European Parliament (Direct Elections)

Oral Answers to Questions — Home Department – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 31st March 1977.

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Photo of Mr Roger Sims Mr Roger Sims , Chislehurst 12:00 am, 31st March 1977

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department when he expects to publish the White Paper on direct elections to the European Parliament.

Photo of Mr Merlyn Rees Mr Merlyn Rees , Leeds South

The White Paper will be published tomorrow.

Photo of Mr Roger Sims Mr Roger Sims , Chislehurst

I am grateful for that confirmation. Can the right hon. Gentleman assure us that we shall have an opportunity to debate the White Paper very soon after Christmas? [Interruption.] I apologise for my confusion—I mean very soon after Easter. Will that debate be swiftly followed by a Bill so that it can be enacted and allow the United Kingdom to keep its commitment on this matter to its EEC partners?

Photo of Mr Merlyn Rees Mr Merlyn Rees , Leeds South

It is a very good White Paper, but I cannot give the commitment on a date for which the hon. Gentleman asks. Perhaps I should just wish him a happy new year.

Photo of Mr Max Madden Mr Max Madden , Sowerby

Whether we debate the White Paper after Easter, after Christmas or after next year, will my right hon. Friend convey to his right hon. Friend the fact that many of us believe that it is most important for there to be a free vote not only on the method by which these elections should take place but on the principle?

Photo of Mr Merlyn Rees Mr Merlyn Rees , Leeds South

I can undertake that my hon. Friend's message will be delivered.

Photo of Mr William Whitelaw Mr William Whitelaw , Penrith and The Border

Can the right hon. Gentleman say how the Government intend to give the House the opportunity to vote on the electoral system to be adopted?

Photo of Mr Merlyn Rees Mr Merlyn Rees , Leeds South

No, I cannot. A statement has been made about the method of elections. I have been considering this complicated matter in some depth in recent weeks and in my mind has been the fact that, whether we stick to the existing system which has stood the test of 150 years or more or move in another direction, we must give the matter deep consideration—whether making a change or staying where we are—and not take the leap in the dark that is sometimes taken on electoral matters.

Photo of Mr William Whitelaw Mr William Whitelaw , Penrith and The Border

There is no suggestion of taking a leap in the dark. Can the right hon. Gentleman at least give an undertaking that the House will be given an opportunity to vote on the particular system and express its choice before a Bill is published with a particular system laid down in it?

Photo of Mr Merlyn Rees Mr Merlyn Rees , Leeds South

I can go no further than what was said about the method by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House last week.

Photo of Mr Neil Marten Mr Neil Marten , Banbury

In view of the recent weather that we have experienced, I do not think that my hon. Friend the Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Sims) was necessarily out of order in talking about Christmas. On the point raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw), may we have an assurance that the vote on the proportional representation aspect will be quite separate from any vote on the White Paper as a whole? That is very important.

Photo of Mr Merlyn Rees Mr Merlyn Rees , Leeds South

I can go no further than what was said by my right hon. Friend last week. I understand the hon. Gentleman's point, and his remarks will be taken into account.