HL Deb 03 May 1977 vol 382 cc895-980

2.54 p.m.

The MINISTER of STATE, FOREIGN and COMMONWEALTH OFFICE (Lord Goronwy-Roberts) rose to move, That this House takes note of Command Paper 6768, Direct Elections to the European Assembly. The noble Lord said: My Lords, this House has already devoted considerable attention to the important subject of direct elections to the European Parliament that is again before us today. I remember well the debate which I had the honour of introducing just over a year ago on 29th March 1976. On that occasion noble Lords had before them the Green Paper published by the Government in February last year which sought the views of Parliament on those issues which needed to be settled on a Community basis as the first stage towards the introduction of direct elections in the Member States. In the same debate the House was able to take account of the most valuable report produced by the Select Committee chaired by the noble Baroness, Lady Twecdsmuir of Belhelvie.

Today we are embarked on the next stage: the consideration of the matters that fall to be settled by national legislation before direct elections can be held. The most important of these matters is without a doubt the electoral system to be used. The Government have published a White Paper dealing with all these matters and setting out the main options as they see them. All these options have advantages and disadvantages which the Government have in their White Paper attempted to bring out. Before putting forward a recommendation, the Government wished to be able to take account of as wide a spectrum of views as possible both within Parliament and outside. Noble Lords will be aware that the other place has just spent two days debating the White Paper. Today the Government invite the views of the Members of your Lordships' House.

We all recall, of course, that this House as recently as 7th March had the opportunity of debating the initiative of the noble Lord, Lord Banks, who introduced a Bill providing for direct elections to the European Parliament under the electoral system known as STV—the single transferable vote. That Bill was duly read a second time. If I say that I cannot foresee the Government taking over that Bill, I am sure that the noble Lord will at least acknowledge that the electoral method that he and others favour has been given a fair and reasonable presentation in the Government's White Paper, Cmnd. 6768, which we are debating today.

There are still those—though I believe fewer here than in another place—who query the principle of direct elections and, indeed, the commitment of the Government to it. The Government have frequently encountered criticism on this issue from conflicting viewpoints—from those who believe that no commitment exists and from those who willingly embrace the commitment but doubt the Government's intention to work for it. May I deal with the latter point first.

I do not think that it is necessary to apologise for the fact that Government legislation has not yet been introduced. The purpose of the White Paper is to attempt to establish the widest possible consensus for it. The Government are, of course, aware that the Select Committee which was set up in another place considered, as part of their work, the question of the electoral system, and concluded that, in the time available, it would be simplest to use our national electoral system. But, since that recommendation was made, I think it will be agreed that there has been a discernible move in public opinion towards adopting a different system for direct elections. Indeed, the Chairman of the Select Committee, who himself then favoured the familiar first-past-the-post system, acknowledged in the debate in another place last week—that is, on 25th April—that he had changed his mind and was now in favour of a regional list. It has seemed to the Government prudent and reasonable to set out the main options, including that put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Banks, and to invite the views of Parliament. I am sure that this is a better course and a course upon which the eventual decisions will be the better founded.

I turn to those who question whether a commitment exists and I would simply say, as my right honourable friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary said in opening the debate in the other place, that the principle of a directly elected Parliament was incorporated in the Treaty of Rome as a necessary eventual part of the Community. Participation in an eventual electoral system, under Article 138(3) of the Treaty of Rome, was one of the goals which we, too, assumed when we joined the Community. It is true that the decision of September 1976 derives from political commitments taken by Heads of Government, as the right honourable gentleman Mr. Edward Heath said in another place. The decision does not propose a uniform system of direct elections, as envisaged in Article 138(3); it is in the nature of an interim arrangement for operation until a uniform procedure is agreed. It is therefore a step in the process towards full implementation of Article 138(3) and it will be for Parliament to decide whether to take that step.

I come to the White Paper itself. When we come to look at the possible systems we should do so with certain criteria in mind. The most important is that we should choose a system which will produce results accepted as fair and representative. If this were not so, it might damage our reputation in the rest of the world for Parliamentary democracy and undermine the credit of the European Parliament itself. The second consideration which we need to bear in mind is the 1978 deadline and the length of time each system would take to introduce; the procedures that would be involved in drawing up constituency boundaries is of course very relevant here. Thirdly, we need to consider the purpose in hand. Unlike our domestic elections, we are not concerned with a Parliament on which a Government will be based.

It might be helpful if I were to examine for a moment what the role of the European Parliament is. Unlike our Parliament, it has no independent legislative function. Apart from the right to dismiss the Commission, a right which has never yet been exercised, the Assembly's formal powers are greatest in the budgetary field. The Treaties give the Assembly the last word over the so-called non-obligatory area of Community expenditure and a fair say over the rest. Although the Assembly formally adopts the budget as a whole, in practice the determination of the budget is increasingly a matter for negotiation between the three institutions involved: the Council, the Assembly and the Commission.

In the legislative field, the Assembly has the right to be consulted on a wide range of proposals. In this process the Assembly's network of committees provides an invaluable source of expertise. The Agricultural Committee, for instance, contains seven or eight former Ministers or deputy Ministers of Agriculture, and indeed it is not only from the former Ministerial ranks that this unique expertise is derived for Assembly purposes. In the Government's view the Assembly plays an essential role, complementary to that of national Parliaments, in bringing democratic influences to bear on the decision-making processes of the Community and I have no doubt that it will be better able to do this when it is directly elected.

I will touch only briefly on some of the special considerations regarding the systems set out in the White Paper; my noble friend the Minister of State, Home Office, will be able to deal with these matters more fully in winding up. To start with, the first-past-the-post system: it is clear that there will have to be a considerable curtailment of traditional Boundary Commission procedures if we are to use that system in May-June 1978. With the best will in the world, there has hardly been, since signature of the Community Agreement last September, time for a full procedure, which takes some years. It is for that reason that the Government reluctantly conclude in paragraph 31 of the White Paper that the best course would be to adopt a procedure involving Boundary Commission recommendations following one round of representations but with no local inquiries. The Boundary Commissions have themselves suggested that, from the time of Royal Assent to the submission of their reports, this option would take at least 18 weeks. It might of course take considerably longer, especially if there were any organised opposition to prolong their work.

To turn to the regional list system, there are of course a number of possible variants and I would draw noble Lords' attention to the system outlined in Annex B to the White Paper which would retain as far as possible some of the familiar features, and indeed some of the undoubted advantages, of our traditional electoral system. The elector would vote for an individual candidate rather than for a Party and would thus determine which candidates of a particular Party were elected. It would of course be possible for Independents to stand. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland might each constitute a separate region. In England, the regions could be based on the existing economic planning regions, which are familiar geographical units, though some further sub-division would seem to be necessary in the South-East.

In view of the recent debate on the Bill introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Banks, I do not propose to say much about the third electoral system discussed in the White Paper, the single transferable vote, fascinating though such a discussion would prove to be. No doubt noble Lords on the Liberal Benches will repair any omissions on my part, and they may be joined by noble Lords on other Benches. This system has of course been used in Northern Ireland for Convention and Assembly election and is still used for local elections there. There may however be certain practical difficulties about employing this system for direct elections. If the constituencies were large, the count might be very protracted and complicated; but this, like the other matters I have raised on the question of systems, is a matter for discussion. Noble Lords will have noted in paragraph 24 of the White Paper the Government's view that, whatever is decided for the rest of the United Kingdom, the special circumstances of Northern Ireland require that a proportional system of voting should be used there. The Home Secretary has made clear that if first-past-the-post were used in the rest of the Kingdom, the Government would favour STV for Northern Ireland; however, if some other form of PR were used, it should be in Northern Ireland also.

The last option put forward in the White Paper was that there might be some form of compulsory dual mandate. This means that membership of the other place would be an essential condition for membership of the European Assembly. This is a suggestion upon which I should expect Members of this House to have views. Some will no doubt take heart from the extent to which the practical difficulties of any such arrangement were spelled out in the debate elsewhere. They are undoubtedly formidable. Nevertheless, the relationship between Westminster and the European Assembly is clearly an important issue which we shall want to consider further.

Before I conclude, it may be helpful if I give a brief resume of the Government's latest information on the position reached in other Member States in considering these same matters. The procedures to be gone through are of course different in each country. In most, two Bills are necessary, one to ratify and one to provide for implementing legislation. In Germany, there will be three Bills, the third covering the status of Members of the Assembly. In Italy and Belgium, the ratification Bill has been through all its Parliamentary stages, and in Luxembourg and the Netherlands ratification has started its Parliamentary journey. Germany and Ireland are the only countries to have introduced the necessary enabling legislation. In some Member States (Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark) national elections have to some extent delayed the timetable, but in none is it now expected that there will be any serious difficulty.

In only two countries has there been any serious controversy about the principle of direct elections, and in both there have been important recent developments. In Denmark, recent discussions in the Folketing Market Committee have revealed that a majority of the Folketing would not wish to maintain the special Danish reservations of a compulsory dual mandate and the coincidence of national and European elections. The Danish Government will no doubt be reviewing the situation as a result of those discussions, but it now seems clear that legislation will be adopted without serious difficulty.

In France, all political Parties have now indicated their agreement in principle to direct elections. The Gaullists have publicly indicated the possibility that they will be able to agree on a common position within the majority and with the Government. Noble Lords will have taken note of the significant change in position a few days ago of the French Communist Party which has indicated that it will drop its opposition to direct elections, provided that there is no increase in the European Parliament's powers.

In conclusion, I should like again to stress that the White Paper is an important step forward in fulfilling the Government's undertaking in respect of direct elections. I invite noble Lords to consider the matters in it so that the Government can pay full attention to the views expressed here, as elsewhere, in framing the necessary legislation for direct elections by Britain to the European Parliament.

Moved, That this House takes note of Command Paper 6768, Direct Elections to the European Assembly.—(Lord GoronwyRoberts.)

3.14 p.m.

Baroness ELLES

My Lords, my noble friends and I would like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, for the very fair way in which he has presented the document for consideration by your Lordships this afternoon. I believe that the real problem that we have, particularly on this side of the House, is that the document is called a "White Paper", whereas we have always been used to a White Paper presenting Government policy for discussion and debate. The one thing that the present document fails to do is to present a Government policy. Indeed, it seeks to elicit the views of both Houses of Parliament on all aspects of the holding of direct elections to the European Parliament, including a vital one—the method of election to that body.

It is not necessary for me to recall, and certainly it is not necessary for the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, or the noble Lord, Lord Harris, to be reminded of the many times we have debated this issue in this House. Nor is it necessary to recall the fact that a large majority of those of us in this House have already expressed clearly and distinctly that we are in favour of taking part in direct elections to the European Parliament. Not only are we in favour but, much more, it is essential for our own standing among our partners in the Community that it shall not be Britain that will hold up the proceedings in May/June 1978. Secondly, it is essential that we should complete all the necessary procedures in time for our own 81 elected representatives to take their place with the other 329 in the first unique body of elected Members from nine member countries forming a democratically elected Parliament. Admittedly, it is a Parliament without many powers. In fact, the powers are very few, as the noble Lord, Lord GoronwyRoberts, has already outlined for the benefit of your Lordships, Nevertheless, it will be a representative body of a political system which is shared by 250 million people and which is based on free and universal suffrage.

The British Parliament has been the subject of admiration and of envy and has served as an example of the expression of a democratic people. Is it now to be said that we are incapable, in over two years, of preparing a simple procedure to elect 81 Members from among our own people? I would say here that we do not doubt the statement of the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, that in the end the Government are committed to achieve being ready for direct elections. What we have doubts about are other aspects and how we are to reach those direct elections.

During the past three years, we have seen Greece, Portugal and Spain coming out of totalitarian forms of government. With all that that implies, these countries have nevertheless been able to draw up constitutions and hold free elections. Of course, in the case of Spain, these lie a few weeks ahead, but it is on their Statute Book that they will be holding free elections on 15th June or thereabouts. All this has been achieved well within two years. Must we now admit that our democratic institutions are beginning to creak at the hinges, or is it more true to say that there are elements, both in and out of Parliament, which do not want to see direct elections taking place and which are placing difficulties in the way of proceeding along the path announced by the head of our Government?

Already in 1969, and again in 1974, we were told that we should be proceeding to direct elections in May/June 1978. The views of the Government were surely overwhelmingly confirmed by the pro-European vote in the referendum of 1975 and, after that political event, the then Prime Minister undertook and promised solemnly full and wholehearted co-operation in the affairs of the European Community. Not only did the Prime Minister of the day give that undertaking, but it was repeated in the Queen's Speech at the opening of Parliament on 24th November, when we already had a new Prime Minister who undertook to play a full part in the activities and development of the European Community and further solemnly undertook to introduce legisla- tion to provide for the election of the United Kingdom Members to the European Assembly, presumably within this Session.

I should like now to address myself specifically to the timetable of events connected with this matter, because it is the timetable which is of prime importance and it is that which is worrying those of us who are afraid that we shall not be ready. The Select Committee which was set up in May last year by the Government and which produced a most comprehensive and thorough report printed its results last November, before the Government's undertaking was given. So, when the Government gave their undertaking in the Queen's Speech, the findings of the Select Committee were already known. It was, however, said in December, when my noble friend Lord Chelwood put down an Unstarred Question, that the Government did not necessarily agree that it would be essential to have a Bill with Royal Assent by the end of February this year.

We are over two months past the deadline prescribed by the experts who set up the Select Committee and there is not even a Government Bill in sight, nor, so far as we know, is there even one in print. So, first of all, I should like to ask the Government to state what they consider to be the ultimate date by which a Bill must be passed and receive Royal Assent if all the necessary electoral preparations and procedures are to be completed by May/June 1978? Twice in this House, by the presentation of two Bills, we have had the opportunity of showing our view on the question of holding direct elections: first, the Bill presented by the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan; and, secondly, only very recently, the Representation of the People (Amendment) Bill presented by the noble Lord, Lord Banks. The Minister has now explained that this Bill will probably not be forthcoming; otherwise one might indeed have asked what has happened to it. Has it suffered under the shotgun marriage of the Lib-Lab liaison, or will it be produced later in some other form? We shall wait with interest to see what happens. Nevertheless, it received a Second Reading in this House and showed that the large majority of Members of your Lordships' House are in favour of the principle of the Bill, if not the details contained in it.

The second question that I should like to ask the Government is: by what means do the Government intend to test the views of Parliament? The Prime Minister, speaking in another place on 23rd March (as reported at column 1307 of the Official Report) undertook that, … whatever the final recommendation on these matters"— he was then referring to the White Paper— it will be subject to a free vote of both Houses of Parliament". On 25th March, as reported at column 1654 of the Official Report, Mr. John, the Minister speaking on behalf of the Government, made it quite clear that the Government would not make any recommendations on the White Paper, but would do so in the light of a free vote. So what I should like to ask is: when is this vote to take place and what procedure do the Government intend to follow?

I should like to ask the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, whether he will state, when winding up the debate, if it is the intention of Her Majesty's Government to introduce a Motion on which there is to be a free vote—for example, voting on the substance of the Select Committee's recommendation—or if they intend, in a very short period of time, to produce a Bill so that views on methods of election would, of course, be included in that Bill, and the only way of registering the views of your Lordships would be in the Committee stages of that Bill ? I think that the House should be informed urgently in view of the timetable. Therefore, I should be grateful if the Minister, in winding up, will reply both as to the method of presenting the views of the Government and to the timetable that he envisages in this regard.

I can hardly bring myself to call the document a White Paper, because really that is a gross misnomer; but there are certain matters raised in it which require detailed consideration. The method of election and voting system, which is of very considerable importance and which is open to be debated, will be very comprehensively dealt with by my noble friend Lord Colville of Culross, so I will make here only two remarks. First, my personal view is that the type of election system that I should like to see is not at all included in the White Paper. This is a regional list, with a first-past-the-post voting system. I think that that gets round a great many difficulties.

My prime consideration is that we should be ready for direct elections on the due date, and not delay the processes of any system. I should support personally any system which is seen to be fair in the context of past experience in this country, or in the experience of other European democratic countries. Any of these systems will receive my support. But I am not personally a proponent of PR, and, to my mind, to introduce a system to enable a minority possibly to have one or two representatives elected is in theory admirable. But what an exercise in futility it would be if, having introduced that system, we take into account the recent by-election in which not one member of that minority was elected. In any case by 1983, whatever system we now adopt, we shall have to consider changing it in the light of co-operation with our other partners in the Community.

