§ 2.50 p.m.
§ The MINISTER of STATE, HOME OFFICE (Lord Harris of Greenwich)
My Lords, I beg to move that the European Assembly Elections Bill be read a second time. The main purpose of the Bill which I present to the House this afternoon is to provide for the election of United Kingdom representatives to the European Assembly. This gives effect to a Decision of the Council of Ministers which was agreed to on behalf of Her Majesty's Government by the then Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary on 20th September 1976. The Bill is both short, and, I hope, straightforward. It consists of only nine clauses and two Schedules. But I believe the House will recognise that it is a Bill of considerable constitutional and historical significance. As your Lordships will know, there is similar legislation in the other Member States of the European Community, but not until this legislation has been passed in all the Member States of the Community can the elections to the European Assembly take place.
As the House will know, the principle of a directly elected Parliament was incorporated in the Treaty of Rome as a necessary eventual part of the Community institutions. The arrangement under which delegates were designated by national Parliaments was adopted as an interim measure. But the goal of direct elections has always been clear. Our participation in such elections eventually was one of the goals which we, too, assumed when we joined the Community. At the same time, we have always made it clear that our participation in direct elections could be only on a basis approved by our own Parliament. The Council's Decision of September 1976 represented a political decision taken by the Governments of the Member States, including our own. It is, however, for national Parliaments to decide whether to pass the legislation that is necessary to enable that Decision to be implemented.
It was the Government's view that on a matter of this importance and significance both for the United Kingdom and for Europe as a whole there should be a 692 full opportunity for public consultation and debate. Even before the Decision of September 1976 the Government had published a Green Paper and had arranged for a Select Committee of another place to be established. Subsequently, the Government published their own White Paper in response to the Select Committee's reports and recommendations, and there were of course extensive debates in both Houses of Parliament in the last Session; indeed, more than one in this House. The Select Committee received evidence from a wide range of organisations and individuals, and this evidence has been published as a further contribution to Parliamentary and public debate.
In addition, there are other organisations, such as the European League for Economic Co-operation, and at least one of the universities, that have sponsored conferences and produced reports on direct elections. The subject has also aroused a great deal of attention in the Press. In the Government's view, this has enabled the most important issues to be identified, and, we hope, resolved. I should like now, if I may, to consider each of the major issues that have been identified in this fashion.
I shall deal first with the question of the electoral system. As the House will know, Article 7 of the Decision of September 1976 provides that:… pending the entry into force of a uniform electoral procedure and subject to the other provisions of this Act, the electoral procedure shall be governed in each Member State by its national provisions".This is, therefore, one of the most important questions for every Member State of the Community to decide.
On this issue, as I believe on others, the Government have been keen to stimulate a wide public discussion. It was for this reason that the White Paper of April 1977 outlined three possible electoral systems for use in direct elections to the European Assembly. These were the simple majority system, the regional list system and the single transferable vote system. I know that there are a great many noble Lords who take a great deal of interest in electoral matters and many who believe that a change in the electoral system used for elections to another place would be of benefit to the country as a whole. I would not wish to become involved in a 693 debate on that wider issue today. Certainly, it has been the Government's view that the question of the appropriate electoral system for elections to the European Assembly, which has advisory and supervisory rather than legislative powers, could be considered quite separately from the question of the appropriate system of election to Westminster.
The Government came to the conclusion that a regional list system of election would be appropriate to the special circumstances of elections to the European Assembly. As noble Lords will be aware, the Bill that was introduced in another place by the Government contained two alternative electoral systems to enable that House to form a judgment on the basis of a full understanding of both. The Government recommended the regional list system of election but recognised that Members of another place would have strong views on the matter. In the event, powerful arguments were deployed in favour of various systems, including the single transferable vote and the alternative vote. On 13th December, however, another place finally rejected the Government's recommended regional list system of election, and subsequently confirmed its preference for the simple majority system for Great Britain and for the single transferable vote system for Northern Ireland.
As I have indicated, the Government suggested that Parliament should adopt the regional list system of election. We believed that this system was the simplest and most effective form of proportional representation in the circumstances. This view was rejected by another place, and I must say this to the House: the decisive nature of that rejection suggests that there is no realistic prospect of persuading another place to change its mind on this issue. I believe, therefore, that we must now accept the simple majority system of elections as the feature of this Bill, and that we must proceed on that basis.
As I have indicated, the situation for Northern Ireland is different. It has always been the Government's view that, if the simple majority system of election was adopted for Great Britain, then the STV system would be appropriate for Northern Ireland. We have taken the view that the very special circumstances of Northern Ireland deserve recognition in this way, and that it is essential, for the 694 reasons which the House will, I am sure, appreciate, that there should be a real chance for a representative of the minority community in Northern Ireland to be elected to the European Assembly. I am glad to say that this view was accepted in another place.
I turn now, if I may, to the second major issue; that is, the allocation of seats. The United Kingdom has been allocated 81 seats. As the House will know, there were lengthy, and at times indeed difficult, negotiations at the highest level of the European Community before agreement could be reached on the number of seats for each Member State in the enlarged Assembly. The Council of Ministers had to weigh in the balance the needs and interests of the small States, such as Luxembourg, as well as the claims of the larger States for electoral equality. The Government believe that the agreement of September 1976 represents a sensible compromise agreement.
It is thus for Parliament to decide how to allocate the 81 seats for the United Kingdom. Clause 2 of the Bill proposes that England should have 66 seats, Scotland 8, Wales 4, and Northern Ireland 3. This is in accordance with the recommendation of the Select Committee, and broadly allocates seats in proportion to electorate. It is true that there is a certain amount of rounding up and rounding down. Northern Ireland's entitlement, in particular, has been rounded up to three seats to enable the system of STV to work satisfactorily in that Province. Scotland is also slightly over-represented. Once again, I believe that the proposed allocation of seats represents a sensible and acceptable compromise between the needs of the larger and smaller constituent parts of the United Kingdom.
Thirdly, I should like to turn to the powers of the Assembly. This issue is covered by Clause 6 of the Bill which states that,No treaty which provides for any increase in the powers of the Assembly shall be ratified by the United Kingdom unless it has been approved by an Act of Parliament".A good deal of concern was expressed in another place that, when the European Assembly is directly elected, it will automatically acquire new powers, and will widen its scope of activities to the detriment of national Parliaments. Direct 695 elections will undoubtedly give the European Assembly a new democratic legitimacy. This may well stimulate demands by the Assembly for greater control and influence over the other Community institutions, especially the Commission. I believe that this is to be welcomed. It is indeed, in my view, one of the main reasons for favouring direct elections to the European Assembly. At the same time, this Parliament will wish to be sure that any increase in the formal powers of the European Assembly which will require an amendment to the treaties is the result of careful and deliberate action by both Houses of Parliament. For that reason Clause 6 was introduced into the Bill in another place.
I have dealt so far with the three major issues raised in the Bill—the question of the electoral system, the allocation of seats, and the powers of the Assembly. I should like now to deal with some of the other matters covered in the Bill. Clause 3 provides that Assembly elections shall be held and conducted in accordance with the provisions of Schedule 1. Schedule 1 contains the provisions for the franchise, the times of elections, and who may stand for election. It also provides for regulations to be made by the Secretary of State for the conduct of elections, including the registration of electors and the limitations of candidates' election expenses. These regulations will apply the provisions of the Representation of the People Acts to the circumstances of elections to the European Assembly. The intention will be for these regulations to follow the Westminster procedures as closely as possible, making amendments only where this is necessary in the different circumstances of elections to the European Assembly. There will also need to be separate regulations for the single transferable vote system in Northern Ireland.
Schedule 2 to the Bill provides for the determination of the European Assembly constituencies by the Parliamentary Boundary Commissions for England, Scotland and Wales. The Schedule proposes that for the initial division the Commissions should invite representations on their provisional recommendations, but should not hold local inquiries. The Government believe that this is a reasonable curtailment of the traditional procedures which is necessary to enable the 696 United Kingdom to be ready for elections next year. The full Boundary Commission procedures would apply to subsequent reviews of the European Assembly constituencies.
Clause 4 of the Bill makes a specific addition to our normal electoral laws governing double voting, to cover the situation which will arise when elections are held simultaneously in all Member States. The clause is aimed at preventing those who might be eligible to vote in more than one Member State from doing so at what would in fact be a European General Election. Clause 5 exempts Assembly Members from jury service. Clause 7 provides for the expenses of organising the elections. Clauses 8 and 9 are the interpretation and citation clauses.
As noble Lords will know, the Decision of September 1976 contained a target date of May to June 1978 for the first elections to the European Assembly. For various reasons it has not proved possible for the United Kingdom to meet that target date. And I think that at least some of our Community partners might have had similar difficulties. In any event, it has now been recognised by the Council of Ministers that a new target date must be set. Consideration is being given to this particular question at the moment, but at present I cannot forecast what the outcome will be.
So far as the United Kingdom is concerned, the adoption of the simple majority system for Great Britain means that we must allow time for the three Boundary Commissions for England, Scotland and Wales to draw up the single Member constituencies. As I explained a moment ago, the Bill proposes a curtailed procedure for the initial division, but even that truncated procedure is likely to take some four and a half months. It is also necessary to allow time for Parliament's consideration of the Commissions' final proposals, and for the political Parties to select candidates and organise themselves for the election campaigns. I think that in practical terms this means that the new target date will be some time in the late spring or summer of next year.
My Lords, I should like to say this in conclusion. This Bill was passed by 697 another place with a decisive majority. I am sure that it will receive overwhelming support today in your Lordships' House, and that the Bill itself will fairly soon be on the Statute Book. I believe that this is a moment of great importance to this country, and, indeed, to the whole future of Europe. We are here establishing an Assembly which will for the first time introduce the voice of directly elected representatives of the people of Europe into the institutions of the Community. It marks a major step forward in the extension of democracy in Europe. Less than three years ago in the referendum the people of Britain gave their overwhelming support to Britain's continued membership of the European Community. Today we have the opportunity of giving a new significance to that decision, by passing a Bill which will create an entirely new relationship between the European Community and our people. It is, I believe, a moment of great hope for Europe, and for Britain. My Lords, I beg to move.
Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Harris of Greenwich.)
§ 3.9 p.m.
§ Baroness ELLES
My Lords, we have waited for this Bill since the Government's undertaking in November 1976 to introduce legislation for direct elections to the European Parliament. Since that time the principles upon which the Bill is based have been debated many times in your Lordships' House, including during the Second Reading of two Private Members' Bills which have been introduced into your Lordships' House, one by my noble friend Lord O'Hagan and the other by the noble Lord, Lord Banks. Therefore, no one can accuse your Lordships' House of being dilatory in that regard.
I believe that this Bill transcends Party divisions and, although there may be some Members in all parts of your Lordships' House who may be opposed to direct elections, just as some of them—very few, believe—are still opposed to the European Communities, I believe that the Bill will recommend itself to your Lordships. Each time that we have debated this matter we have urged the Government—and in this the vast majority of your Lordships have joined both my noble friends and I and other parts of the House 698 —to introduce a Bill which would fulfil our international obligations, both under the Treaty of Rome and in accordance with the present Government's undertaking when they signed the Decision of 20th September 1976 relating to the holding of direct elections in the Member States.
The need for democratisation of the relevant institutions of the Community increases the whole time as it becomes clearer how the Decisions are taken by the Council of Ministers and the Commission and how these Decisions affect the daily lives of the citizens of Europe, both of this country and of the other Member States—for example, measures concerning the application of VAT, company structures, employment rights, freedom of establishment for the professions, to name only a few areas of discussion and decision.
Yet at present the citizen has no direct way to know how these matters will or do affect his life; nor is he able to seek information or to know, through any identifiable representative, how his view can be put for him to the Commission and to the Council. Many prejudices, myths and misunderstandings have been fostered, largely I believe because there is no Member in regular contact to dispel those myths or to give full and adequate explanation to his constituents on European matters. Therefore, the introduction of direct elections will be a major contribution to the better understanding of the objectives and purposes of the Community; the people will be better served and it will be in their own interests. Thus, the need for elections is clear.
But when are these elections to take place for the first time? We all know that the date agreed—and the noble Lord the Minister has already referred to it—was to have been May or June of this year. We know that that is now impossible. The Foreign Secretary reported on 17th January to the Council of Ministers that we, in the United Kingdom, would not and could not be ready. The reasons are well known. The Government have found it convenient—perhaps they may find it even entertaining—to blame for the delay those who voted for the "single past the post" method. That, of course, was not so and no one believes that for one moment. In fact, the reason was the Government's attitude or at least 699 that of some Members of the Government towards the Bill—their failure to complete the legislation in the Session ending July 1977; their failure to give it priority during this Session. It appeared that they were more willing to risk internal destruction of the United Kingdom than to strengthen areas of co-operation outside it.
The Government have maintained that the Bill must receive Royal Assent at least six months before the chosen date for direct elections throughout the Community. That, as the noble Lord the Minister also explained, is to allow time for preparing a selection of candidates, the system of elections and so on, regardless of the method of voting chosen. That means, in effect, that Royal Assent was needed by December or early January if we were to have had elections this year. We are now well into March and the Bill has just reached your Lordships' House. Following the Government timetable it was never possible for the Bill to be ready for 1978, even though a guillotine was introduced in another place—supported, I must add, exceptionally by the Leader of the Opposition and other Members of the Conservative Party. I think that makes it clear that in no way has any action been taken by the Party which I represent and by the Party of my noble friends to delay the Bill. On the contrary, every effort has been made to co-operate in improving the Bill in the time available.
As we must accept the impossibility of direct elections this year, I should like to ask the Minister whether a date for 1979 will be discussed at the forthcoming meeting of the Council of Ministers in April, and whether the Government have a date in mind. If so, when do they expect a decision on the date to be made? I know that the Minister has referred to the possibility of a date, but perhaps he could give us further information on this. I should also like to ask the Minister about the kind of timetable envisaged in the light of the various procedures necessary for preparation for the elections.
Following the decision of another place on 13th December last, by an overwhelming majority in favour of the "single past the post method which has already been referred to by the Minister, it has been stated by the Home Secretary that 700 from Royal Assent to the report of recommendations of the Boundary Commission to Parliament would take about 18 weeks—that is, allowing for representations but not local inquiries. That would be equivalent to the recommendation of Option B in the White Paper and now contained in Schedule 2 to the Bill.
If elections are to take place in May or June 1979, as I calculate it all the procedures must be completed by November this year, including consideration of the Boundary Commission's report. Could the Minister give us some information on how the Government envisage dealing with the report and, above all, when? Do they intend to recall Parliament in October, or will they wait for the next Session? This, of course, is not irrelevant to the way in which the Bill is handled in your Lordships' House, because even if it has a smooth passage—and I sincerely hope it will—it is essential to get the Bill on to the Statute Book as soon as possible. Therefore, I come to the conclusion that the only way of ensuring that the Bill gets on to the Statute Book in due time is to leave it substantially as it is.
The method of voting, to which some of your Lordships may feel very keenly attached—and rightly so—is, I believe, of less importance than the time factor. I have said, speaking personally at this Box before, that the system was secondary to the overriding importance of being ready on time. I propose a system based on regional lists, ostensibly to save time. But the Government never undertook—even with regional lists—to be ready by this year. In fact, it has been clear from their actions that they were not taking the necessary steps to ensure readiness. It should be recalled that the regions themselves would have been keenly debated if that system had been chosen, and no doubt we might still be waiting for the Bill to come to your Lordships' House. As it stands, the Bill is acceptable and convenient for a first-time election. With the Bill as it is we could be ready, as I understand it, for a May or June 1979 election.
The Government have undertaken to discuss with the Parties after Royal Assent details concerning electoral matters—regulations concerning polling, deposits and other electoral matters which would come before both Houses in the form of 701 Affirmative Resolutions. I believe that your Lordships can be assured that there will be ample opportunity for debate of these details, which are extremely relevant to the holding of these elections. I should like to ask the Minister a further question. Can be say, subject to the date of Royal Assent, how long afterwards we can expect in your Lordships' House—and, indeed, in another place—to be ready to approve these regulations?
If it appears to your Lordships that I have concentrated overmuch on the timing of the Bill rather than on its substance, it is because, first, we have discussed the principle of this Bill frequently in the past and I believe have always reached a good measure of agreement. Secondly, many noble Lords will themselves be raising issues which to them are of particular importance and to which they wish to give particular emphasis; we shall have the opportunity in Committee to discuss the matters in detail which have already been outlined by the noble Lord the Minister, for which we are grateful.
Thirdly, I believe that timing is of the essence because it is vital for the good name of the United Kingdom that we shall be ready on the next chosen date. It would be disastrous if once again the citizens of the other eight Member States were prevented from voting because of the negligence and express dilatoriness of the Government or, indeed, of anybody else. For the United Kingdom it would also mean further loss of respect, and consequently loss of bargaining power in the Community. We are now among the last in the economic league of the Nine. Let us not any more be last on the list of those ready to go forward to a real and necessary democratic forum which, while retaining the same powers as the present European Parliament, would be able to exert its influence for the benefit of the citizens of the Community. I beg to support the Bill.
