Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

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.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr John Eden Mr John Eden , Bournemouth West 12:00 am, 7th July 1977

Like the hon. Member for Wrexham (Mr. Ellis), I, too, want to turn back briefly to the speech of the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell). He made his position abundantly clear. He is against the Bill because, as he spelled out for us during his remarks, he is against United Kingdom membership of the European Economic Community. In that, of course, he is joined by many other hon. Members in all parts of the House who have habitually spoken and voted against our being members of the Community.

The fact is that they are seeking to continue the argument that they lost in the referendum in the hope that in time they may be able to reverse the decision then taken by the overwhelming majority of the people of this country.

I am not afraid of the Assembly. I am not in any way frightened of the European Parliament. I am not afraid of its advisory or supervisory powers, nor am I afraid of any development of them that may arise. They will not do damage to this Parliament. They will not in any way affect the degree to which we in this Parliament control Ministers who take the ultimate decisions in the Council of Ministers. They will not prevent this House from continuing to examine and to scrutinise European directives and legislative proposals which come from the Commission. They will not, as the right hon. Member for Down, South claimed, cut down this Parliament. They will certainly not subvert scrutiny.

The elected Assembly of the European Community may, hopefully, prevent some of the nonsenses and spare us from some of the trivia for which the Commission has from time to time been responsible, and we here may have to adapt some of our own policies in respect of legislative proposals emanating from the Commission in Brussels. That is probably something that we ought to be considering in any event.

However, I am quite certain that as the Assembly develops or as its composition changes as the result of the passage of this Bill and the direct election of its Members, so we shall find that, far from subverting and undermining our authority in the national Parliament, it will effectively complement it.

I want to turn briefly to the question of the method of election. I agree here very much—and only on this point— with my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop). He spoke most effectively about the representation and responsibility that goes with the first-past-the-post system. I agree very much with him that we should strive to preserve the golden thread of responsibility between electors and elected. I am sure that he was right to emphasise that point and I support him in what he said. I believe that the Government are wrong in putting forward as their favoured choice the regional list system in the Bill.

The right hon. Member for Down, South did the House a great service by drawing its attention to the part of the Home Secretary's speech in which he referred to the possibility of differences of view between the Assembly in Europe and this Parliament and the Government of this country. The right hon. Member referred to that part, which I shall not repeat. However, in the same paragraph the Home Secretary said: Furthermore, the credibility of the British delegation in the European Assembly might well be undermined by such a result."—[Official Report, 6th July 1977; Vol. 934, c. 1256.] But the fact is that it will not be a British delegation. We have a delegation now. The purpose of the Bill is to make it possible for delegates to become elected representatives of the people. They will not be delegates of the Government or even of this Parliament. They will be elected representatives of the people.

If that reference by the Home Secretary is in any way indicative of the attitude he brings to bear to this subject, I hope that, as a result of the debate, he will think again and change his whole approach. What he should be seeking to ensure, as a result of the enactment of this or similar legislation, is that the voice of the people is taken more into account as a result of the direct part that they will have in sending representatives to the Parliament of Europe.

If that happens, I believe that the European Parliament or Assembly will more truly become the focal point in the formulation and development of European opinion. No doubt it will further develop the practice of calling the Commission to account. Perhaps it will develop new practices, such as the establishment of specialist committees to examine Commis- sion proposals in greater depth before they go forward to the Council of Ministers. Whatever detailed form they may take, I have no doubt that new parliamentary procedures will develop. I have no doubt, either, that those Members of the Assembly elected from individual constituencies in the member States will ensure that they increasingly come to reflect the wishes of the people who will send them there. I am sure that they will exert a most beneficial influence on the Commission which will effectively complement the influence that we exert in this House on the Ministers who attend the Council of Ministers.

I make the plea that we do not try to achieve overnight what it has taken other Governments and other Parliaments and other people already many years to approach. We must recognise that, with our membership of the Community, we shall have to experience a very long-drawn-out, continuing and evolutionary process of working with our neighbours in Europe. But the practice of working together, however difficult, offers the prospect of greater prosperity for all our people and a peaceful solution to some of the most pressing international problems. Even though the practice may be difficult, with that possibility and that prospect before us, the attempt is very worthwhile, and I have no doubt that by sending elected representatives from this country to the European Parliament we shall be assisting it considerably.