HL Deb 18 May 1976 vol 370 cc1354-84

7.28 p.m.

Lord NORTHFIELD rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what policy they are adopting in consultations with other Member Governments of the European Communities about the choice of a permanent site for the European Parliament. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper, and I should like to thank my noble friend for being here at the end of what must be a long working day for him and being ready to deal with it at this comparatively late hour.

Perhaps I should begin by explaining my own connection with the problem. In the years 1971 to roughly 1974 I was living in Europe as a research Fellow for one or two of our universities, working on the European institutions, and while living for some considerable time in Brussels I was privileged to be, first, the guest of the European Parliament which allowed me, as I think the only outside person who has ever had that privilege, actually to attend the private meetings of its committees. Secondly, I was the guest of the Socialist group at the European Parliament, and indeed I am still on the mailing list and for three years, until my noble and honourable friends joined the European Parliament, I was the one tenuous and totally informal and unofficial link between the British Labour Party and our Socialist colleagues in Europe.

Thirdly, during that period I was virtually given the run of the building of the European Commission by my friend Emile Noel, the Secretary of the Commission, again for research purposes, and was able to see not only the life of the Parliament, but also the life of officials in the European Commission. All in all, therefore, I had a bird's eye but intimate view of the way that the European institutions worked. May I say I was a detached observer, which perhaps added some little clarity to my own experience.

My Lords, we know what the present position of the European institutions is as regards their seat. Article 216 of the EEC Treaty says that, The seat of the institutions of the Community shall be determined by common accord of the Governments of the Member States.

This is a purely inter-governmental matter kept separate from the machinery of the European Community. Article 216 is based on Article 77 of the Coal and Steel Community in 1952, so this question of deciding seats by the relevant European institutions has a long history.

When we come to what has been happening, the first major decision concerning the seat of the European Parliament after the EEC came into existence was a decision in 1958 by the Foreign Ministers that, The Assembly shall meet in Strasbourg. More recently, in April 1965, there was what was called the Decision of the Representatives of Governments of Member States on the Provisional Location of Certain Institutions "—a terribly high-sounding phrase. Article 1 of that Decision of 8th April 1965 says: Luxembourg, Brussels and Strasbourg shall remain the provisional places of work. Article 4 of that same Decision says: The general secretariat of the Assembly "— that is, of the European Parliament— shall remain in Luxembourg.

The Parliament itself has obeyed this very well indeed, and in its rules and procedures has stated that the plenary sessions of the Parliament and its committees shall meet at the seat fixed in accordance with the Treaty. The Parliament has played the game, and has not tried unduly to break the rules. Here we have a situation where the seat was supposed to be fixed by the Governments. It never has been, and the Parliament is still under a provisional Decision of 1965, that the provisional place of work is in three places, with the secretariat placed in Luxembourg.

The present position, therefore, is one of total confusion. We have a secretariat in Luxembourg, in that fine building which I know so very well, and to which has now been added another one. Strasbourg is the place for the main plenary sessions, separate, obviously, from the secretariat in Luxembourg. Secondary plenary sessions, the less important ones of one or two days' duration—I have been to many of them, and other noble Lords in this House doubtless have been to them as well—the separate and less important monthly plenaries, are held in a new small building in Luxembourg, a building which is totally inadequate, which holds only 198 at a pinch, with no real galleries for visitors or for the Press, and which is totally unsuitable for a Parliamentary building. However, it is a good makeshift and saves all this travelling to Strasbourg. But all these minor sessions are held with increasing French hostility. The French claim that all should be in Strasbourg. At intervals, there have been exchanges of letters with the French Government, who have protested, and protested again, that not everything is held in Strasbourg.

On top of this, the Parliament has a building in Brussels where its committees meet. The Parliament is happy to have this, because it means the committees have ease of access to the Commission Members and to the facilities, which now exist in Brussels, of the European scene. Finally, of course, there is the occasional committee sitting in other parts of Europe. Combined with all this confusion on the Parliamentary side, there is the simple fact that the Commission and Council are now firmly and finally, I would have thought (despite the provisional nature of the 1965 Decision) established in their own building in Brussels, so they are separate from the Parliament at Strasbourg and at Luxembourg. The confusion is becoming so difficult that I cannot quite describe it all.

My Lords, the disadvantages of all this are clear enough. There is the familiar scene of the caravan which starts out from Luxembourg for the plenary sessions in Strasbourg. It is a caravan of pantechnicons, moving books, papers, and great tin trunks of documents in a convoy from Luxembourg to Strasbourg, from the secretariat to the meeting place at Strasbourg, every time a session is to take place. I suppose the least important fact is that this is costing a lot of money. It cost £1 million in direct costs two or three years ago, but, added to the direct costs we know about, the hidden costs in terms of travelling time, duplicated equipment, with some equipment in Luxembourg duplicated in Strasbourg, and so on, and the physical burden on people who are doing all this ridiculous travelling about, must make the total figure into quite a tidy sum.

More important is the sheer inefficiency of all this. There are under-used libraries in Luxembourg. There is a library being built up for the European Parliament which cannot be used even when the European Parliament is having its main sessions in a borrowed building in Strasbourg. There are occasions when documents cannot readily be got hold of during the Strasbourg sessions because, of course, they are 200 kilometres away in Luxembourg. Indeed, it would not be unfair to join the Parliament in saying, as it has done from time to time, that frankly this confusion, this inefficiency, means that Parliamentary control over the Executive is being hampered. That is a crucial argument for bringing some order into this ridiculous situation. Parliamentary control over the Executive tends to slip through when all kinds of travelling is taking place, documents cannot be found, and people are unsettled. We are all visitors, itinerants in some foreign city. No sense of concert between the bodies can exist as a regular feature because they are all squatters in a foreign land, and when I say "foreign" I mean no sense of insult to the French, but foreign to the real seat of the institutions of Europe. That, then, is the first disadvantage.

