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Commons Chamber

Volume 929: debated on Friday 1 April 1977

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House Of Commons

Friday 1st April 1977

The House met at Eleven o'clock


[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]


Disabled Drivers

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I wish to present a petition on behalf of the Disabled Drivers Association in my constituency, as one part of the effort on the National Mobility Petition. The prayer on the petition reads:

To the Honourable the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in Parliament assembled.
Whereby the statement by the Secretary of State for Social Services on 23rd July 1976 on mobility policy for the disabled causes your humble petitioners great concern in that it removes the assurance of continued independent mobility from those severely disabled persons now driving invalid tricycles, and condemns many new applicants for mobility assistance to be housebound as a result of the inadequate level of the mobility allowance, your humble petitioners pray that your honourable House call upon the Secretary of State for Social Services to promote policies and proposed such necessary legislation as will:
  • (a) Immediately guarantee a right of continued independent mobility to current invalid tricycle drivers when the supply of tricycles is exhausted, in order to allay their great anxiety for the future;
  • (b) Restore immediately the option of a suitably adapted car or an invalid tricycle to new applicants for mobility assistance under the powers granted to the Secretary of State for Social Services by Section 33 of the Health Services and Public Health Act 1968;
  • (c) Actively promote projects to design and produce specialised vehicles which will enable an increasing number of severely disabled people to enjoy independent mobility;
  • and yourselves enact the legislation.
    And further, your humble petitioners pray that your honourable House take all necessary steps to promote a total policy of mobility which will ensure that a choice is available to severely disabled between a mobility allowance set at a level which will enable the purchase and maintenance of appliances that they need, the issue of a specialised vehicle or the issue of a suitably adapted car; which policy should be implemented with all possible urgency.
    And your petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray.
    I understand that it is not appropriate to make a speech on these occasions. I will therefore simply say that I am very happy to be able, as one sign of my support for these efforts, to present this petition to the House.

    To lie upon the Table.

    European Community (Meetings Of Council Of Ministers)

    With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I will make a statement about business to be taken in the Council of Ministers of the European Community during April. The monthly forecast for April was deposited on Tuesday.

    At present, five meetings of the Council of Ministers are proposed for the month. Foreign and Finance Ministers will meet jointly on the 5th, Foreign Ministers on the 5th and possibly the 6th, Finance Ministers on the 18th, and Agriculture Ministers on 25th and 26th April.

    Ministers at the joint Foreign Affairs and Finance Council will discuss a Commission assessment of Community budget problems and priorities.

    At the Foreign Affairs Council, Ministers will consider the follow-up to the European Council of the 25th and 26th March and the Community's position in relation to the Conference on International Economic Co-operation which will resume at the end of April. Other likely items for the agenda are fisheries matters, renewal of the GATT Multi-Fibre Arrangement, participation by the Community in the International Sugar Agreement and the Community's relations with Portugal, Spain, Cyprus, Malta and Yugoslavia. Preparation for the second meeting of the ACP/EEC Council of Ministers in Fiji on 13th and 14th April will also be on the agenda.

    Ministers at the Finance Council will discuss preparations for the Downing Street Summit Conference in May and for the meeting of the Interim Committee of the International Monetary Fund.

    Agriculture Ministers will resume consideration of common agricultural policy prices for 1977–78 and related measures.

    I thank the Minister for making the statement. As usual, he has announced a very heavy programme of Community meetings in the forthcoming month. Has he worked it out that today we are exactly halfway through our Presidency of the Council of Ministers? Will he accept that some of us are becoming increasingly worried about the way in which the meetings are being handled by some of his colleagues? Is it not beginning to look as if the tactics employed, for example, by the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and by the Minister of State, Department of Energy, although they gain a certain amount of support in this House, do not in any way safeguard the interests of Britain but increasingly undermine our influence and our bargaining strength in the Community?

    Could not the hon. Gentleman set in hand, or ask the Prime Minister to set in hand, a half-term review of these tactics and priorities so that we try to do a little better for Britain and Europe in the second half than we have in the first?

    I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising this central point. I am sure that with his experience he will be the first to agree that the Presidency places on the individual in the chair a very heavy responsibility to promote consensus. This is, of course, the constitutional responsibility, but in promoting consensus it is realistic of the chair, whatever specialist subject may be under consideration, to take into account the real political interests at stake. To gloss over fundamental issues will not help the cause of the Community or the cause of the members of the Community either in terms of the Governments or of the people who lie behind the Governments.