§ 3.19 p.m.
§ Lord BANKS
My Lords, first, I should like to express gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, for his explanation this afternoon of the principal features of the Bill. As he said, and as the noble Baroness, Lady Elles, has said, we have already discussed direct elections in this House on many occasions. In 702 particular we have discussed them at length when we debated the Representation of the People (Amendment) Bill, which I introduced into this House last year, and also the subsequent Government White Paper.
We on these Benches of course fully support direct elections for the European Parliament, and we regret the postponement of the date for these elections from May/June of this year to what we hope will now be May/June of 1979. The holding of the first direct elections will undoubtedly be, as the noble Lord, Lord Harris said, a very significant event. It will make clear first the commitment of the European Economic Community to democracy. Secondly, it will help to develop a European consciousness. Already we see political organisations across national boundaries as a result of these elections. The political Party to which I belong is a member of a Federation of Liberal Parties drawn from eight of the nine EEC countries, and they have drawn up a joint programme on which to fight the direct elections in due course. Thirdly, the European Parliament will be the first institution of the Community to be derived not from Governments or national Parliaments but directly from the people.
The founding fathers of the Community intended to create a supranational community; that is to say, a community with certain elements in it over and above national Governments. That is why they provided for a Commission whose members would pledge themselves to look at matters from a European point of view and to put on one side national considerations. That is why they provided for majority voting in the Council of Ministers, and that is why they provided for a directly elected Parliament.
There has in recent years been a movement away from that supranational principle towards, instead, a loose association of sovereign States. The Commission has lost ground to the Council of Ministers, and that was pointed out in the Vedel Report in 1972, and that tendency has been accentuated since by the establishment of the European Council. The Council of Ministers has worked on the principle of unanimity, which has meant that any national Government has virtually had a veto of what transpired. The 703 direct elections to the European Parliament will help to restore the balance between the supranational and the national in the institutions of the Community.
A Study Group of the British Council of the European Movement, on which the noble Lord, Lord Chelwood, and I served, reported in 1974 that, in its opinion, direct elections would, of themselves, provide a valuable means of maintaining or of re-establishing the momentum of the European Economic Community. I think that most of us would agree that we need at the present time to re-establish the momentum of the EEC. It is, of course, the aim of the Community to unite the peoples, and direct elections will help to do this, yet the Bill provides no more than the Treaties required. We knew when we joined that we would be involved in direct elections. We knew, during the referendum, that we would be involved in direct elections.
We on these Benches have as our ultimate aim the concept of a Federal Britain in a Federal Europe. We know that it would no doubt take us a long time to reach that point, but that is our aim, and undoubtedly tremendous constitutional changes are taking place at the present time in an unrelated and piecemeal fashion—and that comment would be as relevant in the debate we are to hold on the Scotland Bill next week as it is this afternoon.
We believe that all these developments should be looked at together; that they should in fact be part of a pattern. We have a new relationship developing between nation States in the Community; we have a new relationship developing between the constituent parts of the United Kingdom. We believe that this demands a new type of political union both in Europe and in the United Kingdom. Of course there is a great debate between this point of view and the point of view of those who place all their reliance on the sovereignty of this Parliament, the Parliament of the United Kingdom, who distrust all supranational institutions and all written constitutions, and who insist on a piecemeal, pragmatic approach. Of course there are a whole series of intermediate positions which can be taken up, and are taken up. I fully recognise that many who accept the institutions of the European Economic Community, 704 many who want direct elections, do not share our enthusiasm for a developing political union.
One thing is clear: no advance to such a union can take place without amendment of the Treaty. That, under Article 236, requires ratification by each of the nine States according to their constitutional requirements. As a result of an Amendment introduced in another place, the Bill prevents any Treaty providing for any increase in the powers of the Assembly from being ratified by the United Kingdom unless approved by Act of Parliament, so no developments of the kind to which I have referred, and of the kind which, as I say, we on these Benches would like to see, can take place unless the Governments and the national Parliaments want them. But, as I explained earlier, the Bill is a step on the road which we want to take, and we support it.
However, the Bill, from our point of view, has one major blemish, and in our eyes it is a very serious one. It provides, as has been made clear already this afternoon, for the use of the first-past-the-post system of election. Now we know that this can well lead to a gross distortion of the representation of the Labour and Conservative Parties in the European Assembly because of the large constitutencies which are to be used. We know that it can well mean no representation for substantial minorities within the country if their support is widely distributed. We know that it can well mean over-representation for less substantial minorities if their support is concentrated.
The Liberal Party might poll millions of votes and secure no seats. If the Liberal Party were to poll the 9 per cent. that it was credited with in the most recent Gallup Poll, in proportionate terms that would mean seven seats of the 81. But, under the first-past-the-post system it could quite easily mean no seats at all.
§ Baroness ELLES
My Lords, would the noble Lord allow me to intervene? Could the noble Lord say, in view of the vote at Ilford where I understand the Liberal Party got 5 per cent. of the votes, how many seats that would mean in the European Parliament?
§ Lord BANKS
My Lords, on a proportional basis it would mean approximately 5 per cent. of the seats. I think 705 that is a simple proposition which follows naturally from what I said, but I was taking the figure of 9 per cent., which is the current Gallup Poll rating. I said that that would involve seven seats but that we might well get no seats in the Parliament, and that is perfectly true. The point I want to emphasise is this. The sister Parties of the Liberal Party in other countries in the Community are appalled that we should have to face that situation. But the first-past-the-post system could well upset the political balance of the European Parliament as a whole for all the different political groupings, and we have to bear that in mind.
We should bear in mind, too, that in these elections we are not electing a Government, and that all the arguments which are related to that, whatever we may think of them, do not apply in this case. Also, all the other countries will be electing their members by proportional representation. For all these reasons, I hope that this House will put a proportional system of election back into the Bill at the Committee stage, and give the other place the opportunity for second thoughts.
We on these Benches prefer the single transferable system. In fact, we have put it forward on the Representation of the People (Amendment) Bill. That is a system which is to apply under the Bill we have before us this afternoon for Northern Ireland, but it is not only in Northern Ireland that minorities have a claim to be represented. Although we prefer the single transferable vote system, we accepted the regional list system put forward by the Government.
The Study Group of the European Movement, which I mentioned earlier, was inclined to favour the German system, the added member system, for 198 members, but thought that the single transferable vote might be preferable if the Parliament was considerably enlarged. With 410 members to be elected, and with a possible further 100 members when Greece, Portugal and Spain join, the Parliament has clearly been considerably enlarged and the case for the single transferable vote would appear to have been underlined. However, no doubt the regional list system would be more likely to secure the support of the Government since they sponsored it in another place 706 in the first instance. What is important is not so much which proportional system should be adopted but that a proportional system should be adopted.
There is one other matter to which I should like to refer briefly. I very much regret that, as I understand it, British subjects resident elsewhere in the Community are not to have a vote, as was provided for in the Bill which I introduced. In my view, everybody who is a citizen of a Member country of the Community should, whether or not he is residing in his home country, have a vote in direct elections. To conclude, we support the Second Reading of this Bill. We believe that the introduction of direct elections is an event of great significance and we hope that that event will not be marred, so far as the United Kingdom is concerned, by the use of an electoral system which is totally unsuitable for the purpose.
§ 3.31 p.m.
§ Lord THOMSON of MONIFIETH
My Lords, like all those who have spoken so far, I believe that the introduction of this Bill represents an important development in the European Community. As a starting point I think it was laid down quite rightly by my noble friend the Minister that the people of this country, by a majority of two to one in a referendum, decided that their future lay in the European Community. It is our obligation now to make the most of that future and to avoid the temptation that sometimes seems to afflict us to make the worst of it. The European Community is going through a period of considerable difficulty. It faces many hesitations. Like any other form of government, it is a Community which is sometimes capable of downright blunders. But the European Community steadily edges its way forward and I think has ahead of it three big challenges: first, to seek the convergence of the national economies of its Member States, rather than the present degree of divergence; secondly, to tackle the immense problems of enlargement, and, thirdly, to bring about the democratisation of the institutions of the Community. The most immediately achievable bit of progress in the European Community is the democratisation of its institutions that lies in the provisions of the present Bill. I do not think one ought to exaggerate 707 the significance of changing from indirect to direct elections. It will create problems as well as solving some problems, but things in the Community will never be the same again. As my noble friend said, it will give the European Parliament a democratic legitimacy which it lacks at the moment.
Against that background, I turn to the difficult problem for this House of timing. As the noble Baroness said from the Opposition Benches, it is true that this Bill has taken a long time to reach this House. It was originally introduced in the Queen's Speech of 1976 when I was still a commissioner in Brussels—and that seems a long time ago. There is no doubt, too, that our snail's progress has done us a good deal of damage with our partners. I do not think one should take the delay too tragically. As I have said on many occasions, I regret that the United Kingdom—as too often—has maladroitly attracted to itself blame for a delay that was in fact welcome to a number of other members of the Community. I recollect that when the European Parliament sought to lay down a timetable it was perhaps more realistic than the overambitious Council of Ministers thought. It laid down 1980 as the target date. In fact, I think that an election in the summer of next year has many advantages in practical terms, in terms of preparing the citizens by information and education, for a new dimension in elections. Having said that, it is important, especially if the present first-past-the-post system is finally maintained by Parliament, that there should be no undue delay in regard to the Royal Assent. This presents a real dilemma for this House and for those in this House who want to see these elections take place. Having spent 20 years in another place and having only recently arrived here, I hope I have a proper diffidence about speaking in a nonelected Chamber about what may be good for the Members in an elected Chamber.
I have, however, looked at the list of speakers today, and I also recollect that this is now predominantly a House of nonhereditary democrats, many of them with long experience of Parliament and public life in one way or another. I suppose we have an opportunity in this House to take a more detached judgment about these matters than is possible in another 708 place. I certainly think we also have a duty in terms of public opinion to make our views known from this House. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Banks, that the decision to set up gargantuan first-past-the post constituencies was greatly the poorer of the alternatives that were debated in another place. It might very well eliminate one of the historic national Parties of this country, and I regard that as a gross inequity. If that was so it would deny a substantial body of Liberal voters any effective voice in the new European Parliament. Therefore, I believe it is unjust on these domestic grounds. It also risks producing a highly distorted European representation of this country between the Conservative Party and the Labour Party, depending on what happens to be the position of the electoral pendulum at the time when the elections take place—and who can say at this point in time what that will be?
To the Continentals, it represents one more example of Britain being obstinately out of step. Whatever the result, it is likely to distort the Party balance in the new directly elected European Parliament. After all, at the end of the day, it is really the politics of Canute, since we are committed to a uniform system of direct elections next time and that is bound to be one form or another of proportional system. I therefore greatly regret the rejection by another place of the advice that the Government gave, though I recognise the force of the Minister's argument. I think we shall need to consider what is likely to happen in another place if we take a different view here, and what effect that is likely to have on our timetable. The one view I have held consistently throughout the argument is that we must seek to keep to the timetable. In a sense, the timetable argument has turned upside down. Apart from the merits of a proportional system, the very strong argument for the regional list system—and I do not wish to go into the details of the timetable argument—was that it gave the possibility of it not being the United Kingdom that prevented the 1978 timetable from being kept. If we were to get this wrong now it might create the possibility of the United Kingdom being responsible for a further delay in a 1979 timetable. I certainly agree that we should look at that a great deal more closely.
709 Like the noble Lord who has just spoken, I also very much regret the omission from the Bill that has come to us of any provision for British citizens in other parts of the European Community to vote in this first democratic election. Many of these are Britons who are helping to make the Community work. Many of them are the people who are selling British goods and services and making such an important contribution to our economic future on the Continent and I think it very unjust that these people should be disfranchised. On the other hand, I agree with one change made in another place in the text of this Bill. That was the change relating to the question of approval by Act of Parliament of any treaties increasing the powers of the European Assembly.
This Bill is an historic step in creating a direct link between the ordinary citizen and the European Parliament. It does not of itself, as has been said, alter the European Parliament's powers; it is a big enough step in itself. Personally, I hope that a directly-elected Parliament—I echo the words I was happy to hear from the Minister—will in due course seek more effective powers, but that is for the future and that can happen only in a way that affects the powers of national Parliaments, and it therefore seems to be wholly proper that these should be subject to formal legislation in our national Parliament here.
On this matter, I hope that we will try to keep our minds clear about the problem of Parliamentary control of Community institutions. The present scrutiny committees, especially the Scrutiny Committee in your Lordships' House, do excellent work, not least in creating an informed body of opinion inside the Palace of Westminster about the realities of Community procedures. But there is nothing sacred—this is sometimes forgotten, particularly in another place—about the Palace of Westminster. It has evolved over the generations; it has never been a static institution and I have never seen any inconsistency in our seeking to devolve powers to a Scottish or Welsh Assembly in one direction and seeking to devolve them to a European Assembly in the other direction, but I do not want to anticipate future debates on devolution.
710 So far as the issue we are discussing today is concerned, while national Parliamentary scrutiny has its own value both in creating informed opinion here and in controlling the actions of the national Government at the Council of Ministers, it is no substitute for democratic control by the European Parliament. Indeed, if Community decisions were to be the subject, as some in this country argue, of separate national Parliamentary approval in nine national Parliaments, then of course the Community would grind completely to a halt, and that is no doubt one of the reasons why some people are so passionately in favour of that particular form of democratic Parliamentary control.
§ Lord DRUMALBYN
My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord to make a little more clear in his admirable speech what he means by democratic control by the European Parliament?
§ Lord THOMSON of MONIFIETH
My Lords, I mean that at the present stage of the development of the European Community it should be in the European Parliament that the main democratic verdict is taken on the various Directives and proposals that come out of the European Commission; I think that should happen much more in the European Assembly than in the various national Parliaments. The right solution, I was going to say, is not the nationalisation of European Parliamentary control but the creation of a truly democratic European Parliament.
Belated though this is, this is, as the Minister said, an historic step. Next year nine countries, nine ancient nations, nine Parliamentary democracies who have spilt so much blood between them will elect their own European MPs to European constituencies for the first time and begin the clumsy and no doubt immensely slow, but at the end I think inevitable process of creating European political Parties. This is something that I believe should excite the imagination of any European democrat. Perhaps the Minister will allow me to say that I see precious few signs most of the time that it excites the imagination of Her Majesty's Government. I sometimes wonder whether Her Majesty's Government have any imagination at all where the European Community is concerned; indeed, the best 711 words I have heard about the European Community came in the speech with which this Bill was introduced today.
I searched conscientiously and hopefully through the main ministerial speeches in another place on this Bill. I like to love my right honourable friends in another place and I do love them on a number of occasions, especially on the domestic front, but I must say that on reading the debates in another place I thought they treated this Bill as if it were not an historic step forward but a rather dull and dreary machinery measure, something like the Dundee Municipal Water Works (Extension of Powers) Bill. I say to Her Majesty's Government that what often matters in the European Community, in my experience, is not what you say but the way that you say it. Certainly I am the last person to say that Her Majesty's Government should not vigorously defend national interests within the European Community; other countries do that. But a great deal depends on the way it is done and I think a great opportunity has been lost because of the tone with which the Government have conducted the whole process of introducing this Bill for direct elections.
Not the least of the hopes I have about a directly-elected European Parliament is that it will enable the issues about the future of the European Community—they are many and varied and the different points of view on them are very legitimate—to be debated as they should be debated; namely, at a European general election and through continued debate in a European Parliamentary Assembly instead of, as has been happening over the last year or two, regrettably becoming the small change in national Party politics in this country. For these reasons I very much welcome the Bill as an historic step forward.
§ 3.47 p.m.
The Earl of BESSBOROUGH
My Lords, it is a very great privilege to speak following the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, with every word of whose speech I wholly agreed. I was proud to be able to take part in debates in the European Parliament with him during his term of office as a Commissioner. His services to the Community are very well 712 known and we should be proud that he has taken part in this debate. I also agreed very much with all that my noble friend Lady Elles said and, for that reason, I shall be very brief indeed because I do not wish in any way to delay the passage of the Bill. Thus, despite the fact that I am, like other noble Lords here, a declared electoral reformer, partly because I am a Member of the European Parliament, I feel that the importance of getting the Bill through with all speed is greater on this occasion than the precise electoral method to be employed.
I have on more than one occasion stated in your Lordships' House that I am in favour of the additional member system, which does not seem to have been put forward adequately in another place, and I would be in favour of that additional member system for the European Parliament—a system similar to that which was adopted by the British for the British Zone in Germany and later for the whole of the Bundestag. It seems to me that that system combines the best of both worlds, in that the elector knows who his member is, and yet having a second vote for a regional list with proportional representation enables some minority Parties such as the Liberal Party to be represented reasonably fairly. I should therefore like to see that system adopted when it comes to all Nine countries adopting the uniform electoral procedure for the second general elections to the Assembly.
