referendum ever wished to make it a principal issue. It would have been open to them to do so if they had so wished.
944 The only point which I should like to add to the obligations which the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, listed is one which it is plain that he would not wish to mention but which is not without its political importance. It is that, at the last Tory Party Conference in October, a motion was passed encouraging the Conservative Party to work continually for direct elections to the European Parliament. However, the case for direct elections does not consist in the obligation which has been acquired. For me, the case for us to move to direct elections to the European Parliament is established simply by the fact that such a system will be more democratic than the system which we have at present. After all, the European Parliament is the institution which is designed to consist of the representatives of the peoples of the Member States. Unless good enough grounds are shown as to why they should not elect their representatives themselves, surely it is a matter of democratic principle that they should do so. To prefer the present system as such would be the equivalent of preferring a national system of election in which Members of Parliament were elected by local authorities. It therefore seems plain to me that we should move on to direct elections.
On the dual mandate, we in the European Conservative Group hold the same position as that taken by the Government: namely, that it should not be obligatory for the European Parliament Members to be Members of our national Parliament. I believe that that view was taken by all those who have spoken except for the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington. In the first place, I believe that it would be a great and quite unwarrantable restriction of democratic choice to confine candidature to less than 2,000 people, which is what it would amount to. Also, those who want to see the dual mandate continued—and I feel that that usually springs from a fear of seeing Westminster by-passed, a fear of "the link being snapped", as the noble Lord, Lord Gordon-Walker, phrased it—have, I believe, no real notion of how exhausting and, above all, how inefficient the present arrangements are, particularly for those who have constituencies. Most of the delegates manage most of the time to maintain a continuity of work at the European level 945 without excessive interruption, basically because they reduce the level of their activity at national level.
The problem arises when the demands at national level intensify as, for example, during a General Election. The noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, will not yet have had experience of this, although no doubt he will in due course. I will tell him what happens on those occasions. There is a tendency for the Members of Parliament to disappear from the European scene and for Peers to be asked to attend their meetings for them. I remember that in one week at the time of the last General Election I attended the meetings of seven of the Parliament's Committees, and since some of the meetings were running concurrently, the British Conservative presence, which I was obliged to supply, was somewhat hectic and token.
However, this does not happen only during the course of Elections. We have had the referendum, and there are moments of major confrontation between the Parties in Parliament, when Members are obliged to put down their work at European level and return to Westminster, Paris, Bonn, Rome, or wherever it may be. To get an idea of the effect of this one must multiply it all by nine. Crises do not conveniently occur simultaneously in all Member States. Some of the consequences are that Committees are not very well attended. There is no continuity in their attendance, in the sense that there is a different collection of people there each time. There is no stability of voting in the plenary Session.
This is the situation at present. In the future, when the competencies increase, when the demands increase from those outside the Parliament to have regular contacts with Members of the European Parliament, the situation will certainly become very much worse. I cannot see how, in such a situation, the business can be conducted adequately.
Therefore, I think that the dual mandate should be an optional matter to allow existing Members of Parliament to take part in the direct elections when they first occur, but it should not be obligatory. For a similar reason, I believe it is essential that we have the election on a single date throughout the Community. It would be far too disturbing for the European Parliament and 946 for the possibilities for it to build up a coherent way of acting, if the national delegations were being withdrawn at irregular intervals to take part in national elections, then returning each time with a different political character and composition, so upsetting any continuity of balance within the European Parliament as a whole.
With respect to the question of powers, I must say that I do not see the force of the claim—I think it is a claim, rather than an argument—that there should be direct elections only when it is clearer what the powers of the Parliament will be; or, alternatively, that there should not be direct elections because they lie somewhere on the roads to federalism. So far as the argument about lying on the road to federalism is concerned, I should like to give an analogy. High Wycombe lies on the road to Oxford, or it used to do, and in fact it probably lies considerably further along the road to Oxford than direct elections do to federalism. But the fact that High Wycombe lies on the road to Oxford, and at all costs one does not wish to go to Oxford, does not in itself constitute a reason for not going to High Wycombe.
So far as the question of powers is concerned, I thought that the Foreign Secretary dealt with this question very succinctly in another place—this was a line again taken up by the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, this afternoon—when he said that direct elections would take place on the basis of the present powers, that these would be increased only if, and when, the public was willing to see them increased, and that such a wish would be expressed through their representation at Westminster. For myself, I think I would be disinclined to see any substantial increase in the powers of the Parliament before direct elections. The reason is that I think it would be very difficult to know what the first directly-elected Parliament will be like, or how it will behave.
If one takes account of the fact that it will perhaps be twice as large as the present Parliament, that age and the hazards of election will have taken their toll of the existing Members of the European Parliament who may wish to stand for election to the directly-elected Parliament, one can expect that only a minority, perhaps even quite a small minority, of 947 the first directly-elected Parliament will have been Members of the present European Parliament. Therefore only quite a small number will be familiar with the previous habits and procedures of the European Parliament. Perhaps no Parliament behaves rationally, but it seems to me that that first directly-elected European Parliament may, more than any other, behave irrationally. For that reason I should prefer it to find its feet without, in the first place, having too much power.
I have been honoured with a personal mention not in the Green Paper but in the Twenty-second Report of the Select Committee, in the speech of my noble friend Lady Elles, in the Press at one point, in various pamphlets, and so on, as the author of an alternative proposal to that of Patijn for the allocation of seats between Member States. I should like to say a little about the origin of this proposal. I put it forward as an Amendment, in the European Parliament, when we were debating the Patijn proposals. The reason for my doing so was that discussion at that time was centering on the choice to be made between a larger and a smaller Assembly, and while the decision was, quite correctly, I think, going in favour of a smaller Parliament, it was not noticed—or if it was noticed, it was ignored—that the actual proposal which we were accepting for the smaller Parliament which was subsequently the proposal adopted, gave a very disproportionate representation as between different Member States.
My Amendment sought to combine the advantage of a smaller Parliament with more equal representation. I may say that I did not succeed in shifting the axis of debate away from the discussion of size and on to a discussion of what was the most desirable degree of proportionality. Since that time various developments in this country, and perhaps also in other larger Member States—I do not need to recount what these have been—have led others to wonder whether the allocation under the Patijn proposals is not excessively generous to smaller Member States. From the point of view of this country, the advantage of my proposals was, and is, first, with 80 seats in place of 67, we would have a greater latitude 948 so far as distribution of seats to the constituent parts of this country was concerned; and secondly, that because the other smaller States would, under my proposal, have fewer seats than they have under the Patijn proposal—for example, Denmark would have 12 instead of 17—there would not have existed the same basis for an invidious comparison between, for example, Scotland and Denmark.
I concede that now there will perhaps be some difficulty in getting my proposal adopted exactly as it stands. The Patijn proposals have the advantage of being backed by the European Parliament, of having been around for some time, and of having, again, quite wide acceptance, including that of several Member States. Nevertheless, I think that the larger Member States have a problem and a reasonable grievance, and I consider that in the Council the Government should try to get an allocation corresponding better to the weight of our population. Whether it is along the lines of my proposal, or whether it is done in another way does not so much matter. I was most interested that the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, went further in what he said this afternoon than the Government did in their Green Paper on this matter.