    Can the Minister say, first, whether there will be any further consideration of the joint Community project at Culham in the coming months? Secondly, does he agree that an agreement, on a Community basis, for a North-South conference would be quite invaluable and that preferably, whatever agree- ment is reached, we should try to associate our American allies as well?

    I am sure that the Community will return to the subject of JET. The importance of Culham and the claims of Culham are well recognised. As to the CIEC, a great deal of time and energy is going into promoting a common Community position, with which I am personally associated. It will be invaluable for us, as the right hon. Gentleman himself says, if we can go in with an agreed position before we hold the conference. We still look back with some concern at the fact that we did not reach an agreed position before the important conference on UNCTAD last year, and we do not want to repeat that mistake.

    As many of us are becoming increasingly worried about the expenditure of public money involved in all these travelling expenses and all this hospitality, which only increases the public sector borrowing requirement and leads to friction between Western European countries, would it not be better for all if the Government announced that they will not attend any more of these celebrations until there has been a drastic reform of the common agricultural policy?

    We are well aware of my right hon. Friend's deep commitments and uncompromising attitudes on these matters. However, we attend the Community to fight for the interests of the British people. We believe that the interests of the British people would not be served by withdrawing from crucial discussions. The point is what we contribute to those discussions in terms of the results we all want to see.

    Which of the items that arose at the recent European Council of Ministers are to be followed up? Secondly, what are to be the main subjects of discussion at the ACP/EEC meeting in Fiji?

    All the items that were detailed in the statement of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will, of course, be followed up in the context of the Council. At the ACP/EEC meeting we shall basically be discussing how we ought to review the progress of Lomé and the relationships between the ACP/EEC countries within that context.

    Is my hon. Friend aware that it is not a good practice to make this type of announcement to the House on Friday, as it affects such an enormous range of interests represented in the House? Will he bring that to the attention of the Leader of the House?

    Will not the Foreign Affairs Ministers be referring at all to the very important and dangerous situation in Southern Africa?

    On the first point, I understand that there is strong feeling on both sides of the House about the importance of having adequate time to discuss matters. I certainly take very seriously the point that my hon. Friend has raised. There is from time to time a suggestion that we should handle this item by having a written statement. I personally would not favour the adoption of that course, because I believe that we should have an opportunity to discuss the situation in the House.

    South African matters are of course from time to time looked at in the context of the political discussions that take place within the Community.

    Order. May I say, to put them out of their agony, that I shall call the six hon. Members who are standing, but it is not likely that I shall call anybody else.

    Referring to the multi-fibre discussions that are to take place very shortly, will the Minister confirm, first, that it is very much in the interests of the United Kingdom to arrive at a common European position on the matter? Will he also confirm that, by and large, European interests coincide on this matter, whereas world interests show conflict? Thirdly, will he tell us whether he thinks that there is a probability that the common European position will be arrived at at the next meeting speedily and in time for the subsequent world meeting at Geneva?

    In answer to that point, it may be helpful if I say a word about our position. The Government are pressing for improvements in the Multi-Fibre Arrangement in order to provide greater protection for our textile and clothing industries against disruptive low-cost imports. There is one unresolved item—the treatment of cumulative disruption. It is hoped that the Council on 5th April will agree to the introduction of a new safeguard enabling imports of particularly sensitive products to be restricted by a single measure. There is not a complete and absolute coincidence of interests within the Community. There is a great deal of coincidence of interests. We are determined, as in all wider international discussions, to try to achieve a common Community interest.

    Is my hon. Friend aware that in these continued discussions on the common agricultural policy we have a considerable amount of satisfaction? For the first time the consumer's and the housewife's voice seems to be heard. Will Her Majesty's Government continue to press on that front? Secondly, may I ask my hon. Friend, regarding the specific discussions on the International Sugar Agreement, whether Her Majesty's Government are satisfied that the original commitments that were given have been fulfilled and whether any basic changes are being proposed in the April meetings?

    On the first point, of course I recognise, as do all my colleagues, that in agricultural policy—international no less than national—we must reconcile the interests of producers and consumers, but it is terribly important that the interests of consumers are protected and receive priority attention. This is what we are determined to achieve within the context of the discussions, because this is central to the overall economic policy.

