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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 William Molloy Mr William Molloy , Ealing North 12:00 am, 7th July 1977

No doubt we shall have some explanation of that remarkable attitude within the next hour or two.

What I want to ask is this: what the House has not done is to ask why we are to have these elections, if the House so agrees, and what sort of organisation the prospective Members of the European Parliament will be going to, and for what purpose. This is fundamental. There are some who argue that they are glad that it is only an Assembly and will not have too much power. There are those who argue that it is pointless for MEPs to go there because they will have no more power. All that it appears they will have is great big fat salaries, much greater than those of any Members of this House for all the hard work that we do.

I do not think that these are particularly good reasons for us to be concerned with these things. There are many that are opposed to it and many that are against. Some of us are content and other are not content.

There is one particular point that I wish to put to the House. I hope that I shall have an answer from the Government tonight, because it is a fundamental point. I want to refer to Article 4 of the agreement signed in September 1976. I shall go over it slowly so that it can be noted and passed to the Foreign Secretary or whoever is to wind up the debate.

We have been talking about the new MEPs being able to have relationships with other Governments and other countries and organisations in this country as well as their 500,000 constituents. How can that submission be maintained when it is now understood that MEPs shall not be bound by any instructions and shall not receive a binding mandate? What is much more important, however, is that if any one of them becomes a chairman of a committee or is a member of a committee—therefore, to be free, he must not be a member of a committee and certainly cannot be a chairman—the recommendation is that such future Members of the European Parliament, so-called, should not enter into direct contact as MEPs with governmental or other national authorities.

I find this an extraordinarily serious situation. I should have thought that my right hon. and hon. Friends and Opposition Members would want to know precisely what is meant by that. Does it mean, for example, that an elected Member of the European Assembly could be committing some sort of offence if he were to have discussions with a Member of this House or a Minister here, or indeed, any British industrial organisation, the CBI, the TUC or any other organisation of that calibre that belongs to these islands? That point certainly needs to be cleared up.

It seems to me that the power of the Commission will be maintained and that the Commission will be much more powerful than any of the political groups. Therefore, once again, we must look at that aspect.

I have had some experience of the existing European Parliament. I ought to repeat what I have said in the House previously. The British delegation as a whole, Tory and Labour, have certainly fought very strenuously to bring democratic rights into the Assembly. They have succeeded on a few matters, but on the majority of things they have been bashing their heads against a brick wall, despite sterling endeavours.

What will still happen—this has not yet been referred to in this House—is that all the political parties in Europe will contribute to their political organisations, as they do now. The officials of those organisations already have a remarkable amount of authority. That might be maintained. Therefore, we could have the situation as it exists now, I understand, in which, for example, the appointments of rapporteurs to any particular committee will be decided not by the MEPs but by the secretaries of the particular groupings to which they belong. It is not so much that this is anti-democratic but that it is very dangerous.

MEPs will not be in a position to have any regard to the attitudes of this Parliament. What is more, they will not even be able to have access to the Council of Ministers. I find this a remarkable situation. I suppose that in the House of Commons, if we want to do so—we have done so on occasions—we are able to let various Ministers know the strong feelings on particular matters. No doubt that has had an effect. I shall not bore the House with the deails of when it has been effective. That is the unified voice of the House of Commons.

However, if we try that in future, if the Bill goes through as it stands, Ministers will say "It is not a matter on which hon. Members of this House should approach me. It is a matter for the Member of the European Parliament." What I want to know is this: if the MEP approaches the Minister, will he fall foul of the agreement to which I have referred?