§ 3.2 p.m.
§ Lord BANKS
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. The Bill amends the Representation of the People Act 1949 so as to provide for the direct election of the United Kingdom Members of the Parliament of the European Communities. A Decision and an Act concerning the provisions for holding direct elections were both signed by the Council of Ministers on the 20th September, 1976. The Preamble to the Decision indicates that it is intended to give effect to the conclusion of the European Council in Rome on 1st and 2nd December, 1975, that the election of the Assembly should be held within the period May to June 1978. The Act will come into force after all the Member States have notified the completion of the procedures necessary in accordance with their respective constitutional requirements. It would, therefore, appear that if one 853 country did not complete those precedures, the direct elections would not take place. This Bill implements in the United Kingdom the Decision and the Act.
My Lords, in normal circumstances one would expect the necessary legislation to be introduced by the Government of the day. But the circumstances are not normal. The Select Committee set up in another place on Direct Elections to the European Assembly in their first report drew attention to the delay which took place between the announcement of the proposal to set up a Select Committee and the tabling of the necessary Motions in the House. In their second report they remarked on the Government's lateness in arranging for the debate on the first report. The Select Committee recorded their view that if the Boundary Commissions were to complete their work in time, the first enabling Bill should receive the Royal Assent by the end of February. It was when no such legislation was forthcoming, and when we were exceedingly worried that British failure to complete preparations in time might prevent direct elections taking place anywhere in the Communities, that my noble friends and I decided to use our best endeavours and to produce a Bill of our own. We feel that it would be humiliating if Britain, the Mother of Parliaments, were to prove to be the only country which had not found herself able to prepare for this exercise in European democracy.
The delay which has taken place makes it seem almost certain that there is not now time to make the complicated preparations required by the "first past the post" electoral system. Eighty-one constituencies would need to be created out of the 635 existing Westminster constituencies. There are endless possible combinations and each combination is likely to favour one Party or another. It would be a time-consuming process. It is well known that the "first past the post" system tends to exaggerate swings of opinion. With constituencies so large, they are bound, in the main, to approximate much more closely than the smaller Westminster constituencies to the national division of opinion. The Party topping the opinion poll at the time of direct elections would be likely to scoop the pool.
It has been estimated that if the current climate of opinion prevailed throughout 854 the United Kingdom, the Conservative Party might get 65 seats and the Labour Party 5 out of 81—a grossly distorted result which could be reversed in five years' time, to the disadvantage then of the Conservatives. The Liberal Party could poll as many as it did in 1974, or more, and have no representation at all. In Scotland. if the Scottish Nationalist Party lost a little ground to the Conservatives compared with 1974, it could fail to win any seats; and a Nationalist vote of over 27 per cent. could find itself totally unrepresented in the European Parliament. One can imagine what the effects of that might be. But if just over one in five of those who voted Labour switched to the Scottish Nationalist Party, every one of the Scottish seats could go Nationalist.
The Select Committee recommended three seats for Northern Ireland. But under the single Member system, there is no way that the three seats could be drawn up to enable the minority to be represented. It has been suggested that proportional representation might be used for Northern Ireland only; but if proportional representation is necessary to get fair representation for the minorities in Northern Ireland, it is equally necessary to get fair representation for minorities in the rest of the United Kingdom. We have to bear in mind that a distorted result in this country would upset the political balance in the European Parliament and is therefore a matter of concern to all Members of the Parliament, and not merely to the British Members and not merely to the British political Parties.
For all these reasons, we have rejected, in drawing up this Bill, the single Member constituency. I think it will be appreciated by your Lordships that the circumstances of the European Election differ greatly from those prevailing in a Westminster Election. We have a need for speed in drawing up the bounderies; there is a greater distortion involved in having single Member constituencies of this very large size; and there is the question of the impact of this distortion on the political balance of the Parliament. It is well known to the House that we on these Benches believe there is a very strong case for proportional representation in Westminster Elections; but we freely acknowledge that these special factors that I have mentioned make the case with regard to the European Parliament a case on its own.
855 There are two other such factors. First, the single Member constituency is often defended because of the personal links established between the Member and his constituency. But with single Member constituencies of some 500,000 electors each the link cannot in any event be of the same close kind. Again, it is often argued that the distortions of the single Member system are necessary because the object is to elect a Government which, so it is argued, need an overall majority to govern, although we know they do not always get it under the single Member system.
But when we vote in the European elections, we shall not be electing Government. In addition, we are considering the election of only one-fifth of the European Parliament; the other four-fifths will be elected by proportional representation anyway. We provided in the Bill for the use of proportional representation by means of the single transferable vote. This system has the advantage that it is used already for elections in a part of the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland. It has been used to elect the Assembly and Convention, and is used now in local government there. It used to be used to elect university Members to another place. A Speaker's Conference on Electoral Reform as long ago as 1916 recommended its use in Westminster Elections generally. It is also used in the Republic of Ireland, another Member State of the Community.
We have divided the United Kingdom into 12 multi-member constituencies; Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland are each a multi-member constituency. We have allocated to them eight, four and three seats respectively following in this respect the recommendation of the Select Committee. The 66 seats assigned to England have been allocated between the eight standard regions strictly in accordance with the size of the electors. Six of the eight English standard regions are constituncies returning between five and nine Members each.
In order to avoid an excessively large constituency, South-East England, which would be entitled to 24 Members, has been combined with East Anglia, entitled to three Members, to create three more 856 evenly sized constituencies which, I understand, correspond to the regional boundaries used by the Conservative and Labour Parties. Your Lordships will find all this set out clearly in Schedule 1. Schedule 2, setting out the rules for counting the votes, is based on a Northern Ireland Assembly Election Order 1973, and therefore incorporates procedures which have already been applied in the United Kingdom.
The Select Committee of the House of Commons in their Third Report made 26 specific recommendations about the conduct of the elections. I do not propose now to examine them in detail. It is sufficient to say that in the majority of cases we have followed their recommendations. I would, however, draw attention briefly to one or two cases where we have not followed the Select Committee recommendations. Of necessity, our arrangements for by-elections are different, and for these we have provided for the use of the alternative vote system. We have made provision for British subjects resident in another Member State of the European Community to vote in the United Kingdom, but we have not extended the franchise, as recommended in the Select Committee report, to British subjects resident in countries outside the Community. We felt that their position was one that was linked to Elections for the Westminster Parliament and local government, as well as to the European Parliament.
