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Orders of the Day — European Assembly Elections Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 7th July 1977.

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Photo of Mr Geoffrey Rippon Mr Geoffrey Rippon , Hexham 12:00 am, 7th July 1977

The Government freely committed themselves. Whatever individual Members may do the House as a whole will decide the issue—it is intolerable that Miinsters should represent Her Majesty's Government abroad and freely enter into international agreements and then for a long time hide not only from this House but from those other Governments their intention to do everything in their power, as distinct from using their best endeavours, to try to defeat the purpose of the agreements into which they had entered.

I suggest that, having determined the wishes of the House on the principle of direct elections, the Government should give the House an early opportunity before the Summer Recess of having the promised free vote on the method of election. On 25th April the Opposition, pressed that this should be done. There is no reason for any further delay, unless the House decides to reject the advice of the all-party Select Committee which, as the Home Secretary said, has produced three reports. What are we to do about the Select Committee's reports? Its advice was that we should maintain our present election procedures. It is only if we decide to depart from the Select Committee's advice that we have to weigh all the advantages and disadvantages of the various forms of proportional representation.

Yesterday the Home Secretary said that after the debate on 25th April he had come to the conclusion that we could choose the method of election only if we could see the Bill. We have seen the Bill. I believe that, without further delay, we can now choose in broad general terms which system we prefer.

The Government have not told us why we should not have an early opportunity of a vote on the Select Committee's recommendation that The first past the post system at present in use for Parliamentary elections should be used in the United Kingdom for the first round of elections for the European Assembly. Why cannot that principle be decided? It is no good to say that we can have a free vote and then, if it goes one way rather than another, for the Government to say that we, and not the Government, shall be to blame for any delay.