    On the second point, I can assure my hon. Friend that the overall objective at Luxembourg next week will be to try to get a sound opening negotiating position for the Community on the ISA.

    Are the Foreign Minister of the Community to have a chance to discuss the recent invasion of Zaire from Angola—an invasion possibly backed by the Cubans? In view of the vast mineral resources in the area, particularly copper, is it not important to the European Community that a co-ordinated approach should be achieved without delay?

    As I think the hon. Member will recognise, and as I said previously, African issues are from time to time—not regularly—discussed within the political channels of the Community.

    The International Sugar Agreement is to be discussed, but will my hon. Friend tell us what the Community's approach is, because, as I understand it, there are 3 million tons of sugar surplus and there was a 17 per cent. increase in acreage of beet sugar in Europe last year? How can the Community participate in such an agreement if it is to dump the 3 million tons of sugar on a sensitive world market? Does this mean that it must be burnt, or is it to be stockpiled?

    My hon. Frend has, in his characteristic way, put his finger on a very central problem. Of course we have to reconcile the interests of producers in the Community with the interests of producers outside it. I hope my hon. Friend will accept that what we are determined to do in the discussions next week is, above all, to look for a sound international approach, in which we take very seriously our responsibilities to Third World countries—responsibilities which, I know, trouble my hon. Friend deeply.

    Does the Minister agree that even at its present size the Community is finding it very difficult to achieve agreement on relatively unimportant matters? If it is expanded to include Mediterranean countries with very different agricultures and very different interests in foreign affairs, it will find it impossible to achieve any sort of agreement on anything save the most trivial matters concerning the Common Market.

    I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman demonstrates such defeatism this morning of all mornings. We live in a real world, and in that real world we think it important to bring together people with strong national interests and try to work out meaningful international agreements among them. That is what the Community is about, and that is what we are determined to do, but we believe that those agreements will be sound, valid and durable only if we take into account the genuine and deep interests of the member States involved.

    I was stunned by the ludicrous comments of the hon. Member for Mid-Oxon (Mr. Hurd), who is supposed to speak for the "John Bull" party opposite. Will the Minister kindly inform the House of what happened at our debate on fisheries a few evenings ago, when there was not one Member on the Opposition Benches or on these Benches who did not support the Minister when he said that he was determined to succeed in attacking the common fisheries policy? That is a fact of life. Does not my hon. Friend think that Opposition Members should be more honest when making certain comments about our Government?

    I am grateful to my hon. Friend for what he says. I think that it was a very educative debate, which, I hope, will have been read closely by ministerial colleagues throughout the Community. We in the British Government are determined to be as communautaire as anybody in our approach to reach a Community solution. We want an effective common fisheries policy, but we recognise that Britain is putting more into this than is any other member State, and we believe that for a common policy to be effective that fact has to be recognised.

    Grimsby By-Election

    On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I ask whether the Government Chief Whip has asked your permission to make a statement to explain to the House why he was not here at the beginning of this morning's sitting to move the Writ for the Grimsby by-election? His failure to be here is particularly surprising, first, because he did not move the Writ and, second, because he has not come here to give an explanation, in view of the staggering overnight news of the major Government defeat at the Stechford by-election, which showed that the public have very quickly reacted to the Lib-Lab pact by causing the Liberal Party once more to lose its deposit.

    Would you be good enough to say, Mr. Speaker, whether the Chief Whip came to ask you whether he might give an explanation to the House showing why the Government have not sought an early opportunity for the people to give a second opinion showing the contempt in which his Government are plainly held?

    Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it possible that if the Government Chief Whip has not asked permission to make the statement to which my hon. Friend refers, he has asked for permission not to move the Writ for Grimsby but to move Writs for 634 other constituencies, which would be more appropriate, since this honourable House appears no longer to represent the political opinions of the country regarding this Government?

    The House knows that I am far more generous on a Friday morning. I expected something along those lines, but the point raised never approached being a point of order. I say only that I have had no request from the Chief Whip.

    Bill Presented

    Price Commission

    Mr. Secretary Hattersley, supported by Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Secretary Varley, Mr. Secretary Booth, Mr. Secretary Dell, Mr. John Silkin, Mr. John Fraser and Mr. Robert Maclennan, presented a Bill to make further provision about the Price Commission and prices and charges, and to amend the Counter-Inflation Act 1973 and the Remuneration, Charges and Grants Act 1975; And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Monday next and to be printed [Bill 100.]

