§ 3 p.m.
§ Lord BANKS
rose to call attention to the desirability of increasing the effective power and influence of the European Parliament once it is directly elected; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I rise to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. The Motion draws attention tothe desirability of increasing the effective power and influence of the European Parliament once it is directly elected".I should like to begin by thanking those noble Lords who have indicated their intention to take part in this debate, and I note with satisfaction that they include three former Members of the European Parliament, the Chairman of the Select Committee on the European Communities of this House and a former Minister of State at the Foreign Office. The noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, is to reply to the debate on behalf of the Government, and I should like to take this opportunity, on behalf of those of us on these Benches, of congratulating him on his appointment as a Minister of State.
On 11th June we shall know the results in the first direct elections to the European Parliament, and I believe that that event will be one of considerable significance. I believe that will be so because, first, it will emphasise the commitment of the EEC to democracy; secondly, it will help to develop a European consciousness —and already we see political organisation across national frontiers within the Community—and, thirdly, for the first time there will be an institution of the Community which derives, not from Governments, not from national Parliaments, but directly from the people of the Community. It seemed to those of us on these Benches that this was a suitable moment to consider whether the power and influence of that directly elected Parliament should be increased once these direct elections have taken place.
I suppose the first question to ask is whether a European Parliament is necessary at all. Of course, an assembly of this kind can act as a sounding board; as an opportunity for parliamentarians of the different countries to meet together —and other treaty organisations have 445 such a body. But while such a body may acquire considerable influence, it does not need power. I suppose such a body can serve, too, as an advisory body, but in that case it requires the right to be consulted, not necessarily power. However, I believe that a European Parliament is necessary, not merely as a sounding board and not merely as an advisory body, but to exercise a degree of democratic control: democratic control over the activities of the Commission, which puts up the ideas, and the Council of Ministers, which takes the decisions. Perhaps I shall be told that the national Parliaments do that, but I do not believe that it is possible for the national Parliaments to do that effectively; and to say that is not to cast any reflection on the useful work of scrutiny which is carried out by the national Parliaments, and not least by the Select Committee of your Lordships' House, looking at proposed legislation, seeing how it affects national interests and influencing the shape of proposed legislation. But while national Parliaments have varying degrees of control over their national Ministers in the Council of Ministers, and choose to exercise varying degrees of control, at best that control must be limited.
The noble Lord the Leader of the House, when Vice-President of the European Commission, speaking at Whitchurch on 18th September 1976, with his very considerable experience of the working of the EEC institutions, said this:The importance of direct elections lies first of all in the fact that they will extend real democratic accountability into areas of Community decision-making which cannot at present be subjected to effective parliamentary scrutiny".I repeat, my Lords: "… which cannot at present be subjected to effective parliamentary scrutiny." The noble Lord went on to say:…the national Parliaments … do their best to keep tabs' on what their Ministers do in Council. But they are finding that there is not as much scope for this as they would like—since Ministers quite reasonably believe that the national interests for which they are held responsible are best served by keeping their hands free to negotiate and bargain at Council meetings".I believe that that is an accurate statement of the position. The Commission and the Council of Ministers cannot be effectively controlled by national Parliaments. This argument is underlined by the fact that the Community is to be financed from its 446 own resources. No Parliament other than the European Parliament will exercise control over the Community budget.
Are the present powers of the European Parliament sufficient to carry out this function of democratic control? What are they? First of all, there is the power to ventilate any matter which the Parliament wishes to raise. Secondly, there is the power or the right to question the Commission, and, by convention, the right to question the Council. Then there is the right to be consulted; the right to express an opinion to the Council of Ministers on proposed legislation; and the opportunity which that procedure provides to influence the Commission, so that the Commission may be persuaded to amend the proposals which it is putting forward. There has also been developed the "own initiative" procedure, whereby committees of the Parliament may present reports calling upon the Commission to take action, so that in a sense the Parliament has the opportunity to take the initiative to start events in train. But, of course, the Parliament is not consulted on the final form in which legislation is presented to the Council; and that is a matter for complaint on the part of many of its Members.
Then there is the degree of budgetary control which the Parliament has as a result of amendment to the treaties in 1970 and 1975. There is the power to reject the budget as a whole, the power to suggest amendments to the obligatory part of the budget—that part of the budget which is held to flow from the terms of the Treaty—and the right to compel amendment, within limits, to the non-obligatory party, which admittedly, of course, is much the smaller part of the budget. Then there is the conciliation procedure which has been instituted, by convention, between the Parliament and the Council of Ministers. Finally, there is the considerable power of the right to dismiss the Commission as a whole. So we see that powers exist. Last year the European Parliament was able to increase substantially the Regional Fund by acting within the existing powers. But, my Lords, the formal powers are inevitably limited, though we see that the formal powers have been increased in practice, extended in practice, by the observance by the institutions of certain conventions. 447 If the Parliament is to exercise effective democratic control over both the Commission and the Council, but especially the Council, described in the Vedel Report asthe sole effective centre of power in the system",then it must use such powers as it has to the full. But how can it use these powers more effectively? I think the fact of being directly elected, of having been elected by the peoples of the Community, will give an additional moral authority to the Parliament and will enable it to use its powers with even greater confidence than in the past. Secondly, I think that by development by agreement with the Council and the Commission through further conventions, we shall see a further extension of the Parliament's powers. For example, the Commission might make it normal practice to accept parliamentary amendments to its proposals and to support these at Council stage, even to the extent of automatically withdrawing any proposal if the Council did not accept parliamentary amendments.
Then, the Vedel Committee, which a few years ago looked at the powers of the Parliament, recommended a suspensive veto for the Parliament, and the Council might well agree to suspend for a given period the application of any decision conflicting with the Parliament's opinion and, during that given period, to apply the conciliation procedure.
When the relations between the European Parliament and this Parliament were discussed in this House on 30th January this year, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Diplock, referred to the growth in the Community of constitutional conventions of this kind. He said:Experience has shown that constitutional conventions—nothing that is written in the Treaty—and sometimes conventions that are contrary to the text of the Treaty, play a major part in the way in which the whole thing works".He added:With the creation of a new type of Member, with more time on his hands and with no other power base, I would predict that those constitutional conventions—which have grown quite rapidly during the last few years—will grow still more rapidly in the future ".—[Official Report, Col. 53; 30/1/79].So we see that, through the increased moral authority that a directly-elected Parliament will have and through the 448 possible development of further conventions, the Parliament could increase its effective powers. Thirdly, I believe it might do so by the skilful use of the somewhat drastic powers it has to reject the budget as a whole and to dismiss the Commission. Should we in these circumstances seek any increase in the formal powers? We see that there could be a considerable increase in the effective powers within the existing legal powers. Should we simply rely on that? Well, an increase in legal powers would mean securing the agreement of all the member-States and it means fresh national legislation at least in Britain and France. It is welcome then that there are ways of increasing the effective powers of the Parliament without amendment of the treaty. Nevertheless, reliance on conventions which could be overturned at any time is not, I feel, a satisfactory final solution.
