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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 John Prescott John Prescott , Kingston upon Hull East 12:00 am, 7th July 1977

You place me in difficulty, Mr. Deputy Speaker. However, I recognise what you say. Perhaps I may attempt to explain why these matters are relevant, as my colleagues agree, and I may even convince you.

We are talking about the control of our own society. The European Commission believes that, by having directly elected Members, we shall be able to achieve that kind of control. It is important to realise why the Commission believes this and why it is a strong advocate of direct elections.

We must recognise the realities of economic life. If we want to cut back capacity in industry, the only real authority for such action is the national Parliament. If the argument is that social contracts contribute to reducing inflation, only the national Parliament can implement that kind of political acceptance and control. Whatever may happen in 20 or 30 years, at the moment such action is beyond the political mechanism of control in the EEC.

The reality of the Assembly, as defined in the Treaty, is as a consultative and advisory body. By electing Members to the Assembly, we shall feed the dangerous illusion that it is a Parliament. Indeed, it has already got that impression now. We must make up our minds about the role of the Assembly.

From where does the Assembly get its power? It gets it from the treaty. The hon. Member for Mid-Oxon said that the extra powers for a Parliament would require a change in the treaty. Any changes in the treaty have to be agreed by the national Parliaments so that is a proper control.

However, under Article 235 of the treaty, if the Council of Ministers agree on a particular industrial strategy—a classic example is the regional policy— it may extend its influence into an area not mentioned in the treaty. But it has by definition extended the treaty by the back door, because the Ministers have agreed to extend its influence in that area.

I do not want to spell out how it should have been counteracted. I did that in an article in Labour Weekly. The power of decision-making needs to lie with national Parliaments. Therefore, if the Assembly does not have legislative power, it is likely to become a democratic facade for the Commission. The Commission will make proposals and the Assembly will merely be consulted.

If the Commission wants to give power to the Assembly and to make it a Parliament, it could, without changing the treaty. It could share part of the legislative process with it under its consultative advice status. Instead of just listening to the voice of the Assembly, it could get it to share in the legislative process. By doing that, the Commission would, at a stroke, give the Assembly some share in its legislative power.

The Commission will not do that. It wishes to keep power to itself. It wishes to increase its power. It wishes to use the Assembly as a powerful elected representative European voice against the power of the Council of Ministers in which national Parliaments are directly repre- sented. In that way it will seek to reduce the influence of national Parliaments in the European decision making process.