    European Communities Act 1972

    I have to inform the House that I have selected the amendment in the name of the Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House.

    11.24 a.m.

    5That this House calls upon Her Majesty's Government to institute a review of the operation of the European Communities Act 1972, and meanwhile in furtherance of the House's oversight of Commission documents, orders that Standing Order No. 73A be amended as follows:
    Leave out lines 27 to 29 and insert 'and in respect of any commission document'.
    Line 41, leave out 'or commission document'.
    Line 44, leave out '(or commission document)'.
    Line 54, leave out 'or commission document'.
    10Line 56, at end insert—
    15'(4A) (a) Each committee to which a commission document is referred shall consider each document on a motion to approve, disapprove, or take note of that document (to which amendments may be moved), and subject to the provisions of the following sub-paragraphs the chairman shall put any question necessary to dispose of the proceedings, if not previously concluded, when the committee shall have sat for two and a half hours after the commencement of those proceedings.
    20(b) At the first sitting of the committee, at any time after any question relating to the document has been proposed, a member of the committee rising in his place may claim to make a motion providing for a further sitting of the committee on another day, and the chairman shall put the question on such a motion forthwith, or may decline then to propose that question to the committee; and thereafter proceedings upon the original question shall be resumed.
    25(c) At the conclusion of two and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings on the second day on which the committee shall sit, if proceedings on the motion relating to the document have not previously been concluded, the chairman shall put any question necessary to dispose of it.
    30(d) When any motion relating to the document has been disposed of, the committee shall thereupon report the document and the result of the question upon the motion to the House without further question being put'.
    Line 58, leave out '3(ii) or 3(iii)' and insert 'or 3(ii)'.
    Line 60, leave out 'or commission document'.
    Line 63, leave out from 'thereon' to end of line 66.
    35Line 69, at end insert—
    40'(5A) When a committee to which a commission document has been referred has reported a resolution relating to the document, a motion may be made that the House doth agree with the committee in their resolution relating to that document; notice of such a motion may be given by any Member for consideration at the commencement of public business; and the question thereon shall be put forthwith'.

    The motion is somewhat lengthy, and I hope that hon. Members have had an opportunity to study it. It relates to a number of different passages in Standing Order No. 73A in relation to parts of the European Communities Act, and I trust that hon. Members have a copy of the Standing Order also in their possession.

    There is a twofold purpose to this debate. The first—the one to which I shall address myself predominantly—is to provide an opportunity for a review of the controversial European Communities Act 1972 and to consider its legal and constitutional implications. The second—the one which gives rise to a great deal of what appears in the motion—is to give the Government an opportunity to tell us whether they have had second thoughts and to give us a chance to enlarge the scope for processing more effectively the European legislation which descends upon the House from time to time.

    I use the neutral term "processing" deliberately, because in one sense all that we do, either in the Standing Committees that consider these matters in detail or on the Floor of the House, where we usually choose to debate them at some peculiar and unchristian hour of the night, is on one interpretation—in strict legal theory—a nullity, since it matters not in legal theory whether we "note" or do "not note" or whether we approve or do not approve what comes before us. In substance, that is the effect of what happened when we passed the European Communities Act.

    My submission, which I shall support by argument based on a number of authorities—I hope that it will be of comfort and consolation to those of us on both sides who have seen all our worst fears fulfilled in the years since 1971—is that the Act is repealable and amendable, and that the idea that is put about that we passed out of our hands irreversibly and for ever a segment of our sovereignty is simply not correct.

    It is consistent with that proposition to say that for the time being, for good or ill—in my view, almost wholly for ill—while the Act is on the statute book our activities in processing EEC legislative documents is a nullity. I appreciate that, apart from strict legal questions, opinions expressed in the House can have an influence and do in fact have an influence, but in strict law our proceedings on these documents might just as well not take place.

    I have said that the Act purports to yield up for ever our authority in certain matters, and I think that it would be of assistance if I reminded the House of the three most important provisions of the European Communities Act which purport to do just that. After all, it is some time since we passed the Act, and it is as well to refresh our memories so that we know precisely what we are talking about. I refer, first, to Section 1(3):

    "If Her Majesty by Order in Council declares that a treaty specified in the Order is to be regarded as one of the Community Treaties as herein defined, the Order shall be conclusive that it is to be so regarded; but a treaty entered into by the United Kingdom after the 22nd January 1972, other than a pre-accession treaty to which the United King- dom accedes on terms settled on or before that date, shall not be so regarded unless it is so specified, nor be so specified unless a draft of the Order in Council has been approved by resolution of each House of Parliament."