After the Community has reached its final decisions and is in a position to sign the Act or Convention, a number of matters will fall to national Parliaments, and for us the most important will be the question of the electoral system. In the discussion of this matter the Report of the Select Committee seems to me greatly superior to the Green Paper. The Twenty-second Report did what the Green Paper should have done; that is to say, without reaching any conclusion it has gone into the subject and produced the various alternative possibilities, and so given a stimulus to discussion in this field. I should like to take up the last sentence of paragraph 48 of the Twenty-second Report:Direct elections to the European Assembly offer an opportunity to choose from the start the most appropriate system for what is in any event a unique Assembly".Perhaps I could add that it might be wise also to choose a system for the first election which at least took a step towards the system likely to be used for later elections. Elections under a uniform 949 procedure will presumably remain a provision of the new Act or Convention if Article 138(3) is withdrawn. It seems to me in any case that if a uniform system is introduced then it is as certain as anything can be in politics—and I wholly agree here with my noble friend Lady Tweedsmuir—that a uniform electoral system will be based on proportional representation.
My Lords, if I can take up the argument which is discussed in the Twenty-second Report of whether we can have one system for our national elections and another for elections at the European level, speaking for myself I can see much more excuse for our retaining for our national elections a system whose defects have been exposed in the way ours have been exposed than for introducing such a system for elections on an altogether new level, particularly when those are to an international institution. If our own "first-past-the-post" system is introduced, without relief for elections to the European Parliament, the representatives which are elected from this country under that system may have to do a lot of embarrassing explaining. They may have to explain why certain Parties which are known to exist—above all, a certain Party which is known to exist—and which may have an electoral support which is not negligible (perhaps not so substantial as it has been in the past, but anyway not negligible) are not represented at all. And if the result of such a system is that all the Scottish seats return members of the Scottish National Party, the embarrassment is not going to be confined to the explaining. In any event, if the results of the first direct elections are unrepresentative, it will seem perverse to many people that we deliberately chose a system which could produce unrepresentative results as our contribution to the future of European democracy.
My Lords, I should like to conclude without speaking to the Amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Lauderdale. I thought it was better to speak about matters to which my experience in the European Parliament, for what that is worth, might be of some relevance, and to leave it to others who would have less difficulty than I would myself in establishing their impartiality to discuss the merits or otherwise of the present system of selecting Peers to serve in that Parliament. 950 But I should like, in conclusion, to say this. I acknowledge that the date may not be met. I believe it should be met, and I think that it can be met; but it may prove too difficult for the various Member States to complete their legislation in time. But if that happens I should like it to be a Community decision to postpone the election date—a decision taken a bit nearer the time—and not through an inability on the part of this country, either alone or as part of a small minority who were falling behind in the process of integration on a Community level, to go forward with the rest.
I think that if direct elections proceeded in the other Member States but did not proceed here, there would be many great disadvantages to this country. First, there would be great disadvantages in Westminster because, even if there were going to be Members from this House able to attend the European Parliament, nevertheless the sheer increase in numbers and the increase of work at European level is bound to make the task far harder. Secondly, at the European level itself, the fact that delegates from this country would be able to devote only part of their time to the job to which their colleagues would be able to devote their whole time would be an incomparable handicap to them in their work. The final reason is that I think it would be humiliating for this country if we were not able to go ahead ourselves while others did. This was one of the fields in which a contribution was particularly expected from this country—what this country could do towards creating democratic machinery on a Community level. This was something for which the prestige and the traditions of this country were particularly valued among our friends on the Continent and to which we were expected to provide a substantial contribution when finally we became members of the Community.
I think it would be most disappointing for our friends in Europe and damaging for our reputation if, within five years of having entered the Community, we had become the country which, instead of leading the way in this field, was now retarding the process of the creation of democratic institutions, or keeping it incomplete. So I hope that those who value the reputation of this country in the Community and beyond will grit their teeth and determine now that, whatever the difficulties in getting the necessary 951 legislation through Parliament, Britain will not be behind anyone else in adopting direct elections to the European Parliament and so in expanding the scope for democracy in Europe.
§ 7.27 p.m.
§ Lord CASTLE
My Lords, I have enjoyed, as I think all noble Lords who have been present in the Chamber have enjoyed, a fascinating debate of tremendous variety—not the kind of debate one usually associates with a Motion of this kind but almost a Committee stage in which we have touched on so many facets in such detail. I felt at times that this was the great justification for the Government's line in appointing a Select Committee. All the contributors to this debate would be excellent contributors as witnesses before a Select Committee, and then, of course, we should have the advantage of cross examination—and how much I would have enjoyed cross-examining some contributors this afternoon, including, of course, particularly my old friend, the noble Lord, Lord Bruce. I should have liked to ask him, of course, his justification—the justification advanced by authoritarians throughout the ages—for believing that a select body of experts can do the job better than elected people, which was part of his thesis. But we will not go into that now.
As everybody is giving their testimony, I appear before your Lordships as not a penitent, full of ecstacy, not as an arrogant apostate. But I confess that, though I gave what little advice I could to the British public to stay out of Europe at the time of the referendum, they turned down my advice, and I accept their verdict without question. I will compete with my fellow members of the European Parliament in being loyal to the idea that Britain has a place there and must work for the best possible integration of Europe. What I fear at this moment is that people will be betrayed by the detailed considerations, and will forget the major principle underlying this debate. The major principle is surely that the British people, who have the longest tradition of democracy in the modern world, when they decided that we should go into Europe, conceived that one of the powerful organs of the Community should naturally be a 952 democratic organisation. That is why I have no hesitation whatever, not only in agreeing with the concept of Europe as it is and as it can develop, but with the concept of direct elections.
This is where I part company, perhaps, with a number of noble Lords who have spoken this afternoon. I believe that the urgency is not for speed; it is for effectiveness. I warn the House that in my own mind it would be disastrous to set a deadline and too hastily to approach it without a complete and thorough examination of all its implications. That is not being undemocratic, because I believe that democracy is for export. But we must not be lulled or shamed by some of our partners in Europe into extravagant enthusiasm for that date of 1978. I hope that the Members of Government will not be seduced or shamed or charmed into agreeing to that date by the excellent opening speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Tweedsmuir.
The fact is that our partners in Europe, many of them, are Constitutional-mongers. They are experts in the job; they have had so many of them in their own countries. But we have never had a written Constitution; we have never had a deadline for this or that in our Constitution. We have "made do" with the Constitution as we have found it. I believe that it would be a great tragedy if, by eloquence and the consensus of our European partners, we were mesmerised into believing that 1978 was essential to the fulfilment of our democratic purpose there.
I think it would be dangerous to minimise all the difficulties that beset us and which must be solved before we go into a Constitution of the kind suggested. The snag which is foremost in my mind is this question of finances. This has not been discussed this afternoon. Where, for instance, is the money to come from for the most expensive election campaign which is ever to take place in this country? We have not had an answer from Europe or from Westminster. This is a real problem. What are we to do about the proliferation of frivolous candidates? What are we going to do about subsidies for the Parties? My noble friend Lord Houghton with his Committee is engaged at this moment in an exploration of the possibility of subsidies for Parties in this country.