Instead of a deposit by candidates, we have provided for them to have their nomination papers signed by at least 500 electors in the constituency for which they propose to stand. We have accepted the view of the Select Committee that there is no urgency to establish formal links between the European Parliament and this Parliament. This is a matter of considerable importance but, in our view, not one where a solution should be rushed. It is a matter which we feel should be part of the general overall constitutional review which is so necessary at the present time with so many constitutional reforms being either implemented or talked about.
None of the points that I have just been talking about affects the principle of the Bill, and they and many similar points will be subject to the scrutiny of the House at the Committee stage. It is our intention that the Bill offers the Government 857 a way out of their difficulties over direct elections. It solves the problem of the timetable; it offers a simple plan for 12 multi-member constituencies, the boundaries of which are already determined and well known. There is no work to do to draw up boundaries: it creates constituencies with national or regional identities. Since it employs a system of proportional representation, the way in which the boundaries of these constituencies are drawn has little impact on the overall result—quite different from the single Member system. Opportunities for gerrymandering do not exist. It uses a system of proportional representation already applied and working in our country.
My Lords, this Bill is put forward as a sincere attempt to ensure that Britain is ready to take part in direct elections to the European Parliament in 1978. I appeal to the Government to consider very seriously whether they can adopt it as their own. In the meantime, I hope that the House will give the Bill a Second Reading. I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Banks).
§ 3.17 p.m.
§ The Earl of MANSFIELD
My Lords, may I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Banks, on introducing his Bill and, furthermore, to congratulate the Liberal Party on having produced a Bill which, if I may say so, seems sensible and makes sense. It should be a matter of shame to the Government that an Opposition Party, which certainly has no more funds than other Opposition Parties, and may well have less, should have been able to produce a Bill whereas this vacillating Government, so far as we know, still seem to be unable to put forward any legislative proposals at all. To our shame, both as a nation and as a member of the European Economic Community, nothing is done to fulfil our own international obligations. I have said that the Bill is sensible and makes sense. I do not by that mean to be taken as agreeing necessarily with every part of it. Nevertheless, as I said, the Bill is coherent and forms a reasonable basis for discussion. I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, wishes me to give way, but I cheerfully will do so.
§ Lord SHINWELL
My Lords, I am not at all surprised at what the noble Earl has said. He talks about the Labour Government vacillating. But he starts by vacillating himself: he likes the Bill but he wants to exclude from it the most salient part.
§ The Earl of MANSFIELD
My Lords, let me say where I vacillate. The noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, must not be too presumptuous. In the course of my remarks I will come to why the Government are vacillating.
We have to face the fact that, unless the Government were to embrace this Bill, there is absolutely no chance of its getting on to the Statute Book. I see the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, is shaking his head. Whether he is disagreeing with me or rejecting any form of embrace in the future, I know not, but I still hold to my contention. Unless this Bill can go through your Lordships' House and then be embraced by the Government, it will not become law. For that reason therefore I do not think that we can discuss it with all the passion that we would if there were a real chance of its becoming law. I say that for a number of reasons. Luckily in this House when we have debates such as this we do not have to go right back to first principles and debate whether we should be in the European Community. Secondly, we do not have to go back to second principles and debate whether we should have a directly-elected European Parliament.
I think most noble Lords, whatever position they occupy in the House, will agree with those points. But while I have said that unless it was embraced and indeed adopted by the Government this Bill will not become law, it also follows that, unless the Government produce a Bill which can receive a substantial amount of all-Party agreement, it seems unlikely that another Bill would become law, either. So the Government have to consider this not only from their own narrow partisan point of view but from the point of view of other Parties, particularly in the other place. When the moment comes for the Government to produce some form of legislative proposals and they come to your Lordships' House, whether before or after they have been to the other place, then your Lordships will consider them with the greatest care 859 and will make the appropriate comments. I have no doubt about that.
At the moment I do not intend to get myself bogged down in the niceties of proportional representation. May I just say this to the noble Lord, Lord Banks: the trouble about proportional representation is that, whatever private feelings any of us may have as to the fairness of the system, as soon as one puts forward one form of proportional representation the protagonists of other forms of it pop up immediately and say, "No, that is not a satisfactory way of doing it: ours is the better way". For every person who wants the single transferable vote system there are two people who want the amended list system; and for every two people who want the amended list system there are probably three people who would like to embrace the Finnish idea. So it is by no means easy, in talking about proportional representation, to discover some form of it which is going to be universally accepted.
I listened to what the noble Lord said about the failures or potential failures of the election for a single Member constituency if voting trends—I think it was probably Mr. Steed he was quoting from—came through at a European Parliamentary election. I personally do not accept all the assumptions put forward by that gentleman in his pamphlet. For instance, the mid-term swings against a Government are usually unrepresentative when it comes to a General Election. Whether it follows that a Government which is unpopular, as this Government have been during the last few months, will continue to be so when we have direct elections for a European Parliament next year, if we are to have them, is very doubtful indeed. So, although I agree with Mr. Steed in much of what he says, I do not accept many of his contentions: indeed, I think it is dangerous to do so.
One or two features of the Bill are highly commendable. It is an excellent idea to extend the vote to persons who, if they were in this country, would be entitled to vote, but who for some reason—technical up to now—are not entitled to vote if they happen to be living elsewhere in the Community. I understand why it has not been considered possible to extend that entitlement to all British citizens or persons who normally have the right to vote outside the Community.
860 I should like to ask the noble Lord, Lord Harris, a number of questions, which I do not suppose he will be able to answer, bearing in mind what has happened both in your Lordships' House and another place during the last few months. I do not intend to go over all the old ground which has been most effectively covered, for example, in an Unstarred Question which was asked by my noble friend Lord Chelwood in December. On that occasion the noble Lord, Lord Harris, did the best he could. Then we also had a Starred Question in January, which had much the same result. We have had a Motion in this House, and I believe there has been at least one Motion in the other place. All of this has occurred in the space of a few months; and it has all rehearsed the same arguments again and again. But I think there are a number of questions which the Government ought to answer. I say that because, although I have now been out of the European Parliament for two years, it is possible to sense, if one hears the comments of one's colleagues, the acute shame and embarrassment which they feel when they go into Europe each week and are asked questions such as: "What is your country doing about it? Why are you not in a position at least to say 'Yea' or 'Nay' as to whether you intend to honour your commitments?"