However, in view of the vote in another place in favour of single-member constituencies and the first-past-the-post system, I do not think it very appropriate for a non-elected Chamber such as your Lordships' House, and certainly not for an hereditary peer like myself, to suggest changes in the method of election adopted by the elected Chamber. Moreover, I infinitely prefer the first-past-the-post system to the kind of regional list system originally proposed by the Government, which could well lead to the election of some Members who, by themselves, hold very few, or even conceivably no, votes at all.
Of course, if it seems clear that there could be a majority in this House in favour of the additional member system and that Members of another place might be willing to change their minds—and the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, 713 seems very doubtful about that—then I should certainly vote for an Amendment proposing such a system, but not one which tried to reinstate the Government's regional list proposal. Also, if it is thought that another place might be willing to reconsider the matter, I should support an Amendment enabling British subjects residing in other parts of the Community to vote in these elections, for reasons which were well stated by Lord Thomson.
Above all, however, let us get on with the adoption of the Bill, so that other Member States do not again accuse us of being responsible for delaying the first international elections the world has ever seen. It is an exciting prospect, as the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, has said. I agree with the Government: it is a major step forward in European integration; and I believe that it will increase, if not the powers of the European Parliament, at least its influence, which is not inconsiderable, even at this time. Influence can be more important than technical powers. Therefore, in my view it is a great hope for the future, and I hope very much that a decision in regard to the date will be taken at the earliest possible moment, and that the Bill will get onto the Statute Book in good time.
§ 3.51 p.m.
§ Lord GREENWOOD of ROSSENDALE
My Lords, like the noble Earl, I shall seek to be brief, but I doubt whether I can quite emulate the brevity which he himself so commendably achieved. I should like, however, to begin by thanking your Lordships' House for the confidence that was reposed in me when I was elected Chairman of the Select Committee on the European Communities. It is an opportunity for serving this House which I greatly appreciate, and for which I am most grateful. I am only sorry that my election should have been made necessary by the ill health of the noble Baroness, Lady Tweedsmuir of Belhelvie; and certainly those of us who serve on the Select Committee are very sensible of the extent to which we are indebted to Lady Tweedsmuir, and to her predecessor, my noble friend Lord Diamond, for the foundations which they laid for the work of the Select Committee.
The Select Committee and its subcommittees now number nearly 90 Members or your Lordships' House, and I hope 714 that I may say, without too greatly stimulating the gastric juices of those who want to gobble us up, that those 90 Members of this House combine a wealth of experience which I think few Parliaments in the world could match; and I believe that, for that reason, the Committee is capable of making a very substantial contribution to the working of the Common Market.
I am quite sure that our strength in this House is that we are not still fighting the battles of yesterday. I find on the Select Committee that those who, like myself, doubted the wisdom of going into the Community, are as determined as anybody to make it work. I find, too, that those Members of your Lordships' House who were very strongly in support of entry are just as determined as anybody else to keep a close watch on the Community, and to subject its working to the most rigorous scrutiny.
Of course, much of such success as we have had has stemmed from the staff who serve us—and who not only serve us, but also inspire us. We are grateful, too, to Sir John Eden and those Members of the House of Commons who are doing similar work in their House. We are grateful to noble Lords who represent us in the European Parliament, to Ministers and their Departments, and not least to the Whips, all of whom are most constructive and helpful in their approach to us. I think that it would be only right to thank especially the Government Chief Whip, who is generous in finding time for us and, who, I think, has given us an opportunity in this House of filling some of those lacunae which were so inexplicably left in the consideration of the Bill in another place.
It is not my intention today to become involved in the controversial aspects of the Bill. However, perhaps I may say that my heart warmed particularly to some of the sentiments of my noble friend Lord Thomson of Monifieth. But it is not for me to argue whether direct elections are good or bad. I will say only that my own personal view is that, having decided to join the EEC, there is a clear, inescapable moral and legal obligation upon us to provide for direct elections.
My main purpose today, therefore, is to tell the House how the subcommittee is handling the question of relations 715 between a directly-elected European Parliament and the national Parliaments of the nine Member States. For that purpose, we have set up a special new sub-committee under my chairmanship. We have brought in some new blood, and we have also enlisted the help of a number of noble Lords with special political experience in this country. We propose to report to your Lordships' House at about the end of May.
It is true that a number of reports have been prepared, both here and elsewhere, and that a number of papers have been written, but very few conclusions have been reached and very few positive recommendations have been made. I shall not try to summarise the views expressed in those reports and papers. I shall simply say that I sought to do so in very general terms in a paper which I submitted to the sub-committee of the Select Committee in December, and which is available to Members of your Lordships' House through the Overseas and European Office of the House. I will say only that I think, with respect, that my noble friend Lord Harris is right when he says that it is generally expected that a directly-elected Parliament will wish to have greater powers than the existing one.
But I must say that I hope this will not be pressed too early, nor be pressed too hard. When one thinks that any extension of powers would call for an amendment of the Treaty, which would have to have the unanimous support of the nine Member States of the Community, one realises the gulfs that such efforts could produce, and the dangers that they might create. Therefore, I am not as appreciative and as optimistic as my noble friends Lord Harris of Greenwich or Lord Thomson about this demand being made.
I believe, too, that once the directly-elected Parliament is in existence, we could have a situation in which the European Members of Parliament from the United Kingdom belonged to one Party, while the majority of Members of Parliament at Westminster belongod to another; one can see something of the strains that that might well create. I believe, too, that the political Parties themselves must do much fairly deep thinking before they have to face fighting elections to the European Parliament. After all, they may have 716 views on the difficulty created by having Members who are mandated from their own country; I think it right that they should be applying their minds to these problems.
But these are only examples of just a few of the problems that I foresee, and next week in our sub-committee we shall be considering a further Paper from myself on the subject, and hearing evidence from the Clerk of the Parliaments and from Black Rod. We shall then invite representatives of the political Parties to meet us. We should like to talk to the Secretary-General, and the other officials of the European Parliament; we should like to give the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Ministers a chance to express their view; we want to consult the Civil Service Department because of the infrastructure problems that may arise; and we should also like to learn from the experience of other Parliaments in the Community. Not least of all—and. I think this is most important—we should like particularly to consult with Sir John Eden and his colleagues in another place.
Finally, my Lords, may I emphasise once again that I believe these are real dangers that we are facing, and that we have to take them seriously. We have to do everything we can to avoid a conflict, because if a conflict or a division were to develop, I think it could do great harm to the democratic institutions of this country and could also prevent the steady and progressive development of the Community itself. I think, my Lords, that that broad view is one which will be accepted by your Lordships as a whole.
§ 4.1 p.m.
My Lords, I am sure that all noble Lords have greatly enjoyed hearing the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood of Rossendale, and the account that he has given us of the splendid work being done by the Select Committee and its sub-committees, of which I am sadly no longer a member. I think we have heard from all sides what a very competent job the noble Lord is doing.
But for Britain's default, direct elections would probably have been held in May or June of this year, as we all know. So, my Lords, shame on us! However, better late than never, and I think it would 717 be churlish not to welcome this Bill. Almost as regrettable as the quite pointless delay is the fact that the method of election proposed in the Bill is probably the least satisfactory that anyone could devise—in my opinion, anyhow, and I think that opinion is fairly widely shared in your Lordships' House, at any rate. This system, the first-past-the-post, is bound to produce a distorted and unfair result; and, as the noble Lord, Lord Banks, has reminded us, it is almost certain to produce no Liberal delegates at all—something which I think we would all deplore. Why was Parliament given only the choice between the unfair first-past-the-post system and just about the most ridiculous system of proportional representation that anyone could devise? The regional list system amounts to very little more than Party patronage through nomination. It is very little different from the system we have now, when the Party Whips choose the Members. They choose them very well, but it is not an election. How the Liberal Party can tamely accept this situation in the way in which STY was dropped as a third alternative (it was described in the Green Paper, or was it in the White Paper?), I really do not know; it is a mystery to me. So much, or so little, for the Lib-Lab pact.
What should your Lordships' House do about this aspect of the Bill, the system of election? If noble Lords had the final say here, which of course they do not, I have no doubt at all—I think my noble friend Lord Bessborough hinted at this—that we would choose a genuinely proportional system, giving voters the option between candidates of any Party or perhaps of none. In my belief, in a free vote, other things being equal, we might very well choose a proportional system by about two to one, judging from past debates we have had on the European question; but that is only my guess.
It could be that the system which would find most favour would be the alternative member system, which I think has a lot to be said for it as a sort of halfway house between the direct representation of a constituency and a proportional system. But, never mind; that is, I suppose, all water under the bridge, though it raises the question, of course, whether we should send the Bill back to another place amended as far as the system is 718 concerned. What would the reaction in another place?—we must ask ourselves. What, above all, would be the risk of delay? Would it be right or sensible to give the Government an excuse for yet further delay, which they could well seize, though I like to think that they would not? So my conclusion is the same as the conclusion of both Front Benches and that of the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, and other noble Lords who have spoken: that it is probably best not to amend the Bill so far as the electoral system is concerned.
Nonetheless, I think it will be agreed that there are many advantages in fully debating alternative systems for the election of Members of the European Parliament. I have no doubt—and this is my last point on this subject—that the fear that proportional representation for the European elections might be a precedent for Westminster Elections, because it could be so easily seen by the electorate to be fair, accounts for the reluctance of both major Parties to consider seriously the need for electoral reform. This, I think, is understandable, though I think it is regrettable; and I think, with respect to another place, that it shows how sadly out of touch Parliament can get with public opinion, which I think is substantially in favour of considering electoral reform with an open mind. So in this Bill I see the choice of electoral system as a major fault.
I, too, like other noble Lords, see a serious deficiency in the Bill, and that is the failure to provide for United Kingdom subjects living in other EEC countries to vote in direct elections. I do not think there is any real problem here. It has already been solved, I am given to understand, by Denmark and Holland. France has solved it in an even wider way by I think, giving the vote in European elections to all French subjects living in any country in the world, just as they do in French national elections. So it can be done even on that scale, although it is not what I myself would recommend. But we appear to be alone in doing nothing; and if we continue to do nothing we shall find ourselves in the extraordinary situation that a Frenchman living in Ireland, which has some very strange legislation on this subject which it has just passed, can vote twice, once for an Irish delegate and once for a French delegate, although the voter 719 is living in Ireland, whereas a British subject working in the Commission in Brussels cannot vote at all. That really seems to me to be a pretty absurd situation—I was going to say, an Irish situation.
We appear to be alone in doing nothing; and I very much hope that the noble Lord, Lord Harris, who has just returned to his scat, will take particular note of that point. I should like to tell him, if I may, that I have been talking, as have other noble Lords, about the fact that United Kingdom subjects living in other EEC countries will not be able to vote, and that we appear to be alone so far as this is concerned. I very much hope that the Government will consider very seriously putting down an Amendment in your Lordships' House; and I find it hard to believe, in spite of the rather ragged debate on the subject in another place, that such an Amendment would not be acceptable. There is certainly no administrative difficulty where this is concerned, because it would be necessary only to establish the principle, leaving the Home Office, as I understand it, to introduce the necessary regulations in the autumn.
My last point relates to the powers of the European Parliament. Before the Treaties were amended to increase the powers of the European Parliament, as I think we all know, the Luxembourg compromise would require unanimity in the Council of Ministers. It is inconceivable to me that a British Minister would give approval to amendments to the Treaty without being assured of support in the British Parliament. A directly-elected European Parliament would be bound to exercise greater power; for instance, in making the Council of Ministers and the European Commission more accountable for the policies they pursue—surely something which we all favour. The influence of the European Parliament, as opposed to its power, is already greater, I think, than is generally realised. This arises largely through what is generally called pre-legislative consultation, something which is very valuable indeed. There is, too, the regular dialogue with the Commission, even after draft legislation has been presented; and there is the joint consultation between the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers, something which can be developed still further.
720 So the European Parliament is gradually gaining in authority and influence, and that is much to be welcomed. The increase is its power and influence in these and other directions is, I think, inevitable, and will be setting a really first-class example where democracy is concerned; because real influence amounts in many ways to power, if not actually to "formal power", to use the words that the noble Lord, Lord Harris, used in introducing the Second Reading of this Bill.
The European Parliament should provide safeguards against too much executive power in too few hands; against the growth of a top-heavy bureaucracy that becomes a law unto itself and gets increasingly out of touch with public opinion. The late Sir Peter Kirk put this extrordinarily well in the first speech ever made by a British delegate to the European Parliament—a speech which my noble friend Lord Bessborough and I as his two Deputy Leaders heard with admiration. He said:The health of this Parliament is essential to the health of the Community as a whole. Without an effective Parliament our Community is in danger of strangling in bureaucracy or drowning in apathy.It could hardly be put better.
My Lords, I see the work of the European Parliament, as I think does the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood, to judge from his speech, as complementary to the scrutiny work done by the national Parliaments, perhaps even adding to it, and not as detracting from it. I am sure that noble Lords share my view that our main object where this Bill is concerned must be to speed it on its way. Disappointing as the Bill is in certain respects, it is all we have and we must make the best of a bad job and get the show on the road. To delay it unnecessarily, however good our intentions, could, I believe, all too easily kill it.
§ 4.11 p.m.
§ Lord MURRAY of GRAVESEND
My Lords, in welcoming the Bill, I should like to declare an interest because I would hope to be a candidate in the direct elections when they come. But if I am not successful in that ambition, then I should like to thank the Government for second best in at least being allowed to vote for the Labour candidate 721 as a Peer in that direct election. I think this Bill is necessary because I think it supports and strengthens what should be the Government commitment to the European ideal. What has happened, I am afraid, in the past couple of years is that the argument about direct elections has been an extension of the argument about Yes or No to Europe; and the fanatics on both sides, whose idea seems to be as unsinkable as the "Titanic", have used this argument as an extension of that argument. I hope that this Bill will settle it once and for all. I am doubtful about that, but I think it drives another nail into the coffin of those who would want to sow dissension and not just to say No to direct elections but No to Europe completely and have us out of the EEC by tomorrow morning at the latest.
I think we have to show to our neighbours in the Community that we intend to be full Members and not half-hearted Members of the Community, as it sometimes appears; because I believe that when the British people voted in the referendum in June 1975 they were voting for more than was on the ballot paper; they are not simple enough to be confused by just Yes or No. In that referendum, which resulted in overwhelming support for Britain's remaining in the Market, I believe that they voted for a commitment to Europe, and within that commitment for Britain and themselves to play a greater role in the Community.
I think that we should be unwise to accept all the blame which is being pushed on to Britain for the delay in the direct elections, because there have been delays in other countries within the Community. They have had their difficulties; they have had their arguments within their political Parties and within their Parliaments about the timing of the direct elections and about the method of direct elections. Last year in an opinion poll taken within the Community it was shown that at least two other nations of those polled were against having direct elections, and indeed five nations, including Germany, one of the strongest Members of the Community, were two to one in terms of indifference, as against the United Kingdom, to the direct elections. I think that to some extent there has been an attempt within Europe, and within our own country and Parliament, to blame Britain for the slowness of the direct elections.
722 Most concern I think has been shown over the question of the powers of the new European Parliament. The French, within the Act they passed, have made it clear that in fact it will mean no greater powers for the European Parliament. This is linked with the arguments against federalism. Those that have been violently anti-Market have used the direct elections argument in saying that it is the road to federalism. It may well be. Nations within Europe may change their minds about federalism. I am certain that if you had taken an opinion poll in the dark days of 1940/41 among people coming out of air raid shelters and had asked them whether they wanted a trade alliance with Germany and Italy, the answer would have been less than enthusiastic. I think that nations change their minds. If it means, in the years to come, that this will lead to federalism, it will be as a result of public and Parliamentary opinion moving towards this goal. I do not think that we can say that there will never be federalism within Europe. We must accept that opinion will change in these matters, and if it does it will be, I hope, through the will of the people.
So far as the method of elections is concerned, I should, for two reasons, have preferred to have had some system of proportional representation. One would have been that within five years we have to slot into a uniform European system of elections and it is very doubtful whether the rest of our neighbours in Europe will say that they will opt for the first-past-the-post system. One of the other reasons, which is a bald political reason, is that I think there would have been more seats in the proportional representation system for the Labour Party as opposed to the first-past-the-post system.
What I want to see in Europe is a Socialist Parliament. I want to see the Socialists, as they are now in the present European Parliament, as the major Party; and to achieve that we need more Labour seats than we shall get in the first-past-the-post system. Fortunately, with the systems that will be operating within the Parliament, I would have guessed that we shall get a Socialist majority within that Parliament; and certainly I am hopeful of that. My Lords, I think that the Bill has its defects—as I have said, and one is the matter of proportional representation 723 —but I think it is to be welcomed. I think that this House should give its wholehearted support for a speedy passage to this Bill, thus strengthening the European ideal.