953 These are real questions which must be answered and upon which there must be exact statistics given before the Select Committee. I find other justifications for it. Who is going to be attracted to this job? We know from past experience that if you offer a job of this kind, there are elderly gentlemen like myself who may have the leisure to take it on. But we do not want elderly gentlemen like myself—or like some other noble Lords here—as elected representatives of this country in Europe. What we need are men of political ability, young and willing to learn; men also who have really proved their political ability and can be regarded as statesmen. If Willy Brandt can offer himself, there is no reason why the present Prime Minister—who will not be Prime Minister at the end of the week, perhaps—should not offer himself. It is that kind of effort that will upgrade the standing of Europe in the world.
§ Lord BOOTHBY
My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord a question? If I were ten years younger, I would have stood as an independent candidate for the European Parliament for the North of Scotland and won. Would he call that frivolous?
§ Lord CASTLE
My Lords, if he were standing for the North of Scotland and not standing on the Nationalist ticket, I should have called it frivolous.
I will not go in detail into the difficulties of dual mandate. Many other noble Lords have done so. I should be in Brussels at this moment, as should the noble Lord, Lord Reay, and the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn. There is a Joint Committee of three Committees meeting there this afternoon. They are three important Committees and they are being addressed by the President of the Commission. To come to listen to your Lordships this afternoon rather than to listen to M. Ortoli, was a great decision to have to take. But to most of us who should have been there, it was politically rewarding to have made that choice. These are the kind of things which can happen.
The one criticism that we must not be snared into being subject to is to pretend that there is going to be a similarity between the European MP and the 954 MP at Westminster. People ask: "What are you going to do about keeping contact with the half a million or quarter of a million constituents in your constituency?" It is a different function that the MP in Europe will be performing. He will not be holding weekly "surgeries", listening to constituents talking about a rent increase or a pension injustice or asking for this or that. We must adjust ourselves to the idea that these chaps and these women are going to be entirely different animals from those we have brought up in this country since the war, when the whole idea of the intimacy between the constituent and the MP in the weekly "surgery" has flourished.
The greatest difficulty, I believe, is that of the fixed term of the European Parliament. We in this country are going to have an Election, presumably, in the next two years or three years. It is conceivable that it will happen in 1978 and that the Michael Foot Government which is returned will find themselves at loggerheads with a predominantly Tory representation that Britain has sent to Europe. This is a real problem, but we must not allow it to defeat the concept of an election. We have a genius for getting over these difficulties and I believe that we shall do so in the end.
At the same time as we are discussing these matters of direct elections, we have, of course, the Tindemans Report. I have taken a bet with somebody in Europe that not one in ten people in this country know what is the Tindemans Report. But it does suggest, as a result of the evidence taken from the Heads of State over Europe, new powers for the European Parliament. Some may decry that, but I believe we must have a consideration going on in this House among all politically conscious people of what we should like to see the European Parliament do. I know what your Lordships do not want it to do—the same thing as it is doing now!
Although I have become almost an addict over Europe, I believe that a tremendous amount of our time is—I will not say "uselessly employed"—underemployed on the examination of bureaucratic decrees. I have in my hand—I wanted to refresh my memory—four pages of typescript, 2,000 words, from the 955 Commission. It is a very formidable document, which reads:Having regard to the Treaty establishing the European Economic Community and, in particular, No. 100…".Then we have ten paragraphs:Whereas so and so…".Then we have in paragraph 13, on the last page, the secret revealed:Proposals for a Council Directive on the approximation of the laws of the Member States relating to mayonnaise, sauces derived from mayonnaise and other emulsified condiment sauces".My Lords, that will not do. As a kind of programme for a fully elected democratic Parliament I believe that that kind of bureaucratic nonsense, with experts filling in days of their time dealing with this, typists filling in hours of their time typing it out, printers filling in hours printing it and we, in solemn conclave, in Luxembourg or Strasbourg, debating it—
§ Lord CASTLE
My Lords, I give way to the noble Lord's expertise on mayonnaise. I know it as something made from whipping up eggs. Having elected Members of Parliament to whom you were going to pay the going rate in Europe—£20,000 a year each—surely their time is not going to be wasted on discussing matters like this. It is only when there is a Parliament which has the confidence given it by mass voting in this country and the consciousness of going through the democratic process at the elections that there will be a stop to the bureaucracy which, with the best will in the world, must grow so long as the Commission itself, the full-time experts in the Commission, have the say they have. Having said that, I believe the relations between the organs of the Community will change, and must change. Having said that, I want to warn my friends and ex-friends who were critical of our going into Europe that we are there to stay. It would be a tremendous pity and scandal if, because of the stupidities of the kind I have mentioned—and some of the flagrant offences of the Common Agricultural Policy—those irritations were used against democratic progress and development. 956 My Lords, I do not want to see Europe die as a result of a thousand pin-pricks.
§ 7.43 p.m.
§ Lord TRANMIRE
My Lords, at this late stage I want to confine my remarks to the machinery which was outlined earlier today. The proposal which is going to be made is that a Select Committee will examine first the subjects in Part II of the Green Paper, which are the size and composition of the Assembly, the date of meeting, the whole question of the dual mandate, and immunities and privileges. These are matters that are supposed to be subject to decision on Thursday of this week. So it is a little late to remit those to a Select Committee. Then they are to go on and deal with the matters in Part III. One of the weaknesses in the Green Paper was that it had not evaluated all the problems which are inseparable from direct elections from the point of view of electoral reform.
Quite rightly, the noble Lord, Lord Castle, said that we had a great reputation for the way we manage our Parliamentary proceedings in Europe, and it is important that we should retain that. We have retained that through a procedure over the past 70 years, to my knowledge. It has been carried out with very great care. That is, to appoint a Speaker's Conference to decide on these matters so that there will be the benefit of the weight of the presidency of the Speaker. Also under a Speaker's Conference—unlike a Select Committee—there tends to be the representation of different views from all over the country put before the conference. In fact there have been five Speaker's Conferences in the past 70 years. I have been a member of three of them and know a little of this very difficult problem.
With direct elections there are going to be some important matters to be decided by a Speaker's Conference. First, and most important, is the size of the constituency. Then, leading from that, there is the system of election: whether it is "first past the post", proportional representation, proportional representation with a single transferable vote, alternative vote, or any other system. Then there are, as the noble Lord, Lord Castle, pointed out—and he brought some fresh air and reality to the problem—the permitted expenses at these elections, the 957 amount of the deposit and the conditions under which that is forfeited. These matters were not mentioned in the Green Paper; they are not matters we would normally leave merely to a Select Committee. They are matters which ought to be dealt wih by a properly constituted Speaker's Conference. Perhaps the Government wish to change our procedure and, when we have electoral reform, we are not to deal with these issues through a Speaker's Conference.