The second disadvantage is that the European Parliament in meeting in Strasbourg, and perhaps even to some extent in Luxembourg, is distant from the professional associations, the employers and trade union confederations that are now Europe-wide and all installed in Brussels. The very people with whom the Parliament ought to be in continuous contact are far away and do not get to Brussels. I have been to so many sessions that I can say this without fear of contradiction: there is no life in the corridors in Strasbourg when a debate is taking place. There is no one there. The great lobbies that ought to be waiting on the Parliament and bringing life to it just do not turn up, except, perhaps, when someone turns up with a cow and tries to create a scene about agricultural prices. The really important, considered lobbies are not active when they are so far away. One might imagine in effect the United Kingdom Parliament, our own Chamber; imagine us without a home just meeting in an odd hall in Sheffield because it happened to be somewhere near the centre of the country. The whole essence of Parliament, its daily contact and its camaraderie in terms of meeting people and Press, would disappear.

The third disadvantage is the fact that small Press coverage results from this isolation from Europe's real active Community centre at the moment. Press coverage is spasmodic. When priority has to be decided in the mind of a journalist, he gives it to covering what is going on in Brussels, and only secondly to making that horrible trip to Strasbourg with all that squatting in hotels for several days.

What is the solution? I now want to come to the main points I want to make. I suppose it is impossible to say that we can now go for simply one seat for the Community's institutions, as Article 216 might have implied when it said, "The seat of the institutions", rather implying that they would all be together somewhere. Indeed it might not be a good thing. There is some value in dispersing them to some limited extent. We do not want all the European institutions in some sort of ghetto in one city. But at least some order ought to be brought into this situation and some centralisation should take place. That is the first thing. I would guess that my noble friend would agree that some order must be brought into this. In answer to Questions, my noble friend has said that he is awaiting the Parliament's opinion. This was raised some time ago, and he said that Parliament was preparing a new opinion on this subject and he is still awaiting it. With great respect to him—I know he will allow me to say this—this really is rather running away from the question. Parliament has given its opinion; it gave it in 1958 when it said, "It is advisable that Parliament should have its seat in the same place as the Executive together with its permanent Departments". It gave it in 1959; it gave it in 1960 when it asked for powers to make its own decision. It gave it in 1963, in 1964, in 1965, 1967, 1971—I could go on—and in some of those years it did not give it once but twice. To say that we have still got to sit down and wait for Parliament once again to state the obvious is rather running away from the question.


My Lords, I must intervene here. I assume that my noble friend is referring to the European Parliament?


Yes, my Lords.


My Lords, in view of the catalogue of decisions which my noble friend has listed from that Parliament, why has the European Parliament commissioned a report through the Political Affairs Committee and is itself waiting for that report and its recommendations?


My Lords, is my noble friend saying that the Commission has asked for such a report?


No, my Lords; Parliament. Despite the catalogue of decisions which my noble friend has adduced, Parliament has in fact recently asked its own Political Affairs Committee to prepare a report with a recommendation on this matter, and is itself, as a Parliament, waiting for that report.


My Lords, I am sure my noble friend is right and I do not dissent for one moment. All I am saying is that the Parliament is asked to do it once again, after having done it a hundred times. That should not be an excuse for our continuing to say that we are still waiting for something. The issue is known; the solution is known. I do not think we can any longer be put in this position of saying that the Parliament has got to say it for the hundred and first time.

The third point in regard to the solution is that there is no legal redress, unfortunately. The Parliament has no power; it is a matter being kept in the hands of the Governments. The Parliament cannot take the Member States to the Court of Justice, which would be the normal way. It has no access to the Court of Justice. The Commission has declined to take the Member-States to the Court of Justice on this issue, though probably under Article 169 it could so do. Indeed, there is a case to be made, because the Member-States are enjoined by the Treaty to help to ensure the fulfilment of the obligations of Member-States. They show very little signs of fulfilling the obligations on this matter of making a decision on the Parliament seat. So there is some case for taking the Member-States to the Court of Justice, but the only body competent to do so, the Commission, has apparently refused.

It seems we are, therefore, moving towards a situation where we shall have to wait for a fait accompli. The Parliament one day—and I suspect this will certainly happen when the Parliament is directly elected—is going to install itself somewhere and say, "You dare to move us". I would not blame it if it did, because this situation cannot continue very much longer. Once it is directly elected, it will feel it has the power to make that sort of decision in default of Governments living up to their obligations. There are precedents for institutions making up their own minds. In a sense the Commission and the Council seem to have installed themselves permanently in Brussels, even though they are supposed to be only temporarily there. The European Investment Bank, also named in the provisional list, has in fact bought itself premises in Luxembourg, contrary apparently to what was agreed in that Treaty of 1965.

So I ask my noble friend, is it not time that we said quite frankly that a decision should be reached by Member-States on this issue? And I put to him three or four quite simple and short questions to conclude. Is it not clear that Brussels is going to be the main centre of Europe, and should we not increasingly think in terms of a Parliamentary building more permanently there? Secondly, has the matter been recently discussed in the Council, or, if not in the Council, where it is perhaps not exactly appropriate, certainly between Member Governments; and what is the state of play? Thirdly, is it, as we all suspect, French intransigence over the future of Strasbourg that is holding up the decision, and, if so, is it not rather unreasonable of the French? I am very Francophile myself and happy to live a good deal of my life in France. But the French are not doing badly. The great new building in Strasbourg is very useful for the Council of Europe and for a whole lot of other international bodies. Why should they claim the European Parliament on top of all that? Finally, if, as my noble friend has said and reiterated today, the European Parliament does once again, for the hundred and first time, say that it wants the seat to be decided finally, what offer is he making on behalf of Her Majesty's Government as to the action that we shall then pursue to obtain some result to this unhappy situation?

7.49 p.m.

Baroness ELLES

My Lords, we owe a debt of gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, for having put down a Question which has, as he has pointed out, bedevilled the European Parliament, I think he said a hundred and one times, though I do not take him quite literally. It has also bedevilled those peripatetic Parliamentarians who have been going there from this country for the last three years. We are grateful to the noble Lord, not only for putting down the Question, but also for explaining with such great clarity the confused state of play, and spelling out the legal basis on which the European Parliament is able either to decide or not to decide its own site.