I should like to say a few words about the franchise. The Select Committee proposed the extension of the franchise to United Kingdom nationals who are resident within the European Community —as stated in paragraph 20 of their Third Report. Those who live in European Community countries will bitterly resent any Government decision to deny their right to take part in the first direct elections. This proposal was made and published by 9th November. The Government have taken nearly six months—up to April 1977 when their White Paper was printed—to make the proposal that it would not be possible to allow these people to vote without a proper consideration by a Speaker's Conference. This seems to me to be political procrastination of a very low order. After all, there was no conference to consider the propriety of holding a referendum—a totally alien concept to this nation—when it suited the Government.

Other European countries—though, it is true, not all of them—have facilities for their expatriates to take part in general elections in their own countries, either through embassies or consulates, or by returning to their place of registration. Surely we, who can manage to give the vote to a floating population of nearly half a million Irish within our own country, are not defeated in this matter? Surely it is not beyond the bounds of competence of the Government to give the vote to our own nationals who work in the European Community countries, including, of course, those who work in the European Institution in Brussels on behalf of the British Government ?

When he replies on this point, will the Minister also be good enough to say what is to be done about the citizens of Gibraltar. Did the Government have in mind the 20,000 citizens of that part of the European Community when they made their reservation under Annex 3 of the decision of 20th September? The Government will be aware that it has become very fashionable to take us to the European Court of Human Rights. Of course, it is not for me to make any such threat, but I say merely that many nationals on the Continent are discussing the point that they would wish to take the Government to the European Court in order to protect their political rights and their right to take part in direct elections for an institution which, after all, affects their own lives.

Further, I think something should be said about the dual mandate. It has been evident to all those who serve, or who have served, in both Parliaments that the workload and the very logistics of attendance are not compatible either with efficiency or with health. The combination of being a Westminster Parliamentarian, and what might be called a peripatetic European Parliamentarian, is really excessive for any one person. I know that noble Lords will understand if I refer to the recent tragic death of Sir Peter Kirk, which highlights this particular danger. He had impressed the members of the European Conservative Group, and all those who worked with him in the European Parliament, by his great devotion and dedication to the development of the European Community, while at the same time (I repeat) most conscientiously fulfilling a Member's normal task in his own constituency. It is to be imagined that the work load of the European Parliament will increase rather than decrease with a directly elected body, although it may be impracticable to abolish a dual mandate for the first Parliament; but I personally believe that it should not be perpetuated into the next round of direct elections.

Perhaps here I could add a note of warning to those who aspire to be candidates to the European Parliament. Members of neither House—nor, for that matter, anybody else—should be attracted on account of an apparently high salary. The possibility of United Kingdom income tax on at least 75 per cent., the low purchasing value of the pound and the necessity to keep at least two houses going will, I think, take their toll of the total to satisfy even the most envious of anti-Europeans.

However, to return to another aspect of the White Paper, close links must be maintained between what I may refer to as the MEP and Westminster. Structure and procedures should be introduced which ensure close co-operation between them. In the light of experience, it may well be that the most practical and effective method would be the proposal put forward by the Select Committee in paragraph 38(iii), which is a kind of Grand European Committee of both Houses whose sittings would take place at a time different from those of either House. There must be some way in which the electorate can know what their Members are saying or have said in the European Parliament, and I think that, when we are debating a European issue, either on a Motion or as a result of Scrutiny Committee reports, this would be a very good opportunity for Members of Westminster to be able to question MEPs. Their electors may have an additional way of being kept in touch and of being made aware of their position in the European Parliament on matters which affect them directly. Indeed, one of the reasons why those of us who are hoping to present our names as candidates look forward to direct elections is precisely to have the opportunity to tell the people of this country directly of the benefits of being members of the European Community, and to be able to repudiate statements, including those of a Cabinet Minister, which lay at the door of the European Community the sum total of the Government's own incompetence in the handling of the economic and financial affairs of this country.

In conclusion, my Lords, we ask the Government, having signed the Decision of the 20th September, to enable both Houses to get the necessary legislation on the Statute Book in time to hold direct elections by the agreed target date. If the Government do not do so, and hold back our partners, they must realise that our whole system of democracy in this country, so long admired, will be not only questioned but also ridiculed, and our already reduced bargaining power in the Community will be debased. The methods of election and the details raised in the White Paper are molehills formed into mountains of the imagination by obstructionists. The over-riding consideration must he that we are ready on the appointed day to take part in a unique event which will allow us to have the privileges which remain to very few democratic countries in the Western World.

3.33 p.m.


My Lords, one month ago, as the noble Lord, Lord GoronwyRoberts, said, we debated this subject, when the House gave a Second Reading to the Representation of the People (Amendment) Bill. Since then the Government do not appear to have progressed very far, but at least we now have before us the White Paper, and I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, for his amplification of it this afternoon. It is clear that the Government are committed to the principle of direct elections to the European Parliament. They are committed by their adherence to the collective Decision of the Council of Ministers, and they are committed by the repeated statements of their spokesmen in both Houses of Parliament, including that by the noble Lord this afternoon. The Government are also committed to introduce legislation this Session to facilitate these elections. That commitment was in the Queen's Speech, and has been repeated on numerous occasions. As I understand it, they are not committed to our being ready by May/June 1978. They have promised to use their best endeavours to that end, but I must say that it is at this point that I begin to share the apprehensions expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Elles, about our not being ready in time.

The Government are also not committed, as the noble Lord made very clear this afternoon, as yet, to a particular system of election, although this House has given a Second Reading to the Representation of the People (Amendment) Bill, which provides for the election to take place by means of proportional representation, with a single transferable vote. During the Second Reading debate on that Bill Lord Harris said that this was a subject of major constitutional importance and that, furthermore, the electoral system set out in the Bill was only one of the possible alternatives. So he urged us to wait, and said that a White Paper, for consideration and discussion, would be published by the Government explaining the constitutional issues and setting out the various alternative electoral systems. Now that we have the White Paper, we see that the fundamental constitutional issues turn out to be two: first, whether we should have proportional representation in one form or another; and, secondly, whether the dual mandate should continue. Both these, of course, are matters which we discussed during the Second Reading debate on the Bill, but perhaps I may be permitted to say again very briefly what I said on that occasion about the dual mandate.

I think it places an impossible burden on those who are asked to bear it, and that it would be quite wrong to make it mandatory. I also said that I felt that this whole question of the link between the European Parliament and this Parliament was not one to which we should hurry to find a solution; that it was really part of the overhaul of the whole of our constitutional system which is going on hit by bit and slowly and gradually at the present time, and that we ought to see the composition of this House in connection with the possibility of representation in it of the Members of the European Parliament and also representation from the devolved Assemblies when they eventually appear, as I am sure they will.

So it is not a matter, I think, which has to be settled at the outset. I do not consider that the advantages which are set out in the White Paper for the dual mandate are really advantages at all. I think they derive purely from a fear of federalism, the fear of a federal Europe; and whether or not we move eventually to a federal Europe will depend on the will of the peoples of the Community and of the Governments of the Community, and is not to be determined by the type of system which we have for representation in the European Parliament. It is something going much deeper and further than that.

I welcome the fact that the White Paper supports the criticisms of the first-past-the-post system which were made in the debate in this House a month ago. The White Paper points out that all other Members of the European Economic Community will be using a system of proportional representation, and that if we use the first-past-the-post system our procedure will be significantly different from that of the other eight countries which will be electing Members to the same Assembly. The White Paper underlines the fact that the first-past-the-post system tends to magnify swings in electoral opinion. With 81 very large constituencies instead of the 635 Westminster constituencies, further magnification of swings, the White Paper says, is likely to lead to quite disproportionate results.

Those are the words of the White Paper, and we can see that they are true if we think for a minute of constituencies of half a million people. With constituencies as large as that, public opinion within them is bound to represent very closely public opinion throughout the country as a whole, and therefore the political Party which tends to be top of the opinion polls at the time when the election is held will be in a position to scoop the pool. The White Paper goes on to say that if Assembly elections fall midway between General Elections there could be a wide divergence between the balance of power at Westminster and the Party composition of the United Kingdom Members of the European Parliament; and the White Paper says that this could lead to friction between the Assembly and the Government. These are powerful criticisms. In addition, we know that minority Parties would be unlikely to secure any representation at all.

The White Paper says that the Government consider that the special circumstances of Northern Ireland make it appropriate that direct elections there should be conducted by proportional representation; but if proportional representation is necessary to ensure that minorities are adequately represented in Northern Ireland, then, even though there may not be the same situation of conflict, it is equally necessary in justice to ensure that minorities are adequately represented elsewhere in the rest of the United Kingdom. We have to bear in mind also the effect of a quite disproportionate result in this country on the general political balance within the European Parliament. This is not a matter which can concern this country alone; it concerns other countries, other Governments; it concerns political Parties in other countries; it touches on the formulation of political Parties or political alliances which go right across national boundaries. It is not a matter which is just for us alone. Whatever we do must affect others.

Then, my Lords, there is the problem which has been referred to of drawing up the boundaries of the 81 constituencies if we use the first-past-the-post system. Mr. Frank Judd, the Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, said in the House of Commons on 25th April: We do not have and have never had enough time, if the commitment of the Government is to be fulfilled, to determine constituencies by the full Boundary Commission procedures which are thought proper for Westminster". The noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, has made clear that we should have to use a truncated version of that procedure. I am glad that he drew attention to the fact that Mr. Sydney Irving, Chairman of the House of Commons Select Committee which recommended the first-past-the-post system, now believes that it is no longer possible to implement this system in the time which is available and believes that proportional representation represents the only means of keeping to the timetable.

Two factors, I am sure, will make the rejection of the first-past-the-post system more generally accepted. The circumstances of an election to the European Parliament, again as the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts pointed out, are different from those of an election to Westminster in that we shall not be electing a Government. Secondly, the personal link between a Member and his constituency could not be the same in any case where single Member constituencies would include half a million electors. The only significant new factor introduced by the White Paper is the regional list system. It is true that a national list system is mentioned, but not in such terms as to suggest that the Government consider it a serious possibility.

The noble Baroness, Lady Elles, if I understood her correctly, said that she wanted to see a regional list system on a first-past-the-post basis, which appeared to me to be something of a contradiction in terms and which reminded me a little of a lady whom I once heard making a public speech who said that she hoped if conscription came in that it would be on a voluntary basis.

Baroness ELLES

My Lords, despite the noble Lord's humour will he allow me to interrupt to ask him how the non-metropolitan district councils are now elected? Are they not elected by multimember seats on a first-past-the-post system'?


Yes, my Lords, multimember seats, certainly; but that is not normally regarded as a list system. That, I would have thought, was an ordinary first-past-the-post system.

Baroness ELLES

My Lords, if we are talking on the basis of a system, what is the difference between a list of people in regions and a list of people in districts?


My Lords, if the noble Baroness is referring to the system which she has just described, I would call that a variation of the normal first-past-the-post system, but I do not think we want to split hairs. If she prefers to call that a list system of first past the post, I will accept that description; but I see it as nothing different in practice from the first-past-the-post system and subject to all the disadvantages of that system that I have outlined.

Another point which the noble Baroness made, if I understood her correctly, was that we should not alter the system in order to provide representation for a minority Party. Of course, there would be many other arguments besides the position of the minority Parties. I think that their position is important. I do not think that they ought to be neglected for they are entitled to representation, but all the other arguments that I have been putting forward about the effect of swings and disproportionate results could be there if there were only two Parties. We are not suggesting a change in the system merely because it is fairer or juster to minority Parties, although it would be that.

Then, I think, the noble Baroness said that because a particular minority Party had not won a seat at recent by-elections, this was in some way an even stronger reason for not altering the system so that it would he fairer to that particular Party. That seems to be a strange argument. If you are saying that a particular system is unfair, it is not surprising that somebody is suffering from that unfairness; and you cannot deny them reform because they do not do well under a system which is unfair to them. This is to take the argument round in circles.

My Lords, if the first-past-the-post system is ruled out, as I believe it must be, there would appear to be two alternatives in the Government's mind. First, the regional list system of proportional representation and, secondly, the single transferable vote system of proportional representation. The form of regional list system which is put forward in the White Paper, allowing the elector a choice between candidates of the same Party, is very similar to the Finnish system; but it is also very similar to the single transferable vote system. There is much in common between the regional list system put forward in the White Paper and the single transferable vote system. Both require multi-Member constituencies, and they can be the same for either. It is interesting to compare the list of constituencies set out in the Bill for the single transferable vote and the list of constituencies set out in the White Paper for the regional list system. One has 12 constituencies and the other 11 but nine of them are identical, are common to both lists, so that there should be no problem in drawing up the boundaries. Both systems require that there should be a list of candidates from each Party. In general, there will he a list of candidates from each Party; but there will be no ordered list; that is to say, it is not a question of a Party being able to say who its first choice is; that choice will be in the hands of the electors. The electors have one vote to give to a candidate of their choice.

Both systems give proportional representation to Parties; that is to say, Parties, provided that they have a reasonably substantial vote, are elected in proportion to the votes cast. But the regional list system does not give proportional representation to different opinions within a Party. It does not deter- mine whether the composition of the Members elected for a political Party should be Right-wing or Left-wing or pro or anti a Federal Europe, whereas the single transferable vote system does make provision for that.

The single transferable vote system is best, I believe. It has the advantage of already being used in the United Kingdom and also in Ireland. It is used for large constituencies in the elections for the Australian Senate, where the constituencies run into millions of voters. But although I prefer the single transferable vote, I should not be unhappy with the regional list system as set out in the White Paper because, of the various list systems, I believe that it is the best.

The important decision is the decision to have a proportional system. I know that there will he a free vote in the other place on the electoral system to be used, but much will depend on the system which the Government recommend and which they insert in their long awaited Bill in the first place. We on these Benches regard it as a matter of crucial importance that the system which the Government recommend should be a proportional one.

3.50 p.m.

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

My Lords, I feel that one has to have a certain amount of courage to take part in a debate which has been frequently before your Lordships' House, and not least because out of 15 of your Lordships who have put down your names to speak, no less than eight are or have been Members of the European Assembly. I should like to speak today not in my capacity as Chairman of the Select Committee on the European Communities, but because as an individual I also have my own views on the electoral system and also on the dual mandate.

I feel that for direct elections to the European Parliament we cannot pursue the first-past-the-post system. I think that the disadvantages in the European context are many. First of all, it is not used anywhere in the Community; and, as we all know, it tends to squeeze out smaller Parties and to exaggerate swings. If we had this system it could be thought in Europe that we had a kind of unrep- resentative status which would not do us any good at all. It could also magnify the divergencies in the Party compositions in Europe and at Westminster.

I was enormously interested to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, that the Chairman of the Select Committee in another place, who had recommended the first-past-the-post system, had changed his mind and now was in favour of a regional list system. This is a very important piece of information. Also, there is undoubtedly a shift in public opinion towards trying some fresh system for this great opportunity of sending our own MPs to Europe. Also, I should have thought that one of the main reasons —quite apart from the disadvantages of the system that we know well—is that when we have to have a unified system it is absolutely certain that Europe will not accept the first-past-the-post system.

Therefore if we look at the various forms of proportional representation that are put before us—the single transferable vote (or STV), the list system on a national basis or the list system on a regional basis—there have always been arguments that these systems in themselves are not suitable for Westminster. As was said, I think, by the noble Baroness, Lady Elles, and as is quoted in the White Paper, the European Parliament does not constitute a legislature nor does it provide a Government.

Personally, I favour either a regional list or STV system. I favour the regional list because it is closer to the people of the area than a national list, and also because a list system is used in one form or another by most of our partners. We could of course have STV; and the noble Lord, Lord Banks, has once again made a very good speech on the subject. He rightly pointed out that your Lordships gave a Second Reading to his Bill.

There is great logic in that argument, because the only Government decision that I can find in the White Paper before us is that Northern Ireland shall have STV. We had a new announcement of policy this afternoon, when the Minister told us that if we decided on a regional list system, then Northern Ireland would switch to that, too. I think that is very important, because if possible the United Kingdom should have the same system. It cannot be as complicated as some assume, for Northern Ireland had first-past-the-post and yet the period of time from the publication of the White Paper on STV to the time of the election was only three months, and the electorate understood the system perfectly.

In Part II, paragraph 30, of the White Paper, the Governmnent list three methods that could be used by the Boundary Commission in grouping constituencies. This was referred to by the noble Lord who opened the debate. In paragraph 31, the Government say that they incline—this is not a decision; it is a half-decisionto—the Option B. Option B says: Boundary Commission recommendations following one round of representations but no local inquiries". There is a matter on which I am not clear, and I should be very grateful if the noble Lord who is to wind up the debate could clarify the matter. Does this mean that, if we choose Option B, and the Boundary Commission is mentioned in all the different forms of proportional representation, whichever form of PR we choose we still can be ready in time to our commitment of May or June for elections next year?