I see no reason why we should not seek amendment of the Treaty to make secure the extra power that we want for the Parliament. After all, this was done so far as powers over the budget were concerned in 1970 and 1975. As a first step, the additional powers which I would suggest the Parliament might have, or for which those who want to see the Parliament having more power should press, are these. First, the Parliament should have co-decision on legislation with the Council. This would not be substituting anything for the existing process; it would not be taking away from the existing process, but it would be insisting that the endorsement of the Parliament was necessary before a piece of legislation was passed into law.
Secondly, and linked with that, the Parliament should have the power to ratify treaties which are negotiated by the Commission and approved by the Council of Ministers with third parties. Thirdly, the Parliament should be given full power over the whole of the budget and not merely a part of it—and that the smaller part. Finally, the Parliament should have a say in the appointment of Commissioners. Co-decision and power over the whole of the budget are probably the most far-reaching of those proposals. Neither takes power away from the national Parliaments. Co-decision adds a power to the European Parliament to veto what is produced by the existing 449 system. Control over the whole budget gives a power that no democratic Parliament exercises at the present time. If we believe that the European Parliament should have more power, surely we should seek to create the climate of opinion in which an extension of the formal powers can be achieved.
To sum up, my Lords, in my opinion the directly-elected European Parliament is vitally necessary to exercise a democratic control over the Community institutions which will not otherwise effectively be subject to such control. For that reason, once the European Parliament has been democratically elected, it is desirable that its effective power and influence should be progressively increased, whether by the skilful use of existing powers, by the development of further conventions or, as I would hope, by the granting of additional formal powers. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.
§ 3.15 p.m.
The PRINCIPAL DEPUTY CHAIRMAN of COMMITTEES (Lord Green-wood of Rossendale)
My Lords, on behalf of the noble Lords who sit on the Select Committee and on the sub-committees of that Select Committee, I should like to begin what will be a short speech by saying how greatly we appreciated the more than generous references that the Lord President of the Council made to us in his first speech to your Lordships' House as the Lord President. He knows so much more about the Community than the great majority of those 100 noble Lords like myself who serve the House in this way. We appreciated it. I should like also to join with the noble Lord, Lord Banks, in welcoming the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, to his present position and to say how much we look forward to the sympathetic answer from him that we know that we shall get this afternoon.
As always, I enjoyed very much the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Banks. I do not propose to deal in detail with the specific proposals—many of them very radical and important proposals—that he made; and I do not propose to do that because I question very much the desirability of discussing this issue today. It is a matter of the greatest importance. We are facing a very critical time, indeed, and if Her Majesty's Government or this 450 House were to make grave mistakes at this time they would be mistakes that we should have to live with for many years to come. Therefore, I should have preferred it if the Liberal Party had been able to find some other subject to discuss. That is purely my own point of view; but I think that the small number of noble Lords who have put down their names to speak indicates that perhaps other noble Lords share my view that this is a matter which might profitably have been discussed at a rather later stage.
Why do I think that this is the wrong moment? First, I think it is the wrong moment because it is too early in the life of the present Government. They have got many problems which must be engaging their attention at the moment and I should not have thought that it was right to put a matter of long-term importance, one which calls for very cool and calm analysis, before them at this stage. Secondly, I think it is a pity because we do not know what the European Members of Parliament themselves are going to feel on this subject. I should have thought that the course of common sense demands that, if we are going to make provisions which will affect them, we should wait until they are elected so that we can discuss it with them and then calmly reach a decision. My third reason is that, in the run-up to an election, I should have thought that it was most injudicious to make references to the possibility of increasing the powers of the assembly which is going to be elected. Speaking personally, I think it unlikely that those powers will be changed; but I can imagine nothing more calculated to cause alarm among the public than the thought that they are electing an assembly with a set of powers which, almost immediately after the election, may well be extended.
Under Article 137 of the Treaty of Rome, the European Assembly or European Parliament is specifically defined as an "advisory and supervisory body", a body with defined and limited powers. Yet, as we know from what the noble Lord, Lord Banks, has been saying, over the past few months there has been doubt about some of the existing powers of the European Parliament. Your Lordships may like to know that one of our subcommittees under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, is very shortly to publish a report on the budget 451 which will include some of the legal considerations that have been shown to be involved in the happenings of the past few months.
The Parliament is basically a scrutiny body, and many of us—perhaps I feel this more strongly than many of your Lordships—consider that scrutiny is the basic responsibility of the European Parliament, and that the democratic control of what happens there comes through the Council of Ministers. I believe that it is the wish of the national Parliaments, operating through Ministers answerable to those Parliaments, that political policy in the Community must be decided. It is through the Council of Ministers that we see democratic control through Parliament being exercised. That is one of my basic differences with the noble Lord, Lord Banks. That must not be changed, but once again I emphasise that in this respect I am speaking personally.
I was greatly heartened by the fact that the Conservative manifesto for Europe said on page 20 that no extension of the European Parliament's powers was called for and, with respect, that is the view I hold. The essential point now is to make a success of the European Parliament that we have. We have to put our backs into it; we have to stop criticising the way that it acts as much as we do. There are clearly many things about the Parliament, many things about the Community, which are wrong and unfair; but we shall remedy what is wrong much more readily if we complain less frequently that we have been robbed. Everybody has to accept that, whatever they want, we are going to have the European Parliament with us in the foreseeable future.
That is why your Lordships' Select Committee gave a great deal of thought to the relationship which should be established between this House and the European Parliament. We wanted to find ways and means of producing a fruitful relationship between the two. We debated the proposals that the Select Committee made in January. I do not want to go into them in detail today. Many of your Lordships will remember that both the Front Bench speakers, my noble friend Lord Peart and the noble Baroness, Lady Files, while expressing a 452 great deal of sympathy with the suggestions we made, very properly said that it would be quite wrong to make a decision until the new European Members of Parliament had been elected so that their views could be taken into account. That is exactly the point of view I still take today.
