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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 John Roper Mr John Roper , Farnworth 12:00 am, 7th July 1977

I was glad that the right hon. Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Fraser) addressed the final part of his remarks to his colleagues on the Conservative Benches. I am not, therefore, obliged to follow him for too long in commenting on his remarks.

I should, however, tell him that it is not necessarily quite as easy as he thinks to achieve co-operation between Left-wing parties within Europe. As my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) and others who sit on the National Executive Committee of our own party know, our relations with the Confederation of Socialist Parties within the Community are certainly difficult to handle.

The idea that there is a united Left axis in Europe at the moment is, unfortunately —I repeat, unfortunately—not true, any more than it is possible to persuade Christian Democrats that they ought to have anything to do with Conservatives. This certainly applies in the case of Christian Democrats from Italy and the Netherlands. I think that the German Christian Democrats are prepared to talk to the Conservatives in their country some of the time.

When the right hon. Gentleman said that this was a step towards federalism, he was in one sense technically right. If one is going towards a federal Europe, this is a necessary step along the road. What it is not is a sufficient step. As has been made quite clear, further steps of a much more substantial nature will have to be taken, and they will require the consent of the House. I happen to hope that we shall move in that direction, as I have made clear over the years.

When President Giscard d'Estaing returned to Paris last Thursday from the Summit meeting, he said quite clearly on the French radio that in his view the institutions of Europe would be fixed and frozen as they are now, and that he did not envisage any significant change in the foreseeable future.

Although the German Chancellor talks on occasion about uniting Europe, when it comes to giving any further power to the Commission, he is as resistant to this as anyone in this House. He is extremely resistant to the movement towards greater powers for the supranational organs of the Community.

I think that we shall have, for the foreseeable future, inter-governmental cooperation between nine member States. The most important development since Britain has been in the Community has been the development of the European Council, and the meeting together of the Heads of Government and Heads of State. This makes it quite clear that it is an inter-governmental organisation rather than a supranational one.

I shall concentrate on one or two matters to which not much attention has been given so far in the debate. I have spoken in previous debates on many of the major themes and do not wish to repeat what I said then.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), in a number of interventions today, suggested that Members of this House should declare their interests in speaking in the debate. Presumably, by that he meant that they should declare whether they intend to stand for the European Assembly or to allow their names to go forward. Presumably, that in turn was because he has read reports in the Press, as many of us have, about the relatively high salaries which it is said are to be paid to the members of the European Assembly once it is directly elected.

I deal with this before turning to some of the more substantial matters because in talking to my constituents I find more concern and interest in the sort of salary to be paid than in the more substantive issues which have been debated today.

I have always believed that Members of this House should be paid properly. We shall have a chance later tonight to move a little way in that direction. But I certainly feel that a substantial discrepancy between the salaries paid in this House and those paid in the European Assembly would be extremely unfortunate. I was glad to note that it appears from the Press comment that this was also the view of the Heads of Government when they met in London last week. I hope, therefore, that it will be possible for the report from the European Parliament, which suggested salaries of £30,000 plus expenses, to be buried at a very early stage. I believe that it would be right for Members of the European Parliament to continue to be paid at the same sort of level as that of Members of their national Parliaments.