Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.Donate to our crowdfunder
The first day of this debate initiated a debate revolving around two main themes—the argument in principle and the detailed discussion of the Bill. Whatever one does on this issue one is likely to run into criticism. I hope that in dealing mainly with questions that were asked of the Government about the Bill during the course of yesterday's debate I shall not be thought by hon. Members to be undervaluing the arguments of principle that were then adduced. The Foreign Secretary and I will try to deal with most of the questions that were raised yesterday and I hope, therefore, that we shall not be criticised for not having included issues of principle that would involve me in too long a speech— for which I should be equally criticised.
In many ways I find my position like the erstwhile position of my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, East (Mr. Clemit-son). Though an anti-Marketeer, I have not opposed direct elections. I do not believe that one has to go all the way to a federal Europe to believe in direct elections. In that I do not agree with a number of hon. Gentlemen or my hon. Friends. Future Members will be able to perform a worthwhile function with the powers of the Assembly as they are. Certainly the Government are putting forward this Bill upon the basis of the Assembly's powers being no greater than they are today. It was re-emphasised by my right hon. Friend yesterday that it would need unanimous consent by all members of the EEC before extra powers of the kind foreshadowed, or perhaps feared, in some quarters, could be granted, and that would require the consent of Parliament.
I therefore part company from my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, East when he says that the only consistent supporter of direct elections is a federalist. It seems to me as illogical as saying that the only consistent drinker is an alcoholic. I propose to deal during the next few minutes with the questions about the Bill, and I hope that the mechanics, since they are important, will not be thought more suitable for Committee, because a number of important issues raised yesterday demand answer.
First, there was considerable discussion in yesterday's debate about the way in which the House would come to a decision on the electoral system to be used for elections to the European Assembly. The right hon. Members for Knutsford (Mr. Davies) and Bridlington (Mr. Wood) and others discussed that subject. I believe that by the end of yesterday's debate the matter had been resolved to most people's satisfaction, but, at the risk of compounding confusion, I shall again underline the main elements of the proposed procedure.
I re-emphasise that Clause 3(2) contains a procedural device that makes it possible for the Bill to contain two alternative electoral systems. In normal Bills there is one proposition, but if there were one proposition on one system in the Bill and it were defeated, the whole Bill would have to be withdrawn and a new one substituted. Those hon. Members who were complaining, at intervals of varying frequency, about the time constriction in such debates in view of next year's events should take that into account.
By allowing alternative systems to be considered and debated in one Bill we are saving time by enabling substitution. Once a system has been chosen, we can remove the procedural device and remove from the Bill all the provisions that relate to the system not chosen.