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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 Eric Heffer Mr Eric Heffer , Liverpool, Walton 12:00 am, 7th July 1977

My hon. Friend the Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson), in the recent exchange of views, quite rightly said that not only opinion in this House but opinion in the country has to be taken into consideration in relation to the debate. The views that I shall put forward today are based upon the decision of the annual conference of the Labour Party.

In January 1976 the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party urged the Labour Government not to commit the United Kingdom to elections for a European Parliament until the NEC and the party conference had had the opportunity to discuss the important implications involved. We then drew up a document in which the NEC put the arguments for and against direct elections. That document was placed before the annual conference of the Labour Party, and the majority of the National Executive Committee urged the conference not to support direct elections. That was carried by a two to one vote. I will quote from the document. It said: The fundamental argument against direct elections stems from an opposition to further integration and possible political union within the European Community and a consequent belief that such integration poses a threat to national sovereignty. It therefore follows that the Labour Party should continue the campaign against direct elections as a manifestation and commitment to greater political union. That was the decision after a democratic discussion and debate at the party conference. I have not always accepted conference decisions—I opposed devolution —but I always made it clear that I was opposing my party conference decision, and I did not pretend anything else. As hon. Members know, I always said that I was arguing against a decision of my party conference. Some of my hon. Friends seem to have forgotten what my party conference decided, and the Government especially forgot. Within a matter of weeks the Government had accepted the position, and it became part of the last Queen's Speech.

I draw the attention of the House to this because there is a vast body of opinion in the country, particularly in the Labour movement, which is opposed to the whole concept of direct elections. It is not a question whether it is to be a regional list or the first-past-the-post method. That body of opinion is opposed to the principle of direct elections, and I am opposed to the principle of direct elections. I make it absolutely clear that on this question I stand foursquare with the decision of my party conference. [Interruption.] Why? Because I think it was right.

I went through the speeches—