§ 4.18 p.m.
§ Lord DRUMALBYN
My Lords, like other speakers in this debate, I should like to start by welcoming this Bill on direct elections. Like others who have spoken in it, I have my reservations. In the first place, I am very glad to see that the regional list system has been dropped. I find myself at variance with the noble Lord, Lord Murray of Gravesend, partly because I believe that we in this country vote for the candidate and not for the Party. We do not vote the ticket. Only very recently have we even shown on the voting paper the name of the Party to which the candidate owes allegiance. To meet particular circumstances, we may compromise a little on this, but I believe that we ought not to throw away the principle. I think that we would do that at our peril. If Parties had distinctive attitudes towards the Community there might be some reason for the emphasis on the Party, but attitudes cut right across Parties—even across the Liberal Party.
One of the most important points made—it was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, himself, and it was strongly developed by the noble Lord, Lord Thomson—is that under this Bill we are going to have European constituencies. This will have the greatest educational value because it will open the eyes of the electors—in many cases for the first time—to the meaning of the Community and to what is its real impact on our daily lives. That is itself of very great value.
I do not think that we can consider in a debate like this the character of the electoral system that we ought to have unless we also consider the purpose for which candidates are being elected. What are the functions of the Assembly? The Assembly has great authority and influence. It has no powers except the power to dismiss the Commission with a two-thirds majority. What are the functions? I would put them as three-fold: first, to examine what the Commission are proposing and to restrain the Commission 724 from unwise proposals. Secondly, to suggest to the Commission what they might propose. Thirdly—and perhaps most important of all—to think about and discuss the long-term development of the Community and the ways in which its unity of purpose and of action can best be promoted.
Needless to say, the representatives of the various countries will be concerned to ensure that the interests of their country and of their constituencies are strongly advocated and, so far as possible, safeguarded. Each Assembly Member is there to make his own individual contribution through his own political experience and his own knowledge of his constituency towards fashioning the future of the Community and developing a sound and lasting union of a kind which has no precedent in history.
I suggest that the candidates at the direct elections should belong to the constituencies which they seek to represent. It happens in the United States of America and I see no reason why it should not happen here. I do not mean that they should currently reside in constituencies, but their roots should be there. Whether the Bill should provide for this is a matter for discussion. I recognise that this may exclude highly eligible candidates because there is available an even more eligible local candidate—if a constituency of half a million souls can be called "local" But the principle that it is the constituency that is to be represented too is important to allow that disadvantage to be treated as overriding.
Direct elections are surely intended to mean that countries are not sending national blocs to the Assembly but are sending representatives of the various and diverse parts of their land. Where elections to a European Assembly—especially one without legislative powers—are concerned. I do not believe that Party considerations should be dominant. Candidates for election to an Assembly without powers are not being elected as lobby fodder. It is not the Parties we should want to represented but the people and the constituencies. That is one good reason why we should not have the regional list system, which the Home Secretary described in his Second. Reading speech as "the elector voting for the Party."
725 What matters for the good of this country and for the Community is that each constituency should return its best candidates. I hope that a high proportion of electors will vote for the men and women rather than for the Party label, that they will vote for the best qualified and the most sensible person for the job that the Assembly has to do. It may be that direct elections will lead in the end to the formation of Community Parties in the Assembly; perhaps in the course of time there could be one Party which favours stronger central government and another laying more stress on State rights, as used to be the case in the United States of America. But that will not be so in the first elections to the Assembly.
What then, my Lords, is the system that will be the best for this purpose? The single transferable vote system? That is favoured by the Liberal Party. The main defect is that it is complicated and, except in Northern Ireland, unfamiliar to the electorate. Therefore, there is not much point in changing to a complicated system just for one election. Under the first-past-the-post system the constituencies would be much smaller, a mere 400,000 to 600,000 electors, I suppose. The results, however, could be so unfair as to bring the whole system into contempt. For example, I have been told that if the Scottish National Party scored 27 per cent. of the vote in Scotland, it might not win a seat; but if it scored 38 per cent., it would gain all eight seats. It seems to me that both Scotland and the United Kingdom—and even the Scottish National Party itself—might find this embarrassing. The outcome for the United Kingdom as a whole might be grotesquely unrepresentative. Personally, I would prefer the additional member system on the West German model, as adapated, if I may say so, in the Mackintosh-Kershaw Amendment at the Committee stage of the Scotland Bill in another place. Adapted, my Lords, but not adopted.
The constituencies would be somewhat larger than under the first-past-the-post system. How much larger depends on the proportion of the total number of seats reserved for added members. Under this system, the additional Members would be chosen on a regional basis from the losing candidates with the highest proportion of votes in the individual constituencies so as to equate roughly the 726 number of Members of each Party to the number of votes cast for them in the regions. Alternatively, on the West German model, Parties could nominate candidates who had fought and been defeated in the election.
The reason why I prefer this system is that, first, it will give both a wider and fairer coverage of various shades of opinion than the other three systems. Secondly, so far as the elector is concerned, he would vote in the same way as he does at present, and therefore there would be no change for the electorate. Thirdly, the link between the elected candidate and the constituency will be preserved as under the first-past-the-post system, even though the constituencies will be rather larger. The additional Members will represent the region rather than the constituencies. Lastly, the adoption of this system need not add to the time required to prepare for the first elections, given that drafting could be done while the Bill is still going through this House, nor need it hold up the passage of this Bill for more than a week or a fortnight for the time the Bill would go back for consideration in another place and possibly come back here again.
It may be said that it would be difficult to add Members separately for Scotland and Wales because of the smallness of the allocation of seats for those two countries. I see no difficulty. Scotland's eight seats could include two for added members, and the four seats for Wales could include one for an added member. There is of course the proportional representation single vote system on the Finnish model, but that suffers from the same disadvantage, in that it would be based on a regional system and would produce regional and not constituency Members and therefore weakens the constituency link. I have stressed throughout in what I have had to say the great importance of the constituency link. Large as the constituencies will be, this will be very important for the future of the Assembly and for the educative process of electors.
Traditionally, the main argument for the first-past-the-post system is that it tends to favour strong and stable Government. The argument, to put it midly, has worn rather thin in the past few years. But what matters in considering the electoral system for the European Assembly 727 is that the argument is totally irrelevant. We are not concerned with government; we are concerned with an Assembly without legislative powers—with authority and influence, but no powers. The object should be to ensure that the British contingent in the European Assembly represents all statistically significant opinion in the United Kingdom. As I have said, the first-past-the-post system could produce results which would make us a laughing-stock in Europe. Our partners in the Community might well ask: "Cannot the Mother of Parliaments devise something more appropriate than this?"
Before I sit down, I would wish to pay a very genuine tribute to those from both Houses of Parliament who have been representing the United Kingdom in the Assembly. Sitting both in Parliament and in the Assembly has put a heavy burden on them, and a burden which may well have cost Peter Kirk his life. One advantage of the present system of appointment is that it has enabled the representatives in the Assembly to keep closely in touch with Parliament here. It is by no means clear how directly-elected Members of the Assembly will in future keep in touch with Parliament in this country.
Finally, I hope it is not too late to reconsider the electoral system to be adopted in the first elections. I believe that the system at present enshrined in the Bill is inappropriate and that it will suggest to our partners in the Community that we are not treating direct elections to the Assembly as seriously as the matter deserves. Should it prove impossible within the time to proceed with something of the nature of the additional member system, so be it: we cannot say more than that. However, I hope at any rate that Britain will, between now and the second elections, be pressing for a system along the lines that I have suggested.
§ 4.33 p.m.
Lord BRUCE of DONINGTON
My Lords, I should like to ask the indulgence of my noble friend Lord Harris, of the noble Baroness, Lady Elles, and of the noble Lord, Lord Banks, for the fact that I was unable, being absent on EEC 728 business, to have the advantage of listening to what they had to say. I trust the House will grant me its indulgence also.
I cannot entirely share the atmosphere of euphoria which has characterised so many of the speeches made by your Lordships so far. It seems to me that this euphoria rests on a number of assumptions which, however desirable they may be and however attractive they may appear, do not really conform to the facts of the situation or indeed to the prospect, in so far as that can be foreseen. I have noticed in previous debates that have taken place on this subject in your Lordships' House—and there have been eight on this very subject prior to this one today, all on the subject of direct elections—that enthusiastic reference has been made to the "European Parliament". This is, of course, an error that the Bill before your Lordships does not fall into. It calls it "an assembly", which of course is all that it is. It may well be that with the passage of time it may become a Parliament, although the time-span is somewhat uncertain; but it is not—I repeat not—at the present time a Parliament in the sense that we in the United Kingdom understand that term.
It has no powers to legislate; no Governments are put in or out of Office as a result of its votes and it cannot even propose legislation. It has a certain number of limited powers but it can initiate very little at all. Moreover, within the text of the existing Bill appears an almost faithful reproduction of a provision in the French Bill and of one shortly to be incorporated into the Dutch Bill. It will be noted that there can be no increase in the powers of the European Assembly without Parliament's consent and, as I say, there are exactly the same provisions in France, in the Netherlands and also. I believe, in Denmark. So it is important that we should not raise a lot of false hopes by assuming that the European Assembly, directly elected, will be able to do the same kinds of things on a European scale as the British Parliament is able to do in relation to the United Kingdom.
The Press and the media are already conscious of this. They are only interested in where power is and that may perhaps explain why, apart from organs such as The Times, the Guardian and the Financial Times, the media, including the 729 broadcasting media, almost completely ignore the entire proceedings of the European Parliament—the European Assembly—whether it meets in Strasbourg, in Luxembourg or wherever it may be. It is not a matter of news so far as the British media are concerned. Why is that? The reason surely is that the media know full well that the European Assembly has no power, and therefore give it the news importance relative to its power. It may well be that over the passage of time it will acquire new powers and that interest will grow accordingly. But I suggest that, if we exaggerate the importance of this Bill beyond its real factual content, we are doing not only Britain but also Europe a grave disservice.
There are times when the pursuit of an ideal, expressed in idealistic terms, serves an uplifting purpose and also helps to focus our minds on those aims and purposes which must essentially remain to some extent in the future. All this is wise, but it is never wise to keep one's mind permanently concentrated on the distant vistas without paying attention to the practical problems of today. Generally speaking, that is the way in which the activities of the European Parliament tend to be treated by the media today, precisely because they do not realise the extent of its involvement with day-to-day affairs—again understandably, because it has very little power to influence what happens in Europe. I fear that the powers of the European Assembly to influence events in Europe will be lessened, rather than increased, by the passage of this Bill.
Many noble Lords have referred to the undue delays that have taken place on the part of the United Kingdom in opting for direct elections. Of course, we now know that, when it has passed through Parliament as a whole, this Bill will be at a more advanced stage than the legislation in at least three other Member States, and I sincerely hope that the same pressure will be applied upon them as has been applied upon us. It is a good Bill, in the sense that it expresses the wishes of another place, and I sincerely trust that your Lordships' House will give it a smooth passage precisely on those grounds alone.
But one should realise that the extent to which Europe has worked more closely together during the last two or three 730 years has been very largely due to the existence of the dual mandate. Reports of disagreements among the Nine are about the only matters that are reported in the Press. What is not reported is the very large measure of agreement that has been achieved over very wide fields among the nine Member States. Nor is it generally realised that the degree to which cohesion has been achieved has been very largely due to the degree of influence which the dual mandated MPs have been able to exercise upon their own Governments—who, indeed, are chosen from their ranks—and also to the fact that the Commission, knowing the powers of existing Members of Parliament within their own Parliaments under the dual mandate, have tended to give Parliaments' activities in the European Parliament a greater degree of respect than might otherwise have been the case.
One thing is quite certain. The newly-elected members of the European Assembly will have no power base in the United Kingdom, save that which rests on their election from a very wide and diffuse constituency approximately eight times the size of an existing constituency. I share the caution of my noble friend Lord Greenwood of Rossendale, that progress on that account alone will be very limited, and that it may well emerge that the powers and influence of the directly elected Members of Parliament will probably—at any rate, for some time—be less than the influence at present exercised by those elected under the dual mandate. So that we should not expect miracles.
Turning to one isolated aspect of the Bill relating to election expenses, which may attract your Lordships' attention at a later stage, legislation in the United Kingdom is at present fairly restrictive. It defines certain dates beyond which it is not possible for campaigns to be entered into on behalf of political Parties, without attracting a certain liability from the candidate himself in relation to that expenditure. I do not know to what extent this has been anticipated by Her Majesty's Government, but I can foresee difficulties arising. As is known, the Commission itself will be an active participant in the election. It will spend the equivalent of some 5,000 million European units of account on publicising Europe, on publicising the Community—
§ Lord ARDWICK
My Lords, if my noble friend will forgive me for interrupting, I think that the intention of the Commission, and of the Parliament, is to engage in a campaign before the political election campaign begins.
Lord BRUCE of DONINGTON
My Lords, I am grateful for the intervention of my noble friend. But that is not the position as I have understood it, particularly in regard to timing, because at the time when the expenditure came before the Budgets Committee it was confidently anticipated that the elections would take place this year. Furthermore, from the conversations that I have had on this subject with Members of the Commission, including the President of the Commission himself, it is quite clear that there will be publicity from the Commission immediately before the election, in the course of which campaign Commission policies will be outlined.
§ Lord GLADWYN
My Lords, is the noble Lord really correct in saying that the Commission has the intention of spending no less than 5,000 million units of account? Is not that £2,500 million?
Lord BRUCE of DONINGTON
My Lords, I am grateful for the correction of the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn. The amount is 5 million units of account. The noble Lord will appreciate that, in connection with the Budget, I am so used to dealing with thousands of millions these days that, perhaps occasionally, I may be forgiven a slip. But I still want to confront your Lordships with some considerations that arise from that.
There will be certain candidates in the election, not necessarily confined to any one of the political Parties, who will venture to support the Commission's concept of what it ought to do, and the Commission's account of what it has done. There will be other candidates who will dissent from what the Commission has done, and may dissent from the Commission's proposals; and indeed its whole angle towards progress in the future. This means to say that one set of candidates will, in effect, be backed by the publicity of the Commission itself, which will be fairly powerful, while the other set which dissents from the Commission's whole attitude towards the common agricultural 732 policy, the fisheries policy, the regional policy or whatever it may be, will be disadvantaged, because they will have no Commission on their side with supporting publicity. I do not want to exaggerate the importance of this matter, but it is a very important factor and I should have thought—
§ Baroness ELLES
. My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for allowing me to intervene. May I draw his attention to Article 4 of the Decision of 20th September 1976, which states that representatives shall vote on an individual and personal basis, and shall not be bound by any instructions or receive a binding mandate. I should have thought that that would apply to all candidates standing for any Party, and I do not think they could be pro or against the Commission, or have the Commission's support or not have it. Each individual candidate will be responsible for his own policy and support the policy of his own political Party.
Lord BRUCE of DONINGTON
My Lords, I am well aware of the point made by the noble Baroness, but I think that she has altogether missed my argument. What I am saying is that there may be one set of candidates, or even an individual candidate, who conscientiously believe that substantial portions of the Commission's policy carried out so far are wrong, and that its proposals for the future are either wholly or partially wrong. Such candidates will be at a disadvantage, compared with those candidates who wholeheartedly support the Commission's line, and who are, in effect, being assisted by Commission propaganda. I should have thought—
§ Lord HARMAR-NICHOLLS
My Lords, the noble Lord has raised a rather important point. I hope that he is not suggesting for one minute that the Commission would identify individual candidates who are with them for their advantage and those who are against them for their disadvantage.
Lord BRUCE of DONINGTON
Certainly not, my Lords. I would make no suggestion of that kind. But may I draw the attention of the noble Baroness to the document put forward on this matter by the Commission, which is Cmnd. 77114 Final of 25th March 1977, 733 where she will see exactly what kind of propaganda the Commission propose to put forward. It has to tell of the Community's successes and difficulties, its origin and its future. It will put forward the common policies that have been put forward by the Commission. There may be some dissent as to whether these policies are right or wrong. All I am saying is that one section of candidates may gain an advantage through the massive propaganda of the Commission, whereas other candidates who dissent may not. I should have thought that, by and large, it would be far better if the Commission kept out of direct elections altogether. If the European Assembly is to have its own elections, let them be fought out in exactly the same manner as Parliamentary elections are fought out—that is, without the organised intervention of the Executive in this way.
Subject to that point, which may be taken up in Committee and which my noble friend may care to expatiate on when he replies, I am happy to ask your Lordships to agree to the Second Reading of the Bill. It will not be an historic occasion, as will be found out hereafter. However, since so much discussion has taken place upon it—there have been about 20 debates in both Houses—let us pass this quite harmless piece of legislation in the hope that in the future something significant may emerge from its provisions. I can see nothing of very great significance emerging from it immediately. One only hopes that the wisdom of men in Europe may ultimately be able to create a European Parliament; which will certainly not be created from the Bill in its present form.
