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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 Jeremy Thorpe Mr Jeremy Thorpe , North Devon 12:00 am, 7th July 1977

I was in some doubt as to when I would rise to speak. I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for calling me. I shall try to produce a new dimension, which will restore the balance in one way or another.

I am delighted to follow the speech of the right hon. Member for Dartford (Mr. Irving), who was Chairman of the Select Committee and who gave great service as its Chairman. He has an important position in so far as he has changed his mind, as has the hon. Member for West Bromwich, West (Miss Boothroyd), on the form of electoral system which should be used. That is a fact that the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon), who rightly attaches great importance to the Select Committee, will also take on board. [Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson) wishes to intervene, I shall be happy to give way, but I cannot hear him from his sedentary position.

I should like to come later to the right hon. Gentleman's point about the Boundary Commissioners starting work after Second Reading. I believe that there are very great difficulties in that. Even accepting that the right hon. Gentleman wants to get some procedure through, I can see great difficulties there, as I also find in the Minister of State's argument that it would be possible to have proposals put forward within two weeks of the Bill's receiving Royal Assent. I shall come to that matter shortly.

I start by welcoming the fact that we have the Bill, late though it is. I should like to thank Conservative speakers who, one after the other—this has been shot through all their speeches—have expressed their deep appreciation to the Liberal Party for the part that it has played in bringing this about. I exclude, of course, the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten). However, as for all the other pro-Europeans, one always knew that they were magnanimous to their opponents, and it is always rather nice to have that confirmed in debate. If I do not mention each right hon. and hon. Member individually, I hope that they will accept my gratitude expressed collectively.

I shall not argue whether or not we are entitled to vote for an Assembly by election, save to say this: what the referendum decided was that the people of this country agreed that they wished to remain within the European Economic Community.