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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 Malcolm Rifkind Malcolm Rifkind , Edinburgh Pentlands 12:00 am, 7th July 1977

Unlike the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott), I shall vote for the Second Reading, but I accept two of the fundamental propositions put forward by those who are hostile to the Bill.

I accept that it is totally bogus to say that the referendum two years ago somehow gave a mandate for the principle or the reality of direct elections. The right hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe) and other hon. Members try to draw a link between the referendum and the Treaty of Rome, but that flies in the face of political reality. We should all accept that when they voted in the referendum the electorate were voting for or against our continuing membership of the Community, and very few of them were in any way expressing a view on the principle of direct elections. In any event, the merits of the arguments in favour of direct elections are sufficiently strong to ensure that we should not have to fall back on such a tenuous argument as the consequences of the referendum.

The other aspect on which I agree with those who are hostile to the Bill is that what we are considering is in no way a mere technical change in the nature of the European Assembly. I do not believe that it is possible to argue that we are talking merely about whether the inconvenience presently suffered by by hon. Members of this House and Members of other national legislatures, shuttling between their national Parliaments and Strasbourg, would be remedied by the Bill. Nor can it be argued that we are talking simply in terms of making the European Assembly slightly more representative or slightly more able to supervise what the European Commission is doing.

Whether we are for or against the Bill, we should at least acknowledge the fundamental importance of the change that it will involve. For the first time in the history of Western Europe we arc envisaging the establishment of a directly elected European Parliament