§ Lord ROBBINS
My Lords, in the course of his very pungent observations, the noble Lord seemed to refer with some complacency to the neglect by the media of the proceedings of the European Assembly. May I ask the noble Lord whether or not he would feel a spot of satisfaction if prominence were given by the media to the observations which he has just delivered?
Lord BRUCE of DONINGTON
My Lords, I apologise if I gave the impression that I am complacent about this in any way. I am not. It is a scandal that the media do not report these events so that 734 the public at large may judge them. I sincerely hope that in the future the media will see fit to give as much prominence to the constructive words of wisdom that will undoubtedly be spoken by the directly elected Members of the European Parliament as they do to some of the scandals of a slightly more salacious type which adorn their pages at present.
§ 4.53 p.m.
§ Lord O'HAGAN
My Lords, from this position on these Benches I had hoped to add a few brief, tender words of welcome to this new baby which will be growing up into the European Parliament that both the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, and I want to see develop over the years. However, after some of the comments which the noble Lord has just made I am afraid that I must go back to first principles. Once again the Whips have put me in a position to speak immediately after the noble Lord, so that he and I are taking up a sparring partnership on European matters. It is not, of course, based on any personal malice on my part; as the noble Lord knows, it comes from a real understanding of the major contribution which he has made to the working of the European Parliament as Rapporteur for the Budget.
So far as the noble Lord's most recent comment about the nature of the Commission's participation in direct elections is concerned, I share his anxiety that if the Commission in Brussels became involved directly in the Party political campaign it would be not only dangerous but could lead to the most unlikely and undesirable consequences. I hope that the noble Lord will agree with me that the Commission has a continual role: to inform the public about the nature of the decisions taken by the European Community, to give publicity to draft proposals, and in general, through its information offices, to spread knowledge about the way that the Community works. Surely that role should continue in the run-up to the direct elections campaign.
§ Lord O'HAGAN
My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Lord would allow me to finish, since I have been speaking for only 735 a minute. The point upon which the noble Lord was laying particular stress was this: that certain candidates might be benefited by propaganda or by the dissemination of information by the Commission because they were in favour of what the Commission had done, whereas others would be disadvantaged because they were against what the Commission had done. On the whole, candidates fighting in the elections for the directly elected European Parliament will be neither totally in favour nor totally against what the Commission is doing. Their Parties will pick out areas in which they believe that the Commission has done well, while in other areas there will be criticism of the Commission. Therefore I believe that the specific fear of the noble Lord about the intervention of the Commission in direct elections is based on a not wholly realistic prognosis of elections, although I admit that the noble Lord knows more about elections than I do.
Lord BRUCE of DONINGTON
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. I am concerned not so much about the exercise of the Commission's duty to inform the public of what it is doing as about continued justification and argument in support of what it has done against other arguments that tend to negative what it has done. I was concerned more about the Commission getting involved in the argument rather than about its reportage and its duty to inform, which it must continue to do.
§ Lord O'HAGAN
My Lords, the Commission will have to be very careful about how it gets involved in the argument, but it is inevitable that it will be involved in it because it is an essential part of the working of the Community.
May I turn to the main purpose of today's debate and reply to what the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, saw as his purpose in intervening, which was to disperse euphoria, to dash some false hopes and to stop looking at the distant vistas. I believe that the Bill that we have before us today is not a Bill for federalists or for Europeans. It is a Bill for democrats. It is a Bill for everybody, because all of the people in this country will now be given the chance to send their representatives to Strasbourg—or, as I hope it will be soon, 736 to Brussels all the time—to argue persistently for the type of European Economic Community which they and their constituents believe to be the most desirable.
Is it really feasible that the great mass of the British public want a leap, a surge towards federalism? Is it really conceivable that the Danes or the French will be giving away any more of their national sovereignty simply by committing themselves to this act of setting up direct elections? We are going to have much more direct representation of the people's views at the centre of the Community's institutions than we have had up to date. I find it strange that the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, and some members of his Party can argue against more direct communication and more direct transmission of the people's views to the centre of the European institutions. We all know that we have given away some sovereignty, or have pooled it by joining the Community. The way to reclaim it is by sending over to Brussels full-time people to speak up on our behalf.
The noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, made other points, but may I concentrate upon the necessity to make this Bill work. I believe that the Bill will not alter at once the way in which the Community functions. I share that view with the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington. This new institution will take some time to settle down. People will have to get used to working within it. Many of them may never have been in a Parliament before. The question of immediate granting of new powers is scarcely raised, because these people will take some time to accustom themselves to using the old powers they already have and to learning how to use them. I think any question of new powers is not one which should alarm us.
The noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, and others who think like him, need not worry about talk of distant vistas and unrealistic dreams for the future. This is something that happens in the Commission from time to time; we all know this. There are some people there who have to justify their existence by turning out proposals, often for harmonisation. These need bringing down to earth. These people need stopping in their tracks. They are, by definition, remote from public opinion in 737 that amazing Berlaymont building in Brussels; they feel as if they are going into space, not constructing Europe. That is what we need these elected European Parliamentarians for; we want them to make this distancy of vistas realistic and to make those proposals something workable and useful and really down to earth.
My Lords, I do not want to take up your Lordships' time any longer. Speaking as, I hope a prospective candidate, perhaps I should declare an interest, and, it may be useful to have one voice in this debate looking forward to what the role of this new type of Parliamentarian will be. I would very much go along with the list of subjects that my noble friend Lord Drumalbyn put forward as a likely workload for a European Parliamentarian. Of course, these British European Parliamentarians will have to work together with their counterparts in the House of Commons. There is going to be necessity for machinery to be set up to liaise with them, so that in such matters as applications to the Social Fund, applications for ECSC grants and loans and all that sort of thing, each of the two sides of the Parliamentary sphere will know what the other is doing. But the most important role—and I hope the noble Lord, Lord Murray of Gravesend, would agree with rue in this—is to act as a continual regional ambassador, if you like, a spokesman for the concerns within the areas which these European Parliamentarians represent, and as a transmitter of information from Brussels and the European institutions to the areas which the European Parliamentarians will represent.
§ Lord BOOTHBY
My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord one question? How does he think a European Parliament, directly elected, but independent altogether of the national Parliaments, is going to exercise any really influence or power?
§ Lord O'HAGAN
My Lords, I am delighted the noble Lord has intervened, because that was my closing point. If these European Parliamentarians are to be really effective they must liaise closely with the national Parliaments. It is going to be a difficult matter. Therefore I welcome the initiative of the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood of Rossendale, in setting 738 up a sub-committee to look at the relationship between the European Parliament and our own Palace of Westminister. This is something which can only be worked out gradually. There will have to be a series of links between the civil servants who work for the European Parliament, and the groups within the Parliament, and the civil servants who work here, and the Party political structures here. There is no simple or automatic answer. But there is one way in which this link between the two Parliaments can be made, and that is by sending as many Peers as possible to the European Parliament. I urge all of your Lordships to consider standing. If I can give any tips to your Lordships about the likely lifestyle and conditions, I hope the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, and I can at least agree on this matter. Otherwise, I give this Bill my blessing.
§ 5.5 p.m.
§ Lord WALSTON
My Lords, in company with all noble Lords who have spoken today, I welcome this Bill, but I must confess that my welcome is somewhat grudging. It is gruding on two counts; in the first place, the Bill arrives here too late; it should have been here many months earlier; and, in the second place, and more importantly, I regret that it does not contain the recommendation of Her Majesty's Government for a regional list but instead has decided in favour of the system known as first-past-the-post. I do not want to spend a great deal of time on this issue, because we shall probably be coming back to it in Committee, but I do think there are three points which are worth making, even though they have been made on many occasions before.
The first is this. As the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, and others have quite rightly pointed out, the European Parliament is in no way analogous to the British Parliament. It is not a legislative body, it is simply a consultative body. I think it is perhaps worth remembering that all Parliaments have started in that way; in most cases, certainly in Europe, the early Parliaments were simply a gathering together of certain people, elected on a very limited franchise, to advise the Sovereign, to express their views, to give an indication of what might be possible and what might not be possible, 739 and no more than that. Power resided elsewhere, and that is exactly the case with the European Parliament.
I have no objection to it being called a Parliament rather than an Assembly so long as we realise the very great difference between a consultative assembly and a legislative body. That being so, there is no reason whatever for us to say that because we have always elected or today elect our national Parliament in such and such a way it is essential that we should stick to such a way for the European Parliament. It is a different body that we are electing.
I would also suggest that the Member of the European Parliament is a different animal to the Member of the United Kingdom Parliament. He has a different role to fulfil, and different functions. We all know that his constituency, however it is to be delimited, will be a very much larger constituency than the constituencies of the United Kingdom Parliament. It will in many cases contain something like half a million people. It is impossible for any Member of Parliament adequately to represent half a million people as individuals. He cannot hold surgeries and be available to half a million people to come with all their problems. He cannot cope with the multitude of problems that arise and all the different personal factors dealing with which is such an important part of the role of the British Parliamentarian. What he must be, as I think Lord O'Hagan said, is an ambassador for his constituency; he must represent the interests of his constituency and he must be available to all the different interests and pressure groups of his constituency.
§ Lord SOMERS
My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord for one moment? Is it not true to say that any Member of the European Parliament is representing not his constituency but his country as a whole?
§ Lord WALSTON
My Lords, I hope it is certainly not true to say that. In my view, he must represent his constituency and the interests of his constituency. He does not go there as a national delegate, waving his Union Jack of Tricolour or whatever it may be. He goes there as the 740 representative of the constituency of a certain part of London, of East Anglia, of Wessex or whatever it may be, to represent their interests, to look after their interests and to promote the efficient government of the European Community as a whole. Therefore, we cannot argue that it is essential to follow the pattern that has already been laid down. We can start, if we so wish, with a completely clean sheet because we are electing a different type of person to a different type of Assembly.
The second point that I should like to make is that the Members of the European Parliament from, let us say, this country must bear some relationship—indeed, as close as possible—to the general political complexion of their country. We know that under our present system of first-past-the-post it is very rare for either of the major Parties to get more than 5 per cent. more votes than its nearest rival. Yet, it is quite frequent, and not by any means undesirable, that in spite of having only 5 per cent., or fewer, of the majority of the votes a Party may have a majority in the House of Commons of 60 seats or more. In other words, our present system frequently exaggerates the general national trend.
Lord BRUCE of DONINGTON
My Lords, I am obliged to the noble Lord, Lord Walston, for giving way. Earlier the noble Lord emphasised that, according to his way of thinking, the new elected Members of Parliament would, in fact, represent a region and would not be waving Union Jacks, Tricolours or whatever it may be. In those circumstances of what relevance is the national complexion of the Members themselves?
§ Lord WALSTON
My Lords, the relevance is that we happen to belong to individual countries and therefore we cannot divorce ourselves from that fact even if we wish to do so, and I do not think that many of us would wish to do that. Moreover, it is also relevant to remember that on the whole the attitudes of mind, and the interests even, of different regions within the United Kingdom, bear a closer relationship to each other than they do with, let us say, Sicily, Bavaria or Southern France. That, to my mind, is the relevance of the national aspect.
741 I shall return to the second point that I was making. If we adhere to the system of first-past-the-post, it may very well be that, although the total number of votes cast for the Conservative Party and the Labour Party—I hope that my Liberal friends will forgive me for excluding them, but it simplifies the argument to have just the two Parties—was between 40 and 45 per cent., as is normal in a General Election, showing a very even balance throughout the country, out of the 81 Members, 60 may belong to the Conservative Party and 21 to the Labour Party. That is not a very effective balance and not a very effective way of representing the political mix that exists in this country at any given time.
Even more important, although that imbalance may not be of very great significance, provided we have a Conservative Government, if the Government were to change—we must remember that the European Parliament is not synchronous with our own Parliament and therefore it will change during the lifetime of Parliament—we could well find ourselves with a situation where our European Members of Parliament still comprised 60 Conservative and 21 Labour Members and yet we have a Labour Government. That could not lead to an effective and happy relationship between the United Kingdom Government and Parliament and the British Members of the European Parliament which all those who have taken part in this debate have said they desire. Therefore, on that ground also, I suggest that the system advocated in the present Bill is by no means the right one.
The third point that I should like to make, which was made by my noble friend Lord Thomson of Monifieth, is that this system of election is only for the life of the present European Parliament. Eventually, after this one, or possibly with one delay, there will be a common system, and undoubtedly that system will be something closer to some form of proportional representation. I suggest, in the first place, that it is better for us to have a system today which is moving in that direction. Secondly, I would say to those who are afraid of anything approaching proportional representation—even the very cautious approach of the regional list—and who oppose it on the grounds that it is the thin end of the wedge and creating a precedent for our own 742 Parliamentary elections, that that argument cannot hold water for not only the reasons I have already given (that the type of Assembly is different and the type of Member is different) but also for the reason that it is for only a very limited period of five years. For those reasons, I believe that the Government, although timorous, were right to put forward their original proposals, and it is most unfortunate that they were not able to press those proposals with sufficient strength in order to obtain the support of all the Members of another place.
Finally, I should like to reinforce what other noble Lords have said concerning the need for far greater thought than has been given so far to the contacts between the Members of the European Parliament and our own organisations at home. I deliberately say, "organisations", because although primarily it is a question of contact between Members of the European Parliament and Members of Westminster, it is also a question of contact between the Parties to whom the Members of the European Parliament belong; between those Parties in this country and their European counterparts; between Members at Party level as well as at purely political level; and contact—as much as is possible—between all the officials who are engaged and who play such a vital role in the Governments of the European Community.
Although I share the pleasure that has been expressed as regards the activities of my noble friend Lord Greenwood of Rossendale and his Committee in giving thought to this matter, I would urge other Members who have great experience and great wisdom to turn their minds to this problem. The real success of the whole concept of Europe, of the Economic Community and of the political rapprochement of the countries composing the European Economic Community, will depend upon the close working together of national Governments, the European Commission, the Council of Ministers and Parliament, and the slow changes in emphasis of the responsibilities and power as between one group and another. Those are the things to which we must now look forward and we must do all we can to ensure that the new "baby" of the European Parliament grows and develops not over the centuries, as other Parliaments have done, but over the decades.
§ 5.19 p.m.
§ Lord MONSON
My Lords, not for the first time I feel somewhat like Daniel in the lions' den, given that I think every speaker until now in a fairly long list has been in favour of this Bill—indeed, some very strongly in favour. However, I am fortified by the knowledge that outside the "den"—if I may so term it—the majority of people in this country have come to share my views on the merits, or rather the demerits, of Britain's membership of the EEC, as recent public opinion polls have demonstrated.
At least one noble Lord has pointed out that in 1975 the British public voted by a majority of over two to one to stay in the Community. Indeed, they did: precisely as I forecast—and in the same proportions—in your Lordships' House five-and-a-half-weeks before the referendum. I refer your Lordships to the Official Report of 29th April 1975, col. 1222. How could it be otherwise when the pro-Market lobby had at least 20 times as much funds, directly and indirectly, at its disposal as the anti-Market camp, and when every national daily large-circulation newspaper was editorially committed to a "Yes" vote.
But I think that if the "Yes" campaigners are honest with themselves, they will concede that the passionate, committed European idealists comprised no more than 10 per cent. to 15 per cent. of those voting "Yes". The rest did so faute de mieux, as they conceived it, with resignation rather than with enthusiasm. Indeed, I suspect that the majority of Conservatives. Liberals and Labour moderates who voted "Yes" were not so much passion ately for the European Economic Community as passionately against Mr. Anthony Wedgwood Benn. It must have been rather disconcerting to such people when Mr. Benn accepted the electorate's verdict with such alacrity—as many of us suspected he would do all along. Perhaps this is not so surprising when one considers that the policies of M. Mitterand's Socialist Party—which looks like coming to power in France shortly in coalition with its Communist allies—are to the left of those of the Tribune Group, and this is really saying something.
Why has the Market become so unpopular in Britain? Part of the reason is 744 what Professor Ralf Dahrendorf—a commited enthusiast for the EEC, of course, but a sensible one—has castigated as "obsessive harmonisation". No sooner has one silly idea, like the standardisation of bread and beer, been knocked down than another one pops up to take its place. Only yesterday we read that the EEC is pressing British rail to make school children pay full fares on trains from the age of 12 instead of from the age of 14. The irony of all this is that in the United States of America such obsessive harmonisation does not exist. Every State of the Union is free to decide for itself on such diverse and wide-ranging matters as the retention or otherwise of capital punishment, the age at which a person can marry or obtain a driving licence, whether or not alcohol can be consumed, the conditions for the issue of gun licences, speed limits, the taxation on packets of cigarettes, and so on and so forth.