Three weeks from now, the new European Parliament will have been elected and I hope very much that the noble Earl and the Lord President of the Council will in the meantime be studying very carefully the proposals that the Select Committee made just a few months ago. Those proposals had both imagination and, I hope, statesmanship and responsibility to commend them. Even if the Government do not accept them all, even if the European Members do not accept them all, they are nevertheless the basis for discussion. It would be a great pity to try to go too far ahead today without having given them the consideration that they deserve.
May I conclude by saying that I reiterate my own belief that the European Parliament's powers should not be increased, at any rate at this stage, and that within that framework European Members of Parliament must have their say, not only in regulating their own affairs and their own procedures, but also in working out the kind of relationship that they want to have with this House and with other Parliaments in the Community. I know that the Lord President of the Council and the noble Earl will appreciate the importance of being prepared for the moment when the decisions have to be made. Knowing them as we do, we can all be confident that the results of their deliberations will be marked by the creation of warm, mutual respect between the disparate institutions of the Communities.
We must begin with generosity and understanding; we must show that we want to achieve the right relationship with this completely new institution. The flexibility, tolerance, generosity and warmth of the welcome that we give to this new body over the next few weeks will influence our history for decades to come.
§ 3.26 p.m.
§ Lord ARDWICK
My Lords, I was not aware of what my noble friend Lord 453 Greenwood was going to say. All I can say is that, having heard him, I agree with every single word that he has spoken this afternoon. The words of the noble Lord, Lord Banks, which form the subject of today's debate are no doubt deliberately vague. He speaks of the desirability of increasing the effective power and influence of the European Parliament once it is directly elected. He does not call on the British Government to make such a proposal, either in Westminster, or in the Council of Ministers. It is just as well: the new Government, if I understand them correctly, are no more in favour of immediate constitutional change than were their predecessors—change that would deprive themselves and this Parliament of power and transfer it to the Council of Ministers and the European Parliamentarians. This is the case even though the latter will be able to say they have been sent there by the people, though I must regretfully add that it will be only 30 or 40 per cent. of the people of Britain unless the current election can be brought to life.
This debate is about the influence that the new Parliament should exercise so far as this country is concerned: its influence will to some extent depend on whether it is roughly representative of the main political parties in this country—the parties that advance our views and defend our interests. If the vote is small—under 50 per cent.—if the two main parties have a representation that is widely different from the one that one would expect judging by the General Election results, and if the party of the noble Lord, Lord Banks, is not represented at all, then the British contingent will command less influence and evoke less interest than it ought to do.
The election that we are now engaged in is taking place at a most unfortunate time. Political passions have been dissipated by the general election, which was accompanied in many parts of the country by local elections. I am sorry for the candidates who are fighting this election, very often in a climate of apathy and hostile prejudice. We have given them ridiculous constituencies that often range over vast tracts of territory, constituencies that have no acknowledged unity. That happens in Westminster constituencies too, but if one is dealing with only 50,000 people one can wear that. If one is 454 dealing with half a million people in a constituency which is of enormous extent and where there is no homogeneity, there will be very great problems for candidates and for parties which have no traditional party organisation belonging to that kind of region.
The parties today have not the money to advertise extensively, nor has the general election left those stalwarts on whom we all depend—the partyworkers—perhaps with very much energy to conduct a series of leaflet raids on the letterbox. You may get one or perhaps two deliveries, but I do not think there will be anything like what is needed. As for meetings, some of us know from personal experience that few people will leave the television set even on a fair summer evening to attend a political meeting about this rather elusive and almost unknown body, the European Parliament.
Therefore at this moment we are terribly dependent on our national leaders breaking away from the national political battle in this first and most interesting phase with the new Government, and preaching to the multitudes through the television screen. I hope we shall see them during the next fortnight; but how often they will appear and what message they will have and with what power and conviction they will preach it, I would not dare to prophesy. There is, however, one danger that they might avoid: that of being preponderantly negative. It now appears that the party opposite is claiming that it will be just as vigorous as the Labour Government was in demanding the reform of the CAP and that we should bear a less unfair share of the budgetary burden. The new Minister of Agricuture has already begun to make his pleas, so although the British voice will now be the mellifluous tenor voice of Walker the hands will still be the hairy hands of Silkin. This is what we have been promised and we hope this is what will happen.
In his speech yesterday, the noble Lord the Foreign Secretary touched on the positive side of the Government's European policy—but "touch" is the right word, for while it was excellent as far as it went it did not go very far at all. The noble Lord came down most heavily and at greatest length on the negative side on the strictures that must be addressed on the budget and on the farming policies. 455 So the positive side of his utterances about Europe, if not altogether inevitably swamped by his Rhodesian utterances, got lost; and it will get lost unless the party leaders on all sides preach it vigorously. I hope they will talk to the nation about the future of the Community, about the prospects of political cooperation. On that, what is ringing in my mind is what I thought was the most striking phrase used in the debate yesterday in the European section by my noble friend Lord Goronwy-Roberts, when he said that political unity—by which of course he was not implying any kind of federal context—was a pearl without price. Of course, the phrase is not original—I do not pretend that it is; I have heard it before—but I think that sometimes an old metaphor communicates more powerfully than a new one. This was something which was very important. He also made the point that this political unity must be reinforced and that we must restore and develop the economic co-hesiveness of the Community.
I have now the belief that our political leaders should be looking forward to a co-ordinated effort throughout the Community to a return to economic expansion and full employment, on the basis of a less unstable monetary system, and side by side with a European industrial policy that concerts our national efforts to restructure the great labour-intensive declining industries and assists our ability to cope with the terrible social problems that restructuring must cause, and also stimulates the growth of new industries on the base of a wide European market —which is the only basis on which they can compete effectively with the United States and Japan. These are the subjects that we shall be talking about in these elections and these are the subjects the new Parliament will have to discuss during the next five years.
I do not believe that there will be a chance of increasing its power even if it were desirable. I hope it will not waste all its time making strident demands for power over the Commission and trying to rival the powers of the Council. Such demands would be unacceptable to the French, to the Danes and to us and, I think, to other member nations too, who say less about it than we three member nations do. But increase its influence 456 —yes: much will depend on the wisdom the Parliament shows and the assiduity with which it performs its tasks. It will have to come up eventually to the standards of wisdom which the present Parliament, now in its death throes, has reached. We have had an assembly of experienced parliamentarians in Europe for many years, many of whom had had governmental experience.