I know that one noble Lord sitting in his place would have been very glad if he had not had to preside over a Speaker's Conference, and over me as a member of it. I know the noble Lord, Lord Maybray-King, would feel it is perhaps good to do away with Speaker's Conferences. But the other advantage of a Speaker's Conference is that allied to a Conference you have a Committee of Electoral Reform formed from the experts in local government and the political Parties to which they remit the minutiae. I ask the Government to think again on this issue. I believe there is a good argument for retaining the Speaker's Conferences. I do not believe the procedure is any slower; I believe it will probably be faster because there are the two bodies looking at these problems, one sifting off the small detail to the other.
The most important issue is the boundaries of the constituencies. There has been an absolute rule in Parliament for the past hundred years that matters affecting the boundaries of constituencies are not dealt with by any other Member of the Commons than the Speaker. No other Member can give advice because, by very small alterations, the whole character of the constituency can be changed. It is not a matter that, in the first stage, you leave to the impartial examination of Members of Parliament. Therefore, when we have the Boundary Commission sitting, I beg that these matters should be remitted to them for their decision. If the Government have not made up their minds, I have no objection to a Select Committee sitting quickly and, before Thursday, giving their Report on these matters which ought to have been decided some time ago.
The vital factor is the whole question of electoral reform in our new constituencies, their size and their boundaries. 958 The danger is that candidates of the right character may not be attracted to stand for elections. There will not he enough interest among them. That is a fact that some enthusiasts for direct elections seem to have overlooked this afternoon. They have talked about the Government dragging their feet, but I am much more frightened that the electorate will get cold feet when it comes to elections and will not bother to vote. A good deal of thought needs to be given to that point.
Finally, may I say I have great sympathy with the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, regarding the problem of the Liberal Party. At all Speaker's Conferences that I have attended, I have always voted against proportional representation on the ground that it could destroy the relationship between constituent and the Member of Parliament. One cannot visualise having a surgery for a constituency of some 600,000, and personally I believe that our present system of "first past the post", with all its defects, is right. But when one comes to the matter of direct elections for the European Parliament there is a strong case for proportional representation. I believe the aim should be to have three-Member constituencies. With fewer than three, there is a danger of having only two Parties represented. Three-Member constituencies with an electorate of something like 2 million or 2½ million each would probably be the best solution. However, that is clearly a matter for a Speaker's Conference and not for me.
§ 7.52 p.m.
§ Baroness STEWART of ALVECHURCH
My Lords, like my noble friend Lord Castle, I have found this debate of great interest and I am very much better informed now than I was five hours ago. We have been very fortunate in the number of the speakers today who are Members of the European Parliament and have first-hand knowledge of the problems involved, not least of which is the dual mandate, to which many references have been made. As an observer, I am convinced that despite the great strain put upon Members of the European Parliament and Members of the House of Commons and, to a lesser extent, Members of this House, they have nevertheless combined the duties of both Parliaments, and their constituencies have 959 not been neglected. I have observed on many occasions Members of the European Parliament on a Friday afternoon travelling direct from Strasbourg to take their surgery in their constituency. I think it is unlikely that even a majority of constituents of any one Member are aware of the time his or her Member spends abroad.
We have been very fortunate in our choice of Members for the European Parliament. On the whole, I think they are more representative of the community than are the Members of other countries. For example, it is of interest to note that five of the twelve women Members of the present European Parliament come from the Westminster Parliament and that three of the nine countries in the European Parliament have no women Members. This is a matter that might be considered by the European Parliament before direct elections take place. It is also interesting to note that of the fifteen Members of the European Parliament under forty years of age, four are British. The need for representation by the younger age group from all countries is another matter to which the European Parliament will clearly give consideration.
Perhaps it is worth bearing in mind that we have a number of younger people among our Members, and on the whole they are representative of the community. Although the present method of selection of our Members has been successful, I regret to think that after 1978 it may be necessary—indeed, I think it will be necessary—to elect rather than appoint Members. I regret elections only because I think that, as a result, they may be less representative. It is my hope, as it is that of all Members of your Lordships' House, that all those who stand for the European Parliament will be in the younger age groups and that a significant proportion will also be women. I am not quite so concerned as some other speakers have been about their future prospects in our Parliament if they are also Members of the European Parliament, but it is difficult to make any generalisations on that matter. Certainly, I agree that one should do everything possible to help and encourage them.
Finally, may I say that I believe the decision which the Government will certainly 960 take within a few weeks or months—that direct elections shall take place and, I hope, in 1978—may have far-reaching consequences for the people of our country and may influence the quality of life in our community.
§ 7.58 p.m.
§ Lord ARDWICK
My Lords, influenza has left me with a curious catarrhal condition and I hope I may be forgiven if my speech is brought to an untimely end by a paroxysm of coughing. Today, I find myself in a curiously uneasy position between the noble Lord, Lord Reay, and my noble friend Lord Bruce of Donington. Generally, the federalists are building ridiculously high hopes on a directly-elected Parliament, and the anti-federalists are suffering from extravagant fears. I myself believe that direct elections are necessary and probably inevitable, but they could also be disastrous in the first term. They could be disastrous if no attempt is made to overcome some of the dangers and difficulties which can now be perceived.
Those dangers and difficulties have not been sufficiently foreseen. The ardent Europeans have gone blissfully and rather thoughtlessly ahead, just as they did with monetary union. The only serious thought—and it was very necessary—has been given to the techniques and principles concerning how many Members there should be for each country, what options should be left open about the dual mandate and the way each nation should be left to decide who are the winners of the seats; all very important things. But the political problems have been passed over. There is a danger that we shall be stuck for five years—I notice that the noble Lord had certain doubts—probably the; most vital five years in the history of the Community, with a Parliament half green and half decayed. There is a danger that the delegations will consist of beardless boys with no Parliamentary experience, and a few crumbling senators and decrepit deputies put out to grass in a singularly lush pasture. I do not think that the figure of £20,000 which the noble Lord, Lord Castle, mentioned is an official figure, but it is one which is generally believed to be the right figure.
I find that few people, even those who count themselves serious students of Europe, are aware how Party political 961 the European Parliament is, and still will be when the system is changed. The Parliament is run by something like 52 political Parties from nine nations organised in six political groups, and the Parties will choose the candidates for the direct elections and will lead in the winners. I have heard European enthusiasts in Britain say that they hope some beautiful, pure European idealists, free from the taint of Party politics, will be elected to the Parliament. I think there is little chance of that. There is little chance, even, of a minority Party like the Liberals getting a single seat under our current system.
As has been said so often this afternoon, the first thing we should decide in Britain is how the votes are to be assessed. There are those who fear that if we go in for some list system, and some system of proportional representation, we shall be compelled to adopt a similar system for national elections to the Westminster Parliament. There is a risk, but there is an equally big risk if, by using the traditional Westminster system for the European elections, we finish up with an absurdity—an allocation of seats not merely unfair to minority Parties but also unfair to one of the majority Parties; too wildly inconsistent with their strength in the country. This is a real fear, because we do not really know how these constituencies can be amalgamated. A result like that could produce a demand for the abandonment in all the elections in Britain of the current system, and this I should regret, because I see a difference between electing a Parliament, such as a European Parliament, and what we do when we have a General Election, which is elect a Government. That has to be a decisive election, rather than a totally statistically fair election.