The next reason is the exploding of the always astonishing assertion that adherents to the EEC would in some undefined way transform the cultural and, indeed, the spiritual scene in Britain—that somehow our exposure to Bach, Beethoven, Verdi, Goethe, Dante, Racine, Molière, and so forth would be doubled or trebled by a "Yes" vote. This was always extraordinary logic, but it appears that some people fell for it in 1975.
Next there is the question of our defences. If there is one valid reason which I would concede for giving up or at least pooling some of one's sovereignty, it is surely in the field of defence. Yet there is no greater degree of real cooperation in defence matters now than there was a few years ago. I need hardly remind your Lordships that NATO is by no means synonymous with the EEC; while, on the other hand, one very prominent member of the EEC is, for all practical purposes, outside NATO and is likely to remain so if the imminent elections in France go as predicted.
What does that leave us with? Surely only the material benefits to be derived from EEC membership, if, indeed, they exist on a net basis—that is to say, if the advantages to Britain outweigh the disadvantages; in other words, sheer, down-to-earth pork-barrel politics. In passing, I may say that it looks as though our fishermen, and our farmers who are trying to export lamb to France at the moment, 745 are getting no more than a few gristly lumps of congealed lard from their respective barrels!
If my assumption is right, how will this affect the role of the Members of the European Assembly? If one accepts that the industrialised world in general and Western Europe in particular had gone "ex-growth"—partly as a result of the quadrupling of the oil price and the consequent slow down in world trade and generalised lack of confidence, and partly because the supposed benefits of mergers, amalgamations and giant multinational corporations (old-hat concepts dating from the early 1960s) are now seen to be illusory, such economies of scale as there are being outweighed by the poorer labour relations inherent in large manufacturing units—then it seems clear that benefits conferred on one region within the EEC, whether by way of grants, subsidies or temporary protective tariffs, can be paid for only by indirect levies upon other regions. They will not necessarily be richer regions; they could be those simply less capable of throwing their weight around—those with less political clout, as the saying goes.
To the extent that it is the relatively richer regions that must pay, Britain will certainly fall into that category once poorer countries like Spain, Portugal, Greece and ultimately perhaps Turkey, enter the Community. It will no longer be possible for us collectively to hold out the begging bowl, particularly as the present generation of West Germans understandably no longer feel personal guilt about what happened 35 to 40 years ago, and are no longer prepared to act as the uncomplaining paymasters of the EEC.
If Members of the Assembly wish to have any chance of retaining their seats, therefore, they will have to put the wishes and interests of their constituents first and considerations about being "good Europeans" second. By "good Europeans" I mean someone who puts the supposed interests of the EEC as a whole above the short and medium-term interests of his constituents. This is because although people are prepared to make sacrifices for their own country and countrymen, they will not willingly do so for abstractions to which they feel no loyalty or patriotism: a man may be 746 prepared to die for England but he is hardly likely nowadays to wish to lay down his life for Luxembourg. Indeed, to the extent that any Briton nowadays is prepared to die for a country other than his own, he is far more likely to do so for our former wartime ally, Norway—a country which is outside the EEC—than for Luxembourg or, indeed, for France or West Germany which are members of it.
On this score—and I am sorry to see that the noble Lord, Lord Paget of Northampton, is no longer in his place—in a most interesting letter in this morning's issue of the Daily Telegraph he suggested, if I may clumsily paraphrase him, that the only way in which the various races and tribes of an independent Zimbabwe could become a cohesive, united society, is by fighting shoulder to shoulder against a common enemy. Similarly, I believe that only war or some similar common sacrifice against an external threat will ever unite Europe in the way the federalists wish. Pray God that nothing like that ever happens.
It may be asked, in view of the very welcome probable tendency towards a Gaullist Europe des Patries as opposed to a federal Europe, why I do not support the Assembly which, if my earlier reasoning is correct, will tend to accentuate the Gaullist tendencies and knock out some of the less attractive features of the EEC as it exists at present: indeed, the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, indicated that an Assembly was likely to clamp down hard upon obsessive harmonisation.
There are at least two reasons—I shall not go into them fully. The first is that human nature will dictate that the extremely well-paid Members of the Assembly will, understandably and rightly, seek to justify their salaries by trying to extend their powers. I suspect that the House of Commons will resist this under Clause 6 of the Bill and that this will lead to endless conflict—just as there is likely to be endless conflict between the House of Commons and a Scottish Assembly in Edinburgh if the latter should come into being.
Even more likely to lead to division and conflict is the question of the salaries to be paid to members of the Assembly. For a married man with two children 747 under the age of 11 the salaries suggested are equivalent, on a grossed-up basis, to between £55,000 and £85,000 per annum before tax at United Kingdom rates. What young man or woman with drive, energy and ambition, anxious to do the best for his or her family, will put himself or herself up for the House of Commons in such circumstances, where salaries are so very much lower? I believe that this will drain talent from the Commons in particular, and possibly from Britain in general. It will weaken the cohesion of an already confused and divided United Kingdom. Although I recognise that the passage of this Bill is to all intents and purposes a fait accompli, and I have no intention of opposing it, I feel that I must register my forebodings.
§ 5.29 p.m.
§ Lord KENNET
My Lords, I was waiting for the punch line in the most interesting speech by the noble Lord, Lord Monson. It was really a speech presenting all the cogent reasons which exist for this country to leave the European Community, but it did not actually ask that we should do so; nor would it be reasonable to do so only three years after a referendum which said that we should stay in. It was not a speech giving reasons against increasing the element of democracy in the institution's of the Community, as I expect the noble Lord would agree.
I should like to raise one point about salaries. The noble Lord, Lord Monson, quoted a figure which has been proposed. He did not say who had proposed it and I do not know who proposed such an enormous figure. Perhaps the noble Lord will tell us?
§ Lord MONSON
My Lords, I have taken these figures from House of Common's debates. I have taken the salaries net of tax of between £16,000 and £21,400 and grossed them up at United Kingdom tax rates.
§ Lord KENNET
My Lords, I assume that some Member of the House of Commons reported a proposal made by somebody else somewhere, I do not know who or why, but the salaries of the 748 directly elected members remain to be decided. The matter is completely open. They may approximate to the British level which, apart from the Irish, is the lowest in the Community, or they may approximate to the German level which is the highest. There is a wide discrepancy, so I think that nobody should allow their opinion to be swayed by any guess as to what the salaries will be.
In opening the debate my noble friend Lord Harris spoke about the provision in the Bill whereby there should be no public inquiries, and so on, when the Boundary Commission lay down the first boundaries of the new big constituencies, and I expect that that is welcome to all sides of the House. We have to get on. He also spoke, though, of provision for traditional public inquiries—this is how I understood him—if there were any consequent change to the boundaries laid down now under this Bill.
That worried me a bit, because I do not know whether the Government are losing sight of the decision which already exists that we shall have direct elections under our national systems only once (we hope next year), and that the second time we have direct elections they will be under a uniform system. If we are only going to do it this way once, there will surely be no need to adjust the boundaries before the next election, because in the next election it is to be done under a different system which we do not yet know. My ear just caught that whizzing past and my heart missed a beat. I hope that the Government are not weakening in their agreement with other Members of the Community that the second direct elections to the European Parliament, or Assembly, shall be by a unified common European system.
Speaking first for the Opposition the noble Baroness, Lady Elles, said that nobody should reproach the Conservative Party in the House of Commons for the delay because they had chosen to insist on first-past-the-post. I do not do so, but I do reproach them for insisting on first-past-the-post. For reasons which have been explained very lucidly by my noble friend Lord Walston, and which I shall not repeat, I think it would have been better to go some way towards the common stock of continental systems even in this first election.
§ Baroness ELLES
My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Lord would allow me to interrupt? I apologise for not having listened, but I was engaged in what was a rather urgent conversation for political and not personal reasons, and I apologise for not having heard his former statement. Perhaps I should make the point here that the Conservative Party had a free vote on the method of election, and well over 40 members of the Conservative Party in fact voted for proportional representation. I think that that can be checked in Hansard. I have not got the exact figure, but a very good number of Conservative Members in fact voted for the other system; so it is not correct merely to ascribe just to the Conservative Party the vote on first-past-the-post.
§ Lord KENNET
My Lords, unless I am mistaken, more Conservative Members voted for first-past-the-post than Labour Members, and the House of Commons' decision was due to a Conservative vote, though not a whipped one, and all honour to them for not having had a whipped vote. The point about this is that I hope that the Conservative Party and leadership, between now and the second direct elections, which we expect to be in five or six years' time, will be thinking about matters and coming to terms with the absolute certainty that we shall have to have PR, and that we are the only country in the Community not to have PR of one sort or another for our own domestic elections. We are the only country in the Community to have first-past-the-post, and one may hope, supposing—which I can hardly conceive will be the case—there were a change of Government between now and the second direct elections to the Community, that a Conservative Government would not oppose or delay the adoption of a common European system which would not be first-past-the-post.
A word only about the question of Commission intervention in the elections, which my noble friend Lord Bruce raised with such vigour. I agree with him that this is a dangerous possibility. I think I prefer Lord O'Hagan's formulation, that the Commission must proceed with extreme caution, rather than Lord Bruce's outright request that they keep out, if only because my noble friend seemed to take it for granted that anybody who backed the Commission's record and 750 intentions would stand a better chance in the direct elections.
I am not sure that that is automatically so. I could see quite a large political future for a candidate who put himself up as the little man standing against the big battalions and saying, "Look, there are 5 million units of account against me in justifying the Commission record. I say that the Commission record is lousy. I say the Commission's intentions are bureaucratic, despotic," and so on. I know who would get the bigger headlines; it would be the little man, and not the man who agreed to accept the kiss of what might very well be only suspended animation if not outright death from the Commission. However, hat is a sideline, and I want to conclude simply by adding my voice to those who welcomed this Bill. I wish it had been earlier. I am glad that it is here. It does not matter what system of election we have this time because it is only once, and so let us pass the Bill as quickly as possible without amendment.
§ 5.37 p.m.
§ Lord CASTLE
My Lords, I think your Lordships should all be grateful to another place for having overcome so many of their objections, suspicions, and general wariness of our politically crossing the Channel, so that we have been given a Bill which can, so it seems from this afternoon's showing, get on to the Statute Book without a great deal of hindrance and with very little change. In that I associate myself, of course, with most of the speakers this afternoon, including my good colleague my noble friend Lord Bruce, with whom I have to say at the beginning I disagreed passionately on certain emphases. That is a sad thing to me because we have walked so many roads together, including the one from Aldermaston. To differ from him on such a fundamental thing as the importance and evaluation of the rôle of the European Parliament vis-à-vis the Commission and the Council is a saddening thought. I am quite certain that on reflection, and after further experience of the Parliament outside of the close confines of that Budget Committee, he will realise what opportunities there are for us, the ordinary Members of Parliament, to be of great influence.
751 This afternoon I think that we owe the ease with which we look forward to further debates on this Bill to the completely negative attitude of the Opposition in the other place and, so far as I can see, the Opposition here today. Not one person has stood up and said that the present system of selection of members to that Assembly is to be preferred to that of election. If some person has dared to advocate that—the finger is pointed at my noble friend Lord Bruce, but I did not know that he had gone that far—it is due entirely to the fact that opponents of this Bill have attempted to sidetrack the major purpose for which we exist in these two Houses by talking about funny distractions like the levels of salaries which, at this stage, as has been pointed out, are purely and simply hypothetical and the creation of journalists, and so on, in Brussels.
Each week we get a dossier of gossip from gossips which purports to be news, but to most of us it never is news. We can therefore debate this matter with the knowledge that we need not talk about whether or not it is going to be more profitable to be a Member of the European Parliament and devote five years of one's life to that purpose, or to be a Member here.
For me the accepting of the verdict of the public in the three and a half year old plebiscite and the sighting of the new horizons which it opened up make this Bill the essential next step towards the democratisation of the European Community. Hopes are now high in Europe among all parties that in the next few years Greece, Spain and Portugal will be with us. At the moment they are showing a healthy eagerness to join the family. What an insult it would be to them, whom we feel we have converted to a democratic way of life, if the first thing they found was that the European Parliament scorns direct elections as its means of getting Members. To them it would be a "con" trick of the worst kind. I am certain that we have a duty to these newcomers to democracy to make the European direct elections work and properly reflect the spirit of our countries. If doubts still persisted or were given voice to by the leaders of our Parties or our Press about the need for a democratic way of selecting 752 the Members of the European Parliament, then I believe that expansion itself could be endangered.
This is a simple Bill but it may be the signal for opening an entirely new chapter in world politics. Certainly it will demand a new kind of politician. Of course, the need for the old will still continue. I am quite prepared to concede that there will always be a place for a Jim Callaghan or a Mrs Margaret Thatcher. The rewards for such a new politician, a new Member of a new Parliament in Europe, will be the knowledge that he is making decisions not only on behalf of the people of one country but for the people of nine. Then, if he is as lucky as I am to be on the Development Committee, will be the realisation that he is deciding the rate of development for the people of 53 nations associated with us through the Lomé Commission. This is a tremendous challenge and I believe that it needs the dedication of people to the job to which we shall elect them. It will not give them time to continue as Members of the other place. I am certain that the job if properly done is so gigantic, despite what the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, believes to be of little significance.
I recall being in Europe last Tuesday and then sitting on two different Committees, the Development Committee and the External Trade Committee, during the morning and afternoon of that week, and the many profound decisions which I was called upon to make—highly professional, highly intricate—decisions regarding GATT for which a thorough knowledge of the background papers is required and recommendations from various sources have to be studied. There were recommendations about what should happen to the next Lomé Convention; what our relationship with those 53 underdeveloped countries should be; whether there was an opening for intensifying trade with the Comintern countries; whether there was a possibility of intensifying trade with China and with Yugoslavia. These are but a few of the world important items on which a decision had to be made. One would be neglecting one's duty if one did not attempt to equip oneself to be in a position to question the Commission, perhaps to differ from the Commission and its representatives who are always at these Committees. I and my colleagues 753 attempt to be in that position, but we could not do it if we were to say we could also fulfil a double mandate.
I think the British public owes a tremendous debt to generations of Members of the other place who at great sacrifice have served their local, geographically confined constituencies—if I may put it that way. They are men who have worked double the average working week in order to find out at the grass roots what the problems, hopes and possibilities are for the ordinary people whom they represent. We cannot discharge our debt to them. But it is no disrespect to them and to people who went before in the same jobs to suggest that that is not the qualification which Europe will require. One wants a wide-angle political eye.
I am sure that some of the items I have mentioned indicate to your Lordships that a half-timer on this job is no good. That is why I think that in the next few months the political Parties have a tremendous duty to see that the job specifications which I have indicated—an intensity of interest in the world at large and the inter-relationship between various nations, the Community and the world—are met, and to see that those people get a fair show at these election conferences. It is in their court and I hope my own Party, which has been laggard up to the moment, will make amends and produce a fine body of men and women.
§ 5.49 p.m.
§ Baroness BURTON of COVENTRY
My Lords, if I may say so the speech of my noble friend Lord Castle has cheered me enormously, and perhaps when I come to the end of my speech he will realise why I say so. I am a convinced European. Ever since I was a member of our delegation to Strasbourg, to the Council of Europe in the early 1950s, I wanted this country to be much more closely connected with our European friends. We have waited what seems an interminable time for this debate. Indeed, there must be many who wondered if it would ever come. When I got here today and looked at the list it seemed to be as far away as ever, but everyone has exercised a self-denying ordinance and I do not propose to break that procedure.
When Britain's membership of the European Community was endorsed, and 754 endorsed decisively, in the referendum in 1975 I anticipated with great pleasure the debate we are having today. But in spite of the help given me by my noble friend Lord Castle, that pleasure has evaporated. I have no doubt, and I am sure nobody else has any doubt, that this House will give the Bill a Second Reading today and I wish I could leave it at that, but I am afraid that is not possible. I am unable to leave it at that because I believe that certain people in my Party have done almost irreparable damage to the Community and certainly to themselves and to the Labour Party. Whether they have irreparably damaged the British attitude to Europe I do not know, but what I am afraid they have irreparably damaged is the European attitude to us.
I am proposing to give the noble Lord, Lord Monson, the answer as to why the attitude in this country towards the Community has changed; he may not accept it, nor may some of my colleagues, and I may be in trouble all round, but it is what I believe and I am therefore going to say it and I have been wanting to say it for a long time. Personally, I was not in favour of a referendum, but it was pressed for and campaigned for by anti-Marketeers. They were so sure of victory that they agreed to abide by the result. As we all know, the British people said, Yes, and, since then, a steady and constant campaign has been waged against, originally, the Prime Minister, and including those MPs who supported him. I know it is old history to say that whenever the price of tea, coffee, petrol or the price of anything went up it was used as added fuel to the fire; all the rises had come about because we were members of the Community. Although such statements did not bear examination, they were repeated so often that a great many people believed them to be true.
