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Council Of Europe (British Delegation)

Volume 465: debated on Thursday 2 June 1949

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I desire, Mr. Speaker, with your permission, to make a statement.

The House will recollect that on 5th May my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council said in answer to a Question that the British representation to the Consultative Assembly of the Council of Europe would consist of Members of one or other House of Parliament and would include Members of His Majesty's Opposition.

I am now able to announce the names of the Members of this delegation. The representatives from the Government Benches are:

My right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council.

My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.

My right hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury, and

My hon. Friends the Members fur Broxtowe (Mr. Cocks), Buckingham (Mr. Crawley), Coventry, West (Mr. Edelman), Lanark, North (Miss Herbison), Hulme (Mr. Lee), Hull, North-West (Mr. R. Mackay), Bilston (Mr. Nally), and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Llandaff and Barry (Mr. Ungoed-Thomas).

The representatives of His Majesty's Opposition are:

The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill).

The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bromley (Mr. Harold Macmillan).

The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Liverpool (West Derby) (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe), and

The hon. Gentlemen the Members for Aberdeen, East (Mr. Boothby), and Chippenham (Mr. Eccles), and the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Londonderry (Sir R. Ross).

The remaining member of the delegation who is not a member either of the Government or Conservative Opposition parties will be from another place. The noble Lord, Lord Layton, has accepted my invitation to join the delegation in this capacity. These appointments are for the first session of the Assembly, which, it is expected, will be held in Strasbourg at a date yet to be fixed in August.

According to the Statute of the Council of Europe, it will be in Order to appoint substitutes for representatives who may sit, speak and vote in their places. Invitations have been extended to certain hon. Members to act in this capacity, should their services be required, although it is not expected that it will be necessary for all of them to attend the Session of the Assembly.

On a point of Order. I should like to ask you, Mr. Speaker, with all due deference, if it will be in Order for me at this stage to lead the House in singing the "Red Flag"?

It is a fact that the Conservative Members among those representatives—I take it they were appointed by the right hon. Gentleman—were nominated by the Conservative Party at the invitation of the Government; and is it not a fact that the Government have refused to accept any nomination whatever from the Liberal Party, even of a single nominee? May I ask the right hon. Gentleman further, considering that the same privileges throughout this Parliament have been extended by him in principle to the Liberal Opposition as have been extended to the Conservative Opposition, why a distinction should now have been drawn in this matter, especially in regard to the nomination of representatives for an international council in Europe?

I am sure that the right hon. and learned Gentleman realises that this is a very difficult and invidious task. The constitution lays down that there shall be 18 representatives. That gives a quota for this House of somewhere about 35 or 36 Members. The party of the right hon. and learned Gentleman and the other groups do not amount together to one complete quota. One had to look around and see what was best and try to get some general representation. I have done the best I can. I am sorry if it does not please the right hon. and learned Gentleman. Whatever selection was made would almost certainly have been disagreeable to a good many people. I am afraid it is very difficult, when we have to deal with those who are not in the two major parties, to get anyone who would be universally approved.

Is not this a departure from the rules which are usually accepted in this House or on Select Committees of this House? Usually there is representation for the minority party. Now the Liberal Party seems to be ignored upon a matter in which Liberal Members, not only here but in every other country in Europe, have taken a very prominent part. Why ignore them in this matter?

The noble Lord who is to serve on this Committee is a very distinguished Liberal.

I have a certain sympathy with the Point of view which has just been expressed by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies), because I regret that it has not been possible for representation on the delegation to be given to the larger of the minority groups in this House. I appreciate, however, that the Prime Minister has found himself in a certain difficulty in this matter. I will just add that in regard to the appointment of Lord Layton, my National Liberal colleagues and I welcome that appointment because we know the tremendous work that he has done for the cause of united Europe. We believe that he can make a great contribution to the Consultative Assembly, the success of which every one of us fervently desires.

Nobody has a higher regard for Lord Layton than Members of the Liberal Party, but has he not been appointed, not because he was a Liberal but because he was the chairman of this group?

The right hon. and learned Gentleman can take some satisfaction at any rate from the fact that the noble Lord is a Liberal.

In appointing a Liberal, why have the Government appointed the noble Lord? Why not have given the Liberal Party a chance of appointing their own nominee?

I pointed out in my statement that the noble Lord is a distinguished person who does not belong to either of the two major parties. I was pointing out for the comfort of the Liberals that the noble Lord is a Liberal.

Would the Prime Minister give an assurance that this new and deplorable attitude towards minorities which has been adopted to our own Members will not be adopted towards other and substantial minorities in Europe and elsewhere?

The noble Lady's question raises the point of substantiality of minorities. There is a limited number of seats to be allocated. That was the difficulty.

Is it intended to embody these appointments in a resolution from this House, to make it clear that this delegation is from the House of Commons and not either from the Government or from the Opposition?

The general view was that the Government must take the responsibility for this matter, after consultation.

Would the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that although the Liberal Party have a very small representation in this House, there is a considerable body of Liberals in this country which should have been represented in the first European Conference to be held.

I think it was generally agreed that we should take it on the representation of this House. It is very difficult when we go outside and try to make calculations about voting.

Would the Prime Minister make it clear that this representation is for the first meeting of the Council and that the same nomination will not necessarily be made for succeeding meetings?

Yes, that is quite true. I thought I had made that plain. We shall have to see how this experiment works. We are not tied for subsequent sessions. This is for the first meeting.

How can the Prime Minister say that the British delegation will be fully representative if he excludes representatives of 2½ million Liberals? May I have an answer?

Has not the Prime Minister thought of making both Liberal Parties happy by appointing an Independent?

Will the Prime Minister say how he justifies excluding a party which got 2½ million votes at the last election? Will he say why he has allowed the Lord President of the Council to abandon all the accepted bases for nominating people, such as were accepted for broadcasting and for Coalition Governments—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—Oh, yes, they were—and to have an entirely different system of election so that the Lord President can manipulate democracy as he likes?

I should think so. I greatly resent the remarks of the hon. Member for North Dorset (Mr. Byers). I explained at the beginning, and I have explained it already in reply to three questions from those Benches, that we had to consider some basis and we took the basis of the representation in the House of Commons—

—because that seemed to be the best way, as this was a Parliamentary delegation going to an assembly of Parliamentarians. If we once go outside that and try to reckon it on votes, we get into all kinds of difficulties.

May I ask the Prime Minister to what extent, if any, this variegated delegation will commit the Government, or the party to which the Government are at present responsible?