    That is not a particularly intelligible piece of legislation, but I shall try later to explain what it means.

    The heart of the matter is contained in Section 2(1) which says:

    "All such rights, powers, liabilities, obligations and restrictions from time to time created or arising by or under the Treaties, and all such remedies and procedures from time to time provided for by or under the Treaties, as in accordance with the Treaties are without further enactment to be given legal effect or used in the United Kingdom shall be recognised and available in law, and be enforced, allowed and followed accordingly; and the expression 'enforceable Community right' and similar expressions shall be read as referring to one to which this subsection applies."

    The third part is that which refers to the interpretation. In some respects it is the most important matter of all. Section 3(1) says:

    "For the purposes of all legal proceedings any question as to the meaning or effect of any of the Treaties, or as to the validity, meaning or effect of any Community instrument, shall be treated as a question of law (and, if not referred to the European Court, be for determination as such in accordance with the principles laid down by and any relevant decision of the European Court)."

    Those three sections are the Act's guts, the parts upon which people who use the whole Common Market exercise as a step towards unwanted federalism would rely. I cannot help commenting, almost as an aside, on the fact that before the Act was passed most of the zealots supporting it used to try to play it down, to say that the Treaty was all about butter. It was certainly a very bad Treaty about butter, but if that were all we could expunge it pretty quickly. Since the Act was passed it has been the general opinion of the protagonists of the Market that what had been said earlier was not true, that the treaty was not a trade treaty at all but, as we who fought hard against the Market for years and who still fight on have said, a constitutional yielding up of sovereignty. They say that it was an abdication of sovereignty from this country in circumstances that could never be put right.

    I shall argue that that is not so by reference to certain other Acts which, by contrast with the European Communities Act, it may be argued cannot be repealed. I see one distinguished member of my profession below the Gangway on the Conservative Benches—the hon. and learned Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke)—who knows as much about these matters as anyone. I do not think that he or anyone else will contradict the general proposition that Parliament is omnicompetent, that it can do anything except make a man a woman or a woman a man—that was the position on 31st December 1972—and that if we can pass an Act we can repeal an Act. There can be no gainsaying that.

    Indeed, I think that it has never been seriously suggested that any kind of ultra vires doctrine applied to this House since the curious case of Commendose in about 1611. There was a strange suggestion by the former Attorney-General, Lord Dilhorne, in relation to the Parliamentary Privilege Act 1770 that there might be some element of ultra vires in some procedures, but, with respect, I do not think that that has been upheld by any other lawyer. In any event, I do not think that it applies to any legislative process that this House employs.

    I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman so far, but I hope that he will deal with the questions relating to the Act of Union with Scotland, because that seems nearer the knuckle than the cases he has already mentioned.

    The hon. and learned Gentleman must be psychic as well as learned, because I have that Act with me amongst all the others on the Bench beside me.

    It was the Government of the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) who passed this iniquitous piece of legislation, but plenty of people on my side of the House must share the blame and odium. It is not a party matter. They used in the Preamble just the ordinary words which appear in every Act nowadays:
    Be it enacted by the Queen's most Excellent Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Lords Spiritual Temporal, and Commons, in this present Parliament assembled, and by the authority of the same, as follows".
    The use of those words distinguishes the Act from some of the others, and thank goodness it does, for the reasons I shall explain. I shall suggest that there are certain Acts which ex necessitate cannot be repealed. By way of contrast and inevitable implication, this is an Act that can be repealed.

    My first example, to which the hon. and learned Gentleman referred, is the Act of Union 1706. What the hon. and learned Gentleman forgets is that there is special provision, referring to Article I, which talks about its being indissoluble for all time. Article I states:
    "That the two kingdoms of England and Scotland shall upon the first day of May which shall be in the year one thousand seven hundred and seven and for ever after be united into one kingdom by the name of Great Britain and that the signs armorial of the said United Kingdom be such as her Majesty shall appoint and the crosses of St. George and St. Andrew be conjoyned in such manner as Her Majesty shall think fit and used in all flags banners standards and ensigns both at sea and land."
    In the Preamble too there is reference to the indissolubility. This is the whole point. That is what distinguishes it from the Act of 1972.