The old Parliament's worst enemy has been itself. Every time it has proclaimed the legitimacy of the elected Parliament to come it has flourished in the face of the world its own irregular birth certificate. it has been its own worst detractor. The one virtue that the old Parliament could not claim was conspicuous assiduity. Many Members have worked most heroically, trying to combine their national responsibilities with the rigorous committee work of the European Parliament. That applies to a number of people in this House and in the other place. This has become more difficult as the economic difficulties of member nations have produced political crisis after political crisis. These crises have demanded the presence of members of the European delegations on the home front, simply because—it took us a long time to realise this—the multi-party coalition system does not permit them to have a proper pairing system such as we have in this country. We are probably unique: it is a British phenomenon.
The new Parliament will have the assistance of about 40 Members of the old one: 40 out of 400 is a rather small leaven of experience in a lump of learners. Many of the Members of the new Parliament will have had no parliamentary experience, and that is why I think we ought to be a little cautious in talking about whether they should increase their powers or even their influence. Many of them will be coming straight from local public life or from business or professional experience into international politics, and we know from experience in this House how often eminent figures are brought here, and they come here and they think they are going to take part in the proceedings of this House. Then, after a week or two, they realise that parliamentary life is not for them. They have reached such degrees of eminence and they are reduced to sitting and listening to other people— 457 particularly to people who have perhaps inferior minds or less experience.
So with this new Parliament we must give them time to learn and they must give themselves time to learn before they become ambitious to increase their influence. But once they are ready they will find there is plenty to do to probe, to amend, criticise and publicise the work of the Commission, and publicly to try to kick the Council out of the torpor produced by its narrow pursuit or defence of immediate national interests. As the noble Lord, Lord Banks, said, the new Members will be able to undertake work on their own initiative and they can inspire and embolden the Commission. If they are to do this it will depend upon the emergence of new leaders in the Parliament.
Some people have been led by the presence of famous international names in the lists of member nations to assume that the Parliament will be led by political "stars"; but I very much doubt it. I think in many cases they will be used as bellwethers to rally the flock of the faithful for the elections, and they may make an appearance once or twice and then, if I may use another familiar metaphor, they will fold up their tents and silently steal away. The men of influence in the Parliament must be those who undertake the rigorous duties of rapporteurs, the chairmanship of groups and the membership of the bureaux of the Parliament. It could be a very good, influential Parliament. It could be a bad one, if the Members who go there put their constituencies above everything else, then put their region above everything else, then put their country above everything else and only last think of the total future of the Community, whose development is among the major interests of every member State.
§ 3.41 p.m.
§ Lord MURRAY of GRAVESEND
My Lords, it always sounds very reactionary if you say that the time is not right to do something, because throughout the ages politicians have been saying "We should like to do it, but this is not the time". However, I believe that this is not the time for what the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Banks, is asking. To talk of an extension of powers in the 458 midst of what appears to be an election campaign, but when the greatest activity seems to be apathy and when we are trying to encourage people to take some interest in what is happening in Europe. would be not only damaging to the election campaign, but also misleading.
The British Labour Party and the Conservative Party are against any extension of the powers at the present time. It may be that, like all Parliaments in the past, they cannot commit their successors. But having said that, most of the European parties are against changes or extensions of powers at the present time. Certainly, the French are against them, the Germans are against them and almost all of the major powers involved in the Community are against them. It would create further problems not only for the national parties, but also for candidates in the election, to talk about powers, when they are not even certain what they are. So it is too early to consider that.
As the noble Lord, Lord Banks, and other noble Lords know, my party is not necessarily totally in favour of the whole venture. I speak as a pro-European who thinks that, at the present moment, any talk of leaving Europe—and some people still talk about leaving Europe —would be an economic Dunkirk and, rather like the previous Dunkirk, I do not think that there would be any going back. Nevertheless, even during this election campaign, our Manifesto points to the possibility of the British Parliament wanting for some time to take us out. What we have to do—and I follow what my noble friend Lord Ardwick has said— is to try to steer our parties towards getting some interest in this campaign, and to make sure that the British people understand. Certainly, if we have taken any notice of Gallup polls over the past year or so—and, unfortunately, they were proved more right than wrong on 3rd May—they have shown that the British people feel that our membership of the Community has not been a totally good thing for Britain. So I think that these elections are an opportunity to give new impetus to the European ideal.
It may be that the new Members of the European Parliament will want to extend their powers and to change the situation. Certainly, they will want to examine the present powers. But if they wanted to 459 change or extend their powers and influence—and I am one of those who believe that they have a lot of influence, anyway—their battle would not be against fellow Members of that Parliament. It would not necessarily be against the Commission. Their battle would be against their own Governments, because that is where the power lies. Certainly, political parties in this country have pointed out, time and time again, that they want to retain the sovereignty of the British Parliament in this situation. So that there would be a battle against the Council of Ministers and their own Governments, rather than just a matter of talking to the Commission and to their own colleagues.
But what further powers do they want? We might ask what powers we have as Members of the House of Lords, particularly if we are in opposition. What powers do Members of the other place have if they are in Opposition? We can do exactly what Members of the European Parliament can do. Probing questions can be asked, and in lots of ways at a better level. The 12 committees in the committee system allow you to have more of a "go" at the Commission, to make more attacks, to ask more probing questions and to exert greater influence on the Commission than we are able to do in this place, when we are putting questions to the Government of the day. It may well be that we should be looking at what powers we have, rather than talking about stronger powers and influence for the Members of the European Parliament. Furthermore, apart from putting questions there are the short debates.
One of the matters which my noble friend Lord Greenwood quite rightly raised was the problem that has to be sorted out between us in this place and in the other place, and the members of the European Parliament. That is a more important and urgent question than the matter of giving them greater powers. It is rather ridiculous that, if one of the 13-man Commission makes a mess of something, the only way of getting rid of him is to get rid of the other 12 as well. It seems a little unfair that you have to sack his colleagues in order to get rid of him. It could be said that, because of the majority you must have, it is virtually impossible to sack a Commissioner who has not lived up to expectations or has not 460 done his job properly. It may well be that, at some stage, we shall want to look at the appointment of Commissioners and to see whether the system is democratic enough. The Government of the day can say "We are going to have Joe Bloggs or Fred Smith as our two new Commissioners for Europe" and that is, in very many ways, a totally undemocratic process.
On the question of influence, under the committee system there is a great deal of work done. Here I give credit to the Labour delegation in the European Parliament. It has tried to extend the influence of the Parliament, not just by attacking and probing on committees or by trying to influence their colleagues on committees, but by trying to extend the number of public hearings. My noble friend Lord Bruce has had a public hearing on questions of environment and pollution, in such cases as the "Amoco Cadiz". My colleagues tried to get a public hearing on the question of human rights in Argentina. Indeed, there is now talk of a public hearing on the question of human rights in the Soviet Union. So that there is this constant pressure to widen the influence of the Parliament and I believe that, in those terms, the influence is virtually unlimited. But there is a lot to be done.