We on these Benches would prefer the initial direct election to follow the recommendations of the Select Committee so far as it can. That was a Committee of Members of the elected House in Parliament and they came to a speedy and generally agreed conclusion on all matters which they think affect the proposals for direct elections. Their proposals could, I suggest, be embodied quite easily in a Bill. I appreciate there has to be time for consultation and reflection and for a number of legal experts to work out the results. Nevertheless, we feel that the proposals of the Select Committee are sensible and should be adopted, at least for the first election.
I come back to the question of the Boundary Commission. The noble Lord, Lord Banks, says—and he may be right, but I should be extremely sad if it were indeed the case—there is no time now to make the complicated arrangements which the Boundary Commission would need to make to draw up single Member constituencies. Does the noble Lord, 861 Lord Harris, agree with that contention, or not? If it is so, it is a very serious matter indeed. Secondly, if there is still time—and from a remark of my honourable friend Mr. Dykes, when he proposed a Motion in the other place last month I would assume that there is still time—what procedures could we adopt in Parliament which would trigger off the work of the Boundary Commission? Up to now it seems to have been assumed that a Bill would almost have to receive Royal Assent before the Boundary Commission could get started. If that is so we must realise it; but I wonder whether it is so. My noble friend Lady Elles was twitted by some Members on the Government Benches when she used the words "proper procedures" on a previous occasion in your Lordships' House. What she meant was proper procedures as recommended by the Select Committee. One could perhaps call them "truncated procedures". Could they be gone through, and would they be satisfactory if they were?
Thirdly—and I realise this may possibly be more contentious—are the Government minded to hang on? Quite obviously, we cannot have a single Member constituency system because there really is not time for the Boundary Commission to do its job, in which case we should have to go over to some form of single list system, which I, for one, think would be thoroughly disagreeable. I am sure the Government have to take seriously the remarks of Mr. Steed in his pamphlet where he opines that the Labour Party would be decimated in any Election. Whether or not that is true, I suppose it is a displeasing prospect for the Government. I put it no higher than that.
Is the truth of the matter really—and one hesitates to ask the question, but the sense of urgency is now so great and the sense of national shame so burning that one has to—as the Financial Times today says:…the Cabinet is badly divided over the grave political damage that could be inflicted on the Labour Party by a Bill. A large number of Labour back-benchers have threatened to oppose the legislation.Ministers have been told that Labour faces the prospect of a massacre if elections are held on the suggested basis of huge new constituencies…and if the present 'first-past-the-post' system is used …Many Ministers now favour a regional list system with candidates chosen by their parties.862 That is a horrible prospect of Party patronage or Government patronage or Opposition patronage being extended even further than it is at the moment. If that is the situation, it is an unfortunate one for this country, for our Parliamentary institutions and certainly for the European Community.
I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Harris, when he answers the debate this afternoon, will be able to give a sensible timetable and not use this arcane waffle about "best endeavours". The noble Baroness, Lady Seear, on a previous occasion in this House, pointed out what an unsatisfactory phrase it is. If one takes one's car to a garage for a service and asks whether it will be ready by Friday, and the garageman says that he will use his best endeavours, then one knows beyond any peradventure that it will not be ready by Friday and one makes one's arrangements accordingly. It would be very much better if the Government said: "These are proposals which we will try to put forward. Obviously, they have to be agreed by Parliament. This is the timetable which we are hoping to achieve. If we do not achieve it, it will not be through want of trying". That would be an honest way of conducting Parliamentary business, and the business of this country so far as elections to the European Parliament are concerned, and I hope that the noble Lord can reassure us at least to some extent.
§ 3.32 p.m.
§ Lord GLADWYN
My Lords, I need hardly say that all of us on these Benches hope, even if it is only a faint hope, that the hearts of the noble Lord, Lord Harris, and of the members of the Government will melt and that they will agree to a Second Reading of this highly intelligent and in every way satisfactory Bill. I must say that I rather doubt it, but we must continue to hope. I myself am going to strike a slightly different line, if I may, and try to analyse the position as I see it at the moment.
The Government still say, as we all know, that they are prepared to use their best endeavours to be ready for direct elections to the European Parliament in May or June 1978. That is what they still maintain. But it is becoming increasingly clear, I am afraid, that these "best endeavours" will not amount to 863 very much for the simple reason that, if what we hear is true—and I have no doubt that it is true—the Cabinet is profoundly divided on the whole subject, some Members, no doubt a minority, being violently hostile to any idea of proceeding with direct elections at all, others, perhaps a smaller minority, being very much in favour, and the remainder being neutral and feeling that it does not matter very much, that we must somehow get out of the mess, and that if there are no elections it will not be the end of the world, certainly not the end of this country. That, I think, is the set-up in the Cabinet. Perhaps the noble Lord who is to reply will tell me if I am wrong, though I very much doubt if he will.
Unless, therefore, the Government shortly produce some workable scheme for the electoral prodecure to be adopted for these elections, and are prepared to back it—and this, after all, will be very difficult, if not impossible, in the circumstances I have described—the whole project will certainly run into the sand, which is exactly what the opponents, those who are hostile to all forms of direct elections, want. And that would surely be all the more absurd, seeing that there is little doubt that there is a clear majority in the House of Commons as a whole, irrespective of Party, which wants direct elections to be held. Therefore, it is a paradoxical situation.
What, therefore, should be done? Speaking purely personally—I put this forward for what it is worth—I suggest that the only hope is for the Government to produce a White Paper as soon as possible, setting forth what appear to be three broad possibilities as regards electoral procedure. First is the "first past the post" system, with 81 constituencies as originally proposed in the report of the Select Committee. But seeing that, clearly—and here I agree with my noble friend Lord Banks—there is just not time for a Boundary Commission to define all the 81 constituency boundaries, they should take the bit between their teeth and publish, as an annex to the White Paper, a description of the 81 constituencies formed simply by merging together 8 or 9 constituencies, whatever the number may be. That might not be altogether fair, but at least it would be possible to vote on it.
