§ 3.34 p.m.
§ Baroness LLEWELYN-DAVIES of HASTOE
My Lords, I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen to acquaint the House that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the European Assembly Elections Bill, has consented to place her prerogative and interest, so far as they are affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.
§ The MINISTER of STATE, HOME OFFICE (Lord Harris of Greenwich)
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a third time.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 3ª. —(Lord Harris of Greenwich.)
§ Lord BANKS
My Lords, we on these Benches feel that we cannot allow this Bill to pass from this House without emphasising once again how much we deplore the failure of Parliament to provide for these elections to the European Parliament to take place on the basis of proportional representation. We believe 364 that a great injustice is being done to millions of voters in this country. They are not by any means all of one Party, although naturally members of my own Party throughout the country are bitter and angry at the decision. Liberal voters do not throw bombs and they do not shoot people, but that is no reason why they should be deprived of their proper representation.
Nevertheless, although our hands are tied behind our backs by the electoral system, the Liberal Party will take part in these elections. We hope that the directly elected European Parliament will gain in influence and authority. We wish it well, and we look forward to the day when its Members from this country will be elected in a fairer and more representative way.
§ On Question, Bill read 3ª.
§ Lord HARRIS of GREENWICH
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill do now pass. In doing so I should like to express my gratitude to Members in all parts of the House for the help they have given us in ensuring that this Bill should make speedy progress through this House. I recognise, in so doing, the strongly held views of the noble Lord, Lord Banks, and his colleagues, and indeed a number of those who voted in the Committee stage in favour of a form of proportional representation so far as these elections are concerned.
Nevertheless, it was the view of the House that regarding these first elections it was right to proceed on the basis that appeared on the face of the Bill. In addition I make the further point, as I did during Committee stage, that we recognise that this is an interim solution and that we shall have to return to this matter when the next series of elections to the European Assembly take place.
Having said that, I think it only right to bring the House up to date with the situation so far as Parliamentary approval throughout the European Community is concerned. As the House may be aware, similar legislation has now been passed in Denmark, in France, in Germany, and in the Republic of Ireland, and I understand that Bills have now been introduced in the Belgian and Luxembourg Parliaments, and that this stage should shortly be reached in Italy and the Netherlands.
365 Once the Bill has received Royal Assent the Parliamentary Boundary Commissions for England, Scotland and Wales, will be able to make progress on the determination of the single-Member European Assembly constituencies in each country. They have naturally been giving some advanced thought to this, and should be able to publish their provisional recommendations quite soon. I understand that at least the English Commission is likely to do this by means of announcements in the national Press to enable all concerned to see how the 66 proposed constituencies relate to each other in the context of England as a whole. There will then be a period for representations to be made to the Commissions which they will consider before submitting reports with their final recommendations to the Secretary of State.
These reports will then be laid before both Houses of Parliament with a draft Order in Council giving effect to the Commission's recommendations with or without modifications. The draft Order in Council will, of course, be subject to the Affirmative Resolution procedure in both Houses. While the Boundary Commissions are at work the Government will be preparing the draft regulations to be made under the Bill for the conduct of these elections. There will probably be two sets of regulations. One set will relate to the conduct of elections under the simple majority system in Great Britain, and the other set will relate to the conduct of elections by STV in Northern Ireland. We propose to consult the political Parties and the local authority associations in the preparation of these regulations, and to publish them in draft, perhaps as a White Paper, for public comment. The regulations, revised if necessary in the light of comments made on them, will then be laid before both Houses and will also be subject to the Affirmative Resolution procedure.
We hope the new constituencies and the detailed regulations for the conduct of elections can have been approved by Parliament by the end of November. That would give the political Parties a reasonable period of time for the selection of candidates and the candidates a reasonable period of time in which to get to know their constituencies. When the Bill has received the Royal Assent and the Council decision of September 1976 has 366 been designated as a Community Treaty under the normal Order in Council procedure, it will be open to us to ratify the Council decision. When all Member States have similarly ratified, the decision can come into effect. We are now at the final stages of a Bill of great significance. It will greatly extend the opportunity for the peoples of Europe to exercise democratic control over the institutions of the Community. I believe this is a day of high importance to this country and to the whole future of Europe.
§ Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(Lord Harris of Greenwich.)
§ 3.42 p.m.
§ The Earl of MANSFIELD
My Lords, noble Lords on these Benches will join me in associating with the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, in recording our great satisfaction that the Bill is now to be sent on its way. It will have been a long road before the Bill receives its Royal Assent. But the result of it all—that this country is now in a position to say that we have not put ourselves into such a state that we are in effect reneging on our obligations and commitments to our European partners, and that at a time when perhaps our European partners do not regard the United Kingdom as the most co-operative of the Members of the Community—is something from which we can derive great satisfaction.
I sympathise with the noble Lord, Lord Banks, and his Party, although I do not share his concern at the form in which the Bill is leaving this House. Perhaps it will be of some consolation to him to know that, before the next direct elections to the European Parliament take place, there will have to be an agreed method of election, and it is probable, if not inevitable, that there will be a proportional element in that second election. I have no doubt that the noble Lord and his Party will be able to bring their influence to bear to get what they consider to be a more just and equitable solution.
It would not be right not to record our satisfaction that the Labour Party have apparently announced that they too are to contest the elections. It will mean, I hope, that a well-balanced team will go out from Britain next year, not that the team that my noble friends and I joined 367 in 1973 was not well-balanced, though perhaps it was a little less democratic.
§ On Question, Bill passed.