Then we come to the problem of the selection of candidates. If we were to have European constituencies consisting of nine or 10 Westminster constituencies, then the candidates would be chosen by a committee of 10 Party chairmen, perhaps, or 20 Party chairmen and vice-chairmen, and I am sure that over time we should get a Parliament that was a nice blend of age groups, experience and skills, such as we have in the Westminster Parliament today. But there is no way of ensuring that by leaving the 962 choice entirely to the constituencies we should get in 1978 or 1979 the balanced European Parliament that we want to see. The Parties, I believe, should bring a national as well as a local element to bear in the selection of candidates, and an effort must be made to look as a whole at the Labour delegation and the Tory delegation—though these terms may be out of date—to see that they are effectively structured.
Then we must ask: what are we going to fight the elections about? Some of the federalists have an idea that Europe is filled with ardent masses of people who share their faith, who will vote for the candidate who has the most robust European beliefs. Even M. Tindemans seems to believe that. I think it is pure romanticism. I have not noticed any demonstrations by workers and peasants, or even by university students, outside the Parliaments at Strasbourg and Luxembourg crying, "All power to the Parliaments". A bit of idealism is very good on the eve of the poll, but you must have something more solid than that during the campaign itself.
What will bring out the voters in these elections? Is there not a great danger of some candidates appealing to the narrowest of national arguments, or not even national ones—" Vote for me and I will put this city, this region, this country first. I will protect its interests. I will protect your interests against those who would sacrifice them to the ruthless bureaucrats of the European Commission." Or is there not a danger that European elections will be fought irrelevantly, as local government elections often are, on the shortcomings and achievements of the Government in power at Westminster? What we must hope for is that the political Parties have success in their present efforts to erect a European Conservative platform, a European Socialist platform and a European Liberal platform.
What kind of political Europe do we want? That, I think, is the relevant question for the elections. Of course, there is no deep ideological unity among the Parties of the Left or the Right and, if you cannot get such unity in Britain, you cannot expect it when nine nations are involved. But each group can perhaps agree on a platform that will stretch across the frontiers, while its partisans 963 in each nation add some items of special local attraction. I would, for example, expect English candidates to put much more emphasis on the regional fund, as Britain is a beneficiary, than would German candidates, because the German taxpayer has to make disbursements on behalf of this fund. Of course, the pure Europeans really want the newly directly-elected Parliament to be absolutely independent of national Parliaments. They want it to be supranational. They see it doing battle with the Council of Ministers and the European Council, as the Summit is now confusingly called, demanding more powers for themselves and fighting for European solutions. There will, of course, be rhetorical battles of this kind; we have them now. But the Council shows a selective deafness to these evangelical cries and will continue to do so.
I do not think there is magic in a Parliament just because it is democratically elected. It needs also to have public opinion behind it. And I do not believe that the British referendum was in any way a vote for European federalism; a view which is shared by the leader of the Conservative delegation to the European Parliament. I should have thought that public pressures would be all the other way. Nor do I think there is a possibility in the near future of anything in Europe except a step by step approach to union. Indeed, we shall be lucky to avoid steps away from it, such as the French departure from the Snake last week. And has not Herr Schmidt said just as clearly as Mr. Callaghan that the competences of the Parliament will never be allowed to go ahead of those of the other institutions? British Socialists and British Conservatives elected to the Parliament will still be British Socialists and British Conservatives. They must still have some regard to the domestic and foreign policies expressed in the national Parliament.
All these things considered, I think that the case for the dual mandate remaining is very strong. But of course, it cannot be a dual mandate of the present kind. I totally disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, on this. In March, there were 20 Parliamentary days—fewer in this House—and on 13 of the 20 we were away on the Continent, 964 while even next month when Easter intervenes we shall be away for 11 days. Neverthless, there should be some way of associating European MPs with the Westminster Parliament, though without any obligations to the Whips and without any conventional duties to constituents. If we do not do that, and if the European MPs are not Members of the Westminster Parliamentary Parties, they will be out of the mainstream of political life and we shall not get young men and women of ministerial calibre giving dedicated service to Europe, if it means that they are never going to be Ministers in Britain, for there is no promotion in the European Parliament except to the Parliament's own rather unglamorous offices.
To sum up I want to see sets of Members for large regions, perhaps a set of three as was suggested, chosen by some proportionate system; I want them to fight on a European political platform; I want them to have a place with only nominal duties, but with certain privileges in the national Parliament; and I want to see a mixture of experience and skills that can cope with the very complex problems studied in detail by the committees of this European Parliament.
§ 8.10 p.m.
§ Lord BANKS
My Lords, this has been a most interesting debate. It is impossible to over-emphasise the importance and significance of the introduction of direct elections. The first sentence of the Treaty of Rome speaks ofan ever closer union among the peoples of Europe"—among the peoples of Europe, not Governments. Through direct elections that union of peoples will be given a structural reality. Secondly, direct elections will reflect the faith of the Community in Parliamentary democracy. That is vitally important in the circumstances of today. Thirdly, despite what has been said by some noble Lords this afternoon, I am convinced that the introduction of direct elections will lead to greater powers for the European Parliament. At the same time as the European Council is discussing direct elections. I understand that it will also be discussing the Tindemans Report which speaks ofa growing exercise of the legislative function965 by the European Parliament—a function which it does not exercise at the moment. It speaks also of "a real right of initiative" for the European Parliament and puts forward certain modest proposals for increases in the powers of the European Parliament in the immediate future. I hope that increased powers and direct elections will go hand in hand.
I was interested in what the noble Lord, Lord Gordon-Walker, had to say about the need for a government in the Community if the European Parliament is to come alive. It is interesting to compare what the noble Lord said with the report of the Commission of the Community on European Union which was published last summer. In their report the Commission said that European union means the development of a European governmental executive or it means nothing, and the noble Lord, Lord Gordon-Walker, spoke about the possibility of some development along those lines once direct elections had been introduced. For all these reasons, I look forward to the introduction of direct elections and very much hope that the target date of May-June 1978 will be adhered to.
I was glad to hear the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, say that the Government would sincerely try to keep to that date. We shall certainly seek to keep the Government to it. I must confess that my reaction to the news about a Select Committee was similar to that of many noble Lords—namely, a fear that it might lead to delay. I agree wholeheartedly with what my noble friend Lady Seear had to say about that possibility.
A great deal has been said in the debate about the size of the Parliament and the distribution of the seats. As we know, the Assembly has recommended that there should be 355 seats, and 67 of those would be United Kingdom seats. In terms of population, the incorporation of the basic quota of six seats means that the final distribution of seats is weighted in favour of the smaller States. We cannot ignore what has been said in the course of the debate about the representation of Scotland and Wales when compared with that of smaller countries. For that reason, there is much to be said for the scheme put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Reay. If we have the 966 opportunity to press that scheme I should welcome it, but feel that if there is general agreement on the Assembly proposals the point should, perhaps, not be pressed. In any event, on the Assembly basis the biggest four countries—Germany, France, Italy and the United Kingdom—will have a slightly higher percentage of the seats in the European Parliament, once direct elections come into force: a higher percentage, that is, than they have under the present arrangement.