I should like to enumerate one or two of the worst aspects of the conditions under which Parliamentarians are meant to work, some of which the noble Lord has already touched on but some of which are felt very deeply by those who have to experience them. One need only refer to the fact that one spends, as a European Parliamentarian, over 100 days in a year at least in hotels in Brussels, Luxembourg or Strasbourg. There is no possibility of having any permanent or semi-permanent place of residence because of this peripatetic existence.

Secondly, there are no adequate working places for Members of Parliament. I cannot think of any commercial company, or business, which could remain active if it made any of its employees, of any level from top to bottom, work in the kind of conditions in which European Parliamentarians are expected to work. For instance, in Strasbourg there were 18 Members of the European Conservative group, and I think we were fortunate in sharing, from time to time, three tables. This, of course, is not conducive to your work.

Thirdly, there is the fact that you have nowhere to keep your papers. Your documents always have to travel with you. I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Burton of Coventry, would have every sympathy for the fact that when you arrive back at London Airport, always on the last finger of the apron, laden with papers, you walk a quarter of a mile without a trolley, and you have to carry these kilos of documentation back home, having waited, of course, over half an hour for your luggage at London Airport. These are just some of the minor inconveniences, which I know sounds light when you mention them like this, but when they are borne by Members week after week, month after month, and no prospect so far of having any change in the situation, I think we must again express gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, for having raised this Question.

I should like to put before your Lordships four criteria which I think should be taken into consideration by the Government when they are discussing this subject, we hope, in the near future. First, as the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, mentioned, the Parliament should be near the Commission. This would avoid a great deal of travel, and it is not necessary to labour that point. It should be mentioned at this stage that, although the noble Lord said that the Commission is permanently installed in Brussels, to a recent Question in the European Parliament, I think in April this year, a reply was given that of course the Berlaymont does not belong to the European Communities; it belongs to the Belgian Government, is let at something like £3 million a year and could be vacated within a year. Although it may decide to remain in Brussels, it should be borne in mind that it is not absolutely necessary, nor is it bound in any way to remain there.

Secondly, and this is a vital point, it should be near a major airport. There is no doubt at all that the airports of Luxembourg and Strasbourg are extremely inconvenient for the number of aircraft that take off. I say "take off", because it is a natural instinct that when you get somewhere you want to be able to get out of it, particularly if you are a Parliamentarian and you want to get back for a debate, or to vote, and it is very often impossible to do so. Of course, as the European Parliament and European institutions generally increase their international connections and their international work, I would say that it is one of the major necessities that it should be placed near an airport, if not like Brussels then certainly like the Charles de Gaulle Airport, which I would rate very highly as an international airport.

Thirdly, whichever country decides to offer to have the European institutions of the Commission and the Parliament, I think that it would be a sine qua non that the country concerned should be prepared to relinquish any rights over that territory, and it should become European Community territory rather in the same way as with the United Nations. I think that this would be an essential concomitant of having the European institutions provided by a particular country. Fourthly, not quite so important obviously but nevertheless this must be taken into account, there must be adequate space near the Commission building, wherever that is, not only for a European Parliament, which may eventually have to seat up to 500, but also adequate building space to erect suitable offices for Parliamentarians so that every Member should have his or her own office, very much as in the German Bundeshaus. They have a building for their Parliamentarians, and it is expected that a Parliamentarian, like any other citizen who is expected to do some decent work, is at least given a room with a table, a chair and a telephone.

These are very modest demands, but sometimes it is exactly these modest demands which get overlooked when Governments are making plans for the future.

Of course this question of the site of a European Parliament will obviously be considered within the terms of direct elections, because at the moment there are only 198 Members. With the prospect of direct elections coming, presumably, if not undoubtedly, there will be considerably more Members than 198. The whole question is, therefore, open again. I would not exactly take issue with the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, on this point, but it is extremely timely that the European Parliament, through its political committee, should be asked to reconsider the question, because it is no longer reconsidering the same question within the same terms; it is considering a question which has bedevilled the European Parliament but now in a completely new context, with the thought that there will be at least 350 newly and directly elected Members coming from the nine Member-States. I would very much welcome the report which will come from Mr. Patijn. Of course, I shall listen with great respect to what the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, will have to say on this subject. We shall certainly press the Government to take every action that is necessary to get this matter settled. Nevertheless, we hope that they will listen very carefully not only to what has been said tonight but to what Mr. Patijn will say in his future report.

7.58 p.m.


My Lords, I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, has raised this Question, if only to get perhaps a little publicity elsewhere than in this House at this moment, and for drawing attention once more to the really appalling circumstances under which the Members of the European Parliament have to work; and to the absurdity of the system and the waste of money, time, and energy of getting the secretariat moving from Luxembourg to Strasbourg and back again, the Parliament sometimes meeting in one place and sometimes in another, the secretariat in Luxembourg and the Commission and the committees in Brussels. It is a complete and absolute absurdity. But I am afraid that at the moment I think it is a bit of a non-issue, for two reasons. In the first place, whatever the exact legal position, the French believe—and I think that they have some reason to believe—that they have a veto on whether the Parliament remains in Strasbourg or whether it does not. There is somewhere or other in some treaty a clause saying that this can only be decided by unanimous agreement, which means the veto. At the moment they are quite unlikely, apart from anything else, to agree that it should be shifted from Strasbourg to anywhere else.

If the Parliament also has no powers, or very few powers, it is equally unlikely that there will be a very strong move on the part of the Parliament to desert Strasbourg. Of course, the French would he opposed to that, and certain other Members too. And it would require a considerable majority to make any drastic move, so at the moment, when the Parliament has not any great powers, it is, as I say, unlikely that any impetus is likely to come from the present Parliament. I regret that, but I am afraid it is so.

In theory, of course, even now, the Parliament could pass some resolution whereby it conformed with the law by having one meeting a year, shall we say, at Strasbourg, and for all the rest of the time it would vote a large sum of its budget to hiring some building, shall we say, for its secretariat in Brussels, and, perhaps by arrangement with the Belgian Government, making use of the Belgian Senate for the plenaries. That has been suggested. It is conceivable, but unlikely, for quite obvious reasons. It remains, however, a possibility.