I should like to present a little "commercial", which the Liberal Party might like to see. The Labour delegation in Europe has just produced for the third year its own booklet on that delegation's activities. That gives a first-class outline of what can be done by Members of Parliament in the European Parliament. As my noble friend Lord Ardwick said, we are faced with the prospect of 410 new members, only 40 of whom will have had parliamentary experience of some kind or another. We have to say to them "Your job, once elected to Europe, is to represent as well as you can the interests of your constituents", and then this Parliament, at some time in the future, may want to look at the question of powers, but not now.
§ 3.50 p.m.
§ Lord BALLANTRAE
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, and the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, for allowing me to intervene for two minutes in this debate. A great deal of good sense has been uttered since I 461 passed my request to the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers. The noble Lord, Lord Greenwood of Rossendale, stole most of my clothes, leaving me with not much more than my old regimental tie. Much of what I wanted to say has already been said. However, I view with great misgiving any proposal to increase the powers of a body which has not yet had the opportunity to exercise its full muscle. We should not venture on to the ice before we know how thick it is. I have had some experience of the setting up of international bodies. On the whole, they have been extremely successful, because we went slowly and quietly to start with. To increase the power and influence of a wholly unknown quality would be suicidal. It would be like issuing a blank cheque, with all the attendant inherent dangers.
May I add that we as a country are not yet, as a whole, fully aware of the importance of this body. If I may say so without being offensive to anybody, I am disappointed by the quality of the candidates. There are a good many excellent candidates, including a nephew of my own, but there are also very many untried people—some catapults, the strength of whose elastic has not yet been tested, and some volcanoes which are extinct, except for the continuous emission of hot air. I am worried about the quality of the candidates, although next time round I think that the European Parliament will probably appeal to a wider range of candidates than we have at present. It is a chicken and egg situation: we shall not have good candidates until we have seen the quality of the Parliament, and we shall not get a good Parliament until we have good candidates. We must proceed slowly. We must not be unduly rash or forge ahead too quickly. In conclusion, may I add that I endorse every word that was spoken by the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood of Rossendale. This Parliament has got to be made a success. It must not be allowed to fail. For goodness' sake, do not let us be rash during its early stages.
§ 3.53 p.m.
§ Lord GLADWYN
My Lords, everybody knows that the formal powers of the new European Parliament cannot, so far as this country is concerned, be increased unless they are approved by all nine countries and by all nine governments— 462 and soon there will be 12 governments—and unless such approval is subsequently ratified by all nine and possibly by all 12 Parliaments. On the face of it, this provision— imposed as a result of the frenzied activities during the past year of the French and then the British anti-Common Marketeers—makes it virtually impossible to increase the powers of the new Parliament until such time as new Parliaments in Westminster and Paris reverse the decision which they have already taken. On the face of it also, although I am not sure about this, this would seem to apply as well to Conventions which do not come formally under the treaty.
Even if new Parliaments did reverse their view—which is unlikely until the climate of opinion both here and across the Channel changes—it would always be open to any Government to claim that, under the existing treaties, it had the right to veto, in the Council of Ministers, any prospective change in the new Parliament's powers. This does not, naturally, invalidate the view that the new Parliament should indeed, in principle, have more powers, notably those recommended by Tindemans and Vedel. It is possible that the new Parliament may press for some of these powers at an early stage, or soon after it has settled down. We cannot discard that possibility.
My noble friend Lord Banks has already indicated what the present powers are, and they are not inconsiderable—more especially, perhaps, the power to summon and interrogate both the Council and the Commission and subject them in public to informed criticism. If it wanted to, the new Parliament could also make a nuisance of itself by, for instance, dismissing the entire Commission, or by holding up the passing of the entire budget until some increase, which a majority of the Parliament desired, had been approved by the Ministerial Council. But the sacking of the Commissioners would not, presumably, result in a total failure to function on the part of the Commission. It would probably carry on its activities under some temporary replacements installed by the Ministers who might not necessarily agree to appear for interrogation by the Parliament. So there would probably be some kind of stalemate. Though the Parliament might 463 well, as things are, win a tussle with the Ministers over the budget, it could only, in the present circumstances, be in respect of some fairly small increase in total expenditure. It could also refuse to sanction the entire budget, but that, rather like the nuclear bomb, is a weapon which would have to be employed with extreme caution!
So the real question, as it seems to me, is whether the new Parliament will try to have an early showdown with the Council of Ministers in which it might come off second best, or whether it will, with the aid of the Commission, seek, rather, to act in such a way that Ministers will, in practice, be obliged to take serious account of what it says and take their decisions in the light of what the Parliament is proposing. This is just what the more intelligent of the anti-Marketeers suspect that it will do. That is why they are so fearful that the new, directly-elected Parliament will prove to be the first step towards creating what I would call a workable Community in which decisions are ultimately taken democratically, with the consent of the majority of European citizens.
One of the reasons for thinking that the new, elected Parliament will have considerably greater standing than the old one is that, unlike the situation here, nearly all the other countries of the Community are going to elect, as part of their delegations, Parliamentarians of great influence, such as Willy Brandt, Madame Simone Weil, or Edgar Faure, to name only a few. These men and women will have a great say at home. And if they are, by any chance, convinced, as a result of high level discussions with the representatives of the Commission, that the attitude of their own Government on some great issue before the Council is wrong, they will undoubtedly come back and make a fuss—and, incidentally, seek to influence their own constituents—so as, if possible, to have public opinion at home behind them. In this way, I have no doubt at all that the new Parliament will have much more influence than its predecessor has had—and that despite all the feverish efforts of the "antis", both here and in Paris, to clip its wings in every way they can.
However, there is another essential reform, which I believe is even more 464 important than the powers of the Parliament, which could be brought about not by changing but simply by abiding by the treaties. That is an improvement of the decision-making processes in the Council of Ministers as effected by the so-called "Luxembourg Compromise". I know that qualified majority voting is now to some extent adopted in respect of certain minor decisions, but what is wanted, surely, is its general application—perhaps for the time being and possibly for many years—except in relation to foreign affairs and defence. If, as is to be hoped, great new projects, not only for the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy, which we Liberals regard as essential, but also as regards such matters as energy or transport, are to be worked out in discussions between the Commission and the new Parliament, they are likely to find acceptance only if they can be represented —and represented to the Ministers—as the genuine will of a considerable majority of European electors as a whole.