I should like to add a word about the system of election and the need for a proportional system which has been expressed by so many speakers today. The noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, who has just spoken mentioned once again that the likelihood is that, even if it were to poll what it polled in 1974—nearly 20 per cent. of those voting—the Liberal Party would get no seats whatsoever. If the single Member constituency system is maintained, that would very likely be the case. Last weekend a conference was held in Stuttgart at which Liberal Parties throughout the Community met together to create a federation of Liberal Parties, with a view to fighting the direct elections on a Community basis. This conference was held at the invitation of Herr Genscher, the German Foreign Minister, and Gaston Thorn, the Prime Minister of Luxembourg; and the President of the Council of Ministers at the moment was elected as President of that federation. The Liberal Party present at that conference with the largest popular vote was the British Liberal Party. It would be quite absurd—certainly it would seem absurd to all those who were there—if the British Liberal Party were the one Liberal Party which did not have any representation in the directly elected European Parliament.
However, as the noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, has mentioned, it is not only the Liberal Party which will suffer. The single-Member constituency distorts, and the larger the single Member constituency the greater the distortion. And the larger the constituency—and Britain would have 67 instead of 635—the more opinion in that constituency will tend to reflect opinion in the country as a whole. Therefore, the Party which is top of the opinion poll at the moment of the Election is likely to sweep the board. That is another factor which we have to take into 967 account. These distortions—the denial of representation to Liberals and the grave distortion of the representation of the Labour and Conservative Parties—would affect the whole balance of political groups in the European Parliament. Therefore we could not say that this was just a domestic matter; it would be a matter of concern to everybody in the European Parliament.
May I say a word about the dual mandate? I agree that the dual mandate should not be compulsory, for it imposes too great a burden. If I understand their Report correctly, I am inclined to agree with the Select Committee that when we are thinking of direct elections the previous suggestions which have been made to overcome this problem are not entirely satisfactory. They might have been satisfactory if we had been proceeding under Article 138(1), but if we are moving on to direct elections under Article 138(2), those suggestions are superseded and we have to consider a new method. I am much attracted to the suggestion which is put forward in the Report of the Select Committee and to the slightly different solution which was put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Walston.
I support the idea of the five-year term. On the question of simultaneous elections, I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Walston, for I do not believe it would be satisfactory to hold the Community election at the same time as our own General Election. European issues would be completely pushed on one side—at any rate, either in the initial elections or if it were done in that way. I do not think it would matter if the political balance of the British delegation to the European Parliament were different from what existed in the British Parliament. One reason is that to a degree the British delegation would be absorbed into the political groups of the European Parliament. In any event, the political balances there would be very different from what they are in this country. I am not sure that I agree with the suggestion that we should have the elections for the European Parliament at the same time as local elections in this country. I can see that there are pros and cons. The difficulty is that of arousing interest.
968 We managed to arouse interest during the referendum campaign and secured a percentage vote in that referendum which was much higher than many thought in the early stages would have been possible. But a lot will depend upon how the issues are presented; whether the public feel that they are offered a real choice and how effective they think their vote is and how enthusiastic the participants are. Enthusiasm is important, and if I were to venture any criticism of the constructive and careful speech with which the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, introduced the debate, it would be to say that enthusiasm was not its most notable characteristic and the attitude behind the speech might perhaps be better described in the Gilbertian phrase "modified rapture". But enthusiasm is important and a lot of the success of the election campaign when we come to direct elections will hinge on that. So, my Lords, I end where I began, by stressing again the significance of the step from a nominated to a directly elected Parliament. I believe it is an exciting step, a decisive step on the road—and it may well be a long road—to a genuine European Union.
§ 8.21 p.m.
§ Lord SHEPHERD
My Lords, a number of noble Lords have said that we have had a fascinating, an interesting debate. That is true. From the Government's point of view we have had a most helpful and constructive debate. As my noble friend Lord Goronwy-Roberts said at the outset, the Government—and particularly the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, who on Thursday and Friday will be meeting their colleagues of the European Community—wish to know what are the "gut reactions" (if I may use that unparliamentary phrase in your Lordships' House) to the general proposals for direct elections. With my noble friend I will give great consideration to what has been said by all noble Lords—and particularly the noble Lord, Lord Tranmire—and will see that these views are conveyed to my right honourable friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary.
I am going to be more than cautious this evening because there is a two-day debate in another place and I would not in any way wish to preclude the 969 final view, if there is to be a final expression of feeling, of the Government on this important issue. I approach this matter rather like the noble and learned Lord, Lord Diplock, and the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan. The noble and learned Lord said that there will be a profound change as a consequence of direct elections. If the noble and learned Lord had not said it, I had only got to look at my noble friend Lord Castle, who was once a strong anti-Marketeer and has now made a very strong speech in support of the European Parliament. I thought the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, expressed it very well indeed when he said that an elected European Parliament should not be seen as a threat to democracy in Europe or in this country, but as a bastion. The noble Lord is quite right. It should never be for this country to question the seeking of democratic rights and the free expression of views of all those who may be a constituent of a particular Parliament or Assembly.
Having said that, of course there are major difficulties; practical difficulties. If I may say so, some noble Lords and noble Baronesses who have spoken today have underestimated the major problems, particularly for this country, in adapting to a new arrangement. The "nuts and bolts" are indeed formidable and I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Castle, who mentioned the question of cost of fighting elections for very large constituencies. I will return to that in a moment.
I do not intend to answer any of the particular points that have been made, except for one, because I think that is absolutely fundamental to the issue. Various noble Lords have felt that the Government's decision to offer to send this matter—particularly Part II—to a Select Committee was a means of delaying the issue; the avoidance of reaching a decision this week. Anyone who has studied this problem, as I know the noble Lord, Lord Duncan-Sandys, has, will know that there is no unanimity yet among the Governments of the EEC. I will not single out any particular country, except to refer to two—Denmark and France. Denmark takes a particular view in one direction which I doubt very much whether we would share, and the French take another. The French are seeking—to use that horrible phrase that 970 has now come into the dictionary—the proportionality matter; seeking representatives as equally based as possible upon a nation's numbers. I am personally attracted rather more to the French than to others, although I believe that with the smaller countries—Luxembourg and Denmark in particular—there needs to be some balancing mechanism, not only to see that they have a fair representation but that they are able to participate in the many committees that make up the European Parliament.
If I had any criticism of the debate today, it is that it seemed as though many noble Lords were speaking of membership, whether it was elected or designated, of the European Parliament or European Assembly as representing a nation. Under the noble Lord, Lord Maybray-King, the main fact that came through to me was that Members went there not to represent their country—although they did—but to represent the various ideals of the Party or the association to which they belonged. I thought this was one of the great hopes of the European Parliament or Assembly, and that it should put aside the narrower national interests and should look to the European ideal of which other noble Lords have spoken today.
The Government's intention in setting up the Select Committee is that we should look into the matter. We believe that this is a major constitutional issue and that we should ask the Committee to work with the greatest possible speed. But it would not be our wish—I am repeating the words of my noble friend Lord Goronwy-Roberts—to hold up the other Member States who want to go ahead with the introduction of direct elections, and we shall ask the Committee to work to a timetable on which decisions are needed in the Community.
