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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

I accepted the Home Secretary's view that we could not have a vote immediately after 25th April because we could not see the Bill. But now we can see the Bill. We do not need a Bill in this extraordinary form in order to make up our minds which system we prefer.

Are the Government still telling the House and our European partners that whatever choice is made there will be no difficulty in meeting the date of May-June 1978? Or has the Prime Minister already told our European partners at the London conference that it will not be the end of the world if the elections are not held until 1979? It ought to be clear what date we are now committed to with our partners in Europe.

What the Minister of State has said about the Boundary Commission strengthens the case for taking a vote now. We thought that we might help the Government by saying that we should allow the Boundary Commission to start its work, but we are told that we cannot do so by simple resolution or by a Money Resolution. The hon. Gentleman sees difficulties in having a one-clause Bill. Let us make sure that no Select Committee or anyone else does any more abortive work. Let us decide on the method now.

We should remember that even majorities have some rights. Let no one in this country or in Europe be in any doubt that if the Government wish to give effect to the wishes of the House they have the necessary power, means and support to do so. We must remember that our European partners are looking to the House tonight to demonstrate our good faith in international affairs. By a decisive vote tonight in favour of direct elections, we shall be demonstrating that we have a political as well as an economic commitment to Europe. We shall be playing our part in giving the Community a fresh sense of purpose and identity.

I believe that there is support on both sides of the House for the principle of direct elections. We shall test that tonight. I echo the sentiments expressed by the hon. Member for Fife, Central, a fellow Member of the European Parliament. What is at issue tonight is, as the hon. Gentleman said, our good faith and the validity of our membership of the Community. We are seeing one more last-ditch attempt by the anti-Marketeers to undermine the verdict of the British people in the referendum.

I am sure that the majority of hon. Members will vote enthusiastically for the Second Reading of the Bill tonight in order to honour our international commitment. I have also come to the conclusion that we do not like the form or content of the Bill, nor do we like the Government's inexcusable delay in presenting and promoting it. Above all, we do not like the way in which the Government have behaved and continue to behave.