It would of course, as the noble Baroness, Lady Elles, said, be very undesirable indeed for Britain to be the cause of postponing the elections; we, above all the countries, who are supposed to have some knowledge and possibly might have some influence in Parliamentary matters. Very little was said by the noble Lord who opened the debate about the dual mandate, either compulsory or voluntary. In fact, practically nothing was said. I would submit to your Lordships that this is an extraordinarily important matter. In my opinion it is impossible to have a compulsory dual mandate. I believe that the constant pressure of holding down two jobs at once, and being ever on the move, might well have contributed to the untimely death of Sir Peter Kirk. I should like to join the noble Baroness in the tribute she paid to a man who literally gave his life for Europe. There is also the fact, as is made clear in the White Paper, that if we have a compulsory dual mandate, all those who attend the European Parliament would have to be Members of the House of Commons; in fact no Peers could be elected under that system.

Therefore, one must consider whether there is some kind of link that we can devise between the European Parliament and Westminster. The Select Committee of another place recommended that Peers should be able to stand for election to the European Parliament. I am very glad to see it. This was confirmed in paragraph 32 of the White Paper. But how many of the 81 European Members of Parliament will be Members of either House? It may well be that the majority will have held no Parliamentary experience at all, however distinguished they may be in their own right. How then can we establish continuing links with those in Europe who speak in our name? I think we must recognise that, as time goes on, it will be increasingly difficult for Members of the European Parliament to come very often to Westminster.

It was suggested in a debate recently in another place that the new Parliamentarians of this country should have membership of another place with the right to speak but not to vote. That would reduce the number of MEPs (if I may call them that) who could come from this House. Alternatively, it has been suggested that these new European Parliamentarians should become temporary Peers. We have the precedent of the Bishops while they hold office; and, in earlier times (I think it was in an Act of 1876) the Lords of Appeal originally sat in this House only while they held that high office. If we did this, then, conversely, the balance would all be tilted to the Upper House.

In the Special Report of the Select Committee on the European Communities, we suggested that the Practice and Procedure Committee of your Lordships' House should study these very difficult matters; and there is of course a similar Committee in the other place. For myself, I put forward as a suggestion that there should be a Joint Grand Committee of both Houses which could sit at convenient intervals when Parliament was sitting. If we had that kind of system, then we could have the great subjects discussed: subjects such as the reform of the Common Agricultural policy, a European energy policy and the effects or the possible effects on the Community of enlargement. All those subjects would be suitable for a Joint Grand Committee of both Houses. But I think it would also be very necessary to have a much more informal arrangement. I think the Members of the European Parliament should be able to attend the Scrutiny Committees and enjoy the facilities of both Houses. For example, they might have the right to enter the Smoking Room in another place or the Bishops' Bar—both are places which are sanctuaries in their own fashion —and, of course, the Libraries and the Refreshment Departments.

I urge that both formal and informal links should be studied now so that we can learn from experience of the attitude to Parliament to its procedures for scrutiny of the European legislation in 1972. No consideration was given by either House to those matters until ten days before our formal accession to the Community. The result was that your Lordships' Select Committee did not come into being until May 1974 and it was confronted with a huge backlog of legislation, much of which had already been passed into law and was automatically applicable in this country.

We agreed the principle of direct elections long ago, but the Community over the years has developed in a way whereby it has firmly kept control in the hands of national Governments. Now we need the democratic electors' influence. Our own Select Committee, in their 22nd Report of last Session and Third Report in another place, agreed on the nature of a directly elected European Parliament. It will certainly increase its influence on the Commission and on the Council. It will have a greater capacity to use the few powers it now possesses under the Treaty. I am sure it will possess greater powers, particularly over legislation on which at present it is only consulted, with no obligation on either Commission or Council to heed its view. But of course greater powers can be conferred only by the unanimous wish of the Council of Ministers.

It may be that the greater political authority which direct elections will confer will lead to conflict between the national Parliaments and the European Parliament. Personally, I think there is a distinctive job for both to do—the European Parliament, based on European political Parties, to consider as Europeans the Community dimension, and our own Parliament to consider issues in a national context. In time—it may be a long time—those views may merge. As was said in another place, direct elections will change the balance of power within the Community; but this step will not change the balance between the Community and Member countries.

My Lords, this is only the beginning. Enlargement of the Community by the accession of new Members will be a great test for the new European Parliament and for all the institutions, and it will reflect the argument about deepening or broadening the Community, what its nature will be and how it will evolve. Therefore, it seems to me all the more vital that we should increase the democratic element in this evolving political Community without fail next year.

4.5 p.m.


My Lords, I hope that noble Lords will understand if I open my speech with some words of tribute to Sir Peter Kirk, who was not known directly to most Members of this House, although he was known to some of its Members, and with whom my noble friends Lord Bessborough and Lady Elles and myself worked in the group which he led with great distinction in the European Parliament for more than four years, through very difficult times, and whose tragic death was a loss not only to his Party but to this country and to Europe. In particular, he gave dedicated service to the cause of the European Parliament, to increasing its influence and raising its prestige; and I hope that the future will develop on the basis of the framework which he helped to establish.

The White Paper we are considering today has been described by the Government as a White Paper with green edges. It was also, more amusingly and more accurately, described in The Times as "a green paper with white spots". For my own part, I am not too disposed to be critical for its being green. I see no reason yet to doubt the good faith of the Government to honour their pledge to do their best to introduce direct elections on time. The White Paper, quite rightly, raises issues of such constitutional importance and, in the context of this country's usual practices, of such novelty, that I think it right even at this stage to allow time for political Parties, for legislators and for the public to digest fully the implications of the possible alternative ways in which direct elections could be implemented.

We in the Conservative Party are firmly committed to direct elections. I speak for most, though not all, members of my Party when I say that we believe it is essential to establish the European Parliament as a democratic counterpoise to the bureaucracy of the Commission and as a check parallel to those of national Parliaments on the activities of the Council of Ministers. We do not necessarily agree that more power should be ceded to the Parliament; that is a matter which will be settled by the needs of the time and in accordance with the wishes of national Parliaments. But, having established the Parliament, we believe it should be made democratic. Parliamentary democracy, after all, is the single political principle which brings us together in the Community, without which no new member is accepted into the Community, and without which the Community could not exist. To deny democracy to the Community's own Parliament would be to cut at the root of the Community's entire political justification.

Before coming on to the question of what system of election should be used, which is the main matter dealt with in the White Paper, I should like to deal with some other questions and, first, that of the dual mandate. I certainly do not believe that it should be compulsory or, in other words, that Members of the directly elected Parliament should already be Members of another place. Even now, the dual mandate really means—and this was a point made strongly by my noble friend Lady Tweedsmuir—and it will mean even more in the future, that one person is trying to do two different jobs in two different places at the same time, and that amounts, in effect, to neither job being done properly.

Secondly, I see how you can start off with such a requirement; namely, that candidates for election to a directly elected Parliament should be already Members of another place, but I do not see how you can continue to operate such a system. There is an inconsistency between, on the one hand, electing for a fixed term and, on the other hand, requiring Members of the European Parliament to be Members of another place. It seems to me, therefore, that with time the system would surely break down of its own accord. But I also think that it would be a gross restriction on democracy to limit candidature to the directly elected Parliament to 635 members of the total population of this country.

On the question of the franchise, I agree very strongly with my noble friend Lady Elles. I should like to see it extended to cover United Kingdom nationals resident anywhere in the Community. Apart from the further extension for Peers, recommended in the White Paper, I see no very strong reason why we need undertake the difficulties of going further than that. But I would regard it as a most depressing irony if those increasing numbers of our nationals to whom residence in other Member States is opening up as a direct result of our being members of the Community, many of them working for British interests within the Community, others perhaps even more intimately concerned because of their work for Community institutions, should find themselves thereby deprived of any political rights which the Community proceeds to develop.

I should now like to come to the question of proportional representation. As has been recognised, there are arguments against having proportional representation for our own national elections, which do not apply when it comes to the question of proportional representation for European elections. European elections are not to elect an Executive, so fears for an uncertain or indecisive result do not apply. In other words, the exaggeration of any swing in opinion, which the simple majority system produces in any Parliament, is not appropriate to the European Parliament. Moreover, because the constituencies would be fewer and larger, the exaggeration would be the greater.

This would give a misleading picture of the state of British political opinion which would not, I think, be very welcome in the European Parliament, not least because it would introduce an unstable element into the European Parliament itself. It would also export into the European Parliament the quarrel over the non-representation of the Liberals, and in the European Parliament the Liberals are a large group—much larger than they are here. I think, also, that it would be undesirable to have a situation where there developed an exaggerated divergence between the balance of power as represented in the Parliament at home, and the Party composition of United Kingdom members in the European Parliament, which could very well happen following a mid-term election to the European Parliament. I think that a divergence is all right, but I do not see any reason to exaggerate it.

Then there is the special problem of Scotland. Because three parties share the vote more or less equally, it would be possible for one Party to win all the seats with little more than one-third of the vote, and I think it is exceedingly undesirable and dangerous to risk having Scotland represented in the first directly elected Parliament exclusively by a minority Party. By all means, minority-Parties should be represented, but to have Scotland represented exclusively by a minority Party would seem to me absurd and dangerous.

There is then the problem of Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland has been allocated three seats, at least partly in order that the two communities should be represented in the proportion in which they exist. But this result cannot be brought about unless proportional representation is used for Northern Ireland, and I think that it would be very risky indeed, and, again, make for very bitter scenes in the European Parliament, if the Catholic community were not represented at all.

Finally, I would say to those who were attracted to the first-past-the-post system, because of the relationship which a member is able to develop with his constituents, that, with 81 seats each averaging an electorate of about 500,000 and covering some eight Westminster constituencies, the principle of territorial representation has been so diluted that I really think that little, if anything, more will be lost in the way of personal contact, by making the constituencies large enough to have proportional representation.

If we are to have a system of PR for these elections, then I would prefer a list system to the STV system, which the noble Lord, Lord Banks, has been promoting: first, because all except Ireland in the rest of the Nine will have a list system, and a list system is therefore more likely to form the basis of the uniform system which is to be introduced later; secondly, because I do not think that the alleged advantage of STV—namely, that it gives the maximum amount of choice for the elector with respect to candidates—sufficiently offsets the disadvantage of being a greatly more complicated system to operate, requiring special training for those who are to operate it, and producing lengthy delays in the counting of votes and the allocation of seats, as the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, pointed out.

The argument that STV favours individual candidates and elements within existing Parties more, and that the list system favours Parties as a whole more, I do not find convincing, partly because it is, in any case, an existing and, indeed, remarkable feature of British politics that Party considerations dominate the mind of the elector, which is shown by the fact that swings in political opinion between Parties, when they occur, occur in surprisingly similar measure throughout the whole country. I simply see no sign that the elector is asking for a greater degree of choice between candidates as opposed to Parties. But, in any case, the list system can be so organised as to give the voter some measure of choice—indeed, if it is thought desirable, a considerable measure of choice—between candidates on a Party list.

At this point, I should like to make a reference to what the Government have to say in their White Paper about the form that the list should take. My inclination would be to agree that the voter should have one vote only, which they suggest on page 24, but I am not at all sure that the elector should be obliged to cast this vote for a named candidate. I do not see why he should not be free to vote for a particular Party, if he wishes to do so, without specifying a preference for one of its many candidates. Accordingly, I have doubts about what the Government say in paragraph 5 on page 23.

Rather than a single long list of all the candidates in alphabetical order, which, incidentally, would be practicable only in the case of regional lists—it could not be done with a national list; the list would simply be too long—through which an elector will have to wade, trying to find a name that he can remember or the first candidate who has against his name the Party affiliation which he is looking for, which of course would give an enormous fortuitous advantage to those whose names came high in the alphabetical order—rather than this, I should not at this stage like to rule out Party lists, leaving open whether these are printed on one sheet of paper or on several. These could give the candidates in an order presented by the Party, in which they would be elected, unless this order was upset by a show of a sufficient number of votes for an individual lower down the list. With such a list system, the candidate would either cast his vote for the Party, in which case his vote would go to endorse the Party list in the order in which it was presented, or he could cast it for a named candidate on a Party list, in which case that vote would go to the Party, in the first place, but also to advance on the list the candidate for whom the elector had voted. This system is not mentioned in the White Paper, but at this stage I should like to see it kept open for consideration, because I think that it certainly has merit.

As for a choice between regional lists and a national list, I agree with the White Paper that regional feeling and identification is a recognisable factor in England, and I have observed in practice in the European Parliament that regional considerations quite often play a strong part in the attitudes and interests of individual members. I agree also that it would fit in more with our tradition of decentralising the process of candidate selection. On the other hand, I do not think that all the arguments are on the one side. Although national lists concentrate power when it comes to the question of candidate selection, so would regional lists, although to a lesser degree. Also, there is something to be said for centralising the question of candidate selection. For one thing, it reduces, if it does not eliminate, the risk of candidates being selected by minority elements within Parties and therefore being unrepresentative of their own Parties. Probably in the end, for reasons of tradition, it would be the regional list system which would commend itself to most people in this country. Nevertheless, I think that there are arguments for a national list system which have not been put forward in the White Paper and which should not be left to go by default.

While on the subject of a regional list system, there is one question which I should like to ask and about which perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, could be informed. In paragraph 44, the Government leave open the question as to whether or not, if there are to be regional lists, the Boundary Commission will need to be brought in. This paragraph gives the impression that if the regions were to be the economic planning regions, without any adjustments, it could be so specified in the Bill and no reference to the Boundary Commission need be made. However, the paragraph also implies that if such regions were to be subdivided, the Boundary Commission would need to be brought in. Does this mean that the Boundary Commission would need to be brought in only in cases where subdivisions are proposed, or would they have to be consulted in all cases? Also, would this apply in the case of the Government's own proposed divisions for regional lists? They make two modifications to the distribution of the economic planning regions. They separate the Greater London Council area from the South-East planning region and they combine East Anglia with the East Midlands. If that were the proposal put forward in the Bill, would the Boundary Commission need to be brought in? This question has obvious implications for the timetable.

Although I have spoken at some length about proportional representation, I have spoken of it so far as an hypothesis. However, I should like to go further and state whether I think it should be introduced for the first direct elections to the European Parliament. My answer is that I think that it should be, but I share the view of many who would prefer the first-past-the-post system: that we should have either system rather than delay direct elections. If, therefore, we were to be in the position of being able to vote for or against proportional representation, I should vote for it. If, however, I was on the losing side, I should nevertheless vote in favour of the Bill.

Of the arguments against proportional representation—not against proportional representation in principle, but against its desirability in this instance—I think the strongest is that there is in any case going to be a change to a uniform system (or so it is provided under Article 138) and that it would be inconvenient and unsettling for us to have to change twice. My answer to that is that it would be a small price to pay in order to avoid some of the dangers, which I tried to outline earlier, which could follow if we do not introduce proportional representation. Also, although it is provided for in the Treaty, it might still take some time before a uniform system was introduced. The step which we would be now taking of introducing proportional representation would certainly be a step in the direction of what a common system would be like, even if further changes were required later. In any case, it must be remembered that our position would not be unique. All Member States are in the same situation, in that all of them may be required, under the uniform system, to make modifications to whatever scheme they separately introduce this time for what is, after all, for them also an entirely new operation.

So I am in favour of proportional representation for this election. However, I said that I thought that either system was preferable to delay. I said this partly because I believe that it would be catastrophic for us, our influence and our credibility in Europe if we were to hold up elections throughout the Community. I can assure noble Lords that our reputation has not been enhanced during our recent months in the office of Presidency of the Council, when we have not succeeded in combining successfully our need to try to secure satisfaction for national interests with a certain requirement for impartiality imposed by the Chair. It would be absolutely disastrous for our international reputation if we were to hold up direct elections throughout the Community. Direct elections is the hope of all of those who are elsewhere unable to see any signs of further institutional progress within the Community. If they do not come about, or are substantially delayed, then there will not be many left who will still believe that the Community has a political future, and those who will have put themselves in the position of being blamed for this development, of whatever country or Party, will not be lightly forgiven.