It is absurd to say that such great compromise solutions, in the last resort accepted by a constitutional majority in the Council, would represent an abandonment of national sovereignty or be essentially a feature of a federal system. It would be simply a feature of a new Community system. The blocking minority would, after all, be sufficient to ensure that nothing could be approved against the will of one of the larger members of the Community if that member had one or two of the smaller members on its side. And if, after all the bargaining was over, a larger member really was still in a minority then it would be evident that it should yield, confident that on some future occasion it might well be the case that the same thing could—and probably would—happen to one of its partners. In any case, the knowledge that the national veto as such was no longer operative would in itself ensure that constructive solutions were arrived at without delay. Indeed, I am sure that once the system was in operation people would wonder what all the original fuss had been about.
In conclusion, I will simply repeat the sentiment to which I gave short expression yesterday—namely, that not only will our peculiar electoral system now produce an unrepresentative majority of Tories, which, as I think the noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, said, may well destroy the whole balance 465 of power in Strasbourg to the obvious detriment of the new Parliament; it will also be largely responsible for our including in our delegation of 81 only a small handful of people who have had any political experience or who are likely to be regarded by the Parliament as men or women of any political stature. Under another system there would certainly have been elected people of influence and standing who could more easily have achieved the publicity necessary to keep the British flag flying successfully in the new Parliament and thus further the interest of our country. In five years' time, my Lords, we really must change all this and I am sure we shall.
In the meantime, I urge the Government to do everything in their power to draw the attention of our people to the fact that, whatever its formal powers, the new body will have a very considerable role to play in the sphere of political influence and that it should be taken seriously. I hope that the Government will make it clear in statements on television and particularly in broadcasting that everyone should turn out and vote for the person they consider to be best qualified, not only to push British interests, but also to further all plans for the creation of some genuinely political community.
§ 4.4 p.m.
§ Lord GORONWY-ROBERTS
My Lords, I intervene briefly simply to lend whatever support I can to perhaps three points which have already been made with great cogency in this short but very useful debate, and to put one question to the Minister. I would not myself derogate from the right of the noble Lord, Lord Banks, or the Liberal Party to raise this matter, but I join my noble friend Lord Greenwood of Rossendale in suggesting that we might well wait until the new Parliament is duly elected before we begin to speculate as to possible increases to its powers, or indeed to its power. In that I join with him very strongly, and also in what he said about the definition of the functions of the European Assembly, as it was then called. He defined them in the actual terms of Article 137, which is that the Assembly was conceived as a body exercising a supervisory and an advisory function.
I, for one—and probably my views are shared by a fair number of people— 466 believe that there is scope for consultative functions by an elected body. Until fairly recently we have tended to be over-simplistic in associating elective processes with formal powers and nominative processes with advisory powers, but there is no reason why this should be so. Indeed, I think the established Church and other Churches elect very powerful supervisory and advisory bodies, to their own and to the general advantage.
We on this side of the House, broadly speaking, do not see an immediate need for an enlargement of powers in Strasbourg —or it may be in Luxembourg or Brussels. I leave that particular thorny problem to the new Ministers to solve, having failed to solve it myself. If there is no enlargement of powers in the next few years it should not dismay us or lead us to presume that the new Parliament, although directly elected, is beginning a downward run because with the change in the process of election there has not been immediately an enlargement of its powers. The two things do not necessarily go together. It may well be that it will be found to be, organically, naturally, in the light of experience, that an enlargement is generally thought necessary and generally accepted.
That brings me to the question I want to put to the Minister. I am reasonably confident of the answer but it is an important question and if the Minister wishes to take advice on it I would not hope for any more thoughtful consideration to be given to this question than I am sure would be given by the noble Earl. If he can give the assurance this afternoon I shall be grateful; if not, I am sure we shall get full clarification in due course. This is the question. A proposal to increase powers is probably, although not necessarily, likely to originate in the Assembly, but it can also originate from the Commission itself, from the Council of Ministers or by a combination of two out of the three instruments. But in any case before such a proposal could hope to become effective it would (would it not?) be required to have the approval of all member States; that is through the Council of Ministers where member States exercise this approval before a proposal becomes effective, and even if the Council of Ministers were unanimous about such an enlargement that would not be the end. The proposal would have to be approved, 467 before it became finally effective, by our own Parliament. I say "our own Parliament" so far as this country is concerned; I do not know what the position would be in the case of other member States of the Community.
I believe this is the position: certainly it is the position that my party put forward in its Manifesto at the Election. I would hope it is the position that all three great parties of State assume that a change of this nature and magnitude, that is relating to the enlargement of power of another Parliament of the European Assembly, would in the final analysis be dependent upon the approval of our Parliament, I take it by the normal procedure of Affirmative Resolution to be tabled and approved in both Houses. If that could be a tripartite consensus view of, if it is thought right, such an enlargement of power—which might or might not mean a diminution of national Parliamentary power; not necessarily but it could mean that—then all three parties could go forward not only with faith and hope but also with clarity to the new elections on 7th June. That is to say, we are asking people to vote for the best party and the best candidates, who will work for them as individuals in the European Parliament, until these other processes happen, on the basis of the present powers of the European Assembly.
Here I join once more with the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood, who, as always, speaks with such great clarity of mind and diction. It is a real pleasure to listen to him. I do join with him in the second point that he laid down, that this is a vote for a Parliament whose powers are clear to the electorate or ought to be made clear to it, and the issue should not be confused. There is enough uncertainty, and perhaps indifference, already without introducing a kind of daunting uncertainty about exactly what people will be voting for. They will be voting for the kind of Parliament they have got fairly used to in Strasbourg so far, a largely consultative body with certain budgetary and other powers. Until the newly directed elected Assembly has been in session for a time it would, I suggest, be premature for any of us to go beyond what I have described as a perfectly practical consensus approach by all three parties, at least until 7th June.
§ 4.13 p.m.
The MINISTER of STATE, MINISTRY of AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES and FOOD (Earl Ferrers)
My Lords, I am conscious that everyone who has taken part in this debate, albeit a short one, this afternoon, has had a greater experience than I have over the question of the European Parliament. I would like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Banks, and indeed the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood, for the very kind remarks which they were courteous enough to make about me. One of the charming peculiarities of your Lordships' House is that when you are appointed to the Ministry of Agriculture the first thing you do is to be responsible for a debate on the powers of the European Parliament. But perhaps that stops one from getting into a rut.