We have worked throughout our period of office and prior to the referendum with the object of co-operating with our colleagues. That is our intention today. But I believe that there is a genuine recognition among our Community friends that there are practical difficulties to be overcome. These are briefly set out in Part II of the Green Paper; the size and composition of the European Assembly. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Duncan-Sandys, and my noble 971 friend Lord Gordon-Walker, and most who took part in the debate, thought that the Government's decision was about right. We are not being too firm, but we think that the figure which has been recommended in the draft Convention is about right. There is a degree of flexibility there.
I must say that I was surprised that so little was said about the date of the elections. The noble Lord, Lord Banks, referred to it, as did my noble friend Lord Walston. I think that there can be a great deal of argument about this, and a great deal that needs to be said. The noble Lord, Lord Banks, and I think my noble friend, turned down the idea of holding these elections to the European Parliament at the same time as a General Election. The noble Lord, Lord Banks, also turned it down in terms of local authority elections. Personally, I rather agree with him, because local authority elections ought to be about local authority matters and not about European matters. Yet European matters have a closer relationship to national policy.
§ Lord WALSTON
My Lords, may I intervene in order to correct a misapprehension on the part of my noble friend? I thought that there was much to be said for having the European Parliament elections on the same day as the General Election.
§ Lord SHEPHERD
My Lords, I beg my noble friend's pardon. I am glad to see that he shares my personal view. I am trying to explain to the House why I hold that view. In your Lordships' House even as a Minister one is allowed to express personal views. I do not think that it is entirely a question of money. We have to recognise that in this country democratic elections are largely, if not entirely, dependent on voluntary labour: the men and women who knock on doors, and who write masses and masses of envelopes from the Parliamentary register. These are all essential parts of fighting elections. It is not the speech-making, the televising, or the poster; it is these other things which are the core of elections. When one considers the number of elected bodies that have been created in recent years, one wonders whether the voluntary organisations of all political Parties could take on another election of 972 this character, taking into account the very size of the constituencies.
We should look at this matter not solely as a question of principle; whether it should be this date, or should be that date. I think that we should have at the backs of our minds that when we have an election it is by a large electorate, a large vote. If there is a large turnout, a good percentage voting on that occasion, then we can speak of the authority and credibility of our representatives, our Members in that Parliament. That is where their responsibility and power will lie. Again, this is an area for which I think the Select Committee is best suited. It is for the Parties, both in this place and in another place, to consider whether they should take up the offer of the Government for a Select Committee. We need to consult as to whether it should be a Joint Committee, or whether we should set up our own separate Committees, meeting jointly when it suits us. This is something for discussion, and discussion very quickly.
May I speak personally. I am attracted to the idea of the noble Lord, Lord Tranmire, about Part III, the nuts and bolts "of an election, the question of the form of voting, "first past the post", proportional representation, or a mix, which are clearly matters for a Speaker's Conference. I shall certainly see that the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Tranmire, is immediately conveyed to my right honourable friends. I must say that there is a great deal of logic in what he has said. Clearly the time element is not quite so important as it is in terms of Part II.
In regard to a domestic matter, Peers and the right to vote, I hope that the House will have been satisfied by what my noble friend Lord Goronwy-Roberts said. There was a little misunderstanding in terms of the drafting. It was not intended. I must say that I was surprised that some noble Lords have not raised the question of the clergy, because of course the clergy are, at present, precluded from voting in Parliamentary Elections.
§ The Earl of LAUDERDALE
My Lords, is it not the case that clergy of the Established Church holding, in some cases, offices of profit under the Crown, 973 are denied the right to stand for Parliament? Surely they can vote.
§ Lord SHEPHERD
My Lords, yes, in terms of voting, but in terms of standing, because we also have the question of Peers standing. Clergy are precluded from standing for Parliament, and so are judges. I should have thought that there are numbers within these excluded categories who could be considered in terms of candidature for the European Parliament.
May I now turn to a more domestic matter; that is, the Amendment of the noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale, asking me to carry out the undertakings I gave last July in regard to a Select Committee, its terms of reference and consultations about the way in which your Lordships' House designate from our numbers to the European Parliament. I had to consider the undertaking that I gave to the noble Earl and to the House. I am still of the view that I would not be averse, in principle, to the setting-up of a Select Committee. But I said that we had to take into account the relationship between the two Houses, and that this was a matter that we had to consider in terms of any setting-up of a Select Committee and any terms of reference.
I carried out wide consultations. I was grateful to those noble Lords in respect of their Parties, and the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, from the Cross-Benches, who acknowledged the degree of consultation which has taken place. I first of all sought to see whether there was a basis under which we could consult with another place—this was again part of an undertaking that I had given in an earlier debate—to see whether some change could be agreed in regard to representation of the whole of Parliament in the EEC Parliament. It really was in response to the pressures that were laid upon me during that particular debate in July by the fact that there was no Liberal in your Lordships' House being appointed, and, of course, the very great loss, which I think we all recognised, of the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, from the Independent Benches.
My Lords, I carried out full consultations, certainly on two occasions before Christmas, and certainly on at least two occasions, with various quarters of the House, between Christmas 974 and March. I have also been with my Chief Whip and the noble Earl, Lord St. Aldwyn, the Opposition Chief Whip, to consult with another place, as the noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale, may well say, the Party managers, the Leader of the House, the Chief Whip and the senior representatives of the Conservative Opposition. I have to report that the view from that meeting was very clear. It was that under the terms of Article 138 it is for Parliament to designate, according to their form and practice, the representation to the European Community.
§ The Earl of LAUDERDALE
My Lords, would the noble Lord allow me to intervene for one moment; I do not want to interrupt unduly. When he says, "according to their form and practice", is he not reading a meaning into the text of the Treaty which is not there? It says, "In accordance with procedure laid down" by each State. That is quite different from "customary form and practice".
§ Lord SHEPHERD
My Lords, it is not, if I may say so, so far as my understanding of Parliament goes. "Laid down" is something that is ordained by resolution. To the best of my knowledge, under the previous Administration and under this, we have not sought to lay down; we have followed the course of procedure and practice.
§ The Earl of LAUDERDALE
My Lords, I am sorry to intervene again. I am much obliged to the noble Lord, who is always very courteous and particularly patient with me and I know I annoy him most. When he says that this has been decided by resolution, surely no resolution has ever been taken by either House that the matter should be done in this way. All that has happened is that names have been put before both Houses, following the previous custom as regards Western European Union, and that has gone through on the nod. It has never been proposed to either House as such that this should be regularly and properly the way our MEPs are designated.
§ Lord SHEPHERD
My Lords, clearly I did not make myself very clear to the noble Earl. I did not say that it was done by resolution. I said there 975 had been no resolution; that we were basing ourselves on procedure and practice. Prior to this Administration, the Conservative Government, although the Opposition decided that they would not be represented at the EEC, set up certain procedures which were accepted by both Houses. So far as this Government are concerned, we have carried on exactly in conformity with practice".