However, I also believe that there should be no delay, because experience has taught me that the present system is unsustainable. The morale of the members and the staff of that Parliament can only be sustained, the vigour and the integrity of their actions can only be ensured, the expense of that Parliament can only be justified if that Parliament is to move on to become what it should become, what it itself believes that it should become, what it was always designed that it should become; namely, a fully democratically-elected Parliament, representative of the peoples of all the democracies contained within the Community. The European Parliament is justified not by its present or by its past, but by its future. It is up to us to make sure that it is given a chance to have that future.

4.27 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to join in the tributes that have been paid to Peter Kirk. He was a good Parliamentarian, a good European and a good friend. He will be missed by many people in many quarters. Having listened to the debate, it seems to me that there is virtually complete agreement within this Chamber, and I think among your Lordships as a whole, that direct elections must be held on the due date—in other words, approximately 12 months from now. I am not qualified to say whether or not we are legally obliged to hold direct elections, but I am quite satisfied that we are morally obliged to do so. We have entered into an understanding and we must fulfil it. I am quite satisfied also that for purely practical reasons we must hold direct elections, partly for the reasons which the noble Lord, Lord Reay, has just given: in order to improve—I was going to say, maintain—our credibility and our standing within Europe itself, and also because of the very great burden that the present system places upon those who are Members of the European Parliament and who have to fulfil the dual mandate, a burden which will be even greater once Parliament becomes directly elected and once we have to provide 81 Members in place of the much more modest figure that we have at the moment.

Speaking purely personally, without the obligations that fall upon a Member of another place, without constituency obligations and all the rest of it, during my period of nearly two years in the European Parliament I have found that there is precious little time left for any other activities. It is a whole-time job. If it is to be done adequately, effectively and efficiently, it must be done by people who can devote at least 90 per cent. of their time to it. For those reasons, we must have direct elections, when the time comes, in May or June 1978. Therefore the question is whether we should have the traditional Westminster system of first-past-the-post or whether we should have some form of proportional representation.

There is one point that must be made very clear here, and the noble Baroness, Lady Tweedsmuir, mentioned it: it is that, whatever system we have got for the European Parliament, elections must not be looked upon in any way as a precedent for the Westminster Elections. The two bodies are entirely different. They both have the name of "Parliament", it is true; but, as has been said, the European Parliament is not, and will not be for a very long time ahead, a legislative body. That is the first point that must be made abundantly clear.

The second point is that the constituencies of the European Parliament will be approximately eight times the size of our present constituencies. One of the great assets of our present system is the personal contact between the Member of Parliament and his constituents. I am afraid it is a fading asset, but it is still maintained because of the devotion and the traditions of existing Members of Parliament. It is bad enough for them, with all the manifold duties they have to perform in another place, with their late nights and Divisions and all the rest of it, to maintain that personal contact; to be, as it were, a local Ombudsman for 50,000 electors. But it is manifestly impossible for them to fulfil that job for 400,000 electors. So we have here two completely different systems, with different types of people being required, and different jobs to be performed. So, whatever decision one comes to for a European Parliament is in no way an argument for adopting that self-same system for Westminster.

Having said that, I say quite frankly that my own predeliction has always been for the single member constituency and for the Westminster system. I think that is probably due purely to conservatism, if I may use that word—to traditionalism. We have all been brought up to be proud of our democratic system and we have looked upon the Westminster model as being the right one. But the more I think of it and the more I listen to other people, and the more I study it, the more I come to the conclusion that for the European Parliament the first-past-the-post system is not the right one. There is a series of reasons for that. The first, and I must say the least important of them, is simply the time factor. If we were to have a traditional form of constituency the Boundary Commission could not do its work adequately within the time that is left for it. Therefore, we should fall behind in our elections—which, as I said at the beginning, are of paramount importance—to the European Parliament as compared with the rest of our colleagues in Europe.

The second reason which I have just touched on is the size of the constituency. I believe we must look upon the Members of the European Parliament not so much as representatives of the 400,000 people—or whatever the number may be—who take part in the elections but as representatives of the main interests of this very much wider constituency that they represent. They should not be expected to deal with the individual complaints of each constituency member as Members of Parliament here have to do. Rather, they should be available to the main activities of the area—I will call it a constituency—that they represent: the pressure groups, the particular interests, the coal mining, the heavy industry, the City and finance, the agriculture, or whatever it may be. They should have an understanding of that and should be available for consultations with all those different interests which are important within their constituency, but they should not look on themselves as being representatives as individual members.

My third reason, which I shall mention now although there are many others, some of which have already been mentioned, is the very great importance of having our representation in the European Parliament bearing a fairly close relationship to the balance of representation within our own Westminster Parliament. Very possibly it would make our representation in Europe a laughing stock; it would certainly detract very much from their influence, and it would also detract very much from the close collaboration which is essential between our European Members of Parliament and our Government and Opposition at home if, for instance, we had a Conservative Government at home and we had a large majority of Labour Members in our European Parliament. They need not be exactly balanced, and indeed they cannot possibly be exactly balanced when the elections do not take place at the same time; but we must attempt to evolve a system whereby the balance between our European Members of Parliament and our Westminster Members of Parliament is a close one. That, with a single member constituency, first-past-the-post, is most unlikely to take place. We know perfectly well that, if there were an election today for the European Parliament, there would be a very large preponderance of Conservative Members going to Brussels, Strasbourg and Luxembourg, there would be a very large number of Scottish Nationalists going there and a very small number of Members of the Labour Party. That cannot be good and I am quite sure that noble Lords opposite will agree with me that it cannot be good because, in that case, the Government of the day will not have the confidence of the relationship with the European members that it must have if this operation is to succeed and if there is to be an understanding between our representatives in the Parliament, our representatives in the Council of Ministers and our representatives here in Westminster.

So, for all those reasons, I believe that some form of proportional representation is right. I am not qualified to say which is the best one; but I will go so far as to say that regional lists probably represent the right approach, where one will not have simply one vast national list with the patronage which goes with it, depending upon the party machine, and so on. There will be a certain amount of regional autonomy, which is a good thing, and an increasing degree of association with the European Members of Parliament with not a single constituency that they represent but the wider region that they represent.

I am attracted by the suggestion made by my noble friend Lord Goronwy-Roberts that this might be based upon the economic planning council regions, though clearly there would have to be certain adjustments made. For instance, in my own region of East Anglia I cannot say precisely how many Members of Parliament we have at the present time or what our total number of voters is; but if we have something under 2 million inhabitants it would mean that we should probably be entitled to only two or three Members of Parliament there. There would have to be a certain amount of adjustment, but that is not in any way an insuperable obstacle to this suggestion. I hope the Government will give that their most urgent thought and, before long, will produce concrete proposals which can be discussed both in this Chamber and in another place.

There is one further point I should like to make. Following upon some of the comments made by the noble Baroness, Lady Tweedsmuir, on the contact between the European Members of Parliament and the Westminster Members of Parliament, clearly there must be very close contact between them; but, because of the nearly full-time nature of the European job, it will not be possible to have the contacts as close as would one like them to be, especially if they are to be restricted to formal contacts. The idea of a European Grand Committee of both Houses, which Members of the European Parliament would attend and where they would have some form of equal membership, is the correct starting point; but it is a formal starting point and they could not meet more than perhaps two or three times a year. The presence of the Members of the European Parliament at the Select Committees and the subject Committees, I am sure, is an admirable suggestion; but, again, it is not going to be easy for the Members of a European Parliament to attend as frequently as they would like to, though they should have the opportunity of doing so, and the meetings should so far as possible be arranged so as not to clash with meetings of the similar committees in the European Parliament.

Finally, I think the most important point—which again the noble Baroness made—is the common use of facilities. It may seem a rather unimportant and superficial proposal, but I am quite certain that the best way of getting contact between Members of the European Parliament and of the Westminster Parliament is to enable them to eat together, to drink together, to talk together, without actually sitting in the Chamber making speeches and listening to speeches. Therefore, whatever the final outcome, I would very much hope that the facilities of both Houses should be open to the Members of the European Parliament.

My Lords, I am glad the Government have gone as far as they have at the present time. They have clearly given a great deal of thought to this matter. I hope that in the very near future they will be able to come up with concrete proposals based on proportional representation and a regional list, and that we shall have the opportunity of voting upon that, and of deciding on the actual legislation needed, before the House rises at the end of the Summer.

4.42 p.m.


My Lords, I do not think there can be any doubt in any noble Lord's mind, whatever his political views or his attitude to Britain's membership of the Community, that we are totally committed and in honour bound to hold direct elections some twelve months from now, and therefore to enact the necessary legislation in time to do so. That much, I think, is common ground between all of us. We could have been well on the way by now, with no insuperable problems. The target date to hold elections, in 1978, was tentatively agreed at the Paris Summit as long as two and a half years ago, though Britain, to be fair, expressed important reservations, which were almost entirely removed, if not entirely removed, by the success of the so-called renegotiations and the result of the referendum. My Lords, it is undeniable—and several noble Lords have said this—that if we default, our standing in Europe, already low, will slump still further.

The Minister of State in the Foreign Office pointed out in another place on 25th April that, we should be very much aware that all other member States of the Community are likely to be in a position to hold their elections by May or June 1978."—[Official Report, Commons, col. 748.] The French, the Danes and the Belgians have had serious problems, but they have, so far as I know, overcome them and they will be ready. So the question we have to ask today is: shall we? Arising out of that, I should like to ask the noble Lord, Lord Harris, when he replies, to clear up something which I am still in doubt about, and it is this. Should the worst come to the worst, and should we default and not be ready, would that prevent the holding of direct elections—the noble Lord is nodding his head—in the other eight countries? That is not consistent with what the Prime Minister said. He was quoted in the Select Committee's Report on direct elections as saying that any country which was not ready to start could in those circumstances appoint members. But the noble Lord has already answered my question. So we would in fact be preventing direct elections being held at all. That is an important point.

There are two questions I should like to ask about this. First, what conceivable excuse is there for the prolonged delay? What purpose has been served by it? We have so much to lose by delaying so long and nothing whatsoever to gain from defaulting. The noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, said that the Government had no need to apologise for this delay. Frankly, I think the Government have every reason to apologise, and I am sorry that they have not done so. I raised this matter in an Unstarred Question last December, and I had some assurances from the noble Lord, Lord Harris, who is to reply to this debate today. He said then that the Government were currently giving urgent consideration to all the questions that had been raised. I must say that that promise turns out to have been a rather hollow one.

Plenty of warnings were given. There was no debate on the Second Report of the Commons Select Committee which was printed on 3rd August last year. There was no debate on their Third Report printed on 9th November The same warnings were given, or, at any rate, were implicit, in our own Select Committee's Report in March 1976, that there was no time to lose. What did we get? A Green Paper in February 1976, the so-called White Paper more than a year later, which together seemed to me to beg almost all the important questions and to give no clear lead at all. The purpose of the White Paper is still, in its own words—I quote from paragraph 7: …to put the issues involved before the Parliament and the people of the United Kingdom. That does not seem tonic like steps forward, as the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, said, unless they mean grandmother's steps and someone spotted the Government moving. If there is a decent explanation for such baffling delays, I hope we shall be told today just what it is.

A second question arises, and it must be asked. It is a very penetrating one. Is the real explanation a somewhat indecent one? Do the delays in fact arise from the rift in the Government as well as in the Parliamentary Labour Party about our membership of the Community? My Lords, it is no secret that certain Cabinet Ministers holding crucial posts, in this context breach the principle of collective Cabinet responsibility and continue to carp and snipe, not only here but when representing Britain in the EEC, at a time when we are in fact holding the Presidency. The latest example is well known to all of us: the pointless and obstinate haggling for a whole month just to get an extra halfpenny subsidy on a pound of butter. I wonder, my Lords, whether it is realised how gravely this behaviour damages our reputation and ultimately endangers our interests? There really is no reason why our partners, who have shown such unprecedented forbearance where we are concerned, should continue to respect, let alone indulge, one member which drags its feet like this.

In another place on 25th April a good friend of mine, Frank Judd, with whom I crossed swords on many occasions, now Minister of State in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, used these words: Those of us who campaigned for the referendum cannot have it both ways. …The verdict of the people in that referendum was decisive. … it was one by which … all of us who advocated the referendum must be bound."—(Official Report, Commons, col. 735.] I commend those words to some of his colleagues in the Government. My Lords, I am sorry if I have been a little outspoken, but I felt that I had to say this.

Now may I turn, less controversially, to the method that is to be used. Already, in my opinion—I do not think any other noble Lord has said this today—there has been so much delay that the option of first-past-the-post is no longer a practical reality unless legislation is put on the Statute Book before the Summer Recess. May I ask the noble Lord who is to reply whether he sees any hope of that. I would be particularly grateful if he would answer that question. I say, frankly, that I see no hope of it at all. And even were it to happen, it would force the Boundary Commission to take such arbitrary decisions that millions would feel justifiably aggrieved. That is something, I should have thought, which we all want to avoid.

So I, too, agree with the former chairman of the Select Committee in another place that the delays that have occurred have created, as he said in the recent debate, a new situation. First-past-the-post has been ruled out by the Government's drift and delay. But Mr. Sidney Irving went further even than the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, said, because he added that proportional representation was now the only means—I repeat, the only means—of keeping to the timetable. He said that with the background of having been chairman throughout a long period of the Select Committee of another place. He spoke, therefore, with real authority. I think he was right.

I should like briefly to speak about the compulsory dual mandate which, as we all know, can be combined quite easily with any electoral system. I am glad that it seems to be friendless. I spent rather more than 18 months as a joint deputy leader of the Conservative delegation to the European Parliament, and I confess that I found being a Member of another place and a Member of the Strasbourg Parliament a considerable strain. However, I would not go so far as to say, as did the noble Lord, Lord Banks, that it is impossible. It is not impossible. It is perfectly reasonable that such an arrangement should be allowed to continue, at any rate the first time round, on a voluntary basis.

I should also like to mention the death of my old friend Sir Peter Kirk. I greatly sorrow his death, as we all do. He was a young, dedicated, warm-hearted and liberally-minded man with a rare ability. He died as he would like to have died, in harness. He could so easily have eased up but he refused to do so. It was typical of him to refuse to do so, well as he knew the risks that he was running.

I ask myself—as I was taught to do when I was at Sandhurst before the war in appreciating a situation—so what? So we must surely come down on the side of the second option in the White Paper—the list system—or the third option, the single transferable vote. So far in this debate there has been remarkable unanimity on this subject. No one who has spoken, apart from Front Bench spokesmen, has said anything other than that he or she favours some kind of proportional representation. I echo what other noble Lords have said—I would settle for whichever sort of PR command the greater support in Parliament. I favour the regional list system simply because it is simpler. I feel very strongly that any member of any Party—and perhaps I may direct this to my noble friend Lord Banks, with whom I worked on these matters for so long—who obstructs or hampers legislation because the system chosen is not his or her first choice and does not seem to offer the Party concerned all the advantages that that member would like, would be encouraging the Government not to honour our clear commitment, because a Parliamentary majority might be so hard to obtain.

The noble Baroness, Lady Tweedsmuir of Belhelvie, drew attention to a bonus that would arise from some form of proportional representation: the fact (which is the only option left to us) that it is bound to be adopted in the first round of elections by seven out of eight of the other EEC countries. It is obviously no bad thing for us to adopt something akin to the system that we shall be bound to accept when a uniform procedure is enforced under Article 138(3) of the Treaty.

My Lords, I hate to say this, but I have a sinking feeling in my stomach that the Government have already decided not to meet the promised deadline. I voiced a suspicion last December, when I spoke in your Lordships' House, that the Government might not be using their best endeavours to prepare everything. Such was the rumour. Then I refused to believe it. I pray that I shall be proved wrong in saying that it looks very much as though the rumour could be true. What other conclusion can one draw from the reply of the Home Secretary to the two-day debate in another place which took place on 25th April in which he hedged about with so many "ifs" and "buts". He seemed to be preparing for a retreat.

No wonder there was such a spontaneous outburst of anger at Britain's behaviour in the last debate in the European Parliament. I still cannot believe that any British Government would be so shortsighted as to default on a promise of such significance without any respectable excuse—because I can think of no respectable excuse. It would not make us a laughing stock, for it is no laughing matter. It would be seen as an unforgivably cowardly act. It would shatter our friends, destroy our credibility and delight our enemies.

Time is rapidly running out. There is still just time to prove that our word is still our bond; there is still time for Parliament to insist that the national interest is not subordinated in any way in an attempt to create a spurious unity in the Labour Party. When he was Foreign Secretary, the Prime Minister said in another place on 10th December 1975, that direct elections were a treaty requirement and Britain would honour it. The new Foreign Secretary on 31st January this year in another place, at column 44, concluded a Statement by saying, "and we intend to meet the 1978 deadline." My Lords, we must do so.