Or they could agree even now to hold the great majority of their meetings in Luxembourg. At least that would mean the secretariat not having to shift to and fro most of the time, but that I think is also unlikely; there would be great opposition to it from the French. Even now, when we meet at Luxembourg, there is sometimes a move on the part of the French not to turn up. This is not conducive to efficient operations and so even that is not very probable. Of course, when it comes to a directly elected Parliament, Luxembourg—I think that Lord Northfield mentioned this—would he much too small. It would be impossible to cram everything in there. Even as things are it would hardly be possible to get all the Members of the Parliament into the building in Luxembourg, and when the Parliament is directly elected it would be out of the question.

One real difficulty will arise in the near future in regard to the site of the Parliament. Next January, in theory at any rate, the famous new building in Strasbourg will be opened. It is perhaps more likely in the spring. But even if the Ministers decide on direct elections in July and we have them in 1978, there will, even under the existing schedule, be at least a year during which we shall he expected, at any rate by the French, to evacuate our temporary buildings, which will then be pulled down, and move into the very imposing palace next door. I was asked by the President the other day to inspect this building with members of the Bureau. We went there—it is, of course, at present in a state of great confusion—and we were able to see what it will be like. My Lords, it will he magnificent, absolutely superb. It is also gigantic. What would happen if the Parliament ever left it to, say, the Council of Europe, I cannot think. The Council of Europe, meeting two or three times a year, has a small secretariat and would he lost in such an enormous building.

What would happen to it in such an event I do not know because, as I have explained, it could hardly be used by the Council of Europe only. There would be a strong movement, certainly on the part of, say, Mayor Pflimlin, and probably others, to say, "We have spent all this money on this huge and lovely building and now you propose to desert it and leave it to the Council of Europe. What a shame. That cannot be done". In the long run that argument will no doubt not prevail. Nevertheless, even for one year the rent of this enormous building will be colossal—I think it is £500,000 a year or something of that order—which the present Parliament will be expected to "cough up". I believe that the Budget Committee is objecting to that at the moment. The matter was discussed in the Bureau the other day and a certain amount of dismay was expressed, not unnaturally.

When indeed we went to inspect this great new palace we were presented with a lovely little paper written by the architect, a charming and very intelligent man, which started off by saying, in effect, " All this was agreed with the European Parliament and the Bureau in 1965, under the leadership of M. Poher, laid down everything that the European Parliament wanted". They had carried out that instruction; they had done exactly what the European Parliament wanted and he believed that the present Bureau had been kept constantly informed. I am however told by certain members of the Bureau that this is not the case; that the present Parliament thinks that it has not really been consulted and that therefore a very unsatisfactory situation is likely to arise. The architect and the French authorities will say that Parliament has been consulted and must pay £500,000 a year, while the Bureau will say that it has not been consulted and, in any case, does not propose to supply the money. What will happen then nobody knows. In any case, the whole future is fraught with difficulties, and I do not know whether the Minister will touch on it when he replies.

To sum up—I do not want to speak for too long about this—I am afraid that all the chances are that the Parliament will remain in Strasbourg until such time as it is directly elected, which we hope will be in two or three years' time. When it is directly elected it will, of course, be more important—it will have more powers—and then it will be able to put collective pressure on the Ministers to say, "We cannot go on like this. It is absolutely intolerable "; and then I think they will have to take a decision to move it from Strasbourg. What else can they do? But if they move from Strasbourg, where will they move to? The noble Baroness, Lady Elles, thought that the only hope would be to set up a sort of new District of Columbia somewhere. Originally the idea was, I believe, to transform the whole of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg into a District of Columbia. What would then have happened to the Grand Duchess I do not know, but that was the original idea and it fell through. It would have been marvellous but I do not think that that would be possible. What other District of Columbia will be carved out of France, Holland or Germany I do not know. With great respect to the noble Baroness, I should have thought that that was a non-starter.

I myself believe—and I think that with this the noble Lord, Lord Reay, agrees— that if one day it is going to move, and that day is bound to come, then the move will have to be to Brussels because there is really nowhere else to go. Therefore, it will mean either erecting a new building in Brussels or transforming some existing buildings. In the long run I think that that is how it will work out. For the moment, however, there is nothing we can do—we can protest, of course—except go on" grinning and bearing for the next two years. I do not know whether all my noble friends agree with me about that, but that is what I personally think.

8.6 p.m.

The PRINCIPAL DEPUTY CHAIRMAN of COMMITTEES (Baroness Tweedsmuir of Belhelvie)

My Lords, we are indeed indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, for raising this Question because it is a way by which we can find out what policy Her Majesty's Government really have and whether they are already in consultation, before the decision on direct elections, about a permanent site for the European Parliament. The only point on which I did not agree with Lord Northfield was when he said, in a rather despairing way, that he thought it was impossible to go for one seat, yet just before that he quoted to us the article in the Treaty of Rome which clearly says: The seat of the institutions of the Community shall he determined by common accord of the Member States. Of course, it is the common accord to which the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, referred which is so difficult to achieve.


My Lords, the point I intended to make was that unfortunately some bodies like the European Investment Bank and the Coal and Steel Community are really firmly established in Luxembourg, and I was hinting that in the end it would be a split between Luxembourg and Brussels because that was about the only possible outcome.


My Lords, it is true that Luxembourg has the Court of Justice and it is not expected—it has not been proposed at any time—that that should be moved: but what we are discussing is the site of the European Parliament, and I confess that my overriding impression when I visit Strasbourg or Luxembourg to see the Parliament is of the enormous cabin trunks standing in lines along the corridors and filled to overflowing with mountains of documents. My noble friend Baroness Elles and Lord Gladwyn spoke feelingly of the awful time they have travelling about and, I suspect, the great exhaustion and the inefficiency caused by so doing.

I think we all know why Strasbourg was originally chosen for the site of the European Parliament. It was close to the border of Germany and it was thought to be the symbol of the end of the terrible conflicts that had torn France and Germany for so many years. It is for this reason that the Council of Europe has always met in Strasbourg, and having myself served in the early years in the Council of Europe I can from personal experience agree about the inconvenience of Strasbourg's communications, which are still almost the same today. Luxembourg was chosen for some of the part sessions of the Parliamentarians because it was a very small Member of the Community and it was thought that to do so would ensure Luxembourg a share of the work and of the distinguished visitors.

