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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 Robert Ellis Mr Robert Ellis , Wrexham 12:00 am, 7th July 1977

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson) that we should be discussing the fundamental issues and principles involved in the Bill. I was a little sorry that my hon. Friend spent the major part of his speech discussing the relative merits of the two electoral systems that it contains.

I followed closely the argument of the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell). Like my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, West (Dr. Phipps), I agree with much of what the right hon. Gentleman said. The difference between the right hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend is the same as the difference between the right hon. Gentleman and myself. In other words, the right hon. Gentleman resists, and might even be fearful of, the consequences which he says might occur as a result of direct elections to the European Parliament. I and my hon. Friend not only welcome those consequences but are anxious to channel them into the best direction for the well-being of the people of this country and Europe. I say, with the greatest respect to an eminent senior Member of the House, that I believe that I and my hon. Friend adopt an attitude of realism while the right hon. Gentleman adopts an attitude of romanticism. I shall try to justify that claim and that allegation by developing an argument in a moment on a specific example.

I wish to make it clear that individual hon. Members have been quite open about what they wish to see in Europe. I have made my position clear. The complaint of my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) was about the official documentation and literature.

Of course there will be an increasing clash between this House and a directly-elected European Parliament. There is already a clash between the European Parliament, delegated, impotent and derided though it is, and this Parliament. Those of us who serve in both Parliaments see it clearly. The European Assembly is fighting to become a Parliament. It is on the attack, and however impotent and however weak it is, the attack has been launched, from however weak a base. However strong a bastion this House is believed to be, it is on the defensive. Hon. Members have clearly seen the clash coming, but I think that it will be for the good of the people of Europe.

One of the basic reasons why I support the whole concept of European community is simply that I believe that the classical nineteenth-century European nation State is outmoded. I cannot put it any more bluntly or baldly. I could spend much time elaborating this argument, and I could refer to a book published only a fortnight ago by Tom Nairn. I do not want to sound presumptuous, but it is a brilliant historical analysis. The book is called "The Break-up of Britain" and opens with a chapter called "The Twilight of the British State". It is rather a harsh and abrasive book which will be a bitter pill for many people to swallow but it is important that we should study it and realise exactly what is happening and why.