My Lords, perhaps I may ask the noble Lord, Lord Cheiwood, a question before he sits down. Does he really believe that European unity can be achieved by any kind of assembly so long as the French and British Governments are opposed to it, as they have been for the past 25 years?


My Lords, I should not like to enter into a debate on that subject with the noble Lord. I happen to believe—although the matter is rather wide of this debate—that Britain has followed all too much in the Gaullist footsteps and shown itself all too often to put the national interest above the European interest. I hope that we shall mend our ways in the future.

4.57 p.m.


My Lords, might I add to that last remark that at least M. Giscard d'Estaing in his latest statement fully supports the idea of a directly elected European Parliament. That perhaps is slightly different from the attutude that certain Frenchmen have held in the past. Of course, there are 30 members of the Chamber of Deputies under the leadership of M. Debré who are against it. However, the vast majority of the French Parliament is in favour of direct elections and has virtually adopted the system of a national list.

I, too, should like to pay tribute to my leader, Sir Peter Kirk. The noble Lord, Lord Chelwood, and I were his joint deputy leaders. He is a very great loss indeed to our delegation in the European Parliament. We feel lost without him. The last meetings in Strasbourg were very sad indeed, and in virtually every debate his name was mentioned and his departing from us deplored. As the noble Lord, Lord Chelwood, said, he was a very gallant leader who knew the very serious risks involved in his continuing, but he refused to give up.

I am very pleased to rise for a few moments, because virtually everything has already been said and, therefore, I shall be very brief. There certainly seems to be a wide consensus of views on this "greenywhite" Paper. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, for having explained it clearly to us, although I much regret that the Government do not yet have the courage to express their own views and preferences as regards the electoral system, except in relation to Northern Ireland. However, as my noble friend Lady Elles said, the White Paper gives a brief if not wholly complete summary of possible alternatives.

Personally I would prefer 81 separate constituencies rather than either national or regional lists. But if the Boundary Commission cannot get out an appropriate map grouping seven or eight or nine national constituencies together in time for Parliament to adopt the boundaries—although I should have thought that even at this late date it would not be past the bounds of possibility that it could be done—I would accept the regional list system.

As to the method of voting, even if it was possible to agree on 81 separate constituencies I would have some doubts, like my noble friend Lady Tweedsmuir and others, about these seats being contested solely on the first-past-the-post system. I should like to declare an interest here in so far as I am a member of the National Committee for Electoral Reform of which the noble Lord, Lord Selwyn-Lloyd, who has only just left us, is one of the Joint Presidents with the noble Lord, Lord Maybray-King, and which includes a most illustrious list (I counted them up) of 160 leading figures in this country; virtually everyone from Lord Armstrong to Lord Zuckerman.

I feel that there must be a considerable move towards a revision of our electoral system perhaps even in this country. But I realise that certainly in the present electoral climate if we adopted a first-past-the-post system it would result in such a massive Tory victory in the country as a whole that there would be perhaps no Labour Members at all being returned in the South and perhaps not so many Tories in the North, with probably no United Kingdom and no British Liberal representation in the European Parliament at all. While as a Tory I would certainly welcome such a tremendous result, nevertheless I would consider it to be more than somewhat unfair in a country which is considered by most people abroad to believe in fair play.

It may be said by noble Lords that all is fair in politics as well as in love and war, but in all three instances I think that sanity decrees the application of a certain degree of moderation. Therefore, while I think it seems to be generally recognised that there would have to be a considerable element of proportional representation in any national or regional list systems, I would ideally and ultimately also like to see some kind of PR introduced into the 81 single constituency system if there was time to agree on it—perhaps on the basis of the elections to the Bundestag where, as your Lordships will see (I think it is paragraph 14 on page 18 of the White/Green Paper) under that system half the Members of Parliament are elected on the first-past-the-post system and the other half on the Länder list system. This seems to be very successful. It was in fact the system introduced into the British sector in Germany after the war, as the White Paper says, and has now been adopted in all the other Länder as well. It has proved itself, and I should have thought that that system does in fact—and I do not think that this has yet been said in this debate—represent the best compromise between first-past-the-post and proportional representation. I hope that ulti- mately we might achieve some system of that kind even if it has to be regrettably only in the second round.

Of course I realise that, so far as West Germany is concerned, in relation to direct elections to the European Parliament, they are almost certain, as also the French and the Dutch, to adopt a national list. But whatever system we in Britain take on board, it would not, as many noble Lords and noble Baronesses have said, in any way involve us in changing our electoral system at home. But do let us come to an early decision on the system so that we can be reasonably sure of having the elections in a year's time.

I should not like to see delay. I do not want to see Britain lagging behind, as I regret she has up to a certain point, since I believe that the Community has now reached the point in its development when direct elections are essential to its successful survival, so that members of the electorate can really feel that through their directly elected Members they are more directly involved in the drawing up or the modifying and revision of Community policies.

Under the present arrangement of designation by national Parliaments no one quite knows who their European Member of Parliament is. As as illustration, I am told by some Conservative friends in the South-East that having lost my noble friend Lord Chelwood in Lewes and my honourable friend Mr. James Hill, the former Member for Southampton, Test, they consider me, Lord Bessborough, to be the Member for some 40 to 50 seats from Dover to Portsmouth, with perhaps a few in Surrey, while my honourable friend Mr. James Spicer, the Member for Dorset, West, is thought to represent the whole of the South-West of England, including, since the sad loss of Lord Brecon, perhaps the whole of Wales too. My Labour colleague Mr. Bob Mitchell, who the noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, knows so well, tells me that he is supposed to represent all the Labour voters in the whole of the South of England.

This really is a little grotesque. I do not say that it makes the task unduly heavy—it is heavy— but it is something of a task. It is true that quite a few people in West Sussex and East Hampshire, after over four years, think of me un officially as their European Member, yet not all quite understand the situation and certainly not, I would judge, the vast majority of Kentish men and women—or men and women of Kent; we have to make the distinction between the two. At least after direct elections the voters will be able to say, "I voted for So-and-so", if we have single member constituencies; or for three to 10 members if we adopt the regional list system as proposed in the White Paper for, say, 11 regions in the country, lumping, I see, East Anglia and the East Midlands together to provide eight seats.

So I conclude that we must have direct elections, preferably on a single member constituency system with some element of PR, or on the basis of regional lists which would presumably, certainly in the Government's view, automatically include PR—or not, according to the views of my noble friend Lady Elles, and I take her point. Whatever method seems most generally fair and acceptable, do let us get on with these elections as soon as possible.

5.8 p.m.


My Lords, I am rather disappointed because on 29th March 1976 I advocated the early appointment of a Speaker's Conference to look at the methods of election, the "nuts and bolts". The noble Lord who then led the House, Lord Shepherd, in his reply said, at column 972: I am attracted to the idea of … the nuts and bolts' of an election, the question of the form of voting, 'first-past-the-post', proportional representation, which are clearly matters for a Speaker's Conference". What has happened? Thirteen months have passed and there has been no Speaker's Conference. But these matters are still being debated, just as they were being debated on 29th March 1976.

It is not surprising that a former Foreign Secretary, Mr. Michael Stewart, last week in the other House described this as appalling dilatoriness on the part of Her Majesty' s Government. While hostile words may not have been appropriate on that occasion, I believe that the procrastination has undoubtedly added to the problems we face, and I am particularly worried because despite all the great plans, White Papers and speeches, we hear so little from the people of England saying what they think and how they would like to be represented on the Continent. The advantage of the Speaker's Conference system is that it is a constitutional device which has always been used in this country before making any change in the form of Parliamentary election.

On the qestion of direct elections, in view of my past it is only right that I should say that once it is agreed that the European Assembly should be extended from 198 to 410 Members—with our share increasing from 36 to 81—from my point of view the argument in favour of direct elections is overwhelming. Much has been said about the strain that would be put on Members because of the dual mandate. I am more interested to know how, if there was a dual mandate, compulsory or voluntary, it would cripple the House of Commons to have 81 Members away from their places on 200 or more days in the year.

When we come to the method of election, I am rather surprised that more noble Lords have not spoken about what the job involves. After all, a Member for the European Parliament is not appointing an executive; he is elected to keep a check on the European Commission—no more and no less—with what the Foreign Secretary described as the unusable sledgehammer of the power to dismiss the Commission. As for the first part, a body that will choose an executive, it seems to me that our system of first-past-the-post is unanswerable because by that means one is selecting the candidate for whom the greatest number have the greatest enthusiasm; whereas for the other, which has a purely representative capacity, what one wants is the candidate for whom there is the least objection from the greatest number, and that undoubtedly leads one from first-past-the-post to proportional representation of some form. I have therefore come to the conclusion that the only answer must be some form of PR.

I am suspicious of the list system. I am told that the regional list is quite different from the national list; that the Party caucus is somehow less dominant in the regions than it is nationally. However, I do not like the intrusion of Party caucuses into this question of European elections. So far as I can see, there is no Party politics in this job of representing Britain in the Community. There is no division between the Parties. There is division within the Parties but not between them, and therefore I cannot see why the Party label should be so important in this matter.

I must confess that since coming to this House two and a half years ago I have been very impressed with the speeches and actions of those who, with considerable experience and no Party affiliations, sit on the Cross-Benches. I think it a great pity that, from all the plans I have seen, read and heard, there will be very little opportunity for men and women with similar qualifications to represent an area of Britain in the European Assembly. This is a reflection on the White Paper and perhaps on some of the speeches we have heard today. I have come to the conclusion that the best way of trying to secure the election of candidates who have what I would call a Cross-Bench mind is the single transferable vote. In my view that would be better than the list system, would lead to less intrusion by the Party caucuses and would Give more encouragement to the independence of the candidate, something which is vital when dealing with the creation of a new method for the representation of Britain.

Two aspects of the White Paper disturb me in relation to the constituencies. The first concerns what I understand to be the size of the constituencies. In this respect I think a mistake has been made. For one thing, it will mean, whether it is STV or the regional list, that there will be a tremendously long list of candidates. After all, STV has been used in Northern Ireland and it will be used in Southern Ireland, but in both cases without huge constituencies; with not inure than four seats. I should have thought that one should try to get four seats as a maximum, but preferably three. I beg Her Majesty's Government to realise that, attractive though the economic planning regions may be for the civil servants, one finds in the regions some well-exercised hostility between areas that are very restive at being in particular regions. In other words, we must somehow get the views of the people before defining those regions and I hope, if it is not too late, that there will be proper democratic procedures following the Boundary Commission report.

In relation to timing, after all the procrastination that has occurred, I should like to see the dates kept—May or June 1978, on which the Heads of Governments have decided; but to me it is far more important that the proper democratic procedures are carried out. This may well be the method for more than one election; I am far from satisfied that the Community will have agreed on a uniform procedure by 1982. Our Scrutiny Committee, of which the noble Baroness, Lady Tweedsmuir of Belhelvie, has experience, often receives Directives that have been going for six, seven, eight or even ten years. It may well be that the present procedure will continue for more than one election, so let us get it right. Let it appear to be just to the people of Britain. I should hate to go into this with the feeling that it was a rushed job owing to some unreasonable delay on the part of Her Majesty's Government and some gerrymandering between Party caucuses.

5.20 p.m.


My Lords, the trouble with the present debate—not necessarily in this House but nationally and in another place—is that some people are seeing it as an extension of the arguments about the Common Market itself and our membership of the Common Market. This debate on the EEC seems, to me at any rate, as long as The Archers, Coronation Street and The Mousetrap combined. I believe that it is for the Government to make an early decision on the direct elections. A little later, I shall qualify my views on direct elections.

When we held the referendum in this country, I believe that our people—who are not as simple as politicians like to make out—knew that they were giving a commitment, that it was a commitment to Europe and not just a Yes or No situation. They knew that that commitment went in the direction of direct elections. I beleive that that should be recognised by politicians of all parties. I feel that we should also recognise that whatever system we put to the British people, we ought not to underestimate their intelligence. We should not talk about systems being "too sophisticated" for them. If we choose a system which is put forward by the Government, supported by the politicians and passes through Parliament, I believe that the British people will be fully cognisant of their responsibilities.

One system that I would oppose is the dual mandate. Those of us who are serving in Europe at the present time know the pressures on individual Members of Parliament. I should like to join the other noble Lords who have paid tribute to Sir Peter Kirk. I had the privilege of opposing him in the 1964 General Election and, though our politics differed very much, I do not believe that anybody could argue about his diligence and his commitment to those causes that he believed in. The pressures on individual Members of Parliament are very great. Those of us from the Lords who are serving in Europe see them, halfway through a major debate in the Assembly such as last month's emergency debate on the CAP, having to pack their bags and scurry back to Westminster for a three line whip.

I do not believe that there is any situation in which we could have a dual mandate. It may be argued that there should be some form of proxy voting, but I believe that that would not only be an intolerable burden on Members of Parliament but would also put an unfair burden upon their constituents. Whenever those constituents vote, whether it be for Europe or for Westminster, those constituents have the right to expect their Member of Parliament to serve them in the capacity for which he has been elected. I also believe that the dual mandate might bring about an élitist system among the Members of Parliament. If this Government and any succeeding Governments have a commitment to Europe, they should not say to the British people, "You have a part to play but that part only goes up to voting for Members of Parliament who are already Members of Parliament." Any member of the public or any member of the constituencies involved should be able to say, "I don't believe in what is happening in Europe; I don't believe in their energy policy or their agricultural policy, and I want to stand. I want to be a representative in that Parliament. I pay my taxes which contribute towards part of the European scene and I believe that I should have a right to stand". I do not feel that we, as politicians, have a right to make this an elitist Parliament.

However, there will be a question of accountability once we widen the number of those who are eligible to stand. I think that I would go along with the recommendations of the Select Committee regarding the possibility of setting up a "Euro-Grand Committee" or whatever one may like to call it. There should be some accountability, some rapport, some discussion and committee work between those who represent Parliament at Westminster and those who represent Parliament in Strasbourg or Luxemburg. Some scheme must be hammered out whereby we can have the possibility of people being involved in what is happening at Westminster.

On the other hand, that does not mean to say that Westminster shall mandate the representatives as to what they do in Strasbourg. I think that it should be understood that the people who are voting for them are choosing them on certain grounds—possibly Party mandate —and that when they go to Strasbourg they have to use their judgment in that direction rather than be told by Westminster what they should do. Of course, we could form this Grand Committee or whatever system we liked with some very essential reform that might have to take place in this House of Lords. Perhaps the Government might like to think on those lines.

So far as the system of voting is con-concerned, I should certainly, at this present time, prefer it to be based on regional lists, with the possibilities of either the Party vote or voting for individual candidates. When the noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, was speaking about the first past the post system and what would happen in the present electoral situation, I saw some of his noble friends licking their lips, but I would hope that, when the system is chosen, it will be on the basis of regional lists. I say this purely on the basis that there is such a number of large seats. Take, for instance, the South-East. If we based it upon the Economic Planning Council's area, we should have something like 7½ million electors in a very large area which is now represented by well over 100 Parliamentary seats. I believe that everybody would agree that the distortions that would arise in a first-past-the-post system in the 14 seats in that area would be very unfair, particularly to my Party and possibly, at other times, to other Parties. Therefore, I would support the regional list system.

I am just a little concerned about the way in which some Members in both places—and the Government have not quite made their position clear yet—want to "bounce", bulldoze and I nearly said "frog-march" us into direct elections before the British electorate and Parliament are ready. I do not take the view which many people take that everyone will be shattered if we do not go in, that all our European colleagues will be very disturbed at what is happening and we shall lose face. If we are to believe what President Giscard d'Estaing has already said and also what has been voiced by Francois Mitterand, that means that they do not intend at any time in the foreseeable future to see any extension of the powers of the European Parliament. So I do not quite see why we must take a decision which is a serious one within a very short period and not quite get it right. My view is that it might well be that, having at least got the decision from the Government on the method to be used—and I see urgency in that—we should take a little longer to decide exactly how people are to be informed and how we are to educate not the electorate but the local government officers and those responsible for counting so as to get matters exactly right at the first attempt.

Baroness ELLES

My Lords, does the noble Lord therefore maintain that he does not believe that there would be any adverse reaction from other Member States if we were not to be ready in May or June 1978? Does he not feel that it would weaken our bargaining power in the Community on other matters besides direct elections?