864 Though we ourselves would think it highly undesirable, it would then be possible to vote for the "first past the post" system. We think that this system is inherently vicious and absurd in itself, but that is something which the House of Commons might, in its wisdom, decide to do. It cannot be denied that that is one possibility. But if they do put that forward, the Government should make it clear that, in their view, and in the view of any sensible person, there is not much chance, if that proposal is accepted by the House of Commons, of making arrangements in time for the direct elections next year, unless the proposal for a Boundary Commission is abolished and the constituencies are formed by, as it were, an act of will of the House of Commons itself. We should, I repeat, think that highly regrettable, but still it is a possibility.
The second broad possibility to which the Government should draw attention in their White Paper is that of porportional representation—I cannot see why they should not adopt this as a possibility—under the scheme put forward by my noble friend Lord Banks, which even the Conservative Party admit is, on the face of it, inherently reasonable, even though the Tory Party and others might dissent on certain minor features. I do not think there need be hundreds of schemes for proportional representation. If there is to be PR, why not have this one, which is most reasonable?
The third alternative should be national, or preferably regional, lists on the analogy of the system to be adopted by the French Parliament and, I believe, the Italian Parliament. No doubt it would not be very democratic, but at least it would be a reasonable way of getting directly elected representation in this country and it might, on the whole, be acceptable. It would certainly be better than having no elections at all; indeed a considerable amount could be said for it.
I suggest that the three proposals in the White Paper could then be put before the House of Commons, and a vote first taken on whether or not the House of Commons was determined to see to it that, by one means or another, 81 persons in this country were directly elected to the European Parliament in May or June next year. The first vote would therefore 865 be on the question of principle: does the House of Commons think that, in all the circumstances, there should definitely be such elections? I should hope that there would be a majority for it, but if there was not the whole thing would collapse. If, however, this preliminary vote was decided in the affirmative, then votes could be taken on the three broad alternatives which I have given, and in that order. All these points—and this is the essential feature of my suggestion—should be left to a free vote. The Parties are divided, but the House of Commons seems to have a majority in favour of direct elections, so why not leave it to a free vote of the House? Whatever happened, the Government would not then resign; they would simply undertake to carry out the wish of the majority of the House of Commons. It would not be a Party political question; it would rise above that and be a national question, decided by the House of Commons. I cannot see why anybody, more especially perhaps the Lord President, who believes that the House of Commons should be all-powerful, should object to that. He ought indeed to favour it.
As regards the likelihood of any one of these proposals being adopted, well, none may be. In that case, a completely paradoxical situation would arise. However, what is the likelihood of any one of them being acceptable? I have said that it is probable that a considerable majority in the other place would in principle be in favour of having direct elections to the European Parliament next year. Originally it seemed that there was likely to be a considerable majority in favour of holding these elections on the "first past the post" system. Quite apart from the anti-Europeans, a good many Europeans in the Labour Party, and also a large number of Tories, were in favour of the "first past the post" system which was put forward by the Select Committee. However, it is becoming increasingly clear, for the reasons already mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, that such a system would result in the Labour Party, always assuming that it is in power next year, getting only a small proportion of the representation. Noble Lords may question the statistics put forward by Mr. Michael Steed, but they seem convincing to me. Anyway, the popularity of the "first past the post" system seems, if only for that 866 reason, to be waning among the ranks of Labour Members of Parliament. Indeed, to the extent that the popularity of the "first past the post" system is waning among Labour Members of the House of Commons, it plays into the hands of those Members of the Cabinet and elsewhere who do not want direct elections at all.
Proportional representation is still opposed by a considerable number of Tories, although by no means all. It is not very popular in Labour circles, either, although it is possible that if something like the scheme of the noble Lord, Lord Banks, were put forward in the House of Commons as an alternative it might attract a majority of the votes. It is to be hoped so, because it is the best solution in the view of all reasonable people.
The third alternative—that is to say, a list or lists, preferably lists—might now be agreeable to many Labour supporters, more especially to European Labour supporters, although it is opposed by a considerable number of Tories. I do not quite know why, but if I heard correctly, the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, seemed to regard the list system as fundamentally vicious. Anyhow, the noble Earl is opposed to it. As I say, I do not quite know why because it would not be a long-term proposal; it would be only for the next few years. It would set no precedent. It could not be a precedent for Elections in this country, nor would it be of advantage to the Liberal Party because no one would suggest that the list system should be adopted here. Nevertheless, it seems to be a reasonable compromise if we cannot agree on anything else.
Now if the Government really cannot make up their own mind—I understand that it is very difficult for them to make up their own mind in the circumstances, except at the cost of a governmental crisis and resignations which they do not want to occur—there seems in principle to be no reason why the collective will of the House of Commons on a free vote should not be allowed to prevail. This is a very grave national issue, a decision upon which should in no way be governed by Party political considerations. Therefore, I should like to ask the noble Lord who is to reply whether he can give us any view about this proposal—whether he thinks that it is conceivable that the 867 Government might do something of the kind. I hesitate to imagine that they would do nothing of the kind, because it is a very reasonable and democratic proposal. All I am suggesting is that the House of Commons should decide. I hope therefore that the Government will at least take this idea into consideration.
§ 3.44 p.m.
§ Lord O'HAGAN
My Lords, maiden speakers in your Lordships' House crave the indulgence of the House and I must do so today, partly because I always seem to be speaking on European subjects and run the risk of inflicting Euro-boredom on your Lordships, but mainly because I find it impossible to be dispassionate on the subject matter of this Bill. Therefore I shall have to speak from the heart, which your Lordships may find embarrassing and possibly even extremely irritating.
We should be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Banks, for introducing the Bill today, because it gives us an opportunity to discuss this important subject. On 1st March the Foreign Secretary said in the other place:The unique quality of the Community is that it is an economic institution with a political future. It is also a solid buttress for democracy".—[Official Report, Commons, 1/3/77; col. 200.]I could not agree more. That is the reason why we must have this Bill, or something like it, and why the European Economic Community needs direct elections. It was something to which the founders of the Community always looked forward right from the beginning.
When the Treaty of Rome was drafted in 1958 It[...] was envisaged that the Assembly, as they called it then, would one day be directly elected. I understand, from refreshing my memory by looking at the Companion, that the Second Reading of a Bill is meant for discussion of the general principles of the Bill. We have already looked at most of the issues. Therefore I must say to your Lordships that what worries me about the subject is that the Government appear to have no principle at all about the Bill.
