European Assembly (Elections)

Oral Answers to Questions — European Community – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 26th November 1975.

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Photo of Mr Russell Johnston Mr Russell Johnston , Inverness

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement about the progress of his Department in developing plans for direct elections to the European Parliament.

Photo of Mr Hugh Dykes Mr Hugh Dykes , Harrow East

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will now make a statement on the Government's policy towards direct elections to the European Parliament.

Photo of Mr Roy Hattersley Mr Roy Hattersley , Birmingham Sparkbrook

The Government are still studying the question of when such elections might be introduced and what form they should take. We have not yet taken up a position on these matters.

Photo of Mr Roger Moate Mr Roger Moate , Faversham

Can the Minister confirm that it is a binding treaty obligation that elections should be held throughout the Community in accordance with a uniform procedure? If that is so, can he confirm that the Government will be recommending to the Community the adoption of our own well-tried electoral system?

Photo of Mr Roy Hattersley Mr Roy Hattersley , Birmingham Sparkbrook

It is a binding commitment on the Community under Article 138 of the Treaty of Rome that there shall be direct elections to the Assembly. Questions about the nature of those elections must be determined in the Community and in its Council by unanimous agreement. It is to those questions that the Government are at present turning their minds.

Photo of Mr Russell Johnston Mr Russell Johnston , Inverness

Can the right hon. Gentleman give any indication of how many people within his Department are involved specifically in studying, first, the appropriate size of the Parliament following direct elections—for example, whether it should be on the Patijn Report basis—and, secondly, what should be the common electoral system? The Good Lord forbid that it should be the same as is recommended by the hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate).

Photo of Mr Roy Hattersley Mr Roy Hattersley , Birmingham Sparkbrook

Without notice I cannot give the hon. Gentleman an accurate figure for the number of members of the Diplomatic Service who are engaged in this task. However, if it is of any consolation to him, I can assure him that this is something which exercises a good deal of the time of my right hon. Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary and me. Perhaps, since this is a political matter, that is slightly more important than the number of civil servants involved.

Photo of Mr James Wellbeloved Mr James Wellbeloved , Bexley Erith and Crayford

Although the day may come, in the far distant future, when we can enter into direct elections for the European Parliament, would not my right hon. Friend agree that the target date of 1978 is quite unrealistic in view of the enormous electoral problems concerned and the complete absence of any desire by the British people to move speedily towards direct elections?

Photo of Mr Roy Hattersley Mr Roy Hattersley , Birmingham Sparkbrook

I said at Question Time three weeks ago that anyone who believed that we could go through the processes and preparations necessary to implement the decision by 1978 was extremely optimistic; I see no reason to change that judgment.

Photo of Mr Hugh Dykes Mr Hugh Dykes , Harrow East

Does not the right hon. Gentleman accept that that is a rather negative view, that now is the time to start the preparations for this process, that there is every indication that the other member States will now wish to move speedily to a first set of direct elections, that the remaining Danish objections have been removed, and that the first set of direct elections can take place well in advance of the development of further powers for the Parliament? Will he not therefore categorically pledge on behalf of the United Kingdom Government that, whatever the actual date and year, they will not try to go slower than the general pace of the Community on this matter?

Photo of Mr Roy Hattersley Mr Roy Hattersley , Birmingham Sparkbrook

I give the pledge absolutely, as my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has, that we shall not put any artificial barriers in the way of making progress along this road. But I do not regard what I said as a negative opinion. With all due modesty, I regard it as highly proper. What I want to do before direct elections are implemented is to consult the hon. Member and his party, to consult the other parties and interests, and to make sure that the House of Commons has a view as to where we should proceed and the speed at which we should go. All that takes time.

Photo of Mr Douglas Jay Mr Douglas Jay , Wandsworth Battersea North

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is no warrant in the Treaty of Rome for statements that we are under a legal obligation to proceed to direct elections, and that what Article 138 does is require the Assembly to produce proposals and the Council to make recommendations? There is no legal obligation at all on the member States.

Photo of Mr Roy Hattersley Mr Roy Hattersley , Birmingham Sparkbrook

I can only disagree with my right hon. Friend over his interpretation of the Treaty. I believe that that is our obligation and it is an obligation that I think we have a duty to fulfil.

Photo of Mr Reginald Maudling Mr Reginald Maudling , Barnet Chipping Barnet

Could the right hon. Gentleman make one thing clear? Is it the Government's desire that these direct elections should take place as soon as possible or as late as possible?

Photo of Mr Roy Hattersley Mr Roy Hattersley , Birmingham Sparkbrook

It is the Government's desire that the elections should take place as soon as is sensibly possible—and as soon as is sensibly possible involves a great deal of consultation and preparation. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman is far too pragmatic to argue with that judgment.

Photo of Mr Norman Atkinson Mr Norman Atkinson , Haringey Tottenham

Is not my right hon. Friend letting down the Labour movement if he, as the leading Socialist theoretician in these matters, totally ignores the fact that the Council of Ministers is a legislative assembly? He has also ignored the fact that this House is not able or authorised to mandate its delegates to the Council of Ministers. Therefore, is it not necessary before we start talking about direct elections to set about the job of democratising the Council of Ministers?

Photo of Mr Roy Hattersley Mr Roy Hattersley , Birmingham Sparkbrook

I think that my hon. Friend is also making some judgments about the Government, the House of Commons and the constitution of Great Britain. I have said to him, as has the Foreign Secretary, that, as long as this House can control its Ministers, its Ministers, through the Council, can control the decisions of the EEC. That is a sort of democracy and a very positive sort. What we struggle to do through the Assembly is make that democracy more positive, and we shall do so at the first opportunity—but the first reasonable opportunity.

Photo of Mr Charles Fletcher-Cooke Mr Charles Fletcher-Cooke , Darwen

Does it follow from what the right hon. Gentleman has just said that this House will have a chance to discuss the Government's proposals, and that we shall be told what the Government's conclusions are—particularly on such matters as whether European elections should be held at the same time as national General Elections—in good time, before any proposals are put before the Council of Ministers?

Photo of Mr Roy Hattersley Mr Roy Hattersley , Birmingham Sparkbrook

That is really a matter for my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, but I hope that he will forgive me for saying—though I am sure I should not—that it seems to me inconceivable that a constitutional innovation of this sort should not be considered by the House in the way that the hon. and learned Gentleman suggests.