My Lords, I do not believe that it would. In 1960, the Assembly passed a Convention under Article 138(3) of the Treaty on direct elections. It took the Assembly 14 years to get around to doing anything about it, and there were only six Member States then. We are now suddenly being told that we must do this immediately because all our friends in Europe will say, "You are not worthy of membership", and that we shall upset them all. I believe that the British public is entitled to a little more time. After all, the French, the Belgians and Danes all had their difficulties over this and I consider that it would not hurt if we had a little more time. After all, there are arguments for and against the view that a move towards direct elections is a move towards federalism. It may well be with some people. But I also take the view that there are so many people against it that it is very unlikely that in our lifetime we will see any greater move towards federalism than we have at present.

I should like very much to see the powers of the Parliament extended. I should like the British people, through their 81 Members, to have more say about the common agricultural policy. But there are people, as I have said—President Giscard d'Estaing and Francois Mitterand —who are against that. I should like to see a United Socialist States of Europe, but there are many people against that, surprisingly enough. This is why I do not see that we have to take this urgent decision on getting the position dealt with absolutely by May or June of next year—


My Lords, will the noble Lord give way for one moment? Would he agree that if it is known that we are to delay again, then we should have the same kind of situation as we had in Strasbourg last week. We shall get people such as Vice-President Michael Yeats from Ireland saying: "You had better leave the Community if you are not seriously considering meeting the deadline agreed by the Heads of State." I think that this is most regrettable that a friend of the European Parliament, whom I greatly admire and respect, should put forward this view which can only embarrass his own Government.


Whether or not it embarrasses my Government is, I think, beside the point. All I am saying is that the Government might want to consider this point, because without any doubt the Government will have a stormy passage from all sections on the passage of the Bill dealing with direct elections. I would say that there is no reason for this absolute pressure, and what Vice-President Yeats may say is another matter. He is entitled to his opinion, as those of us who are connected with Europe and with this place are entitled to ours. What we need is the urgent decision on the method to be used. Then there is the question of whether the Government can then say that there might be an extension of time, or can certainly go the whole way with the commitment and say that it will be in May or June of next year. That also would need a commitment from the Opposition to go forward with that as well, particularly on the matter of the method to be used.

5.32 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to echo the words of my noble friend Lord Chelwood, and to say that it is essential that we meet the deadline of May or June of next year for direct elections. We are completely committed to that. So I cannot see any object in wasting time in discussing the merits or otherwise of direct elections, because surely it is a foregone conclusion that this country is going to be true to its word. I think that I am probably the only person speaking in the debate who has not been a Member of the European Parliament, and so I hope that I am not out of line in speaking, but I thought perhaps that a layman (in terms of this subject) might give his views.

Regarding the system, I quite agree with my noble friend Lord Bessborough when he says that if we have the first-past-the-post system it might be unfair to the other Parties in this country at the moment. But I do not suppose that the Conservative Party will be so popular for ever as it appears to be at the moment, and so I do not think that my noble friend is perhaps quite right in that argument. I should like to see the first-past-the-post system. If there is not time for the Boundary Commission to decide on the matter of 81 constituencies, surely, as my noble friend Lady Elles said, the system could be based on the regions. I repeat that time is the essence.

Many people have tried to brainwash me by saying how terrible the situation would be, that direct elections would be completely undemocratic, with vast numbers of people represented by, say, one man, if there is a constituency first-past the-post system. Of course it is true that if there are 81 constituencies, the individual representation would work out at an average of between 500,000 and 800,000 electors. But in America the senators have constituencies which are far greater. I think that one senator, in Texas, represents 12 million people and, after all, senators have far more power than Members of the Assembly, 0or the European Parliament (if one prefers to call it that) will have. So I do not think that that argument really is valid.

People are very inclined to consider that the European Parliament should be a model of our Parliament—I suppose that this is a form of national conceit—but of course it will be no such thing. It will be a far looser arrangement democratically. It would be impossible that Party discipline and the Party Whip could operate so strongly with our Members in the European Parliament as it does in Party politics at home, but I do not think that that would be a bad development. I quite agree that the Party Whip in your Lordships' House is not very strong, and I am glad to see that.

Putting aside for a moment the question of timing, I should say that the other reason why I favour the first-past-the-post system is that I believe the British public would be confused if there was any other system. Eventually—and not in the far distant future—we shall all have the same system in the EEC, which will be a system of proportional representation. I like proportional representation; I think it is fairer. But one cannot, for instance, have the STV—single transferrable vote—system for the European Parliament because there is not time to implement it; it is far too complicated.

The Common Market does not now appear to be quite so popular as it was, so far as the public are concerned. Many do not understand it, and what one does not understand one fears or mistrusts. I repeat that if a strange system of electing Members to the European Parliament is introduced straight away it will probably increase the distrust. But I repeat that time is the essence, and therefore I suggest to Her Majesty's Government that they use the system that can be brought into practice with the least possible loss of time. May or June of next year is only 12 months away, and Her Majesty's Government will have to get their skates on if they are to carry out what has to be done.

I should like to turn for a short time to the question of dual mandate. I do not in practice know very much about this. I have not been a Member of the House of Commons, but I consider that if a Member of another place is to do his duty by his constituents in a satisfactory way, it is an insufferable burden on him that he should at the same time have to be a Member of the European Parliament. I think that to have a compulsory dual mandate would be completely wrong. One might perhaps allow a voluntary dual mandate, but I do not really agree with that, either, because I think it would be too much to expect of any man or woman.

Of course, as has already been expressed in this House there are other disadvantages in having a dual mandate. In General Elections, provided they were held at the same time as the elections to the European Parliament, it would not matter, but there is no guarantee that the elections would coincide. If you had a General Election, as you probably would, at a time different from when the elections to the European Parliament were held, you might have a Government in power which were completely out of touch with the UK Members of the European Parliament because the majority of them were Opposition Members. I quite agree that you have that in the case of local authorities, but local authorities are somewhat different from the European Parliament.

My Lords, before I end I should like to endorse whole-heartedly the suggestion of the noble Baroness, Lady Tweedsmuir of Belhelvie, that there should be a Grand Committee of Members of both Houses of Parliament to report on the matter of the European Parliament, but before that you would have to allow Members of the European Parliament from this country to have some sort of connection with both Houses of Parliament here. I quite agree that, if Members of the European Parliament could be ex-officio Members of both Houses, it would be an excellent thing. I would go even further than allowing them to use all the rooms, the Libraries and so on. I would suggest that they should attend all the Committees dealing with the European Parlia- ment, and I really do not see why they should not attend the Chamber of both Houses and speak on matters relating to the European Parliament,though obviously not vote. I think we would then get a strong link between the national Parliament and the European Parliament. I think that is essential; otherwise, we might find that our Members of the European Parliament were getting further and further away from the thoughts of Westminster, which I think would be disastrous. My Lords, I end by saying again that time is of the essence and that time waits for no man, not even Her Majesty's Government. I beg Her Majesty's Government to take that to heart and to get down to deciding on a system and bringing it into being in a Bill.

5.45 p.m.


My Lords, my noble friend who has just sat down apologised at the beginning of his speech because he was taking part in a debate on the European Parliament although he had not been a Member of the European Parliament. I am very glad he did take part, because these debates should not be monopolised by people like me, who find it very difficult to resist the temptation to speak on anything to do with Europe; and after what my noble friend has said I hope he will consider speaking in these debates again, and will perhaps even put his name forward as a candidate in the European elections.

The noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, introduced the debate today in his normal mellifluous manner, and he described the White Paper that we are talking about this afternoon as a step forward. My Lords, if it is a step forward I hate to think what standing still must be like, let along going backwards. In the Library earlier today I was reminded and checked about a phrase used by Sidney Webb in a presidential address to the Labour Party Conference in 1920, when he talked about "the inevitability of gradualness". If there is something inevitable about the gradual nature of the Government's approach to this urgent matter, then I will be satisfied and so will your Lordships be; but what is worrying is that there is a lack of urgency, of firmness and of determination to make this commitment a reality and to meet the deadline. I share the anxieties of my noble friends, particularly expressed by my noble friend Lord Chelwood, that we need to know that the Government will make every attempt to meet the deadline, and that the delays that we have seen to date will not prevent the achievement of direct elections in time, so that our partners are not prevented from achieving what they all want to achieve and have said they want to achieve.

My Lords, most of what I wanted to say has been said by other noble Lords and we have had a series of debates on this subject, so I do not want to repeat what they have said. The role of the Member of the European Parliament will not change overnight simply because he or she is directly elected, but his or her task, which is the controlling of the Commission and exercising the advisory and supervisory powers laid down in the Treaty for Members of the Assembly, will be carried out full-time and, therefore, more thoroughly, so that at the heart of the Community's institutions there will be direct representation of the views of the people who make up the Community.

My Lords, perhaps as a new member of the Conservative Party I can be very bold and try to answer my noble friend Lord Tranmire, who expressed the view that it might well be a good idea to aim at a Cross-Bench representation in the European Parliament. Having been a Cross-Bench Member of the European Parliament and seen the nature of the Community, I think that I was educated into the view that the Community is political if it is anything, and that as it moves forward it is going to present Member Governments and the peoples of the Member States with political choices. Some noble Lords on the opposite side of the House may wish to see a Community which moves towards more centralisation and other aspects and articles of their faith as Socialists. Other noble Lords may wish to see a Community which respects the rights of the individual and encourages the points of view shared by those Parties of the Centre-Right. It is because I see the European Parliament as a representative body engaged in this choice about the type of Europe to which we now belong that I believe it is essential that we have full-time representatives on our behalf making those choices clear at the centre of the Community's institutions.


My Lords, if the noble Lord will allow me, I understand that he has that view; but would he not realise that perhaps the electorate of Britain have rather a different view?


My Lords, I have been doing a lot of canvassing recently but I have a great deal to learn about elections. I simply refrain from exhibiting my ignorance about what the electorate expects; nevertheless, I believe that direct elections will give the electorate a chance to choose the direction in which Europe will go. I hope that this is one of the things that direct elections will bring about: that the choice of the type of Community we belong to can be put in front of them by candidates from different Parties. As I think another noble Lord mentioned, and as far as I am aware, there is no provision which excludes Independents from standing.

My Lords, the question I should like to ask of the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, is this: When are we going to see the Bill? We have had one debate after another—the debates of my noble friend Lord Chelwood and others have been endlessly discussed in both Houses of Parliament and in the media. But until we see the nature of the Government's views on how this commitment should be kept, we cannot really get down to business in making Parliament play its full part in putting this commitment into effect. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, will be able to tell us when we are going to see the Bill because it is when we see the Bill that we shall be able to examine, in detail and with real first-hand information, what the Government propose on the questions we have been debating theoretically and generally today. I hope that the noble Lord will be able to show the House that the Government now really intend to hasten on with this matter by telling us when the Bill is going to be introduced.

My Lords, there are one or two points before I sit down. I hope that noble Lords do not think that the Scrutiny Committees of both Houses must stop their work if we have direct elections—and by that, I mean when we have direct elections. The nature of the scrutiny carried out by my noble friend Lady Tweedsmuir and her army of helpers and that carried out in the European Parliament is different, as she rightly emphasised, and it is one that does not exclude the other. I hope that the Scrutiny Committees can play an active part in a Grand Committee of the sort that she has described, if that is to be the best link that we can devise between our own Parliament and the developing European Parliament.

On the dual mandate, I think that it could be voluntary and that it must not be compulsory. As has been said, it is a burden beyond endurance for Members of another place. I cannot say that I served under Sir Peter Kirk as a member of his group; but I can fairly say that I worked with Sir Peter Kirk, as one of the members of the first British delegation to the European Parliament, in trying to make that Parliament work. As somebody who was not one of his Party colleagues at the time, perhaps I can say modestly that he bore the torch of British Parliamentary representation, he held it high and he suffered for it; and the whole of the Community owes a debt to him for what he sacrificed on behalf of the European Parliament.

If I may use a word that the Government have used, I "incline" towards a system of proportional representation, probably on a regional list system, for the European Parliament. The main reason that I do so—not the only reason, but the main reason—is because of the wording of the Treaty, which lays down that the Members of the Assembly or Parliament shall be representative of the peoples of the Member States. Therefore, we need a representative system.

If the Government had hastened further and had acted more promptly there would have been time to use our traditional system—and it might well have been better to do so—for this strange new type of election with which we are going to ask the British people to become familiar. If they had got on with the job and had taken the opportunity to put the Boundary Commission into action when they should have done so, it might well have been the best system for the first elections. If it is possible to do so—I do not know enough about these things—it might well still be so. But, given the delay that has occurred, then, as my noble friend has said, I think it may be that we shall have to use some form of proportional representation in order to meet the deadline.

I want to conclude by expressing, without wishing to sound too highfaluting, what I think the British were expected, are expected and will be expected to contribute to the development of the European Parliament. There was enormous disappointment at the absence of the Labour Party when we, the first delegation, arrived at Strasbourg shortly after this country joined. Our colleagues in the Community could not understand how the British Labour Party could stand against participating in a European Parliament. That situation has been reversed; nevertheless, we still disappoint, we continue to disappoint, by our failure to use fully the treasury of experience and accumulated knowledge of the Parliamentary system that we have developed here. It is still felt that there is an unexplored storehouse of British knowledge about Parliamentary institutions which has yet to be tapped and used fully in the European context.

My Lords, I believe that having full-time representatives of the British people through a directly-elected European Parliament will help to show that our centuries-old tradition, acquired in the evolution of our own Parliamentary system, is something we can now graft on to and help to build further towards a truly democratic and accountable European system.

5.59 p.m.


My Lords, I must first apologise for not being here at the earlier part of the debate, but I had to go to see my noble friend Lord Castle—my "noble friend" also in the European Parliament—who is in hospital. He wishes that he could be here at this debate but still expects to be at the next one on this subject; for this will not be the last debate on European direct elections.

My Lords, I, myself, have an idiosyncratic view of the problem; nevertheless I believe absolutely firmly that direct elections are both essential and unavoidable. As has been said often, there is at present a great strain on Members. Here, I, too, would like to add my tribute to Sir Peter Kirk. He and I had a special bond: we were both journalists, both members of the same trade union. When the Labour delegation arrived at Strasbourg for the first time, we were immediately impressed by the assiduity and efficiency of the Conservative team led by Sir Peter Kirk. We were impressed by his authoritative leadership and we felt immediately that we had something to live up to. I hope that we have succeeded in that task.

It is not only the strain on Members; there is also the impossibility of doing both tasks adequately. I am afraid that I must disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Chelwood, who I am sure managed to do both tasks very well—but not as well as they might be done—because one simply cannot spend 200 Parliamentary days in Europe and still be an assiduous Member in the House at Westminster. My Lords, you cannot give to your constituency and constituents all the attention, love and affection which they need.

There is another very compelling reason: the great difficulty that we are having in the European Parliament at the moment is to get sufficient people in the committees, and sometimes even in the plenary sessions. It is particularly bad at the present moment because the majorities in almost all national Parliaments are as feeble as they are in our own. The crises are frequent. Even the rapporteurs—the people who are going to provide the main work of the day for the committee—cannot get away from their national problems and come to Brussels and Strasbourg. The dual mandate is proving to be more and more impossible.

We also have to remember that Britain is the only country which so far has a real pairing system. Where you get a multi-Party system you cannot get pairing. How long we shall be able to maintain a proper pairing system in view of the Party tendencies in this country. I do not know. Direct elections are essential. The main opponents are some people in the Conservative Party, but mostly the people in my own Party, partly due to very honest suspicion of the whole European Community, or due to disillusionment with what Europe has been able to achieve. My noble friend Lord Davies of Leek is about to denounce me with his Welsh pulpit eloquence for being a Member of the European Parliament, dwelling in the Tabernacle of Basle. He regards the Treaty of Rome as the book of Beelzebub!


My Lords, I purposely did not take part in the debate, because at £20,000 a year and expenses, everybody will be killed in the rush to stand as candidates. They will have no influence whatsoever as the Parliament now existing. I am more concerned with the economy and the future. Finally, those Members of the European Parliament will have less influence on the economy of Britain than the Welsh wheelbarrow farmer with 20 acres from which to produce food.


My Lords, we all enjoy my noble friend's interventions. More seriously, what has disturbed a number of members of my Party is the belief that direct elections are a step on the road to federalism, a step towards the end of the British sovereign State and the loss of the possibility of achieving Socialism in our own country. It is not a crazy idea, because they can quote in support of it views of ardent European federalists who believe that direct elections are a great leap forward to federalism. The views that they have expressed have caused enormous dismay and enormous political troubles throughout Europe. The hopes they have are unrealistic. The hopes of the federalists on the one side, and the fears of people on the other, are not only exaggerated, they are also ridiculous. This discussion about how we shall hold elections is very useful in clearing our minds about the whole subject.