The noble Lord, Lord Ballantrae, was sceptical of the qualities of candidates standing in the election. Far be it for me to criticise candidates. He said that their elastic had not been tried. Well, the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, is standing for the European Parliament, and I think his elastic has been well and truly tried and found to be remarkably resilient. All I would say to that is that if in what I work out to be 29 years' time I felt like starting on an enterprise and standing for the European Parliament I would be very proud, but I rather fancy that I would prefer to put my feet up. But not in the noble Lord's case, and I congratulate him on the stamina and enthusiasm with which he sets about this. I will not comment on whether I wish him to be elected, although of course in a personal capacity nobody would be better qualified. The only trouble is that possibly he might have to modify his views a little to have complete acceptance from this part of the House.
I felt a little sorry for the noble Lord, Lord Banks, because several noble Lords said that this was an inappropriate time to discuss this matter. I can understand that view, but in some ways, of course, it is an appropriate time because the present Government is new, and therefore, I hope, sensitive to the views of others, and because the first direct elections to the European Parliament are about to take place. It is, therefore, in the widest sense of the term an exciting time. When one thinks of Europe, the history and 469 dramas of all the nations that are contained within it, right up to 35 years ago they were locked in uneasy relationships one country with another. One cannot but think that the present situation, despite all its difficulties and peculiarities and illogicalities, is nevertheless light years in advance of anything that went before. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister put it fairly succinctly about two years ago, when she was in Rome as then Leader of the Opposition, when she said that anyone with a sense of history must recognise as a remarkable advance the prospect that in a single election nine European countries will go to the polls to elect representatives to a single democratic Assembly. It is a remarkable state of affairs and it is an astonishing achievement.
The noble Lord, Lord Greenwood, said that he hoped he would have a sympathetic hearing from the Government. I can assure him that he will have a very sympathetic hearing, because I have not come this afternoon, nor do I think it would be right to do so, to say what the Government intend to do; first, because the Government themselves cannot do anything about the EEC Parliament; that is a matter for the European Parliament and for the member States acting corporately together. Secondly, because the Government is young, and the directly elected European Parliament even younger —indeed it does not even exist. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood, and indeed the noble Lord, Lord Murray, that the first thing seems to be to get the Parliament going and let it find its feet before making any alterations to it. But, thirdly, because the present Government would welcome the views of others. That includes your Lordships' House and the Select Committee Report to which the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood, quite rightly referred. The Government would wish to have the views of those bodies and others before beginning to make any concrete suggestions as to how anything should be altered which has not yet come into operation. Therefore, I regard it as my first responsibility to act as a listening post to the views and suggestions which have been put forward this afternoon, and I am bound to say that I have found this interesting.
I agree a great deal with what the noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, said; he said he was 470 concerned about the forthcoming European elections, that there was a sense of apathy. I agree; I think this is a very real danger. I think that in many people's ideas elections are passé at the moment; we have done it. But of course this would be a very dangerous thing. I agree wholeheartedly with the noble Lord. Of course, it is entirely up to the parties concerned how much they manage to whip up enthusiasm, and I have no doubt that his party will do their best to encourage enthusiasm. I can assure him that for my part the Conservative Party will be doing just that. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister intends to be involved. My noble friend Lord Soames is involved with, I think, television and radio appearances, with all the knowledge and experience he has had over the European Community. So it is in fact a matter for individual parties, but I agree wholeheartedly with the noble Lord that it would a be travesty if this election were to be regarded as a nonevent. I hope that people will turn out, and I hope your Lordships will be able to give the example of being able to go and vote, because to vote in an election of this nature is quite a new thing. I hope that will be done and will prove to be a success.
The Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Banks, makes an important distinction between power and influence. That matter was touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Murray of Gravesend, almost by inference, and also by the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn. The two are not the same thing, as any Member of your Lordships' House knows. Your Lordships House, as an example, has very little power but it has quite a considerable amount of influence. I am not so sure that, of the two, influence is not better than power—it is certainly a very great deal more respectable and frequently more effective. But the powers of the European Parliament are carefully defined in the treaties. The European Parliament's influence, of course, is another matter and that is totally different. It depends not on any legal text, but on the moral authority and standing of the institution as a whole, and upon the energy and abilities of its Members.
It is also important that we should not become too obsessed by the subject of the Parliament's powers, that our approach should become in some way diffused either 471 by fear that the European Parliament will somehow succeed in arrogating to itself powers which it does not have or that it will diminish the powers of the national Parliaments of the member-States. I really do not believe that there is any reason why that should happen unless, of course, all member-States wanted it to happen. I really do not believe that that is very likely, certainly at present. The noble Lord, Lord Banks, listed the powers —very comprehensively, and quite rightly —of the European Community. He said that he hoped that he would see it use some pretty drastic measures, like rejecting the budget and sacking the Commission. That is a possibility and certainly I agree with him that it has the power to do that. My own sentiments would be that, if the newly elected assembly were to start, I would hope that, it would start off in a more cautious manner than that. However, the powers are certainly present.
The noble Lord also referred to the fact that the national Parliaments do not have proper control over the Community budget. I think that that is an important point and I should like to refer to it. The Council of Ministers and the European Parliament together constitute the budgetary authority. The Council of Ministers has the last word on obligatory expenditure and that accounts, of course, for over 75 per cent. of the Community budget. The United Kingdom Ministers remain accountable to this Parliament and the Community budgetary documents have always been made available to this Parliament for debate, as appropriate, at every stage of the budgetary process. I think it would be appropriate to reaffirm that we intend to ensure that Parliament has a full and fair opportunity to scrutinise all the EEC business.
The powers which the Parliament has will not, of course, be affected by the change from nomination to the direct election of its Members. There is, indeed, no way of altering or increasing those powers except by carefully defined constitutional procedures and that was the point to which the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, quite rightly referred; and it is a very important one. He was concerned that we cannot or should not have the powers of the European Parliament increasing without the authority of Parliament. I would confirm that the 472 treaties would need amendment in accordance with the provisions of Article 236 of the Treaty of Rome. In the case of the United Kingdom such amendment would require legislation, and the position was spelt out quite clearly in the Direct Elections Act 1978 which specified— and I quote the words because they are important—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".I think that the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, thought that it might be by an order which, of course, is far more curtailing than an Act of Parliament.
