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European Assembly

Volume 892: debated on Wednesday 21 May 1975

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asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will now make an announcement of policy about direct elections to the European Assembly.


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement of Her Majesty's Government's policy towards direct elections to the European Assembly.

I refer the hon. Members to the reply which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister gave to the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) on 18th March.—[Vol. 888, c. 1477–8.]

Do the Labour Party and the Labour Government agree with the resolution passed at the Common Market Assembly on 10th January, which referred to the integration of the countries in the Common Market and to direct elections to what will be called the European Parliament? Do the Labour Party and the Labour Government agree with direct elections? If so, may we know about this before the referendum, as it is a very important point?

The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that the Prime Minister reserved the British Government's position on the occasion of the communiqué. The issue which we have to decide, and which the country will decide on 5th June, is whether we shall be in or out. If the decision is, as I believe it will be overwhelmingly, that Britain should stay in, I think that we shall all have to consider what sort of future we want to see for the European Assembly. However, all these decisions will depend on the decisions of hon. Members. The first decision will be taken by the people in the referendum.

Does my right hon. Friend realise that many of his hon. Friends very much favour the concept of a directly-elected European Parliament as a means of putting into the EEC the kind of democratic element that we, as pro-Europeans, realise is not there at the moment? Will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that if, as he thinks and I think, the result is an overwhelming "Yes" on 5th June, the Government will work to expedite the provisions of a directly-elected European Parliament?

No, I do not want to give that assurance. I believe that when the decision of the referendum is known, and if it should be, as I believe it will be, that Britain should stay within the EEC, we shall find within all parties a good deal of disagreement about what change, if any, should be made in the pattern of the European Parliament. There are hon. Members on both sides of the House who believe in democratic election. There are others who think that it would be better to leave the system as it is now. I think that the time for resolving those differences is after the referendum.

Is it not the case that direct elections depend wholly on the assumption that there will be a substantial increase in the supranational legislative powers of a European Parliament? If it is to retain its present powers, does the right hon. Gentleman not agree that there is no case for changing the basis of the election of members? Is it not grossly unsatisfactory for the Government simply to reserve their position on this vitally important matter? Is the right hon. Gentleman suggesting that the British people, too, can reserve their position on this matter on 5th June?

It would be absurd for the British Government to take decisions or to indicate a conclusion about issues such as these before the British people have decided whether we stay in the EEC. After the decision has been taken by the British people, that will be the time for hon. Members to make any determination on the question whether there should be any changes in the European Parliament.

Will the Minister say why the Government are being so secretive? The other Minister of State at the Department said that the questionnaire on political union would be answered but that the Government would not publish the answer. What is the reason for the secrecy? Is the Minister frightened of letting people know whether the Labour Government favour direct elections, or a two-Chamber legislature? Why the secrecy?

My hon. Friend wants to have it both ways. He wants us to take a position which we have not taken, so that he can attack that position. The Government have not taken that view. They have not reached a conclusion—[Interruption.] I do not think my hon. Friends want us to reach a conclusion until the British people have spoken. My hon. Friend and many others who take his view about the Common Market will wish to be consulted if the decision is taken to remain within the Community.

Is it not the plain and simple fact that under the treaty it is obligatory, at some time, to have direct elections to the European Parliament? Is not the only question, assuming continuity of membership, when?