All this antagonism to what the British people voted for—all this deliberate attempt to downgrade the Prime Minister, the Government and the Community—has brought about the hostility to this Bill. That is what the extremists intended and that is what they have done, and it is my belief that it is what they will continue to do above ground or below ground. I believe they seek to weaken and destroy the Common Market and I believe that those of us who believe in the 755 Common Market would be very ill-advised to think otherwise.
Obviously, as my noble friend Lord Harris of Greenwich said and as everybody else agrees, this is a Bill of major constitutional importance. The Government pledged their honour to use their best endeavours to secure the passage of the Bill in time to meet the 1978 deadline. Furthermore, in the case of this agreement to direct elections to the European Parliament, the Government underlined their obligation under international law and practice by promising the necessary legislation in the Queen's Speech of last year, as has been said; so that, briefly and succinctly, what we are discussing today is whether or not a Government commitment made to our partners in the Community and to the country in two Speeches from the Throne should be honoured.
Going back to 26th May of last year, my noble friend Lord Harris said:Every single mainland area of this country cast a decisive vote in favour of British membership of the European Community.To remove any possible doubt, which for any person who cared to listen could no longer have existed, he went on to say:The commitment made in the gracious Speech remains the position of the Government. We have in no way retreated from that position."—[Official Report; 26/5/77, cols. 1543 and 1549.]Today we are not debating the system to be used in these elections. I support a regional list system both on the grounds of merit and because I believe that a simple majority system, if applied to the European elections, would lead to a wholly unrepresentative result so far as this country is concerned, and that seems to be the opinion of most speakers in this debate. It seems so incredible when it can be only one election anyway, but that is the position we are in.
Looking at this from a Party angle, it seems to me that the Labour Party would gain very few Members under this first-past-the-post system, and I should have thought normally that any such prophecy, if correct, would unite a political Party to look for a more favourable solution; that is surely common sense. After all, Socialists are the largest political group in the European Parliament. Direct elections would link Britain's Labour 756 voters with their fellow Socialists on the Continent, and surely Socialist Parties working together is the best way to build a Socialist Europe. I should have thought that was irrefutable. But irrefutable or not, it is not likely to influence those in my Party who campaigned so hard for a referendum and then refused to accept the result, and those are the people I am talking about today. I am not talking about some of my noble friends, and very good friends in this House, who may not have been in favour of the Common Market but who, I think, have done their best to make it a success; so I am not talking about them at all. I almost said that was why I was surprised at Lord Castle's speech, but that would be an innuendo and would not be meant that way.
I remain convinced that if Parliament supports this Bill—I am sure this House will today—I still believe that this anti-EEC element in my Party, which has done so much harm to the Community, would welcome a result which gave Labour Members so small a membership of the new European Parliament; it would be a further stick with which to berate the Community. We could have done so much for our country and for Europe had we behaved differently. That is why my pleasure has gone. That referendum, the first in British history, produced a more decisive result than any General Election has ever done, and our partners expected so much from this democracy of ours, and, I repeat, we could have done so much.
We could have played our full part in an evolving Community to the benefit of all concerned. Instead, what have we had since the referendum? We have had a persistent cry that our membership of the Community has not gone well, is not going well and presumably will never go well. Perhaps here I might quote a remark by Eirlys Roberts in The Times of 31st May last when she said:It is scarcely surprising that the Common Market's boat goes a little slowly when so many of the people in it are rowing backwards.It seems to me that the people I am talking about have done all they could to dissipate the friendship, and certainly the hopes, of our friends in the Community. I have been re-reading two debates in this House; on the United Kingdom and the European Communities on 27th October 757 1971 and the Third Reading of the European Communities Bill on 20th September 1972, and neither gave me pleasure.
As I have no desire to rake up the past, I will say quite simply that the official Opposition in another place at that time emerged with very little credit. If I were at a public meeting and said that I did not wish to rake up the past, I would be asked why I mentioned the matter. I do so simply because I believe that these people will never change. Not for them the voice of the people as expressed in a referendum if the majority does not go their way. They reopened Europe as a political issue when the common voice of the British people had given their decision. I am quite sure that they wish to weaken and destroy the Common Market. But with a General Election on the horizon, however distant, and a Prime Minister determined to stand firm against extremists, tactics have changed. And the intention is to destroy the Common Market from within, rather than, too obviously, from outside.
The main reason why we have not yet made a success, or a full success, of our membership of the Community, is that we have never really tried. The delay in direct elections I regard as both regrettable and unnecessary. I know that my noble friend Lord Thomson of Monifieth—and we all know what he stands for—said that this was not too tragic, and my noble friend Lord Bruce of Donington said, if I heard him aright, that other countries are not even as far advanced as we are. But, while accepting both those points, I still think that it was regrettable and unnecessary. To our friends in Europe it seemed an incredible tactic. They believed that our Parliamentary democracy would be one of the principal gifts which Britain would bring to the Community.
Surely at last—though this is not necessary in this House, where we do this—we could let our hopes outweigh our fears. I should like to quote from The Times of 26th November:A directly elected European Assembly will not so much diminish the power of nations as provide another dimension of influence. It will force the Commission to take into account not only governments but directly elected representatives.I suggest once more, and greatly daring, I suggest it to my noble friend, or to my 758 friends in another place, if I have any left, that we in the Labour Party who believe in the Common Market should now stand up and say so, and give support to the Prime Minister. To be silent supporters is not enough. That is why the extremists always win, and that is why I felt that I had to say what I have said today. I believe that a constitutional issue such as this should not be one where we, on my side, stand idly by listening to the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party assuming dint they are the Government of this country. I support the Bill.
§ 6.2 p.m.
§ Lord GLADWYN
My Lords, I could not agree more with everything that the noble. Baroness, Lady Burton of Coventry, has just said so eloquently. The whole way in which this important matter has been handled in this country is, I regret to say, a sad commentary on the extent to which the European idea here has lately fallen into some disrepute, partly owing to the fact that all our economic ills since 1973 have been successfully attributed by the more fanatical anti-Europeans to the Common Market rather than, as they should be, to the world recession, and partly owing to the intervention of Party politics into a debate which should have been conducted solely on the basis of the national interest.
Had it not been for these two factors, the Government could have introduced the necessary legislation well over a year ago and some form of proportional representation would naturally have been approved, if only for the fact, as has been mentioned once or twice in the House today, that the so-called European Parliament is not a Parliament in the ordinary sense of the word but rather, as it were, the expression of European public opinion. What is or is not desirable in this country as a voting system is consequently in no way relevant to it.
Of course the Liberal Party is in favour of PR in any form 9f election—preferably the single alternative vote system which operates perfectly successfully, as we all know, in Northern Ireland. So as a matter of fact is about two-thirds of the population of this country, according to the polls, to say nothing of at least a 759 couple of hundred Members in another place, or perhaps even more. But until circumstances dictate its adoption—and one day they will—it is impossible to have it here, chiefly, I am afraid, because quite a number of Members of the other place would cease to be Members if it were adopted. It is as simple as that.
But fears that the adoption of PR for the European Assembly might encourage its adoption here were undoubtedly a major factor in the decision in another place on the first-past-the-post system. There is no doubt about that. And when to this there was added that of the numerous and determined anti-marketeers who wanted, as I think the noble Baroness has just said, above all to delay the direct elections and if possible to scupper them altogether, a large majority not unnaturally decided against the only system before the House the adoption of which could have resulted in the elections being held this year. It was thus essentially a rather strange combination of the Tories and the Tribune group which dealt the European idea a blow from which it is possible it may never recover.
However, all that is water under the bridge, and the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, has told us that in his view it would be useless to send back the Bill to the Commons with the PR clause reinstated. This opinion is apparently also shared by the noble Baroness, Lady Elles. My noble friend Lord Banks, on the contrary, made a powerful plea that it should be referred back with the original clause reinstated. He made that plea on behalf of the Liberal Party. The noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, seemed to be (unless I misunderstood him) rather hesitant.
All that is a matter which we can best discuss at the Committee stage, so I shall not dwell upon it now, except to say that at one time I thought that this House might be well advised to send the Bill back with a new clause based on the German "topping-up" system. I did not agree with everything that the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, said. I thought, for instance, that he rather ignored the fact that the directly elected Parliament will have to be based on some Party system if it is to function at all and that 760 the elections in this country must also be conducted on a Party basis, otherwise it will be impossible to get them organised. I did not agree with him altogether on that, but I agreed with much of the rest he said and I certainly agreed with his eloquent plea for the adoption of something similar to the German system, which would be very fair and indeed very easy to work.
But I am told—and I believe that this is fact—that even if such a scheme were approved here an Amendment to that effect would not have the slightest chance of going through the other place, so I shall not press it, even in a purely personal capacity which otherwise I might have done. In any case, we must all hope that the Bill will become law as soon as possible. There may still be a slip between the cup and the lip and our general objective should certainly be to ensure that direct elections take place not later than May or June next year. I do not want to appear pessimistic; nevertheless it is true that, even by then, if things go on as they are now going on in the world generally, we may all of us, under the force of the recession, have been swept over the dam, as it were, into the dangerous currents of economic nationalism. It is not even certain, especially in view of the dismal example we have set, that all our partners will pass the necessary legislation. After all, we have successfully demonstrated that one veto can hold up a whole operation. In other words, the outlook is still obscure.
But does it all matter? If one takes the view that seems to be held by a majority in the Government (and here I agree very much with what the noble Lord, Lord Thomson, said in this respect), namely, that since the European Parliament, whether or not directly elected, cannot ever have any real powers, or is very unlikely ever to have any real powers, it can only be a talking shop, which we nevertheless have to put up with owing to a rather ridiculous Treaty obligation, then there is, under that thesis, admittedly no cause for alarm in any further delay. It is possible that, generally speaking, this is the view of some of the official Opposition too. I do not know. Maybe it is even the prevailing mood of the country at large. I would not necessarily deny that.
761 But, my Lords, it is a view which is profoundly mistaken. Far from being a useless talking shop, there is every likelihood that the directly elected European Assembly, if it is ever established, will be the one means capable of making the Community work, resulting, in the end, in what might be called some new form of political entity. This is exactly what the more intelligent of the anti-Marketeers fear; and from their narrow, nationalist point of view they are quite right in so fearing.
In the few remaining minutes, my Lords, I shall attempt, therefore, to summarise what I have in fact been saying for a long time now in justification of this general idea. As we all know, the new elected Parliament will have no formal powers, as has been said again and again, additional to those of the present nominated ones unless all the Nine Governments and all the Nine Parliaments agree that it should have such powers. But this will in no way prevent it from having very considerable political influence—and this is whore I would take issue, if I may, with something which the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, said. Why? Because the Parliament will work, as indeed it works now, in the closest co-operation with the Commission. At all the meetings of its committees there will be a representative, often a high-ranking member of the Commission, who will freely take part in the debates and in the framing of the resolutions. Then, when these resolutions are discussed in the plenary, again the Commission will participate fully in the long debates; and when it is finally approved it will therefore undoubtedly represent the views not only of a large number of acknowledged experts—because that is what the the members of the Commission really are—but also something which after all reflects what will no doubt be a large majority, possibly regardless of Party, of informed European public opinion.
I say "perhaps regardless of Party" because it may well be that when we get down with the Commission to a realistic—and I repeat, "realistic"—investigation of some of our major problems even the major political groups such as the Socialists, the Christian Democrats or the Liberals may sometimes find themseves divided. They are now, occasionally. 762 Of course, purely nationalist considerations must sometimes influence the Assembly, too; but the great thing is that when the elected Deputies representing European public opinion, as they undoubtedly will, discuss these great matters they will be forced by the very fact that they are sitting in a European body to look at things from a European rather than a purely nationalist point of view.
In the Council, of course, it is much more difficult to arrive at any form of consensus, as we all know all too well. The Ministers sit surrounded by the serried ranks of experts all normally intent as far as they are concerned on one thing; namely, to succeed in asserting the particular interests of the nation and to see that our country is not done down in any way by our partners. Compromises are therefore slow to come by and often the very opportunity to arrive at them is lost. But if the Commission backed up by the elected Parliament submits some scheme for approval it is much more likely to be considered favourably; and in any case, since it will undoubtedly represent the considered public opinion of the whole Community, it will be impossible not to take it seriously.
Your Lordships may again ask, "Why?" I will tell your Lordships. It is because once they have agreed on a resolution there is no doubt that the elected representatives will for the most part come back to their constituencies and make speeches in its favour, and they will of course also seek directly to interest their own Party colleagues in their national Parliament. The point has been made already; I have forgotten by whom, but obviously it is a sensible thing to do. They will come and seek to get into contact with their own Party colleagues, and since they will not necessarily be under the same compulsion to support purely local interests—because, after all, they are elected to a European Parliament—they will probably be able to make many converts to some proposal which may perhaps not be supported in the Council by the Government concerned. I am not necessarily referring to this Government, but any Government in the Community.
Anyhow, my Lords, this, very broadly speaking, is how I see the new Parliament functioning. Indeed, unless it does function 763 more of less in this way it may be that the Community will lose all impetus and thus most probably go into some form of slow decline. That is what the President of the Commission, Mr. Jenkins, said recently in Brussels, and I think he is right. Either you go forward steadily or you go backwards. It is like riding a bicycle: if you do not go on you fall off. However, there will certainly be some—perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington—who will say "Why not? Why should it not go into a slow decline?" The EEC in spite of what many of us—
Lord BRUCE of DONINGTON
My Lords, will the noble Lord give way? Will the noble Lord explain exactly when I said that I hoped the Community would go into a slow decline? He should not put words into my mouth, surely.
§ Lord GLADWYN
My Lords, I apologise for that. I did not really mean to say that the noble Lord wanted it to go into a slow decline, but I thought perhaps that he was not very optimistic about its future. That is all; I may be wrong. If I have it wrong, I apologise.
§ Lord GLADWYN
My Lords, I would say that it was I who was being the realist! After all, even if the Community does not progress towards the federation of our dreams, which after all is quite possible—I myself doubt whether it will ever be something like the United States Of America, but that is my personal view—it may well be thought therefore to be an idealistic concept which is bound to fail when confronted with harsh reality and that it would be fitting that we should soon revert to what is the only political reality; namely, the nation. That is the argument of people who think that way. My Lords, these so-called realists just do not know what they will be in for if things could indeed turn out like this.
Although we could indeed all go back in theory to some kind of system based purely on nation States, this could only now in present circumstances in the world be possible on the basis of a protected and therefore inevitably a directed economy. No doubt this could work. Whether it 764 was directed by the Left or the Right hardly matters; everybody would simply have, as in war-time, to do just what they were told. In other words, a directed economy would function only given a total suppression of liberty, and democracy as we know it would naturally disappear. There is no doubt about that.
Nor is it any good thinking that, if the Community should break up, we would all simply revert to something like a free trade area, which has been suggested by a good many of the anti-Marketeers. The nationalist forces which had resulted in the disruption of the Community would be far too strong to contemplate any freedom of trade whatever form that might take. It need hardly be said also that even if some new free trade area were possible, which I do not think it would be, it would not be compatible with any attempt to create some common foreign policy, still less some common defence policy, among what are, after all, the few remaining contiguous democratic outposts—because that is what we are.
What, too, would be likely to happen—and I entirely agree with the noble Lord who mentioned this matter; I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Castle—in that event, to the system of aid established by the Convention of Lomé? What, in short, would be the whole relationship of a nationalist Europe to the third, the fourth and indeed the whole developing world? My Lords, we are going through a very difficult and dangerous period—I repeat, a dangerous period—in world affairs. I suggest that the safest way out for us is to make the Community work, and the best way to make it work is to get the elected European Assembly working. It is a shame that by our own action we have held this up. But let us now try to forget the past and concentrate all our energies on preparing for the successful advent of the new Assembly in just over a year from now. I agree with all those noble Lords who have said that this, far from being meaningless, is a great and welcome event in the long history of this country.
§ 6.20 p.m.
§ The Earl of MANSFIELD
My Lords, as I have before now had my fair share of twitting the Government, and the noble Lord, Lord Harris, in particular, at the 765 slow production of this Bill, it is only right that I should preface my remarks by saying that it is with considerable pleasure, and one might say relief, that one now sees it appearing to go through its various stages in your Lordships' House. Because we have waited so long, and because we have so frequently debated the principles which really encompass this Bill, perhaps I may be forgiven if I say that for all the importance of this Bill this does not seem to be a very great Parliamentary occasion.
It may be because there is, as I have tried to say, such a wide measure of agreement among noble Lords as to the desirability of the Bill and its speedy passage through this House. Indeed, there have been very few objections to the Bill. There was the noble Lord, Lord Monson, who took what may be called the traditional anti-European view; and I shall leave him there. That is how I understood it.
§ Lord MONSON
My Lords, I did not take an anti-European view but an anti-EEC view. Europe is not synonymous with the EEC.