As I understand it, the Labour Party was founded to ensure greater representation in the counsels of the nation for 868 those who were not sufficiently represented. I do not want to give a lecture, but my edition of The Origins of the Labour Party by Henry Pelling, says on page 1, speaking of the end of the last century:The working class in this twilight period of democratic development still had no direct part in the government of the country and it was the object of the Labour Party to do something about that situation".It is the object of direct elections to ensure that the people of this country and the people of all the countries in the European Economic Community have that kind of representation in the decision-making processes of the Community. Is it really the Government's intention that we in Britain should now return to that twilight period that Mr. Pelling was describing as the reason for the origin of the Labour Party nearly 100 years ago? What a shocking notion!
As I said, it was always envisaged by the founders of the Treaty of Rome that the European Parliament should be directly elected. No doubt it was not a subject of lively discussion at every one of the meetings which your Lordships attended during the referendum—if your Lordships did so. I did, and I must admit that it was not a regular topic for questioning. However, to those who say that the people of this country did not decide in favour of direct elections at the time of the referendum, the answer must be that those who were against membership of the Community had only to look at Articles 137 and 138 and the following articles of the Treaty of Rome to see that it was implicit in the Treaty that we, as a member of the Community, would move towards direct elections if we stayed in the Community.
I do not intend to dwell in detail on the proposals contained in this most interesting Bill which has been moved by the noble Lord, Lord Banks. I feel that by far the best approach to this novel and difficult introduction of a new form of election would have been if the Government had been able by now to bring forward some proposals which were in line with our traditional ways of conducting these questions. I wish—and it may be that it is still possible—that the proposals of the Select Committee of another place could be put into practice, so that we could go through the traditional processes of the Boundary Commission 869 conducting a rigorous examination into the constituencies that might be set up for this new type of election. I think the system of representation through constituency has served this country very well, and ideally for a very new type of election it would have been much better to continue with that system with which we are all familiar.
The Government have failed to get on with the job. I hope your Lordships will feel some sympathy with me when I say that because of the Government's failure we must not make Britain a failure; just because the Government cannot get on with the job of bringing in a system of democratic control the rest of us must not allow the name of Britain to be further trampled in the mud. That is what is happening at the moment. Our fellow members of the Community look to this country as the origin of Parliament, the source of the system of democratic control, but what do they see now? They see us almost proud of wearing the donkey's tail in regard to this subject.
I hope we can salvage something from the disastrous situation which the Government have brought on themselves. It may be that we should not altogether rule out a novel system of keeping to our commitments under the Treaty to introduce a system of elections. I have never been able to grasp fully the complexities and the differences between systems of proportional representation so I can hardly claim to speak from a deep understanding of those systems. But, my Lords—and I do not want to sound like a revivalist preacher—the Treaty says:The Assembly, which shall consist of representatives of the people".The Treaty uses the word, "representatives". So, if because of the Government's muddles we are forced to have a novel and therefore perhaps awkward and divisive system of choosing our representatives—if we are forced to do that because of the delays which the Government have inflicted upon us—there is that word, "representatives" in the Treaty. That is the commitment we are trying to keep and therefore there are at least some grounds for thinking that we should use a fully representative system of elections. I am speaking as a member of Conservative Action for Electoral Reform.
870 To me, the question of elections to the European Parliament is separate from the general issue of electoral reform. We made a promise. The Government have done nothing serious about keeping that promise, but there is a chance that the name of Britain can be kept clean if perhaps one of these rather dangerous and novel systems is adopted, and I hope we shall not turn away from that.
I want to conclude by quoting some words of the noble Lord, Lord Thomson—not the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Fleet but Lord Thomson, of Dundee and Brussels, who, in his lecture last year, entitled, Britain in Europe—the First Four Years and the Future, said:One metaphoric version of old-fashioned British common sense that keeps cropping up is the proposition that blueprints are all very well, but you can never build a house starting with the roof. It is at least equally true that, if in building a house painstakingly brick by brick from the foundations you slow down almost to a standstill before the walls are completed and the roof is on, then in stormy weather the half-finished structure becomes so useless that it is likely to be abandoned. The real challenge to the Community in the period immediately ahead is to recover some of the vision of the original architects of the European Community and to generate enough of the political will to restore the momentum of the building of that house of Europe and to get its roof on as quickly as possible.My Lords, at the moment the Government are not helping in that construction: they are stopping it. In fact they are getting near to wrecking it some of the time. We can urge them on by giving this Bill a Second Reading and we must all be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Banks, for introducing it in your Lordships' House. I hope that, if only as a legislative nudge towards this Government, the whole House will give the Bill a Second Reading today.
§ 3.57 p.m.
§ Lord SHINWELL
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, always speaks with obvious sincerity, although it is possible not to equate sincerity with reason. I make no complaint about his speech. One understands his point of view. From the very outset of this controversy he has accepted the EEC with all the trimmings, lock, stock and barrel. I leave it at that. However, at this stage I must offer your Lordships an apology. I did not put my name down and intimate that I intended to offer a few observations. 871 I have been preoccupied in various ways, and until today when I received a communication I had not even observed that the Bill was coming before your Lordships' House. I am on the horns of a dilemma and if I may use a familiar cliché I am likely to be impaled on either. I shall do my best to avoid it.
The noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, offered me a cue which I accept at once. He attacked the Labour Government for vacillation and then, in dealing with this Bill, he indicated right away that he was prepared to accept what suited him; as to the rest, he rejected it. Anybody can do that kind of thing. Even I can do that and I am going to do it. I shall follow the noble Earl's example. I could not do better. So I reject everything in the Bill about direct elections and I accept the salient feature of the Bill, proportional representation. Does that satisfy the members of the Liberal Party? It ought to, because long before they thought about direct elections even to the EEC they advocated proportional representation. It is an old-timer.
I have written about it, although, unfortunately—and I do not know why—my observations in print received scant notice. Occasionally I take the opportunity to indulge in verbal advocacy, although I would much rather that what I wrote in 1973 had been taken note of. I have accepted the principle of proportional representation for many long years and I shall tell your Lordships why. It is because I am a democrat, and the "first past the post" election—the old-fashioned method of electioneering, for electing Members of Parliament or electing anybody to any kind of organisation—is anti-democratic. It is as simple as that.