My Lords, Members go to the European Community to represent their political Parties as they are in another place. The noble Earl referred to Article 137, the representatives of the people. In Parliament, there can, therefore, be only one representative, or one class of representatives, the elected Members of the House of Commons. Parties have agreed, certainly the minorities with some regret, that the numbers that should go, taken out of the 36, should be based upon tried custom adopted for very many years at the WEU; that the Government Party, irrespective of its majority, should have a maximum number of 18, and the Opposition Parties should have a maximum of 16, the difference being split among the various other Parties.
My Lords, what is required of us in this place is really decided upon by the political Parties. It may be that another place have decided that they could only send, at least from the Conservative and Labour side, because of Whip problems, Division problems, an agreed number of Members of the House of Commons, and, therefore, they have called upon us to send perhaps a bigger number than we would normally expect. In the case of the Liberal Party, they have decided that their representative should come from this place rather than from the other place. This is all based upon what the representatives of the people have decided. Whether it is right or wrong, so far as your Lordships' House is concerned, I suppose is open to debate, but we are confronted with the political realities.
I must say to the noble Earl that I have no doubt that the noble Baroness, Lady Elles, or perhaps even more the Deputy Chief Whip, the noble Lord, Lord Denham, would take great exception—whatever dressing-up there may be, whether it is a Committee of Selection or 976 some other body—to Members of the Independent Benches sitting in judgment on which noble Lords should go to the European Community to represent the Conservative Party. Certainly, I would take the deepest possible exception if the Liberal Party were to participate in deciding which of my noble friends were to go to represent the Labour Party at the European Community. I would say only this to the noble Earl. I do not know what goes on in the Conservative Party, what ratification there may be, but so far as the Parliamentary Labour Party is concerned, it is the Parliamentary Party itself that agrees, in formal session, what the representation shall be of the Parliamentary Labour Party. It has nothing to do with what the Chief Whips decide to do; it is a matter for the Parliamentary Labour Party itself.
§ Lord GLADWYN
My Lords, I do not at all disagree with the general thesis the noble Lord is putting forward. I do not agree, I do not think my friends agree, with the proposals, generally speaking, of the noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale. What we hoped, and rather thought, would be the object of the manoeuvres and negotiations of the noble Lord at the end of the last debate last July was to try to get agreement with the political Parties on some less unfair method of nominating people from the Liberal Party. There was a general feeling in this House, I think I am right in saying, that it was monstrously unfair on the part of both Parties to reduce the Liberal Party membership from two to one. With good will it could easily have been rectified, but there was no suggestion of anything of the kind. Both the Parties insisted on their elective rights; there is no reason to suppose they are rights, in our view. I can only continue to protest at the way this matter has been handled up to now.
§ Lord SHEPHERD
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, is quite right in putting his point of view. The decision did not go the noble Lord's way. But the Liberal view was expressed and I also went out of my way to see—by correspondence with all those who participated—that the Independent view was known so that there could be no misunderstanding about what many in your Lordships' House felt about the matter.
977 I can only say to the noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale, that I carried out my undertakings in the earlier debate to see that this matter should be properly examined. As a consequence of what I said to the House, it did not seem to me sensible or practicable to suggest to the House that we should set up a Select Committee to decide how this House should decide how its Members should be allocated and decided upon, bearing in mind the political structure, the political purpose and the political role of the European Communities to which this Parliament sends its representatives. But if we have to have a period of time when direct elections take place in all the other countries, but we require time in which to put our own machinery into being—and this is clearly a matter which will exercise the mind of the noble Earl and I have no idea at all what the terms of reference of the Select Committee will be—clearly Parliament will need to consider the problem of designation, because it will not be 36 but 67 representatives, a very major problem for the two Houses.
My Lords, there are some who have said in this debate that the time that we are seeking to look at this matter with care could be unlimited. I should have to say to the House that the derogation that we have obtained is a derogation to miss direct elections in the first instance. If we do not solve this problem between that election and the next election, then we should have to seek a further relaxation. I do not believe that that is necessary, but I do believe that in the time scale that many have in mind we need this degree of flexibility to put our machinery into order, but above all else that, when we take the draft Order in Council to ratify the decision of the Prime Minister, Parliament should be aware of it and Parliament could never say, as it might have said in the past, that we were not fully conscious of what we were being asked to agree to.
§ The Earl of LAUDERDALE
My Lords, before the noble Lord resumes his seat, may I ask him to clear up two points which were glossed over? With regard to the consultations to which he referred, did they take place with all the quarters of the House, as promised; in other words, with the Law Lords and the Bishops included? Secondly, did they refer specifically to proposed terms 978 of reference for a Select Committee, as also promised?
§ Lord SHEPHERD
My Lords, my understanding is that the four quarters are the political leadership and those who represent the Independents. It is not for me to say whether the Law Lords or the Bishops are members of the Independent Benches or have a body of their own. What was the noble Earl's second question?
§ The Earl of LAUDERDALE
My Lords, I asked whether the consultations referred specifically to proposed terms of reference for a Select Committee, as promised?
§ Lord SHEPHERD
No, my Lords. They were to seek whether there was a basis on which a committee could be set up; whether terms of reference could in fact be designed to meet the problem.
§ 8.54 p.m.
§ The Earl of LAUDERDALE
My Lords, I wish, first, to apologise to some noble Lords for my absence from the Chamber when they were speaking. This was because of the quite human requirement of a cup of tea and the still more human requirement to ensure that my language had been correctly recorded by Hansard. If this has been a day of long rather than short speeches, it has also been a day attracting professional as distinct from realistic Europeans. Nearly all who have spoken have feared, or admitted or hoped that delay is desirable, likely or certain. I personally fear, with the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donning-ton, that the pursuit prematurely of direct elections is the pursuit of shadows rather than of substance. I remain quite certain that the present system is unworthy and deserves a radical overhaul, and that the longer it lasts the more scandalous it becomes.
The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, was as helpful as he could be, though I must say I was disappointed at the reply he gave me. Of course, on the question of his Party not wishing its Members to be chosen by ours, that I dealt with in my speech, but perhaps at that moment he was thinking of something else. Having listened to what he said—to his curious manipulation of the meaning of "laid down"; his curious manipulation of Article 137 where the representatives 979 from the whole of Parliament are representatives of the people, and he says that they are merely representatives of the Parties I can only repeat that none are so deaf as those who will not hear. He referred to the way in which the consultations were carried out. He now says that they were with all political quarters of this House, but that was not the qualification that he used at the time. He says that they were not about terms of reference but merely about whether a basis could be found for terms of reference. We could go on quibbling like this indefinitely. I can only say that the least the noble Lord could have done would have been to have come to the House before the deadline he set himself, which was 10th March, and told us what the situation was. The moral, I think, is that it is no good simply relying on an undertaking from a Minister unless one goes on nagging him at Question Time week after week or month after month. This House is entitled to expect that an undertaking is not only honoured but is seen to be honoured exactly, otherwise Ministerial undertakings are devalued.
The reactions to my Amendment suggest that my arguments fell upon your Lordships this afternoon with all the crisp ring of an underdone pancake. Thus, lacking adequate support in this very thin House at this particular time, but determined to return to this subject perhaps rather more persistently than I have done in the last nine months when I was relying on the noble Lord's undertaking, I beg leave to withdraw my Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.