I would entirely agree with those who say that Brussels, chosen as the site of the Commission and the Council, is likely to be the permanent site unless, in the distant future, we manage to attract other members in a different political sense from the Eastern borders of Europe. Then we might have to consider putting the site further East. But that is a long time ahead. Considering it now, it seems obvious that Brussels should be the site for the European Parliament in this context today. In the 22nd Report of our European Select Committee which dealt with the direct elections to the European Assembly—which is still the correct term—it says in the last sentence, If the European Assembly met at Brussels, it would provide opportunities for closer contacts between the Assembly and the Council and the Commission. This is really the point of the debate today. If at the same time we have to consider direct elections, we really must consider the size of the halls which are available. Luxembourg holds 200; the new hall at Strasbourg to which the noble Lord referred holds 400; and Brussels, at the Palais des Congrès, would hold 600 or more. Therefore, although we might eventually come to a decision on the numbers of Parliamentarians to be elected to the present European Parliament by direct election, we must leave room for those other countries which may in turn accede. So it seems to me that, even on the present showing, Brussels is the correct place to go.

Of course, Belgium and Holland support Luxembourg unless adequate compensation is given to that small country.


My Lords, I should like to ask the noble Baroness whether she is aware that Ernest Bevin, who was hotly opposed to any form of European union, asked his officials which place was the most difficult to get to? They said that it was Strasbourg and Ernest Bevin replied, "Let's settle for that."


My Lords, I should like to see that written down with chapter and verse because that is not my reading of Ernest Bevin's attitude to foreign affairs. He was a very great Foreign Secretary in his time. As I have already said, Luxembourg has the Court of Justice. One could compensate to some degree for the loss of the European Parliament's part sessions by having in Luxembourg one of the directorate generals. There is no reason why one should not do that. Strasbourg, which is of course firmly supported by France, must also have some form of compensation. I submit to the House that one could, for example, consider taking Paris and giving her the distinction of a permanent site for use under the d'Avignon procedures. In other words, the Foreign Ministers, who now meet four times a year, should as a matter of course meet in Paris.

Several noble Lords have referred to the cost of moving between the three cities. In Strasbourg, the new £25 million building will have to be rented for the Council of Europe at a cost of £320,000 a year or £10,000 a day if the Parliament holds six of its eleven meetings there. Their duration at present is usually a week. The Budgetary Committee of the European Parliament has voted unanimously against this cost.

As your Lordships all know, Luxembourg is 130 miles not only from the Commission and the Council at Brussels, but also from the many interested parties who visit Brussels to lobby permanent institutions and whom European Parlia- mentarians would clearly like to meet. The cost on the budget was quoted by the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, as about £l million a few years ago. But let us consider what is really involved. There is the extra staff needed to administer the buildings which are not in use; there are the extra staff for the information services. All the staff have to be housed. There are the services such as maintenance, water, the equivalent of rates, electricity. There are missions by permanent officials which take them away from their own work. There are, of course, the extra transport costs and, in answer to a Parliamentary Question in the European Parliament, it was said that 110 officials of the Commission were obliged to travel to the part sessions and that the budgetary consequences of this amounted to about BF700,000.

When Mr. Patijn comes to draft his report on this site of the Parliament, I do not feel that it ought to bedevil the issue of the size of the Parliament. I understand that that is the reason why it is not expected that he will report until after the July Summit. But I hope that the Government, in replying to the debate, will also say whether they arc really pressing for a decision in July on the number of seats, because only then will the decision on a permanent site for the Parliament be reached. I hope that they will do this so that, in the terms of the Treaty of Rome, they can reach a "common accord of the Member States."

8.17 p.m.


My Lords, I feel that we can be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, for introducing this debate and also for the comprehensive, balanced and constructive manner in which he did so. For my part, it was valuable and encouraging to see someone as knowledgeable and yet as detached as the noble Lord arriving at the same sort of conclusions as I myself had reached.

There seems no doubt that everybody here is agreed that the present arrangements for the European Parliament are highly unsatisfactory. They have been subjected to widespread criticism and even ridicule. And the commonest criticism now made of the Parliament is that it is, as the noble Lord put it, a caravan trekking laboriously and expensively across Europe. As the noble Lord and my noble friend Lady Tweedsmuir pointed out, many of the costs are hidden. Equipment has to be duplicated; there are the costs of renting and maintaining buildings in more than one place; basic staff infrastructure costs which have to be maintained in more than one place and so on. There are also the travel costs for the staff of the Parliament, which consists both of the staff of the groups in the Parliament and also the secretariat of the Parliament itself, who prepare the work of the committees. They all have to travel to the committee meetings in Brussels and to those plenary sessions which take place in Strasbourg. Then the staff of the Commission and the Council have to travel to all the plenary sessions, and that can be a very expensive form of travel, because from time to time the Commission finds itself obliged to hire aircraft for that purpose.

The other ill-effect is the loss of efficiency. The documentation for Members of the European Parliament should be available in all three places, but it is of course impossible to build up a proper library in three places. The noble Lord, Lord Northfield, referred to the fact that there is an under-used library in Luxembourg, but there are also insufficient libraries in the other two places of work. Officials have to spend far too much of their time in selecting documents to take with them, and so on. It is also difficult for Members of the European Parliament to maintain contact with the staff in the Parliament because they may not know where they are at any particular time. Finally, there is the objection which I felt was one of the most important points raised both by my noble friend Lady Tweedsmuir and by the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, and that is that Brussels is the place where the lobbyists, the trade associations and the journalists are established. They are discouraged by distance from maintaining those contacts which form part of the lifeblood of a Parliament and which can only take place where the plenary sessions are held.

With respect to the present arrangements, however, the one which works best and most naturally is the committee meetings in Brussels, because the Commission and its staff are there and they can easily attend these meetings to be interrogated and to explain their policy proposals and so on. However, even then, the Parliament staff has to travel up from Luxembourg.