§ The Earl of MANSFIELD
My Lords, I will not exchange casuistic sophistry with the noble Lord. There was his view for what it is worth. There was also the view of the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, who took a rather different view. If I do not misrepresent his attitude, he said that this is a good Bill because it came from the Commons, but that the European Parliament or Assembly is an insignificant sort of place, it is not important now, it is unlikely to develop much importance in the future and, therefore, by inference this is not a very important Bill. I think that is a fair way of summing up his attitude. To drive his point home, he says that with the possible exception of The Times, the Daily Telegraph, the Observer, and one or two other papers, nobody mentions the European Parliament; neither the papers nor the media. If we think of the Sun and the Mirror, they do not very often mention this House unless one of us gets into trouble—and if the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, is going to be on page 3 not only must he get into trouble but he must also show quite a lot of flesh as he does it.
766 My Lords, I do not think we can measure the importance of this Bile and the importance that it will be to all those who live in Europe, whether within the. Community or without it, by what the more popular parts of the newspaper industry think of it. But I suppose that we all of us have our own ideas as to how the European Community will progress in the future. I suppose that some of us, like the noble Lord, Lord Banks, think in terms of federalism; some of us, perhaps, are more concerned that we should try to contain the sillier forms of harmonisation which are sometimes pressed upon us. But all of us realise that any directly elected Assembly will certainly play, as I think at any rate, a very much greater part in the future.
If one considers for a moment an Assembly which is directly popular, directly-elected, with Members who are able to devote all their energies and time to European affairs, who are properly paid, and, I hope, with the proper back-up service to be able to do their job, it may be that this will be a matter which might commend itself to the noble Baroness, Lady Burton. If I may say so, she made a courageous speech, but it was a speech in which I did not detect very much hope. I agreed with much of what she said. I should have thought that those of whatever Party who are subversive to the European ideals and our democracy might well find their rôle much more difficult in the future if those who are elected to the European Parliament can say, and say with truth, "We are just as democractic as anybody else."
For myself, I think that once this Bill is law and once we elect our Parliament, it is going to be a new dawn. I remember when some of my noble friends and I got out of the rather uncomfortable aeroplane for the first plenary session at Strasbourg—and I think that I walked up to the Hemicircle; and I daresay the noble Lord, Lord Thomson, arrived in a large car. We all, playing our various rôles, humble and not so humble, greeted the whole idea as a great and exciting experiment. I suppose that by the time the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, had got there—I had gone—there was a change of Government and a good deal less excitement. I venture to think that this is something which the newly-elected Members will generate for themselves in 767 the future. I think that these people—I was going to say "will carve out for themselves a degree of jurisdiction"; but it is the wrong phrase—will compel the Commission and the Council of Ministers to pay attention to them in their consultative rôle.
One of the reasons why there is so much hostility to the European Parliament is that some of our colleagues, particularly in the other place, do not understand the difference between a legislative assembly and a consultative assembly. A consultative assembly, as I understand it, has a perfectly honourable rôle in Europe and is well-known to them; but we see any assembly as a rival. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Harris, will agree with me that it was partly for that reason that Clause 6 was added to the Bill. It was to forestall what was thought of (and probably is still thought of) as a dangerous extension of power to be assumed by the European Parliament. I had no such fears myself because I think that if it does get more power it will be in its own way behind the scenes; that it will command a greater consultative rôle; and it will achieve that directly through the Commission and the Council of Ministers.
My Lords, how then has this debate gone? It seems to me that mostly noble Lords were concerned with a number of matters and, above all, with the system of election. Many noble Lords allowed themselves the indulgence, if I may so call it, of talking about their favourite system of proportional representation. I think that we may talk ourselves into a wholly unreal position in the later stages of this Bill if we do not stop and consider very carefully where we are going. The House of Commons by a majority, I think, of 97, dismissed the idea of the regional list system. I have no quarrel with that decision at all. The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, in one of his few Party references, said that he blamed the Opposition for voting it down in the other place. I think I got the sense of what he said. I see him nodding.
I must say that I regard the regional list system as the most unsatisfactory of any form of proportional representation. Why? For this reason; if Caligula's horse is ever going to be re-elected to anything, it is going to be on the tail-end 768 of some Party list. One can vote, if one wants to, for a brilliant and undoubtedly satisfactory candidate on one's Party list. The others may be rubbish. But all that one can do if one wants, as my noble kinsman Lord Murray would have, as many Labour candidates as one can possibly get elected, is to have the good, bad and indifferent. That cannot be a sensible method of going about an election, in my submission. On the other hand, if one wants to give one's first preference to somebody of one political persuasion and one's second to somebody who is, perhaps, an independent or a "Flat Earther" or something like that, one is stopped from doing so.
It follows from that, that the power of patronage over the list is almost supreme. I for one would not care for that. What in the other place they were up against was voting for something which they knew about and may or may not have approved of, or voting for a new system of which they did not know and probably did not approve.
I suggest that when this matter comes to Committee and later stages we should pay serious regard to what has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich. We are, after all, living on borrowed time so far as this Parliament is concerned. It is not impossible that we would get to a certain stage with this Bill only to find it does not receive the Royal Assent because Parliament has been dissolved; and then, whatever happened in a General Election, the whole thing would be back to square one, and the odium with which that would be greeted by the rest of Europe would be mild now as compared with what would follow. I suggest that the electorate of this country, who are going to be faced with a number of elections of one kind or another in the next year or 18 months, should have the matter kept as simple as possible. I would hope that the major Parties big and small, between the first election and the second one, could possibly work out the common approach which they would put to our European partners, and say, "This is what we think should be the common system for future elections", and do it that way rather than try something new now which probably will not be adopted at the end of the day by the Community as a whole.
769 Other noble Lords were concerned with the extension of the franchise to British subjects temporarily living and working abroad, in the sense that they are outside the jurisdiction of this country. I suppose that would be a desirable amendment, if it could be achieved, and if it could be done in such a way that it would not impede the progress of the Bill. That is something we must all continue to worry about; otherwise, the powers of Parliament are something which will concern us mildly in the future. I do not think these are necessarily matters which need worry us too much because I do not think the European Assembly is going to prove much of a rival to the Palace of Westminster in the foreseeable future.
I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Harris, will either answer the pertinent questions which my noble friend Lady Elles put at the beginning of this debate or, if he does not, will indicate when he will; and, if he cannot, will at any rate take them on board so that he can tell us at a later stage of the Bill. Otherwise, we may turn nasty; but, save for that, we on these Benches will do everything to speed this Bill on its way. We have asked for it for long enough, and now it comes, we greet it.
§ 6.34 p.m.
§ Lord HARRIS of GREENWICH
My Lords, may I begin by welcoming the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, back among us. He has been away from us for a number of weeks with a disagreeable illness. We are all delighted to see him back despite his threat that he may in certain circumstances turn nasty. We have had an interesting and well informed debate. Most speakers have inevitably concentrated on the central issues which I defined when I introduced the Bill. The issues of the principle of direct elections to the European Assembly; the electoral system to be used, which has obviously dominated our discussions today; the allocation of seats; and the powers of the Assembly, which have been touched on by the noble Earl. There are a number of other questions which have been raised particularly in relation to various aspects of the electoral procedures to be followed. Obviously, we will have the opportunity of discussing these when we come to the Committee stage.
770 There are one or two issues of some considerable importance which have been raised in this debate to which I should like to turn my attention now. The first is a matter raised by my noble friends Lord Thomson of Monifieth and Lord Greenwood of Rossendale, and the noble Lords O'Hagan and Lord Drumalbyn. The first of these is the relationship between the directly elected Members of the European Assembly and Members of our own Parliament here in Westminster. This is a matter of great importance. We are indebted to our colleagures for having raised this particular matter. A number of Members of this House are, under the present arrangements, nominated as representatives to the European Assembly; and, I am glad to say, a number have spoken today. I believe that since the United Kingdom's entry into the European Community in 1973 Members of this House and another place have made a most important contribution to the work of the Assembly. Undoubtedly in the case of Peter Kirk he laid his life down for Europe. There can be absolutely no doubt about that.
The pressure of membership of the European Assembly is a formidable burden to Members of either House. We should recognise this, and on an occasion such as this, pay tribute to many of our colleagues who have played such a notable rôle in Europe. It is proposed under the Bill that Members of this House as well as another place should be eligible to stand for election to the European Assembly under the new arrangements. But, giving a personal view, I am bound to say that I would find it surprising if many Members of another place were able to get through a selection conference of any of the political Parties, given the burden of work to which I have referred.
However, I am glad to say that we have had the opportunity today to hear the beginning of a number of election campaigns by some of our colleagues. I hope I will have the opportunity to vote for my noble friend Lord Murray of Gravesend as a representative to the European Assembly. The noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan; indicated that he too would be contesting the elections. I will be saying a word or two in a moment about some of our election procedures, but I can give both noble Lords the guarantee that, despite the fact that they both used this opportunity 771 of beginning their campaigns, there is no danger that this will be set against their election expenditure in any regulations laid down by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State.
Obviously, if Members of this House get elected to the European Assembly this is one way in which there would be a relationship between that Assembly and our Parliament in Westminster. As the House will be aware, there have been proposals that all the directly elected United Kingdom Members of the European Assembly should be given membership of this House. That is one of the proposals which has been made. Alternatively, it has been proposed that such directly elected Members of the European Assembly should be given speaking but not voting rights in another place. I do not think that these suggestions have found general favour in either House and there would be obvious difficulties about implementing either of them.
The Select Committee of another place suggested that the most sensible way of proceeding would be to allow the informal links between this Parliament and the European Assembly to be established before considering the need for more formal arrangements. This is an area where we cannot hope to solve all the many problems of the inter-relationship between Parliament at Westminster and the Assembly in Strasbourg at once. Nevertheless, it is right to say on an occasion such as this that I very much welcome—as I am sure everybody else did—the speech by my noble friend Lord Greenwood of Rossendale indicating that some thought is going to be given to this by one of the Sub-Committees of this House. It is a matter of great importance and it is most desirable to get this particular matter right. The other main issue to which I want to refer is the timing of the first direct elections to the European Assembly.
There are two particular aspects to this problem. The first relates to the arrangements which must be made within the Community; the second relates to the arrangements which have to be made within the United Kingdom.
On the first point which was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Elles, Article 10 of the Council decision of September 1976 772 provides for the Council of Ministers, acting unanimously after consulting the Assembly, to determine the Thursday-to-Sunday period for the first elections. As I mentioned in opening the debate, consideration is currently being given by the Council of Ministers to a new target date. The noble Baroness asked whether this would be discussed at the Heads of Government meeting in April. I can say to her that we expect the new target date to be considered and, we hope, decided at meetings—I use the plural—which will take place in April.
On the second point, there are various steps which will have to be taken within the United Kingdom before we can finally be ready for these elections. Once the Bill has received Royal Assent, the Parliamentary Boundary Commissions for England, Scotland and Wales will publish their provisional recommendations for the single member European Assembly constituencies. They will then allow a month for representations to be made to them by the political Parties and, of course, by others. These representations will need to be considered by the Commissions, which will then make their final proposals in reports to the Home Secretary.
The noble Baroness—and I am now, I hope, about to answer some of the questions she may be about to raise—asked about the timing of Parliament's consideration of the Boundary Commissions' reports and of regulations for the conduct of these elections. As I have indicated, it is expected to take the three Parliamentary Boundary Commissions some four and a half months from Royal Assent before they submit their final reports. We would expect these reports to be laid before both Houses of Parliament in the autumn, although whether it would be at the end of the present Session or early in the new Session, frankly, I cannot predict at this stage.
On the question of the regulations raised by the noble Baroness, we would hope to publish these in draft, perhaps in the form of a White Paper, in the course of the summer, as a basis of consultation with the political Parties and others. We would then plan to lay the regulations before Parliament for approval by the Affirmative Resolution procedure in the autumn, possibly at about the same time as we invite both Houses to take a 773 decision on the reports of the Boundary Commissions.
§ Baroness ELLES
My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord the Minister for answering my questions. There is one further point which arises from his answer with regard to representations by political Parties. Are they to be in writing, will they be oral, or are they alternative? I should be grateful if the noble Lord could comment on that.
§ Lord HARRIS of GREENWICH
My Lords, I think they would probably be both. I think we would invite political Parties to make representations both in writing and, if they wished, to make representations to my right honourable friend or any of my colleages; I am sure they would be glad to meet them. I think it will be clear from what I have said that a great deal will have to be done after this Bill receives the Royal Assent. It is for this reason that the Government wish to press on with the Bill as rapidly as possible.
That brings us to the question of proportional representation, which is a central feature of the argument. I have no doubt that there is in this House a substantial majority who favour proportional representation. There is a very substantial number—and I say this as an old campaigner in debates on this subject over the last four years—of the Party opposite who favour this, as indeed do a number of my noble friends and an overwhelming majority of the Liberal Party. So I do not doubt that in this House there is a majority in favour of proportional representation. But I think we have to ask ourselves, in this connection, one extremely important question: that is, are we really going to send this whole Bill back to another place on an issue of this kind, when there is absolutely no doubt whatever that another place will not decide to change its mind on this question? There would be a significant period of delay if this Bill is sent back to another place. I must make that absolutely clear, and it is only fair to say that a number of noble Lords opposite have proclaimed themselves as firm supporters of proportional representation.
The noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, and the noble Lord, Lord Chelwood, have both drawn attention to this danger and 774 I think it is a real one. This is obviously a matter to which we can turn our attention during the Committee stage, but I think it would be an act of folly to disregard some of the risks involved if we decide to reopen this entire question and send it back to another place.
The same point, I regret to say, applies to the narrower question of votes for United Kingdom residents abroad. Again, if an issue of this kind is once again raised in this House and carried, as it may well be in certain circumstances, the whole Bill would have to go back for reconsideration on this important question and again there would be a significant period of delay. I am not saying there should not be full debate on these important questions in this House, but the considerations I am now putting to the House should be taken very seriously, as indeed I am sure they will be, by Members on all sides of the House.
There are two final points I should like to make. I very much welcomed the speech by the noble Lord, Lord Monson. If I may say so, it was a trip down memory lane, because we had all those dear old familiar arguments about the referendum campaign. We had the old "media conspiracy", of course—that was a major element in the noble Lord's speech. On the question of a "media conspiracy", to which the noble Lord was rather attracted, I must draw his attention to one rather uncomfortable piece of historical evidence which appears to go against him. That is that in 1936 Mr. Roosevelt was opposed in the Presidential election by a massive majority of the entire Press of the United States, and in that election he carried every State in the Union, with the exception of Maine and Vermont. It seems to me that we sometimes slightly overstate the power of the Press in these matters. I do not believe that that is the reason why the overwhelming majority of the British people voted as they did in 1975. I think they knew exactly the issues which were put to them, and they consciously decided to vote in favour of continued British membership of the European Community.
§ Lord MONSON
My Lords, if I may interrupt the noble Lord, I never mentioned the word "conspiracy". I do not doubt for a moment that the majority 775 of the editors of the Press are quite sincere in their beliefs, and the word "conspiracy" was never used or implied.
§ Lord HARRIS of GREENWICH
However, my Lords, I think that all those who were in the House and who heard the speech of the noble Lord would come to the conclusion that he was suggesting something pretty adjacent to a conspiracy. I turn now to the speech of my noble friend Lord Bruce of Donington, who, as always, made an interesting, hard-hitting speech—one which, I regret to say, I did not wholly agree with, for reasons which I will come to in a moment. My noble friend referred to what he described as "euphoria" by those who were in favour of the Bill. He said that in his view the enthusiasm of those who favoured the Bill was misplaced because the European Assembly was an organisation of no particular importance and under the new arrangements it was going to become an organisation of even less importance. That was the view of my noble friend. That being so, I was slightly puzzled by his anxieties about the publicity campaign of the European Commission because obviously, if it is an organisation of absolutely no importance whatever and under the new arrangements is going to be of even less importance, it is a little surprising that he is so concerned about the publicity campaign of the European Commission, which is of course aimed at drawing attention to the fact that people, for the first time in their lives, are going to vote for an Assembly which is to cover the whole of Western Europe. With great respect to my noble friend, it does seem to me that he must have it either one way or the other.
He raised the question of the cost of this campaign. He was very concerned about that, and obviously it is right that when these regulations are discussed we should devote some attention to the question of election expenses. Certainly I agree with the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, that it would be wholly improper if the European Commission were in any way to adopt a partisan position during this campaign. But there is not the remotest likelihood of their doing so. The fact is that a publicity or information campaign of this kind is aimed at simply giving essential background information to the 776 voters of this country. There would, indeed, be a cost of some five million units of account, but this would not be spent in the United Kingdom; it would be spent throughout the whole of the European Community.
That is all that I wish to say to the House on this occasion, save for this. As I indicated when I moved the Second Reading of the Bill, I think that this is an important day for Europe and for this country. It will be an even greater day when this Bill is on the Statute Book, and I hope that we are going to ensure that that day arrives as swiftly as possible.
On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.