Those curious people, the Italian communists, have become almost enthusiasts now for direct elections, provided they are on a proportional representation system. Regarding the French Socialists, M. Mitterand was quoted. I wish that some of my friends would read all that M. Mitterand says about the European Parliament. It will be held down; the French will not allow it to develop into the federal style which so many people fear. Even the French communists have now come along, so people are coming behind the idea.

The reason why I say that the federalists' ideas are not very strong is because there is no great weight of public opinion throughout demanding concrete federal solutions. On the contrary, all the demands that I hear are demands for the satis faction of regional interest and national interest, and for those interests to be given priority. You will notice that this is particularly strong if you go around canvassing in the elections in London now, my Lords. You will find that while all the social difficulties of unemployment and lack of housing are attributed to immigrants, all high prices—not only food—are attributed to the Common Market. The idea that there is a great idealistic public waiting to have direct elections is so much nonsense.

What is the subject on which these elections are going to be fought? They will be fought largely on the immediate, material interests of the wine growers of Burgundy, the fisherman of Grimsby, the steelworkers of Luxembourg and the dairy farmers and olive growers from the North to the South of Europe. Directly elected members are going to be under much more direct pressure from their regions to advance the regional interests than any Members of the European Parliament are today. We shall have the regional representation and we shall not get the national Press but only the regional Press interested.

There will be regional pressure groups. There will be industrialists, trade unionists and so forth, all pressing directly on MPs. The ability of these MPs to take a broad European point of view instead of a rather narrow regional point of view will, I fear, need to be very great. I fear it so much that I wonder whether the political groups, of which we are all members now—for example, the Socialist group to which I belong—representatives of all Nine States, will, in a situation of directly elected MPs, be able to have, say, a Socialist fishing policy as opposed to a set of national fishing policies being vigorously proposed. I very much doubt that. I hope that we can overcome the difficulty.


My Lords, I hesitate to interrupt, but is the noble Lord really saying that we should not have representative Members of Parliament in the European Parliament because it might make life difficult for presenting—


No, my Lords. What I am saying is that we must not imagine that we are going to have a beautiful, ideological Parliament in which they say, "Each for all and all for each". It is not going to be like that; it is going to be like a real Parliament which is always about the reconciliations of man's real material interests. But this does not mean, of course, that the ideological and ideal side is neglected in that Parliament any more than it is here, but simply that the ideological side will not prevail.

If you take, say, our ideology here, my Lords, there is no Party which is more concerned about increasing equality than my own Party. There is also no Party which is more concerned about differentails in pay at this moment. If I may take the Party opposite, there was no Party more sternly resolved not to aid lame ducks, but the moment that the great lame albatross of Rolls-Royce came along, the Party opposite swallowed all its ideology and nationalised Rolls-Royce. That is what I am saying.


My Lords, would not the noble Lord admit that the interests of the regions in Europe can be successfully advanced in the context of a general European plan and that the European plan might, broadly speaking, be a Left or a Right Wing plan?


My Lords, yes, indeed, there has to be a plan; but what you are going to have is people fighting for their regional interests in that plan, and fighting very strongly. I am simply saying that the idea that there are such things as ideological Europeans who will put their constituency interests last and put general European interests first, is not true. Eventually, there will have to be, as there is in the Council of Ministers, a reconciliation of the general interests of Europe with the particular interests of each nation and each region. That is what I am trying to say. I think it will be a more nationalist Parliament than the present Parliament, because the pressures on elected MPs will be much stronger than on those who go there now, and also there are some pressures we do not hear about and many people do not know what is going on. Even the potential pressure groups are not yet ready to bring their full influence to bear on this; but pressure is now increasing month by month as they grow more sophisticated about European affairs.

Finally, I should like to say that I am in favour of proportional representation; I am in favour of a regional system and also of a list system. That is, first, for the reason put by the noble Lord—that we are here choosing a Parliament. We are not choosing an Administration or a Government. When you are choosing an Administration or a Government decisiveness is all; but when you are choosing a Parliament, then let us have fairness throughout. I may say that I cannot agree with the noble Lord in what he was saying about the kind of adversary politics that we have now; Party politics. Those must continue. Nevertheless, it is not quite like Westminster even then, because we are not passing Bills. In passing Bills, one vote counts. if anything is decided by one vote in the European Parliament, it does not matter. It does not impress the Commission or the Council. It is only if you can achieve a consensus or something like it in your Parliament among the various Party groups that you can hope to have some influence on the legislation.

The other reason for having a regional list is the importance of having some kind of central influence, not on the personal choice of candidate but on the kind of candidate chosen. If this Parliament is to have the right people in it, it must have a sufficient number of experienced lawyers and accountants, together with people with one or two special skills. It should have a variety of ages and experience—it might even have, as my noble friend suggests, the odd journalist, because the Parliament is also concerned about information and information policy. It is very important that we should understand that the kind of candidate who would make an absolutely superb Member of the Westminster Parliament might or might not make a good Member of the European Parliament. Most of the work of that Parliament is done in committee, reading publications like White Papers for hour after hour. It is arid and dreary stuff, and you have to cultivate a kind of morbid appetite in order to get to grips with it and enjoy it. That kind of appetite can be created, for example, as we see by the superb things which come out of Sub-Committee A. I should like the national Parties to consider the kind of qualifications that are needed for the European Parliament and for that consideration to be reflected in their lists. With that, I think we could well go ahead with a regional list system.

6.14 p.m.


My Lords, if I had to assess at this stage the chances of the Government taking any action on this matter, I think I would be inclined to prefer the cautious optimism of my noble friend Lord O'Hagan to the disillusionment that seems to have dawned on my noble friend Lord Chelwood. Of course, it may be that I am merely a victim of endless repetition of promises, and we shall see what the noble Lord, Lord Harris, says in a moment. The best that his right honourable friend the Home Secretary could say the other day was that, in due course, the Government will introduce a Bill. His colleague, the other Minister of State at the Home Office, said that the Government have no intention of abandoning the commitment to introduce legislation this Session. I suppose that the intention may be there, but the Government may be forced off it. The noble Lord will no doubt improve upon that today. The only person whom I think must have been wrong is the right honourable gentleman the Foreign Secretary, who said that the Government had given an assurance that a Bill has to be put through during this Parliament— unless that was a Freudian slip, indicating that the end of this Parliament is also the end of this Session. I looked carefully at the Official Report, and that is what he is said to have said.

At any rate, we have been singularly devoid in the course of this debate today of those who would like to see yet further interminable delays. I have read a number of debates and, particularly in another place, it is very noticeable that there are those who are seeking to delay the introduction of this legislation. I find it very difficult to understand why that is and why they should so detest the idea of an elected European Parliament. I had some suspicions that perhaps some of them see this departure as yet another fetter upon their ability to interfere with the domestic economy that we enjoy along ideological lines with which I certainly would not agree. I think that is really what the noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, has just spelled out for the first time that I have seen in the records of Parliament; so my suspicions appear to have been justified.

By contrast with that, I feel sure that those who have been here this afternoon will really take in the truth of what my noble friend Lord Reay said. It was endorsed by the noble Lord, Lord Walston, so we have it from both sides of the House, that is, that a failure now by this country to meet the timetable to which everyone else is working will be nothing short of a disaster. Our popularity will suffer yet another setback at the hands of this Government, our influence will reduce and I am afraid it will become even harder for our Ministers to negotiate, in the difficult and intricate passages of arms they will face, to find a solution that is satisfactory to the interests of all the inhabitants of this country.

I simply cannot agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Murray of Gravesend, said about this. I have read everywhere that direct elections are a quite different matter from an extension of the powers of the European Parliament, and it is very surprising that he should appear to be unable to dissociate those two issues. After all, as an unelected representative himself, and yet, I should have thought, a good democrat, I cannot see why he does not infinitely prefer to offer himself for election as soon as possible so that he may enter into a fully democratic Parliament as a fully democratic representative of this country, and I therefore—


My Lords, I should like to intervene for a moment. I quite agree with what the noble Viscount has just said, but what I was referring to was the time factor. I take the view of "no taxation without representation", and that all Members should be elected as soon as possible; but I think the "possible" is just a bit further back than the noble Viscount has suggested.


My Lords, there is repentence indeed, and I am glad to hear it. What is the trouble? I do not wish to pry into the internecine disputes of the Party opposite, but it does not seem to me that the Government have a very difficult task to do. All they have to do is to make up their mind, at any rate on a preliminary basis. The White Paper tells us very clearly, as indeed did the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, this afternoon, the advantages and disadvantages attending different forms of electoral systems. One, I suppose, would have to be chosen to be put into the Bill as it is originally published, but then the Government are offering their supporters a free vote and we on these Benches are offering our supporters a free vote. That will be the opportunity to try to decide the matter. All we need now is something upon which to exercise our free vote, whether it be the Bill itself or, as some people have suggested—at any rate, in another place—a preliminary issue about the whole question of the system of representation, which would precede the introduction of the Bill itself; but something upon which we could vote.

I know that in paragraph 7 of the White Paper the Government say that they want one more debate. This is it, and it is nearly finished. After that, they have to act, especially as I understand that they have decided not to back up the Liberals' Bill—the one introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Banks, the other day. I do not think anybody would take the Second Reading that was given to that Bill as being an endorsement of the principle of proportional representation, let alone the particular form of proportional representation that the Bill mentions.

We have been told for many months that, whichever system is adopted, time will be required to set about organising it. The annex to the White Paper states that a reasonable period of time will be required for the regional list system, whereas the first-past-the-post, on the 81 single member constituency system, will take— and I see what the right honourable gentleman the Home Secretary said—considerably longer than the minimum of 18 weeks from Royal Assent to a Bill, which was suggested by the Boundary Commissions in their evidence to the Select Committee of another place. So that is considerably longer, in the view of the Home Secretary, than the 18 weeks that we were told about in that evidence.

I am very much afraid, with some other noble Lords—my noble friends Lady Tweedsmuir and Lord Chelwood—that the Government may already have cut the process too fine. They may not even have time for the syncopated version of the Boundary Commissions' proceedings which they, at the moment, are endorsing. It may well be that the honourable Member for Dartford, who is the chairman of the Select Committee, is now right and the water has flowed too far under the bridge for the Government any longer to be able to endure with their intention to go on with that system. But, at any rate, if it has not arrived already, if the Government go on shilly-shallying much longer, they really must be in danger of finding that they cannot do it at all. The longer they wait the more they preclude those versions of an electoral procedure which require a longer time scale to introduce, because there will not now be time to build up the machinery and ensure that it will run smoothly when the day arrives to set it in motion.

I do not want to say a lot about the methods that the White Paper mentions. Noble Lords have discussed them very fully and they have been extremely carefully set out, with all their faults and their advantages, in the White Paper. But I am, I think, rather like my noble friend Lord Reay—not so worried about the method which is to be chosen, so long as it is seen to be fair and is fair. It will, after all, be the first time that it is used; it will probably be the last time that it is used, and many speakers have pointed out that it is not a process which is electing either a Government or anything that begins to come near to being a Government. So I would think that what we want now is to be brave and choose a system that appears to be fair.

The only worry that I have is that, if the Government stick to their system of the 81 single member constituencies elected on a first-past-the-post basis, I am not sure that this lies at all well with the totally different system of the single transferable vote in Northern Ireland. I entirely understand that it has been done there before, and very successfully, but that was not part of a nation-wide election. This time it will be, and I am a little unhappy at the idea of a system whereby, out of a whole collection of representatives, three, and three alone, will have been elected on a different system from all the others. I understand the reasons for representation of the minorities in Northern Ireland which have led the Government into this view, but then it may very well be that similar considerations ought to lead them to think more about the minorities in other parts of the country.

For myself—and, after all, since we have a free vote I can speak only for myself on this—I would join with the chorus of noble Lords who have been in favour of some form of proportional representation, and particularly with the time scale which promises to be shorter than the Government's preferred system. But there is one strange thing that emerges from those readings that I have attempted of the debates. Listening to your Lordships this afternoon, I think it was only my noble friend Lord Massereene and Ferrard who was in favour of the first-past-the-post system. Everybody else who has spoken and expressed a view is in favour of proportional representation of one form or another. That does not, however, appear to be the message that has emerged from the speeches in another place. I am not sure what the count might be, but there are very many more right honourable and honourable Members there who, apparently, would prefer to stay with the system with which they are of course particularly familiar.

That, I think, is why it is worth while just mentioning once again the matter that my noble friend Lady Elles raised earlier. I will not call it a regional list system, because I take the rebuke that the noble Lord, Lord Banks, gave earlier on. If, to take the White Paper's example, one had the North-Western region with nine seats and 33 candidates, which is what they suggest, the nine who received the most votes would be elected, as is the familiar case with most district council elections—a multiple seat basis—and the Government have not included this in their White Paper. It would, I think, be of great interest to us to know whether they have thought about it and, if they have rejected it, why. After all, there are advantages to it. It would give the Members a direct territorial connection, which would be useful to the extent to which they were going to be representative of any part of this country, particularly in a regional context. It is certainly simple enough. There is no difficulty in counting which of the nine candidates in my example have the most votes; there is no second count and no complicated arithmetic at all, and, of course, it is entirely familiar, which is one of the advantages of going to the polls in local government elections. Simplicity and familiarity are important criteria, and were both recognised as being so by the Select Committee.

There is just one other point, which nobody has mentioned. It seems to me that it would also enable by-elections, to fill casual vacancies, to take place on a comparatively simple basis. I, for one, am not at all convinced by the argument in the White Paper that, if there is a by-election or a vacancy to be filled, we do not really need to have an election at all. We could either choose the person who came next at the original election, or allow the Party, to which the Member who was departing belonged, to nominate. But I do not think it in the least follows that the person who came next to being elected on the original occasion would now wish to take part and be drafted into the European Parliament in mid-term; and I am not at all sure that I favour the mere selection of somebody considered suitable by the Party to whom tile person who has gone used to belong. So there are merits in this, and it would interest me very much to know whether the noble Lord, Lord Harris—and I am bound to say that I did not give him any notice of this—has any views on it. If he has not, he is so polite that I know he will write to me about it. There is only one other question. I see that in Article 8, on the decision of the Council, it says: No one may vote more than once in any election of representatives to the Assembly". I assume that that does not mean that you cannot vote on one occasion for, say, nine names on a single piece of paper. It just occurred to me that there might be a technical objection, but I do not think there is.

The Government have had almost overwhelming views expressed to them this afternoon on the question of the dual mandate. The noble Lord, Lord Walston, by inference at least, was only following the same line as my noble friends Lord Chelwood and Lord Tranmire, Lady Elles, Lord Reay, Lady Tweedsmuir of Belhelvie and Lord Massereene and Ferrard. The noble Lord, Lord Banks, from the Liberal Benches, followed the same line. So did the noble Lord, Lord Ardwick. They all mentioned the pressure of work. Certainly I should not wish this debate to go by without adding one brief word of tribute to Sir Peter Kirk who has been so eloquently praised by others this afternoon.

Again this is a matter upon which we express only personal opinions. Substantially it is a matter for another place. After all, if there is to be a dual mandate, the idea is that Members of another place rather than Members of our House should go to the European Parliament. If that system is not chosen, then there should be left open the possibility that Members of either House should, if they wish, be allowed to stand as candidates. That would give the noble Lord, Lord Murray of Gravesend, the opportunity that he is wishing to exercise.

An extremely important point that was touched upon by a number of speakers, including my noble friend Lady Tweedsmuir of Belhelvie, was: how do we keep contact between the Members of both Houses of this Parliament and the Members of the European Parliament? I have a feeling that, at any rate in the initial stages before the two Houses have had the opportunity to work out for themselves how it should be done, we may have to rely very substantially upon our Party political machinery. May I also suggest to your Lordships that it might he a good idea not to reach finality too soon. After all, the views of the Members of the European Parliament themselves should be taken into account. They will not necessarily be Members of either House or, indeed, of any Parliament. Certainly one would not wish to confront them with machinery devised by us which does not happen to suit them. This is something which I believe we should allow to evolve; but perhaps the Parties could come to the rescue—at any rate, at the beginning.

There must also, may I add as a footnote, be difficulty over the dual mandate system, in that the Act of the Community prohibits any Member of a national Government from being a Member of the European Parliament. I can see great difficulties arising if there should be a change of home Government in the midterm of the European Parliament and important members of the British delegation were chosen to be Ministers in the home Government, thus leaving severe gaps in Strasbourg or Luxembourg which it would he very difficult to fill.