I do not want to support the Liberal Party with exaggerated language. That might be going a bit too far and they might take advantage of it! In fact I do not support the Liberal Party although I support liberal principles. If only we could return to the halcyon days of Lord Haldane and even L.G.—when he was at his best and not at his worst, although he was more often at his worst than he was at his best, but I do not want to indulge in too much history—and John Morley and a few others of that ilk—the Liberal Government of all the 872 talents, and many who followed who joined the Labour Party, like Ponsonby and Trevelyan and Lees-Smith and a number of others! In fact they helped to build up the Labour Party; there was a large injection of Liberals into the Labour Party at an appropriate moment, which gave us an upsurge. It is just possible that if the late Lloyd George and the late Ramsay Macdonald—they are both late and lamented—had agreed on principle it might have changed the whole course of our political history. But they disliked each other for some unaccountable reason, probably because they were jealous of each other; that does happen in the political arena now and again.
Lord O'Hagan spoke passionately: he cannot speak dispassionately. I can understand it. He spoke from the heart. I sometimes do the same when I am in the mood, and sometimes I am factual, or try to be factual. But I cannot recall, when the EEC was first advocated, any reference to direct elections. I cannot even recall when we signed the Treaty of Accession any reference to direct elections. I appeal to the greatest authority in the country on this subject, Lord Gladwyn. There was no question of direct elections: it was implied perhaps. The implication has been used often by Lord Gladwyn and others. But there was no reference to direct elections to the European Parliament at the time of the signing of the Treaty of Accession, and certainly not at the outset. I am not saying there is anything particularly wrong. Indeed, I have gone so far on one occasion—the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, should take note of this—as to support him when he advocated, quite logically, that if you enter a community of this character on economic grounds, sooner or later you have got to accept the political implications. That is what he advocated and I think that is right and logical. The mistake is in starting at all.
§ Lord GLADWYN
My Lords, is the noble Lord asserting that there is no reference to direct elections in the Treaty of Rome? Is that his view?
§ Lord SHINWELL
My Lords, there is in the Treaty no reference to direct elections to a European Parliament. Well, perhaps, the noble Lord might direct my attention to it. It so happens that, 873 fortuitously, I had the Treaty before me this morning. I was sorting out some periodicals and found the Treaty before me. But I admit it is an implication which is justified, and if I were a supporter of the EEC I would accept it lock, stock and barrel—I used this phrase before in connection with Lord O'Hagan—as the political ultimate.
My Lords, we could have a general debate on this Bill—and the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, had it in mind—on almost every issue associated with the EEC. Lord O'Hagan did venture some way along the path when he spoke about the obligations that the Labour Government entered into when they signed the Treaty of Accession. They entered into obligations, when butter was produced ad lib in vast volume, that it should be distributed equally at a reasonable price and not handed over to our bitter enemies, the USSR. That is what we have come to. So when we talk about obligations, let us be very careful what we are talking about. So if I had to vote on this issue, I would vote against direct elections and vote for proportional representation, if it can be split up. I accept proportional representation. In my judgment, the Liberal Party might very well forget about direct elections, if they can get proportional representation. I am making that offer to them. They have a great chance in the future.
It is surprising. One would have thought that when a Bill of this character came before your Lordships' House Members of the House who were delegated to go to Strasbourg, Luxembourg or Brussels, would be present to take part in the debate and tell us of their experiences—what they have gained; what are the advantages; was it worth while? That would have been useful. Instead of the impassioned speech of Lord O'Hagan, we might have heard from some of those who were delegated to go to these places overseas and enjoying themselves. Incidentally, some of them who were opponents of the EEC suddenly decided to be converted when there was an offer to go abroad. I do not say that is the only reason; one goes abroad for other reasons. But if they had been here today they might have told us all about it, and would have helped by noble friend, Lord Harris, in making a reply that would be 874 objective in character, even if it was not satisfactory to everybody in your Lordships' House.
§ Lord O'HAGAN
My Lords, will the noble Lord not recognise that my noble friend Lord Mansfield was a member of the European Parliament; I also was a member of the European Parliament, as well as the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, so he has three with first-hand experience. Since the noble Lord has referred to me once or twice, perhaps I may say that he will find in Article 138 of the Treaty that direct elections are forecast.
§ Lord O'HAGAN
Article 138.3:The Assembly shall draw up proposals for elections by direct universal suffrage in accordance with a uniform procedure in all Member States.The Council shall unanimously decide on the provisions which it shall recommend to Member States…".I do not want to continue intervening, but I did want to ask the noble Lord this question. We gave up some sovereignty when we joined the Community. Does not the noble Lord want to give the British people a chance to get it back through the medium of direct elections, or is he happy to say good-bye to it?
§ Lord SHINWELL
My Lords, the noble Lord is referring to the Assembly which now exists, and we know what has happened there. They said they were going to have direct elections for the Assembly, and we know what happened. They were nominated; there were no direct elections for that. There is no reference to direct elections to the European Parliament as such, this central organisation which is to control the whole area and all its transactions. There was nothing of that sort. I can recall no discussion on that subject at the time. However, about the Labour Party's attitude, they can please themselves. I do not know what is going to happen in another place. I am really indifferent; nowadays one becomes indifferent because of what is happening. The noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, spoke about direct elections taking place in 1978, at a time when probably we shall be engaged in a General Election. The result will be chaos. 875 As if we have not got enough on our plates without having two Elections at the same time, and contradictory in character.
§ Lord GLADWYN
My Lords, does the noble Lord not realise that elections are to be held in France at the same time in 1978?
§ Lord SHINWELL
My Lords, that is even worse, if France is in chaos; we shall all be in chaos. I ask Members of your Lordships' House not to interrupt me. They get the worst of it, so what is the point. I know the reply before they ask the question.
So that is the situation. What are we to do about this Bill? I offer a compromise to the noble Lord, Lord Banks, who made an excellent speech and stated his case with great skill. I should have liked to support him. All I can offer him is support on the subject of proportional representation. I say this quite sincerely to Members of your Lordships' House. Whether we like it or not, one of these days we are going to have proportional representation: it is inevitable. The noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, referred to the controversy, the disputation, among those who are advocates of proportional representation. He said, "There they are. Some advocate the single transferable vote, some advocate this system and some advocate that system". What is wrong with that? Unlike the Conservative Party—which has no ideas, it is static and sticks in the mud—the Liberals are changing about a bit, which is very good. It is a good thing if there are some who hold controversial views about the kind of proportional representation that we have. We should have more discussion in political circles—not academic discussions—on the extremely important technical aspects. My Lords, my advice to colleagues is to reject the Bill as such and to leave it to another place to decide what should be done about direct elections. We should accept their authority when they decide. We should give the very important principle of proportional representation all the support that we can afford.