So far as the plenaries are concerned, Luxembourg is better than Strasbourg, because the staff is there, and as a result of that the documentation facilities are better. The only factual point on which I take issue with the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, is that he said that the minor sessions only of the European Parliament now take place in Luxembourg. I do not think that that is any longer correct. For one thing, almost all the sessions last a full week now, and so there are really no minor sessions; and the balance has now shifted so that this year, for the first time, the majority of the Parliament's part sessions will be taking place in Luxembourg rather than in Strasbourg.

So far as Strasbourg is concerned, there is an historical explanation, which the noble Baroness, Lady Tweedsmuir of Belhelvie, gave us, but there is no logical or practical justification for us meeting there at all, save perhaps for the annual constituent part session which we hold in March. There are some who, taking note of the relatively greater efficiency of our holding meetings in Luxembourg rather than in Strasbourg—for the reasons I have given—would be willing to settle for a decision to fix the site of the European Parliament in Luxembourg. We have not had this preference stated baldly this afternoon, but it sometimes is. I do not share that view, and not simply for the reason, as the noble Baroness, Lady Elles, pointed out, that neither Luxembourg nor Strasbourg have sufficiently good communication networks, which they do not—nor do I think they would be likely to acquire them quickly. But the basic reason is that it is the essence of a Parliament that it positions itself so that it breathes down the neck of the Executive. It seems to me foreign to the whole concept of a Parliament that it is stationed at a distance from those with authority.

In theory this does not of course imply that the European Parliament has to go to Brussels; it implies only that the three institutions of the Community, the Commission, the Council, and the Parliament, should be situated in one place. Accordingly, I would remain open to any proposal which might bring about this result, although I suspect that it would be more practicable to move the Parliament to Brussels than to move the Commission, with its staff of 9,000, anywhere else.

Therefore, I think that a decision should be taken to site the Parliament permanently in a specified place, together with the Commission and the Council, and that that decision should he taken for the first directly elected Parliament. At the moment we do not know what the size of that Parliament will be. If, as I hope, it is a figure of between 300 and 400, then the only building that we would be able to use at present, as the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, pointed out, is the almost-completed new building in Strasbourg for the Council of Europe. But owing to the unsatisfactory nature of such an outcome, when the decision is finally taken in the Council of Ministers on the size of the Parliament, we shall need immediately to investigate the possibility of constructing a new building in Brussels, or of seeing whether there is in Brussels an existing building which could be adapted, while not wholly closing the door to the possibility that all the institutions might be moved somewhere else, although, as I say, I am sceptical as to whether that would be possible.

On the political problem of resiting the European Parliament out of Luxembourg and Strasbourg, and the matter of compensation, which the noble Baroness, Lady Tweedsmuir of Belhelvie, raised, I think that, so far as Luxembourg is concerned, the problem is not so much one of prestige as a problem of her losing, at a blow, the economic benefits brought about by the residence there of the Parliament staff, by the direct employment which the Parliament gives there, and, to a lesser extent, by the benefits which follow from the occasional visits paid by Members of the Parliament and others who attend the plenary sessions. What I would recommend is a thorough scrutiny of all further measures of efficient decentralisation that could be taken in favour of Luxembourg, and I thought that the suggestion of the noble Baroness, which I have not heard before, was extremely interesting. This should not be too difficult, particularly if the Community continues to develop new functions for itself; and then I would recommend postponing implementation of any such steps as are found to be worth while until they can be offered as a direct compensation for the loss of the Parliament.

With regard to Strasbourg, the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, has already indicated that this should not be such a blow. The problem here seems to me to be more one of prestige. Economically, Strasbourg would have less to lose than Luxembourg because the Parliament staff is not situated there and the benefits that flow from the siting of the Parliament there amount to less in relationship to the city's total economic activity. As to what the Community might offer Strasbourg, or France as a whole, in terms of compensation for this lost prestige, I do not know, and I should certainly like to consider the proposal of the noble Baroness, Lady Tweedsmuir of Belhelvie. But I do know that the remorseless hospitality which the municipality of Strasbourg currently extends to the visiting Parliamentarians, most generously and undoubtedly most sincerely, should not distract us from these underlying issues.

When this issue is debated—and it turns up from time to time in the European Parliament—the discussion is sometimes clouded by references to the desirability of decentralising the Community's institutions. But a distinction needs to be drawn—and I was not quite sure whether the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, has drawn this clearly enough—between efficient and inefficient decentralisation. I am not at all against decentralisation as such. The European Investment Bank is provisionally sited in Luxembourg, and, as has been pointed out, is building its own headquarters there. The Commission has located in Luxembourg its computer centre and its statistical office, and of course the Court of Justice is in Luxembourg. The European Patents Office is in Munich, and I think that this is a process which can continue, and not only to the benefit of Luxembourg.

Moreover, I see a value in the European Parliament itself holding meetings throughout the Community. But these should not be plenary sessions; rather they should be committee meetings or delegations from the Parliament or from the Parliament's committees. I see a symbolic value in such meetings, but also a practical value in making the representatives much better informed about conditions of life in one another's Member-States. If the Community suc- ceeds in developing into an integrated political unit, I doubt whether there will exist anywhere in the world a political organism in which the representatives from one constituent part are so broadly and characteristically ignorant of life as it is led and organised in all its aspects in the others, and that for very obvious and understandable historical reasons. At the moment the tendency of the Bureau of the Parliament is to refuse or discourage such meetings outside the official places of work. I think this attitude is understandable because it is the only way that the Bureau of the Parliament can act against the excessive amount of travelling which the Parliament does. But once the problem has been dealt with at its root, and the Parliament has been permanently sited in one place, then I think the policy of the Parliament in that respect—that is, with regard to meetings of committees, delegations and so on—could be less restrictive. This could have great benefits for the general standard of knowledge and familiarity of the Members of the Parliament with what goes on throughout the Community; and still there would be an overall net saving of money.

Finally, with respect to the timing of this Question, I sec it as preparing the way for the debate which we will have in the near future rather than as likely to inaugurate now such a debate. I appreciate the great impatience of the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, with which he was bothering the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, but I think the subject will not occupy the forefront of discussion until the Council of Ministers decide on the number and distribution of seats to the first directly-elected Parliament.