    Some hon. Members may think that that is a bit archaic. After all, 1706 is quite a long time ago. That is not a valid objection, but let us assume for the sake of argument that it is. There are several recent Acts which contrast constitutionally with the European Communities Act. The first is one which I came across in my campaign on behalf of the Ocean Islanders, the Banabans, who, according to Mr. Justice Megarry, have been the victim of 75 years of thoroughly offensive exploitation. An Act was passed in the Imperial Parliament, as it was then, which provided specially for the selling of the phosphate from the islands at sub-economic prices for the benefit of Australian and New Zealand farmers.

    That, however, is not the reason why mention the fact here. The point is that that Act cited the concurrent legislation of two other dominion Parliaments. The Act, the Nauru Island Agreement Act, is described as:
    "An Act to confirm an Agreement made between His Majesty's Government in London, His Majesty's Government of the Commonwealth of Australia, and His Majesty's Government of the Dominion of New Zealand, in relation to the Island of Nauru.
    [4th August 1920.]"
    The Preamble speaks of the making of the agreement scheduled to the Act of the requirement of confirmation by Parliament. There then follows a short Act confirming the agreement,
    "subject to the provisions of Article twenty-two of the Covenant of the League of Nations".
    It then refers to monetary provisions, and adds:
    "This Act may be cited as the Nauru Island Agreement Act 1920."
    The important point is that there is a schedule which, among other things, cites the concurrent legislative assent of the two independent Dominions, to use the old-fashioned phrase, of Australia and New Zealand. Article 15 under that Act bears the signatures of the right hon. David Lloyd George for this country, the right hon. W. M. Hughes for Australia and the right hon. William Ferguson Massey for the Dominion of New Zealand. That is an example of an Act which, in my submission, can be repealed only by concurrent legislation undertaken in two other countries besides this one. That is the only way in which that Act can be legally expunged—in contrast with the European Communities Act, which, fortunately, is not lumbered with concurrent legislative activity elsewhere.

    The other Act—which is much more well-known because we have all at some time or another referred to it—is the Statute of Westminster itself. The Pre-amble to that Act—which I do not intend to read to the House because it would not be fair to take up too much time on constitutional matters, although they are important—says:
    "to give effect to certain resolutions passed by Imperial Conferences held in the years 1926 and 1930".
    The date of enactment was 11th December 1931. It quotes the consenting legislative activity of the then dominions of the Commonwealth. In my view, for the same reason as in the case of the Nauru Island Agreement Act, that piece of legislation could not be repealed without concurrent activities in the other countries.

    I know that this might be quoted against me, so I shall mention only in passing that curious constitutional collector's piece, the expunging of the Dominion of Newfoundland under the Act of 1934, but that took place only after Newfoundland, which had been made a dominion in 1917, abdicated its authority by its own legislative act and made us reversioners of that sovereignty. That does not detract from the proposition that this is an Act of Parliament which is retrocessive and, therefore, contrasts with the Act of 1974.

    A more recent example, which is of academic interest because the individual concerned is now dead, is His Majesty's Declaration of Abdication Act of 1936. It is quite short, and I shall read a part of the Preamble which is relevant. After referring to His Majesty's desire irrevocably to renounce the throne for himself and his descedants, the Act goes on:
    "whereas, following upon the communication to His Dominions of His Majesty's said declaration and desire, the Dominion of Canada pursuant to the provisions of section four of the Statute of Westminster, 1921, has requested and consented to the enactment of this Act, and the Commonwealth of Australia, the Dominion of New Zealand, and the Union of South Africa have assented thereto:"
    Again, that is an example of the power to repeal legislation in this country being hobbled by concurrent legislation. A treaty is not in that position. It cannot bind this Parliament and prevent this Parliament, of itself, from repealing that Act.

    One has only to look at the awful shambles of the common agricultural policy and at all the other extraordinary pieces of what are incorrectly called—as my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. Gould) made clear in a debate in November 1975—as a misnomer, subsidiary legislation. They deal with road haulage, weights, port regulations, brucellosis regulations and heaven knows what else. All that stuff is miscalled subsidiary legislation. It is nothing of the sort. It is super-primary legislation. It comes out of the loins of the Treaty of Rome and the European Communities Act. The House has the power to expunge it by the repeal of that Act.