§ 4.11 p.m.
§ The MINISTER of STATE, HOME OFFICE (Lord Harris of Greenwich)
My 876 Lords, we are all indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Banks, for having opened this debate and introducing this Bill. It has given us the opportunity to return to a matter which has already occupied a fair amount of time in your Lordships' House in the past few months. The Bill combines two matters which have received a great deal of attention in this House. The first is the question of direct elections to the European Parliament, and the second is the issue of proportional representation. As the noble Lord, Lord Banks, made clear, the Bill seeks to implement the Liberal Party's policy of holding direct elections by the form of proportional representation known as the single transferable vote.
I shall deal, first, with the Government's position on the question of direct elections. The Government have undertaken to "use their best endeavours" to be ready for direct elections by May/June 1978. I make no apology for using that term because it was the term employed by the Council of Ministers and is not the language solely of the British Government—it was a collective decision of Ministers of our EEC partners. I am quite sure that that will reassure the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield. As the House will recall, in the gracious Speech, there was a commitment to introduce the necessary legislation in the current Session of Parliament.
My right honourable friend the Home Secretary recently announced that the Government intend to publish a White Paper in response to the reports of the Select Committee in another place on the issue of direct elections. The noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, perfectly reasonably said that the Government should argue out some of the various alternatives. That, indeed, will be done in the White Paper. To some extent that should reassure the noble Lord. The White Paper may well contain the answers to a number of questions asked by the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield. He will appreciate that the White Paper is in the course of preparation, and until its preparation is complete it is difficult to say that all the noble Earl's questions will be answered. However, the ground will certainly be covered. The noble Earl asked one specific question which was dealt with in our first debate on this issue, namely, the question of the timing of the Boundary Commission 877 procedures. If the "first past the post" system is employed, the Boundary Commission would be able to undertake a certain amount of informal work before the Bill receives the Royal Assent, but inevitably its formal procedures could not begin until the Bill has received the Royal Assent.
§ The Earl of MANSFIELD
My Lords, I apologise for interrupting the noble Lord, but when shall we receive copies of the White Paper? Is it in draft or proof form yet, and will it still have green edges?
§ Lord HARRIS of GREENWICH
My Lords, with his customary skill the noble Earl has anticipated my next point, that the White Paper will have green edges. The noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, indicated earlier that it will indeed have green edges. A number of problems are associated with this situation with which I should like to deal.
As I have indicated, we remain committed to "use our best endeavours"—again the language of the Council of Ministers—to meet the target date, which is May or June of next year. This is a subject which is of major constitutional importance and certainly it is right that we should endeavour to reach the right solution on what will certainly be a most important piece of legislation. The Government have therefore been giving the most careful thought to the problems which may arise in adapting our traditional electoral practices to European elections. Different options have been examined, and none has yet been rejected.
The Government have certainly been greatly assisted by the reports on this matter of the Select Committee which sat in another place. The Government's White Paper will be a response to those reports and, as I have indicated, it will have green edges. A Parliamentary debate on the White Paper will be arranged when the White Paper has been published. The Government's decision on the final form of the legislation will be taken in the light of that further consultation and debate.
The Select Committee on Direct Elections reported towards the end of August on the question of the electoral system to be used. They recommended 878 our present first past the post system and suggested that the constituencies should be drawn up by the Boundary Commissions using a curtailed version of the Westminster procedures. Their last report, which was published only at the end of November, contains a whole variety of other recommendations, some of which, of necessity, will have to be dealt with in the proposed legislation. Some of these are significant departures from our present electoral arrangements. There is for instance—and this has been mentioned—the proposal for an extension of the franchise to United Kingdom nationals resident abroad. This carries with it major implications for the manner in which the elections will be organised in this country. There is the difficult and inevitably controversial question of how many seats should be distributed to each part of the United Kingdom. It seems only natural that the Government should have preferred—and still do prefer—to introduce a Bill which deals comprehensively with all the questions which must be settled before we can hold direct elections.
The Government take the view that, in this difficult area, the ground needs to be thoroughly prepared before legislation is introduced. Helpful as the reports from the Select Committee on Direct Elections have been, it is apparent that major areas of controversy still exist. It is in an attempt to reach a wider consensus that the Government are publishing their White Paper. Although this undoubtedly involves some delay to the introduction of legislation, the Government very much hope that this preparatory work will not be wasted and that the resulting Bill will prove acceptable. I therefore recommend your Lordships to await the White Paper, to consider and debate it, and to take the subject of direct elections forward in that context rather than on the basis of the Bill introduced this afternoon by the noble Lord, Lord Banks. The present Bill is not based on any form of consensus and offers a solution to the problem of the electoral system which may not prove to be ideal in the circumstances.
The noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, spoke as ever with vigour and made a remarkably interesting speech. He began by saying that this is a sensible Bill, which I thought was an interesting statement given the ground covered by the Bill, and I waited with interest to hear that the Conservative 879 Party had committed itself to the idea that we should introduce proportional representation. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Byers, would agree that a statement of that sort would be a matter of widespread interest. Having made a firm statement in rather ringing terms, the noble Earl then began to qualify the sensible character of the Bill, saying—and I believe that I took a correct note of his remarks:I am not agreeing to every part of it".That was a minor reservation. I supposed that he had some slight doubt about the question of the electoral deposit or some question of that sort. But no, it was not that about which he had the reservations; they were about the central feature of the Bill itself. The House should recognise that the qualification that the noble Earl has is central to the whole purpose of the Bill which has been put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Banks.
We have just heard a remarkable speech from my noble friend Lord Shinwell. It was a boisterous performance. I think it is only right to say that my noble friend was interested earlier this afternoon in the problems of the retired, and wanted to know what action the Government should take to deal with the problems of people who were retired. I am bound to say that my noble friend illustrates how the retired can use their time fairly effectively. He rejected the principle of direct elections but was enthusiastic for proportional representation. He was the obverse of the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield.
