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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 hear what you say, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and will bring my remarks on this aspect to a close very quickly. But it seems to me that it would be possible for this House to introduce a new clause or in some other way to give an instruction to Ministers, who will be taking part in the Council of Ministers, on what the salaries should be. As I have indicated, I believe that salaries should be kept to the levels of those paid in national Parliaments, plus expenses on a published basis, as compared with the rather unsatisfactory position at the moment, in which people have great difficulty in finding out what expenses are paid.

This may appear to be an irrelevant or a niggling point, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but it is an aspect which is considered by many of our constituents to be of great importance. That is why I have referred to it.

Concerning the method of election, I favour—and I hope that the House will favour—the regional list system, but I think that we have to be realistic about this matter. Certainly from my arithmetic it would appear at the moment extremely unlikely that the House will agree to a regional list system. I think that we should consider what we shall do if we turn to a situation in which we have 78 constituencies in Great Britain and another system in Northern Ireland. It has been suggested that we should use the normal process for Westminster parliamentary seats—namely, by asking the Boundary Commission to do its work. It has been suggested that that will take about four and a half months.

Surely it is right to ask why we have used the mechanism of the Boundary Commission in Schedule 1 and Schedule 2. It is obviously appropriate to use it in deciding our own seats in the House of Commons, and it is appropriate that we should have an independent, impartial body that makes those decisions, but would it be inappropriate for us to revert to the position that existed in the nineteenth century when the House decided the boundaries of parliamentary seats?

It is right that we should have an outside body to determine boundaries, but I am not convinced that the argument that applies to this House necessarily applies when we are devising boundaries for a quite different purpose—namely, for 81 constituencies that may not be represented by hon. Members of this House.

I wonder whether the parallel lies closer with local government boundaries than with Westminster parliamentary boundaries. I think I am right in saying that we decided local government boundaries in the London Government Bill, and certainly we did so in the Local Government Bill 1972. We decided them in this House in a schedule. When we are determining the boundaries for the European Parliament we are making a decision that will not directly affect hon. Members who sit in this House but a different body. Why is it not appropriate for us to follow the same procedure that was followed in the Local Government Bill—namely to include in a schedule the 78 constituencies in Great Britain—Northern Ireland would not be covered by this—that would be created by grouping together the 623 constituencies in Great Britain? To take that course would require quite a small amendment to that first paragraph of Schedule 1 and then a new schedule laying out the European constituencies that we desire.

As I have said, that would arise only if the House were to decide against the regional list system, which I prefer. Almost certainly it would take us rather longer in discussion in this House than by referring the issue to the Boundary Commission. However, it would save a great deal of time in comparison with the four and a half months or six and a half months that we have been told the Boundary Commission would take.

The only option open to us if we decide against the regional list system and if we wish to meet the target date of the first half of 1978 and thereby not delay our European colleagues, is to follow the precedent, which I believe is a good one, of the Local Government Bill. That is the method of putting the constituencies into a schedule to the Bill. We would be able to agree them here without the necessity of reference to the Boundary Commission. I hope that the House will give consideration to that suggestion when these issues are discussed in Committee.

My hon. Friend the Member for Walton spoke about taking into account the decision of the Labour Party Conference. Naturally I have thought about that. Despite what my hon. Friend said, I shall be supporting the Bill tonight. It is a minor but important step forward. Obviously we may reach further forward towards some form of confederalism in future. However, at this stage this is a necessary step along that road, although far from being a sufficient one.