One major step at a time is enough for the Council of Ministers; but immediately that decision is taken, and if the objective of holding the first direct elections in May or June 1978—and that, after all, is only two years away—is retained, then the discussion of this subject will have to come into the open. The physical preparations for receiving the first directly-elected Parliament will have to proceed in parallel with the passage of the legislation, at national level, to enable those elections to be held. For it seems to me that the public can only be asked to elect members to a European Parliament whose site is fixed, known and logically defensible.

8.31 p.m.


My Lords, I rise to speak for only a few moments because I was an original member of the Council of the European Movement, appointed by Churchill, and because I was a member of the first British delegation that was sent to Strasbourg. I sat there for seven years; and I was jolly nearly elected President. I rise to say that between the years 1949 and 1952 we had a chance to lead a united Europe. They all begged us to do it, and we missed the boat. We turned down everything—the Iron and Steel Community, the European Army—and Spaak left in despair. We refused even to send a delegate to the Messina Conference. So we threw away the chance to lead a united Europe on our own terms. We missed the boat, and I do not think that chance will come again for a long time. I agree with what Sir Christopher Soames said the other day on television, that we shall be lucky if our grandchildren see an effective united Europe.

My Lords, all I want to say tonight is that one thing is hopeless, and that is this division between Brussels, Luxembourg and Strasbourg. The European Parliament, if it is ever to be an effective force, must sit in one place. I think that probably the noble Baroness, Lady Tweedsmuir, is right when she says that Brussels would be the best. I myself would plump for Strasbourg because I have nostalgic memories of Strasbourg. It is a delightful town, with the most exquisite restaurants. I spent seven years there, and I should be sad that the lovely building which has been erected there should be given up. But the main point is that the Parliament of Europe should sit in one place and one place alone, and that this carting about of documents between Luxembourg, Brussels and Strasbourg should be brought to an end as quickly as possible. Even so, I have not much hope. I think the Commissions in Brussels are failing. I think that the whole conception of a united Europe is diminishing now, and a long time will elapse before it revives.

I remember travelling with Churchill from Milan to Strasbourg for the first meeting of the Council of Europe. He looked up to me at lunch—and it was a very good lunch—and said, "We have lit a fire that may blaze or may go out; but perhaps the embers will die down for a while and then revive again". I hope that happens. One of the troubles was that when Churchill formed his second Government in 1951 he himself lost interest in the united Europe movement, which he had himself launched. The late Lord Chandos, who was a Cabinet Minister, once told me that he could recall o occasion in that Government when the question of Europe was ever raised in Cabinet. He said, "If it had been, I should have been sceptical but interested". It never was.

There were only two members of that Cabinet who really believed in a united Western Europe, and they were Harold Macmillan and Lord Kilmuir, the then Lord Chancellor. They never raised it. Those who were fighting for it in Strasbourg—and I was one—had an awful time. Eden once said to me, "You know, I am not a European animal; I am an Atlantic animal. I am against you. I will not give you any help "; and he never did. Kevin was equally bad, I think that Eden and Kevin were two of the worst Foreign Secretaries this country has ever had, but I am afraid I will not command the wholehearted support of this House when I say that. I fought them both over the years: Bevin, over Israel, was disgraceful; Eden, over Europe, was almost as bad. So your Lordships will understand why I never held high Government office. It was because I did not agree with any of them. I have been a rebel all my life, and I am a rebel today. All I have to say to the Government is: Keep the European Parliament going at all costs, but keep it in one place.

8.38 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure that, whatever else has come of this useful debate, none of us would have wished not to have heard that speech, with its wealth of reminiscence—pointed reminiscence—and the incomparable power of expression, if not of ultimate conviction, upon those who listened to it. As my noble friend Lord Boothby has said, he has been a steadfast, perhaps the most steadfast, advocate of a united Europe, and anything he has to say on this subject, whether or not we agree with him, is deserving of the most respectful attention.

I am sure, also, that the House is grateful to my noble friend Lord Northfield for the opportunity to discuss the question of a permanent site for the European Parliament. Let me say at once that I completely sympathise with members of the Assembly about the frustrations of the present arrangements. It remains an unfortunate fact that the Member States of the Community have never agreed on the seat of the Community's institutions, as stipulated in Article 216 of the Treaty of Rome. This has been going on since 1957. We are not likely to solve it by any dictum from this Box this evening. The difficulties of reaching agreement are recognised, indeed, in a most interesting annex to the 1965 merger Treaty—the one that constituted a single Council and brought the Commission into shape, which was something that the noble Lord, among others, had been advocating for a long time. That merger Treaty provided that Luxembourg, Brussels and Strasbourg shall remain the provisional places of work of the institutions of the Communities.

It is easy to be impatient with that arrangement in the light of experience, and it is right that we should be; but we must ask—and the noble Baroness reminded us of it and properly called it to mind—why Strasbourg was given a certain position in this arrangement. At that time it seemed to everybody, and certainly to me—it was the feeling and wisdom of the time—that to locate, at least in part, the European Parliament in this city might serve to be a perpetual symbol of something that Europe and the world had been seeking for centuries: the rapprochement of France and Germany. It seems that that was a major factor in deciding on that location.

Now, a good deal of the political objectives sought for in that location have been achieved. Franco-German rapprochement has developed immensely. It is one of the best things that have happened in Western Europe since the war, something that my generation almost despaired of seeing happening. But it has happened. Who is to say that, within the lights of their own wisdom and experience in those early days, those who decided that that should be part of the arrangement were not then right?

Perhaps if this rapprochement, so central to the peace of Europe, and therefore of the world, had not been achieved, we should today be bemoaning the fact that we missed the boat when somebody proposed that this historical, cultural and political crossroads of Western Europe could have been selected to be the site of the European Parliament—" We missed that one". This is how we might have been talking today. Let us not talk about running away from questions like this. Our quarrel is not with the British Government that they have not solved this, as well as almost everything else in the world. Europe is a Europe of nine States. To this extent, General de Gaulle continues to be right. He saw that the eradication of nationalism is something of which perhaps democracy has not fully understood the complexities and difficulties.