I think that the situation is fairly clear on the question of direct elections. It was pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, that Article 138 of the Treaty is fairly clear on the matter. It is only right to say that in Article 138 there appears to be a clear and specific reference to direct elections and the way in which they should be organised. I have noted some criticism of those who, like my noble friend, were not in favour of the country joining the European Economic Community. I seem to recall during the referendum campaign a substantial amount of criticism being directed at the idea that we were handing over power to a remote and anonymous bureaucracy in Brussels. It seems to me that one way of dealing with this particular problem, if people regard it as so central, is to have direct 880 elections, and the Government are committed to that proposition.
My noble friend referred to the absence of Members of the European Parliament from our proceedings today. It is only fair to say that there is a meeting of the European Parliament this week, and no doubt a number of our colleagues are there. He said that some of those who had gone to the European Parliament were opponents of entry. He seemed to regard it as surprising, indeed unusual, that they had been prepared to take on the burden of membership of the European Parliament if they had been opposed to the principle of this country joining.
There is another explanation for that; that is, that they have accepted the verdict of the British people that was given in a clear and unequivocal fashion in the summer of 1975. The British people voted quite clearly for British membership of the European Community, and great credit is due to those of our colleagues who, having opposed British membership of the Community, have now loyally accepted the decision of the British people. Many of those who were most passionately opposed to British membership were strongly in favour of the referendum, and great credit attaches to those of our colleagues who have accepted the verdict of the referendum.
As I have indicated, and I return to the Bill, we have not dismissed out of hand the single transferable vote system of proportional representation. All the options remain open. Yet it is only right for us today to recognise some of the difficulties. The system which the noble Lord advocates has never been used for large constituencies. In the Republic of Ireland where the single transferable vote is used, the Dail constituencies tend on average to be a great deal smaller than Westminster constituencies. The Liberal Party have in the past taken the line that our experience in "Northern Ireland proves conclusively how easy it would be to introduce the single transferable vote for direct elections. But our experience in Northern Ireland provides little precedent for the counting of up to 5 million votes—for that is the size of one of the constituencies that appears in Lord Banks' Bill—and the allocation of seats for votes on one of the most complex systems yet devised. It is argued by some that it would be better to 881 adopt some variants of the Party list system. In one form or another this seems likely to be used for direct elections by all our EEC partners except the Republic of Ireland. Nevertheless, we must recognise some of the difficulties with a list system. It confers great power for national or regional Party organisations. It also makes the position of independent candidates virtually impossible.
I have today set out some of the options. They will clearly be raised and argued out in the national debate on direct elections to the European Parliament which will now take place. Within a very short period the Government will produce their White Paper. Immediately afterwards there will be consultations and debates in Parliament on the White Paper, and following this the Government will produce their Bill. It seems to me that this is the right way to proceed, and in the light of that I hope that the noble Lord will agree not to press his Bill.
§ Lord BYERS
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I ask him a question: If the timetable that he has outlined—the White Paper, the discussions, the debates, and the Bill—is adhered to, is the noble Lord satisfied that we can in fact have direct elections in this country in May or June of next year?
§ Lord HARRIS of GREENWICH
Yes, my Lords. I have indicated that the Government have not in any way retreated from the position set out in the gracious Speech.
§ 4.26 p.m.
§ Lord BANKS
My Lords, I should like to thank all those who have taken part in this debate this afternoon. I should particularly like to express appreciation of the congratulations offered to us by the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, who said that the Bill was sensible and makes sense. It seems to me that that is a good starting point for our Bill: "It is sensible, and makes sense". The difficulty which the noble Earl had was that he felt that where one form of proportional representation was put forward another form of proportional representation was immediately proposed by somebody else. He did not tell us what his choice is. It is certainly a question of making choices. However, we believe that that is what the 882 Houses of Parliament are here for; to make choices between the various options that are presented.
While I would maintain that any form of proportional representation is better than none, I believe that there might well be much more agreement on the single transferable vote than the noble Earl has allowed. The important decision that has to be made is not what form of proportional representation is going to be adopted, but that we are to have a form of proportional representation. That is the major decision which has to be made, and it is a matter on which the Government as yet, as the noble Lord, Lord Harris, has pointed out, have not come to any decision.
I am sure that the Government will be greatly encouraged by what the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, said about the distortion created by the very large single Member constituencies of some 500,000 electors apiece. I remain convinced that if you have single Member constituencies of that size, they must tend to reflect the general opinion throughout the country. This must mean that the Party at the top of the opinion poll must be in a position to scoop the pool, which means very considerable distortion. I would re-mind the House of what I said earlier about the effect of this on the political balance in the European Parliament. The noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, reminded us that the majority in another place wanted direct elections, which makes the delay the more paradoxical and ridiculous. The noble Lord was anxious to see the scheme incorporated in the Bill presented to the House of Commons as an option. I suggest that by passing it through your Lordships' House we would be doing just that.
The noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, said that we needed this Bill, or something like it. He said, and I agree with him, that we must not hold back, if we feel that this is a matter of vital importance, because the Government hold back. He underlined that the case for proportional representation in European elections was a special case, and that it need not necessarily follow that because one advocated that, that one advocated it for all other types of election.
The noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, was of course hostile to the concept of direct 883 elections—though perhaps he was persuaded in the long run that they were provided for in the Treaty of Rome—and we have all along known that he was opposed to British membership of the EEC. That is not now an issue. We are in and we all have to make it work, and in making it work we should apply the principle which Lord Shinwell upheld so strongly, that of proportional representation.
I listened with great interest to the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, and I am convinced that he is a supporter of direct elections to the European Parliament. I would not go so far as to say that he supports proportional representation for those elections, but I know that he is a good European and I am sure of where his general sympathies lie in this matter. Nevertheless, he seemed to me not to take us any further forward than he has on previous occasions, and what he has said on previous occasions has not satisfied many of your Lordships; we have felt that there was unnecessary delay and that that delay might well prejudice the whole of the holding of these elections.
Lord Harris said that all the options are open. We certainly want options, but it is not options only; decisions are needed, and in this Bill we have made a decision and put forward a proposal which we believe provides a simple scheme, a tried system—a system which, incidentally, will be used for these elections by the Republic of Ireland—and a system which will obviate possible distortion and get rid of all possible delays. One cannot over-emphasise the importance of this country's taking part in these direct elections in 1978, and being ready to do so, along with the other Member States; and because I believe it is so urgent and important I ask the House to give the Bill a Second Reading.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.