asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether the Government have yet reacted to the EEC proposal to hold direct elections to the European Parliament by 1978.
The Government's position remains as stated in the communiqué issued by Heads of Government after their 9th-10th December meeting, Cmnd 5830. We shall not take up a position on this proposal before the process of renegotiation has been completed and the results submitted to the British people.
Will the Minister reflect that it is rather extraordinary that the Government are not taking a position on the question of direct elections before this spurious referendum is held? Surely the British people are entitled to know whether the Europe to which they are being asked to be committed is moving in a democratic direction.
I cannot imagine how the hon. Gentleman comes to regard the referendum as spurious. I believe that the referendum will be a matter of seriousness and that it should be taken in that way. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will do so when the time comes. As for a decision on the elections to the Parliament, it would be ridiculous if the Government were to make a major shift in their policy before the outcome of the referendum was known. Were we to establish permanent membership, that would be the proper time to examine the matter. Until that process is concluded, I do not think that the Government can move.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that some years ago we indicated to the Italian Government our support for that very proposition?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. There are a number of arguments which I could advance, and which no doubt could be advanced by my hon. Friend and by the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel), which would show the advantages of such an organisation being given the added element of democracy. That is a matter that must be considered after the outcome of the referendum.
Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that the terms of the treaty are mandatory? As the Government are accepting the treaty and are renegotiating within it, they must have accepted the principle of direct elections and are arguing only about detail.
The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that we discussed the matter in a debate before Christmas. While the principle is there established, the timing of its implementation is a matter for the individual States. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made clear our views on timing at the Paris Summit.