My first point is this. We must face the fact that within the Nine there are varying views, as there arc in this House tonight, about where the single location should be. I take it for granted that everybody believes that there should be a single location. This is not necessary to argue. It is the question of where it ought to be that occupies us tonight, and indeed constantly occupies our European partners. There is a wide diversity of view and interest. More than one speaker here tonight has expressed himself in favour of Brussels. My noble friend has said that, at least for nostalgic reasons, he plumps for Strasbourg—I had an immediate vision of a Strasbourg duck when he said that. I understand this. A good deal of politics, and of effective politics, proceeds by imponderables.

However, whatever the diversity of view here, it may he that the balance of the argument here tonight is in one direction. There is a diversity—and I do not know that there is a balance of view—in Europe on this matter at the moment. We are bound to take that into consideration, and particularly that within that diversity there are points of real passion. Because of the wisdom of the past, both Luxembourg and France have today an almost ineradicable interest in this matter. I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, led us along a temperate and constructive path when he reminded us of certain aspects of this, although making his own view pretty well clear. So it would be the height of stupidity for the British Govern- ment, or for any other partner Government in the West, at this point to issue a new case and say: "This is how we see it."

We have not even a direct interest. Not very many people have suggested that the Gordian knot could be cut by bringing the Parliament to London—or to Edinburgh. We have not got that kind of interest. Indeed, at a time when we bemoan the ubiquity of Parliamentary institutions, it is interesting to note that in these last few days we are invited to consider the possibility of a "Third Chamber" in the United Kingdom, at some distance from the present central point of Government in that Kingdom. Let us talk about these matters, but let us not insist they should be settled at a stroke, when they are great matters, they are bigger even than finance. We make mistakes of accountancy in finance; we may make mistakes of policy if we rush at this without getting the proper and necessary consensus—and within the very Community that we want to promote; and if I may borrow from my noble friend, the very Community which nowadays we must work to preserve.

So, my Lords, can we get this issue into perspective? There is a diversity of views. The British Government are studying, listening, talking to everybody about it, but are not arrogating to themselves the right to say, "This is where it should be", or, "how it should he." We stand by the sensible course of awaiting the Patijn report which, I understand, will be made available this summer. That report has been commissioned by the Assembly itself. Mr. Patijn will report this summer to the Assembly. The Assembly then will study and digest that report, including its recommendations. I think it will he the height of unwisdom, and indeed of arrogance, for any Foreign Minister, for any partner Government, at this time, when the Assembly itself has commissioned a report on this very issue, to intervene to say: "We think that this is how it ought to be done." I hope that Mr. Patijn will read this debate because every speech made in it has made a very substantial contribution to the practical thinking about this important matter.

When it goes to the Assembly, we think that it is the Assembly that ought to decide, or, at least, to recommend to the Council of Ministers, where the permanent location of the Parliament should be. It will then go to the Council of Ministers; and I can assure the House that, of course, as one of the Nine, the United Kingdom will take part in those discussions, listen to all views, examine carefully, as it is bound to do, the particularist concerns, certainly of two out of the Nine, and strive to come to—and this is the key phrase without which there can be no movement forward in Europe—common accord. You do not get common accord by pronouncing from any national dispatch box or any Foreign Office. This is not the shape or meaning of Europe.

I agree with the distinguished Member of the other place, the former Prime Minister, Mr. Edward Heath, that we must look to the evolution of the mechanics of consensus in Europe and not be too much tied down to formalistic methods of decision. I am quite sure that when the time comes, when the report is presented, the Assembly will consider it. It conies to its own conclusion after all; it is for the Assembly more than any other body to decide where it shall meet. This indeed is the entitlement of any parish council, let alone an international Parliament. "Where are we going to meet? "Nobody suggests that anybody, except that body, should decide where it should meet. Nobody comes along and says, "You must meet there". Try it anywhere in this country or any other country with any local authority and see how far you get.


My Lords, will my noble friend allow me? I am grateful to him for giving way. This is something almost new because in fact the Treaty says that it is the job of the Member States, not even the Council, to decide the seat of the institutions. Parliament has been inhibited for a long time, despite annual protests, from making an exact recommendation because it has felt its view was secondary to the agreement among the Member States. Is my noble friend suggesting now that the balance is swinging the other way and, despite what the Treaty says, the Ministers are going to be more than ever moved by what Parliament itself now suggests?


My Lords, obviously the Parliament is entitled to appoint a body to report to it about one of its most important functions; namely, where it should meet, and least expensively and most efficiently. It has done that. It will then come to a decision, I hope; and that decision, inevitably, will go to the Council of Ministers who will accord to it the greatest possible weight. It is at that point that we come in, like every other Government. The progression is there; it is not for a moment repugnant to the Treaty of Rome. One can argue about these things—how or from what certain movements and powers are derived. It is perfectly clear that the Assembly wishes to come to a decision which it will place before the Council of Ministers. That is the logical, natural thing to do. The Council of Ministers then will consider this and the principle of the veto will apply. But this is Europe; this is the Treaty of Rome.

Where is the quarrel? Who is to blame for holding things back? Nobody is to blame. This is the way that Europe has evolved, carrying with it the principle of the veto; and if the veto is not exercised at one point it will be exercised at another point, if a Member feels sufficiently strongly about an issue. It is the role of the United Kingdom, it is the role that the noble Lord is describing. Of course we shall try to give a lead. We are uninterested in a naturalistic sense; we are in a position at the right time, but not before an important report reaches the Assembly itself, to make suggestions in such a way that they will be listened to, and not set up new arguments among Members. This we shall do.

I was asked whether this matter had been discussed in the Council of Ministers. It has not been discussed formally. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Elles, that it will certainly come up. It will come up in relation to two important matters: direct elections and powers. I hope that we are not too finicky about whether new powers or new methods of election come first or afterwards. We can argue for ever about the juxtaposition of these things. think that in the July meeting there may be an advance on these matters, certainly on direct elections, and with that, if they discuss it, the question of siting. Powers need a longer time to discuss. I hope—I cannot guarantee of course—that July will show some progress on this. If I am shown to be wrong, the quarrel will be with the calendar and not with me. We have achieved advances from one meeting to another; sometimes we have found that we have made no progress. As my noble friend said, let us keep it going and let us not quarrel among ourselves in Europe about the modalities when we ought to be studying afresh how to come ever closer about the policies.