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European Parliament

Volume 894: debated on Wednesday 25 June 1975

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31.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what is the policy of the EEC on direct elections to the European Parliament; and what communications he has had with the Council of Ministers on this subject since the referendum.

At their meeting in December 1974 the EEC Heads of Government noted that the objective laid down in the Treaty of Rome of election by universal suffrage should be achieved as soon as possible. We shall now undertake a thorough study of this matter.

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that now that the referendum is over, the time for prevarication over direct elections to the European Parliament is also over? Does he agree that to have direct elections to the European Parliament in 1978 would be the best way to strengthen the democratic control of the institution? Will the Government hasten to make a decision on the matter, in agreement with what the rest of the Community did in 1974?

I disagree with each of the three points of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question. There has certainly been no prevarication. If we had not taken time over the matter during the renegotiation, it would have been that we had prevaricated but that we had moved with an urgency and speed which were altogether intolerable while the British people were making up their minds as to where our future lay. The hon. Gentleman must understand that a high level of democracy is preserved within the Community by the existence of a Council of Ministers, each democratically elected and each able to prevent proposals going ahead which, in their view, are not in the national interest. There must now be a careful examination of the desirability and propriety of direct elections. I have no doubt that when that careful examination has been completed, my right hon. Friend will report it to the House.

As the question of direct elections was not one of the items in the renegotiated terms, will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that not only shall we examine the matter in depth but that the views of the Labour Party will be taken into consideration before there is any question of a commitment of any kind by the Government?

That would be such a step forward—some hon. Members might describe it as a step in the other direction—such a step in our constitutional history that it would be essential that all the parties and many interests be consulted before the Government made up their mind.

In the process of whatever consultation the Government feel to be right in the matter, will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that there is the fullest debate in the House?

Yes, Sir. I give that assurance at once. Before any system of direct elections was implemented, legislation would need to be passed in this House. But the hon. Gentleman is right in implying that at the earliest stage the House should be notified of the Government's intentions and given any opportunity to express its views. I promise the hon. Gentleman that that will happen.