Some people have feared—although I do not think that it has been mentioned today—that the relationship between the Council (which represents the Governments of the member-States) and the Parliament (which represents the peoples of the Community) might inevitably become antagonistic. I believe, and I am sure, that we shall see develop a tradition of co-operation in what is, after all, a common enterprise. I very much hope that the directly elected Members will approach their work in that spirit. If I were to emphasise the importance of this, it is not because I would wish to belittle in any way the work that the previously nominated Parliament carried out. But the fact is that there is an important difference now between the nominated Parliament and the elected Parliament. Members of the old and indeed existing nominated Parliament owed their presence in it to the mere fact of their election to their own national Parliaments or to their representation in their own national Parliaments. They were Members, first of their own Parliaments and there was no direct link between, on the one hand, those who were Members of the European Parliament and, on the other hand, the electorate whose interests they represented, almost at second-hand.
What is new, of course, is the fact that the electorate will now be able to look directly to their own representatives to air in debate in the European Parliament the subjects which concern them. That direct relationship will be of particular importance in a Community which has perhaps tended to be dominated until now by official representatives from national Governments. It will be important, I venture to suggest, for the European 473 Members of the Parliament to remain in direct and close touch with their constituents. All I can say is, jolly good luck to them because, as the noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, said, if they have 500,000 people to look after they will have their time cut out! But I would also hope that they would be able to keep in close touch with their Governments and Parliaments because that is vital. I wish that it had been possible to get agreement earlier on the nature of the relationship between the European Parliament and Westminster.
The Select Committee of your Lordships' House, to which the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood of Rossendale referred, earlier, has produced a valuable report on the subject and we had a useful debate on it earlier this year. So far as this Government are concerned, we shall want to see how best to take the matter forward in discussion with the directly elected United Kingdom Members. It is, of course, far too late now to do anything before the direct elections. The middle of an electoral campaign is hardly the best time at which to start making alterations in this field. However, we shall want to give careful consideration to the many interesting suggestions which have been made both today and by your Lordships' Select Committee—for example, the establishment of a Grand Committee, or the participation by Members of both institutions in the work of committees of both this Parliament and the European Parliament and so forth. It is a complex area and it is equally a very important area.
Many of the proposals which have been made are a matter for the United Kingdom Members themselves and the two Houses of Parliament to decide. But the Government, for their part, hope that the United Kingdom Members will keep in close touch with both Ministers and Parliament. We shall be ready to give what help we can. Our objective will be to develop a climate of trust and co-operation in which the European Parliament and Westminster should be complementary—they should be partners and not rivals in the work of keeping a close watch on the actions of the Executive and also of representing their own constituents.
This, my Lords, is, of course, an exciting and a new venture and those who 474 find themselves taking part in it will have a stimulating and an onerous time. I would conclude my remarks merely by saying that I find that this has been a useful debate. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood, and others that in some respects this would not be the right time to make any great alterations. But by all means let us keep our eyes on what is happening and be prepared gradually to see how together we can make this European Community even better than it is at the moment.
If I may, I should like to recall an experience I had when, for what must have been one of the briefest parliamentary experiences which anyone has had the privilege to undergo, for six weeks I was a Parliamentary Secretary at the Ministry of Agriculture. One of my particular tasks happened to be to go either in place of or with the then Minister of Agriculture to the Council of Ministers in Brussels. One of the things which has never ceased to impress me was the sight of all those Ministers of Agriculture sitting round a table, together trying to find a way of common agreement. Each had frantic problems which each thought were peculiar to himself, but each found that the problems which he thought were peculiar to himself were, in fact, shared by most other people around the table. Even if the solution to these complicated issues is not easy or sometimes even logical, I was amazed and, indeed, humbled at the sight of these great nations trying to find a method of living together in harmony with each other instead of, as was the case a few years ago, locked in conflict with each other.
Again, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood, who said that we should make a success of what is there. Do not let us always and immediately criticise it. Of course the conditions are not wholly correct; nothing ever will be. However. let us build on what is there and try to make it successful. So it is with those who. for the first time, go to the European Parliament as newly elected Members. To start with they may not find things either easy or logical, but at least they will be able to contribute to a common purpose, a common friendship and. indeed, a common evolution both of peoples and of the European Parliament. That can only be to the benefit of all 475 member-States and of all those who live within them.
I certainly wish these people well whoever they may be, and welcome them in advance to their new tasks. The ideas and suggestions which your Lordships have put forward this afternoon will certainly be considered by the Government so that we, in turn, in concert with our European partners, can help to mould the European Community, of which the European Parliament is a part, to a mutually successful—not conclusion —but at least alteration and advance.
§ 4.32 p.m.
§ Lord BANKS
My Lords, at the conclusion of this debate I should like to thank all noble Lords who have taken part in it. I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, that this has been a useful and interesting debate, and I have listened with great interest to all that has been said. If I have been a little disappointed at what has appeared to be the majority view, I am not in the least surprised. At this stage I must not attempt to answer the various individual points that have been made, much as I should like to do so. But perhaps I might be permitted a few very brief general comments.
The noble Earl referred to the fact that a number of noble Lords have suggested that this was not a propitious moment to discuss this subject. I reject that view because the subject is being discussed throughout the country at present. It is one of the matters that is being discussed in the direct elections campaign. There are people who say that the Parliament should have more powers; there are some who say that it should have no more than it has now; and there are some who say that it should have fewer powers than it now has. I do not understand why we in this House should not have the opportunity to air any views which we may have on that particular subject.
The noble Lord, Lord Greenwood of Rossendale, said that he wanted to see control exercised through national Parliaments. However, in my opening remarks I argued that national Parliaments cannot, and in fact do not, exercise that control. In support of that argument I quoted the noble Lord the Leader of the House, with all his great experience. As regards 476 influence and control, which are mentioned separately in the Motion, I agree with the noble Earl that of course these are two different things, but, like light and darkness, they merge the one into the other, and it is not very easy to see where the one ends and the other begins. I tried to emphasise that in referring to the various conventions—and I quoted the noble and learned Lord, Lord Diplock, on this—which have emerged and which have given more effective power, even although formerly there has been no increase in power, and these might be described as an increase in influence as they are there only by convention. The borderline is very difficult to define.
When I referred to a possibility of power coming through the more skilful use of the existing drastic powers, I did not mean—as perhaps the noble Earl suggested—that as soon as it was assembled the Parliament should exercise these drastic powers openly and immediately. However, the possible threat of use of these powers is powerful and could be used, and may very well be used, whatever we may say, to extend the powers of the Parliament. Certainly we on these Benches are quite unrepentant in saying that we believe the Parliament should have more power. That power can come in three different ways: through a more skilful exploitation of the existing powers; through the extension of conventions which have developed and which may develop; and possibly through an increase in the formal powers of the Parliament. Whichever way it comes is not so important as that it should come. My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw my Motion for Papers.
Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.