I am afraid that it is not very easy to he original on the subject and I do not suppose that I have succeeded. Neverthe- less, certain noble Lords have managed to be original this afternoon and I pay tribute to them. The difficulty is that in this House the Government have had three debates in the last six months on the subject—and I think one a little before that; and in another place they have had three days of debates in the last three months on the subject. We in this House have achieved unanimity on the question of the dual mandate, a point which I have already mentioned. We have heard again that the Liberals will plug proportional representation until they die. We in this House have not heard whether they would prefer to have no direct elections rather than no proportional representation, which was the view of one member of the Liberal Party in another place. However, the Liberals are supported by a large number of your Lordships who would like some form of proportional representation. It must be of assistance to the Government to have these expressions of opinion; but there is no unanimity and, where there is not, it is, I am afraid, the task of any Government to take the initiative. That is what Governments always have to do in this kind of situation.

I am not giving a Party line on the machinery that should be adopted, and I know that noble Lords opposite are not doing so, either. There is no point in having a free vote if that is what is done beforehand. However, of one aspect I am quite sure. When the Government pluck up the courage—and I hope it will be soon—to introduce a method whereby we can decide, I trust that a majority will be found for a system which people will accept. Then we can all stop talking about this very well trodden subject.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, that there would have to be one more debate, but this time it would be only about the details of the system. We shall not have to discuss any more the question of whether there ought to be direct elections; we shall just have a technical discussion about the nuts and bolts. After that, I hope we shall get down to the really constructive part of the whole exercise. I hope that we shall turn our minds to the real opportunities in Europe and to the positive contributions to be made by the United Kingdom to the various aspects of Europe's activities. Also, we should not omit to direct the attention of our fellow citizens to the importance of the elections which will be held in, we hope, June of next year and to the vital nature of the vote that they will have the opportunity to cast on that occasion.

6.36 p.m.


My Lords, we have had a useful debate on an issue which I know is of great interest to your Lordships' House. Certainly I agree cordially with the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, on one point that he has just made: that it is difficult to be original. Nevertheless, it was slightly less difficult for the noble Viscount to be original, because I think it is the first occasion upon which he has addressed the House on the issue. I seem to have been speaking on no other issue for about 12 months. Therefore, I apologise to the House in advance for any well-remembered phrases which I may inadvertently use today.

It was in February of last year that the Government published a Green Paper which was debated about a month later in your Lordships' House. During the parallel debate in another place, my right honourable friend the present Prime Minister announced the Government's intention that a Select Committee should be set up to look into every aspect of direct elections. This was done and, as has been mentioned by a number of speakers, the Select Committee did some most useful work. They produced three reports, the last of which was published only in November of last year.

In the debate which he initiated last December and which he recalled when he spoke earlier today, the noble Lord, Lord Chelwood, pressed the Government to implement in particular the recommendation of the Select Committee that there should be an early Bill to arrange for direct elections and that they should be held according to the simple majority system. Then in March the noble Lord, Lord Banks, introduced his Bill. As the House will recall, this Bill provided for direct elections by means of the single transferable vote system. We are clearer about it now. I believe that many of those, although by no means all, who have spoken today and who have studied the matter, including the debates which took place in another place on 20th and 25th April, will agree that the Government had some justification for proceeding in the way in which they did.

The Select Committee's three reports provide a most thorough examination of the whole field to be covered by the legislation which we have been discussing this afternoon. However, it is fair to say that in the time available to them the Select Committee were not able to go so deeply as they might have wished into the question of the appropriate electoral system for use in direct elections. After all, to drive this point home, most of those who have spoken today have disagreed with the Select Committee on one of its central recommendations; namely, the actual system which we should employ in direct elections.

Baroness ELLES

My Lords, would not the noble Lord agree that most noble Lords who have spoken in the debate today have supported a proportional representation system, not necessarily because they want it, but because they realise that the system proposed by the Select Committee will not be practicable, in view of the time limit imposed?


My Lords, I do not agree with the noble Baroness. Having spoken on this issue and also on the issue of proportional representation on a number of occasions, I must tell the noble Baroness that there is an overwhelming majority in your Lordships' House who disagree fundamentally with the present electoral system. They disagree in relation to both Westminster Elections and direct elections to the European Assembly. On most occasions I would not say that I have been in a minority of one. Normally, I have been accompanied by one of the noble friends of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, who has been put up to defend the position of the Front Bench in another place. Therefore I can reassure the noble Baroness that it is not simply a timing problem. Certainly that explains the position of the noble Lord, Lord Chelwood, as he very frankly said. However, I do not think, with respect to the noble Baroness, that this indicates that all those who have spoken today have done so entirely for the reason of timing.

In studying the Select Committee's reports, however, and in preparing for legislation, the Government have recognised that the United Kingdom faces a number of difficult and different problems, not all of them by any means shared by our EEC partners. In particular, we are very much aware of the important constitutional issues involved in the choice of an electoral system for direct elections. We are certainly conscious of the undesirability of making major constitutional changes without the widest possible measure of support in Parliament and in the country as a whole.

We therefore concluded that we should publish a White Paper—a White Paper certainly with substantial green edges—as a basis for full debate in Parliament. In that White Paper we have tried to set out the issues as clearly and as fairly as possible, and to list the main options that are before us. Indeed I think—and I am about to deal with the point made earlier by the noble Baroness, Lady Elles—to some extent this deals with her particular point with regard to timing as between the various competing systems which we have been discussing in the debate today. Most important, the White Paper attempts to set out clearly the different features of the various electoral systems.

The simple majority system, of course, still has its supporters although, as I have indicated and as the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, has pointed out, they are certainly more numerous in another place than in your Lordships' House. Only the noble Viscount, Lord Massereene and Ferrard, gave unqualified support for the first-past-the-post system—


My Lords, not unqualified. I said that I agreed with proportional representation for many reasons, but that if the time allowed I should prefer a system of first-past-the-post. However, I do not think the time will allow it.


My Lords, in that case the number of supporters of first-past-the-post is even smaller than I had imagined! The noble Baroness, Lady Elles, and the noble Viscount raised the point of the particular scheme which they put to me and to my noble friend in the debate today. I will certainly look into it and will make quite sure that my right honourable friend has his attention drawn to it. Of course, it is not in any sense a form of proportional representation, as I think the noble Viscount and the noble Baroness would agree. As the latter rightly said, it is a form of election rather similar to that in some of the multi-member constituencies of local authorities. I think there would be a number of quite substantial difficulties about a scheme of that sort. Nevertheless, the point has been made; obviously I did not have the opportunity to take advice on this matter and I should like to reflect upon it.

In the debate this evening, I do not want to go through all the merits or the disadvantages of the simple majority system, because I think it is familiar territory to all those who have participated in these debates in the past, and indeed in the wider debate which we have had on proportional representation. One crucial factor which I recognise the House will expect me to deal with is the character of the Boundary Commission procedures which would be necessary if we were to do this. Again, this is highly relevant in relation to the question raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Elles, in dealing with the time scale of this entire operation. Certainly we recognise that many people doubt whether there is now time for the Boundary Commission to undertake the determination of single-member constituencies in time for elections in May or June of next year. The question has been raised whether there is even time for a truncated procedure to he fitted in.

As many noble Lords will know, we have traditionally attached great importance—for the most obvious of reasons—to the procedures under which the Parliamentary Boundary Commissions draw up constituencies for Westminster Elections. These procedures involve the publication of provisional recommendations, the consideration of any representations which may have been made on those provisional recommendations and, if representations are received from a sufficient number of people, the holding of a local inquiry. If revised provisional recommendations are then made after the holding of that local inquiry, they are again published and may be the subject of representations and a further local inquiry. That is the character of the present procedure laid down by our full-scale Boundary Commission arrangements for Westminster Elections.

It is clear from the evidence given by the Boundary Commissions to the Select Committee that, with the best will in the world, there is not time, and there has not been time since the signing of the Community Instrument last September, for the full Westminister procedures to apply to European Parliament constituencies for May or June of next year. So even if we had legislated at once, we still would not have had the full Westminster Boundary Commission procedures. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary said in another place during the debate on 25th April: There must be some curtailment of the traditional procedures if we were to use the simple majority system".—[Official Report, Commons; 25/4/77, col. 955 He pointed out that the Boundary Commissions had suggested to the Select Committee that from the time of Royal Assent of the relevant legislation and up to the submission of their reports, Option B (which is set out in paragraph 30 of the White Paper) would take a minimum of 18 weeks, and if I may say so—I am not chiding the noble Viscount—when he studies Hansard tomorrow morning I think he will accept that he, wholly inadvertently, gave a not wholly accurate account of what my right honourable friend said. At column 955 he said: It is clear that the procedure"— that is the procedure for Option B— could take "— not "would take", but "could take" much longer; that is, longer than the 18 weeks.

I would remind your Lordships that Option B would require the Boundary Commissions to make recommendations following one round of representations, but there would be no local inquiries. My right honourable friend emphasised that the option would take a minimum of 18 weeks and that—and here I would not in any way disagree with the interpretation placed on these words—it could take much longer. Obviously, if there were numerous objections to the Boundary Commissions' proposals there would be some risk of this happening. It is difficult to quantify this at the moment, but manifestly there is such a risk.

The position therefore is, as the White Paper states, that, with some reluctance, the Government incline in favour of Option B for the first elections, since this would at least provide some opportunity for the political Parties and other interested bodies to express a view on what would be the provisional recommendations of the Commissions. That remains our view at present, but I am sure that from what I have said on this matter today noble Lords will recognise that the Government are well aware of the difficulties involved.

I will now turn to the possibility of using a list system. I think it is common ground that a regional system would be infinitely preferable to a national list. Even so, I recognise that the prospect of any sort of list system must arouse misgivings, in that for many it represents a totally new departure at very short notice. I do not believe, however, that this should deter us if a regional list system seems best in all the circumstances.

I should like to draw attention to what I think are the particular virtues of the regional list system as outlined in Annex B to the White Paper. In most list systems, only Parties may submit lists of candidates, and it is not possible for independents to stand. Moreover, it is seldom possible for the electorate to determine which candidate on the Party's list is elected. The seats are filled in accordance with the order of candidates on the list as determined by the Party. This is in complete contrast with the system which is outlined in Annex B. There the elector would vote for an individual candidate and would have an important say in which candidates of a particular Party were to be elected. Moreover, it would be possible for an independent candidate to stand in those circumstances. I am sure that these would be regarded by many people as essential features of any new system which we were to adopt.

Noble Lords will obviously wish to weigh the merits of the systems which have been outlined in the White Paper against the advantages of the simple majority and the single transferable vote system which was outlined in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Banks. If a regional list system were preferred, there seems to be much to be said for specifying the regions to be used in the legislation, and this, therefore, would not require the Bounday Commissions to recommend electoral boundaries, which again deals with the precise point of timing raised by the noble Baroness, and indeed by the noble Lord, Lord Chelwood. I say this because it is relatively easy to see at a glance whether enough seats have been allocated to a particular electoral region in proportion to its electorate. Moreover, it may be, as has been indicated, that the economic planning regions would, with the exception of the South-East, be suitable without modification. Regions would not have to be of equal electorate size because divergencies would be corrected to a great extent by the number of seats which would be awarded to them.

The third electoral system discussed in the White Paper is the single transferable vote. There is certainly much to be said in favour of this system in principle, and of course it has been used in Northern Ireland for Convention and Assembly elections, and is still used in the case of local elections there. There may, however, be, as I attempted to suggest in the debate on Second Reading of the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Banks, on 7th March, some quite significant practical difficulties about employing this system for direct elections. The constituencies would have to be extremely large. Indeed, on some suggestions, the constituencies would be the same size as the economic planning regions which it is suggested might be used as the basis for a list system. It is difficult to argue, therefore, that STV has any particular advantages from the point of view of providing a link between a candidate and a particular constituency.

The Government have been taken to task for suggesting that one drawback to STV may be the complexities of a long drawn out count. Nevertheless, it is the case even when quite small numbers of votes are counted in Northern Ireland, and in the case of Republic of Ireland elections the counting of the votes may not be completed for two or three days. It has been known to take even longer when recounts are required. The only use of STV in constituencies of very large size is in Australian Senate elections. The evidence here, I would recognise at once, is inconclusive. I understand that the announcement of the final results in Australian Senate elections is on occasion not made for two or three weeks, three or four weeks in some cases; but this to some extent may be attributable to other reasons—for example, the postal voting arrangements and the lack of a centralised counting system—rather than to STV as such. Nevertheless, it is fair to say that there is a clear risk that an STV count with very large numbers of votes, such as would arise in the case of Greater London and South-East England, could be an exceptionally long drawn out process.

Any of the three systems described in the White Paper might be combined, of course, with some form of compulsory dual mandate. The practical difficulties of this are spelled out in the White Paper, and indeed they have been spelled out by virtually everyone who has spoken today. They relate both to requiring the two jobs to be combined and to filling vacancies, as the noble Viscount pointed out. There is also the consideration that it may be difficult to attract sufficient numbers of people to perform this very arduous dual role. Nevertheless, as the noble Baroness, Lady Tweedsmuir, said, the relationship between Westminster and the European Parliament is clearly one of the most important issues which Parliament should consider at a time when it is involved in this discussion about direct elections. I think the noble Baroness's speech, which was a noteworthy one, deserves to be carefully studied and it certainly will be. While referring to the speech of the noble Baroness, I would entirely agree with her, and indeed I should like very briefly to pay my own tribute to Peter Kirk, who did perform such a notable role in the early days of British representation in the European Parliament. The noble Baroness said that he certainly gave up his life for Europe, and that is an epitaph which I think he would he fairly content to accept.

My Lords, I should like now to deal with one brief point in relation to the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Elles. She raised a question about Gibraltar. I have looked into this particular point, and I am advised that Annex 2 of the Decision of the Council signed on 20th September reads as follows: The United Kingdom will apply the provisions of this Act only in respect of the United Kingdom". Therefore, there are no plans to hold direct elections in Gibraltar at this time.


Or in the islands—the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man?


Curiously enough, my Lords, I was about to add that, knowing that the noble Viscount had and I have responsibilities in relation to the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man. The same is true, so far as they are concerned. My Lords, I should like now to touch briefly on two matters which are common to whichever system of election is chosen. The first is the allocation of the United Kingdom's 81 seats between the constituent parts of the United Kingdom. The Government propose accepting the Select Committee's recommendation that England should have 66 seats, Scotland 8, Wales 4 and Northern Ireland 3. There will obviously be some who believe that there are grounds for giving one or two more seats to Scotland and Wales, and certainly the Government recognise the force of the arguments pointing in this direction. Nevertheless, it has seemed to us on the whole right to allocate seats between the component parts of the United Kingdom on a more or less equal electorate basis.

The second matter is the question of the franchise for direct elections, which was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Reay, the noble Baroness, Lady Elles, and the noble Baroness, Lady Tweedsmuir; they raised the question of the Select Committee recommendation that United Kingdom nationals resident abroad should be able to vote in direct elections to the European Assembly. This is, however, I must emphasise, not purely a matter of mechanics and devising a suitable system; indeed Home Office officials, as the House will be aware, gave evidence on a possible system without commitment to the Government's view as to its suitability.

The Government consider that this important extension of the franchise, which would, in our view, have obvious relevance to the franchise for Elections to Westminster, should not be made without prior full consideration by a Speaker's Conference on electoral law. Such a Conference would, in our view, be in the best position to consider the principle as well as the details of the matter. While on that subject, I should like to deal with the direct question which the noble Lord, Lord Tranmire, asked; that is, w here do we stand at the moment so far as the Speaker's Conference is concerned. The situation is this. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister has had lengthy consultations with the Leader of the Opposition in another place about the terms of reference for a new Speaker's Conference on electoral law, but unfortunately it has not yet proved possible to reach agreement on this. That is the situation at the moment.

My Lords, to sum up, the Government are grateful for the many views and expressions of opinion that have been voiced in this debate. The Government will now consider the views which have been expressed both in this House and in another place, and will put their recommendation to Parliament. The Government very much hope that the wide-ranging and detailed debates that have been held in both Houses of Parliament will greatly assist us in achieving consensus and acceptance of the Government's proposals when they are introduced in legislative form.


My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, can he say when we shall receive the Bill?


My Lords, I have just indicated to the noble Lord that the Government said that they would await the debates in both Houses and then make their recommendations. I have no more to say than that.

On Question, Motion agreed to.