HL Deb 20 July 1982 vol 433 cc757-8

3.0 p.m.

Lord Mayhew

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will meet their obligations to conduct the next election for the European Parliament on a common system, which will inevitably involve some form of proportional representation.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Elton)

My Lords, member states are required to adopt a uniform electoral procedure only if it is unanimously recommended by the Council of Ministers. Consideration is currently being given by the Council to proposals which have been recommended by the European Parliament.

Lord Mayhew

Yes, my Lords. But is the noble Lord aware that my Question is not addressed to the Council of Ministers but to Her Majesty's Government? Will he give the assurance that Her Majesty's Government, like other Governments concerned, will stand by their commitment in the Treaty of Rome to use a common system?

Lord Elton

My Lords, the obligation in fact arises from a decision of the Council made in September 1976, and until a uniform system is agreed in the manner which I stated, there is no obligation which we can fulfil.

Lord Harmar-Nichols

My Lords, does not my noble friend think that the loose phraseology in the Question itself blurs the message behind it—"some form of proportional representation"? Is he aware that many people would object very much to a system which has passed the test of time and proved to be effective being replaced by something as loose as that? People who want a change really ought to make up their minds what they want before starting to try to replace something which has proved to be right with something that is almost unidentified.

Lord Elton

My Lords, I had attempted to give a similar answer without criticising the terms of the Question, but I must say I find myself in sympathy with my noble friend.

Lord Gladwyn

My Lords, can the Government say whether they have any real objection here and now to the proposal for proportional representation put up recently by the European Parliament?

Lord Elton

My Lords, the consideration of that proposal is with the Council of Ministers, and in fact is with a body of experts who have so far met three times.

Lord Thorneycroft

My Lords, will the noble Lord at least think very carefully before he allows six different forms of proportional representation to be dignified by the name of a common system?

Lord Elton

Yes, my Lords.

Lord Mayhew

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the last system used was completely idiotic and seriously distorted the political balance of the European Parliament, to the advantage of the Conservative Party? May I ask the noble Lord to give a plain answer to my Question? If the other Governments agree, are Her Majesty's Government going to stand by their commitment in the Treaty of Rome to accept a common system?

Lord Elton

My Lords, it is the habit of this Government, as, I hope, of other Governments, to honour their obligations under treaty; but the obligation is to do something when it is agreed by all the nations, and we are a very long way from that. It is 5½ years since the obligation was constructed for the Parliament to make a suggestion before it came to the Council at all. So we are not moving very fast. It is not just the Government.