HL Deb 01 February 1977 vol 379 cc722-5

2.44 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what action they now feel able to take to help secure a decision on a permanent seat for the European Parliament.


My Lords, the Government's view is still that an essential first step will be for the European Parliament itself to agree on a proposal. Its Political Affairs Committee is considering the question and will make recommendations in due course. Until then, I see no merit in any Member State raising the issue.


My Lords, I am obliged to my noble friend for that reply. Has it been made clear to the French Government that their enterprise in constructing a new great assembly building in Strasbourg cannot be allowed to pre-empt a free decision on a seat for the European Parliament which in fact may not be Strasbourg? May I further ask my noble friend whether he is hinting that we may well have to wait for an elected Parliament, with the authority of being elected, to make up its own mind in view of the obvious disagreement in the Council of Ministers?


My Lords, I cannot of course answer for the French Government, although it is a reasonable assumption to make that the French Government are aware of the import of the first part of my noble friend's supplementary question. The only obligations the Community has accepted is that the European Parliament agreed to use the new building in Strasbourg for an initial period of one year. To answer the second supplementary point my noble friend put, I agree that a proposal from a directly elected Parliament would of course have added authority, though I would not wish to suggest that the present Assembly should feel obliged to wait for direct elections before putting forward a proposal. I should think that the sooner the report, which has been commissioned by the Assembly, is placed before it and fully discussed by the Assembly, the better.

Baroness ELLES

My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord to say how soon, in terms of months, a directly elected Parliament might be able to take that decision?


Certainly, my Lords, if the noble Baroness were able to tell me how soon the Member States will all have ratified direct elections.


My Lords, would not the Minister agree that the new Council of Europe building which was inaugurated the other day is only just capable of housing the 411 Members, whom we all hope will be directly elected next year, and that therefore is any other countries were to come in in the next two or three years—indeed, if only one country were to come in—it would be impossible to use the present building and that—a new building would have to be situated either in Luxembourg or Brussels? Would not the Ministers be well advised to recognise this essential point while there is yet time to have a new building constructed?


I agree that that is an important point, my Lords, but I would take this opportunity of reminding the House that very probably all Member States of the Community will have something to say about the very substantial costs of creating a wholly new building, in whatever locale, for this purpose.


My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the additional cost thrown on Community funds by reason of the European Parliament sitting at two places, Luxembourg and Strasbourg, is in the region of £1 ½ million, cause by the movement of staff, books and papers to and fro between Luxembourg and Strasbourg? Is he further aware that it is well known in European Parliamentary circles that owing to the pressure which the Governments of some Member States, not including our own, are able to exercise on their own national delegations, the possibility of agreement within the European Parliament is remote, and that this is clearly a matter that should be agreed in the Council of Ministers?


My Lords, I think we are all aware of the additional expense and mounting in convenience that arises from the present unsatisfactory position, whether there are other considerations to be borne in mind, some of which I have mentioned today and which we discussed in the debate we had last May. To answer the second part of my noble friend's supplementary question, I could not engage in discussion with him as to the appropriate methods of action for various national delegations in the Assembly. It is however a fact that the Assembly has called for a report, will receive it in due course and will discuss it, and that is an essential first step to a consideration by any other body, including the Council of Ministers, of this important question.


My Lords, as the wording of this Question is somewhat ambiguous, may I ask my noble friend to say whether his original Answer referred to a permanent site for the European Parliament, or can he give a reply as to whether Her Majesty's Government are entitled to a permanent seat for the European Parliament analogous to a permanent seat on the Security Council of the United Nations?


My Lords, my noble friend has raised a couple of points into which I find it rather difficult to go in detail this afternoon. Perhaps he and I might have a chat about these matters after Questions.


My Lords, is my noble friend aware that, apart from European Parliament meetings, the Council of Europe meetings are placed at a great disadvantage by the very poor air services to Strasbourg? Does he not agree that before any decision is reached this vital question must be dealt with?


My Lords, I fully agree with my noble friend.