    That is the first part of my argument and I have spent some time on it, so I shall leave the matter there. I hope it has been to some purpose because it is most important that this Government, and, indeed, any other Governments that may be in prospect, shall remember that they cannot—if that view be right—hide behind the doctrine of the legislative irreversibility of the 1972 Act.

    I for one will be one of the last Members of the House—along with the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) and the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powexll) and some of my hon. Friends—to haul down the flag on that.

    Was not this position made clear in the report on the renegotiation of membership of the European Community? One paragraph of the report, among other things, said that Parliament had undoubted power to repeal the Act upon which our ability to fulfil our Treaty obligations still depended. That must be the Government's position this morning.

    I hope that that is right, but if my hon. Friend is relying on that and that alone he must remember Section 3(1) of his own Act, which purports to invest interpretation exclusively in the European Court. We know jolly well what the European Court would do if it was called upon to interpret these matters. It would interpret them centripetally, just as the United States Supreme Court, under Chief Justice Marshall, during the early formative years of the United States—I do not suggest dishonesty—step by step levered the individual States of the United States into a position from which they could not be extracted.

    I have been listening with interest. If Parliament decided to take away the interpretation of that Act from the European Court, could it not do so by pure legislation, by a one-clause Bill?

    I maintain that notionally it can do so, although I think that Parliament would have to repeal the European Communities Act as well—as it were, an Act ex abundanti cautela—before it did so. A one-clause Act would not necessarily provide that.

    In the last analysis it would necessarily depend on the tipstaff and upon whose authority he would act. I shall come to that later when I say a word or two about the mechanics of the legislation. My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) knows more about European procedure than I, and I do not intend to spend time on particular details.

    The purpose behind this rather longwinded amendment to the Standing Order is simply to give the Select Committee the power, at least domestically speaking, to approve or disapprove of the matters that are put before it. If we really are to go through this examining exercise, it is simply not satisfactory to duck away from the right of being able to express at least an opinion, even if we cannot thereby alter the law.

    A few days ago the Treasury Bench was castigated by the Leader of the Opposition for running away from a Division by adopting a procedural device of not opposing a motion for the Adjournment. One can see some force in that argument. One can see why it could be regarded as being a way of avoiding an embarrassing decision. By not vesting the Select Committee which processes and predigests the avalanche of EEC documents that descend on this country, that Committee can be criticised. This House can be criticised for running away from what may be the embarrassing exercise of expressing disapproval of the documents that are before it. By the same token, every time a motion goes down in the House—this is another part of the purpose of the motion—to take note, that, too, invites criticism of the Government for taking a rather cowardly way out of an embarrassing situation.

    Since we have at least got a Minister of Agriculture—for the first time since Tom Williams of Don Valley—there has been a refreshing difference of approach to these matters. As we know, several motions put down in the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) have been accepted, and this has no doubt assisted the Minister of Agriculture's negotiating position.

    I do not want to overstate the argument. Some of the remarks that are made—I hope many of the intemperate remarks that I make—I should like to think were listened to already in Brussels. Irrespective of whether there is a motion to take note or a motion to approve or disapprove, certainly the Minister can say when speaking to his opposite numbers when he goes on Common Market CAP junketings in Brussels that there is a strong case against this or that policy or in favour of this or that policy.

    However, is it not much more satisfactory for there to be a resolution? That is the way in which this House has from time immemorial expressed a definitive opinion—by a vote.

    That is the purpose of it, and it is the vote that counts, not the voice. The voice helps and it supplements, but it is the vote that is the ultimate evidence of the opinion of the House on the opinion of the Select Committee.

    Therefore, the purpose behind this rather cumbersome procedure that I have adopted is to try to persuade the House to accede to a procedure that it has half recognised as being necessary in the course of past debates—if I interpret the former Leader of the House, now Lord Glenamara, correctly—as being the right and honourable course to adopt. That is what I would ask the Government to do.

    The other part I can deal with simply. It is to extend the time limit in which debates can take place in the Select Committee and to vest in any Member, not just the Minister in charge, the right to say "We have not debated this enough" and the right to move a motion giving a ration of another two and a half hours, making a total of five hours in all, in order to discuss it.

    It is a modest enough proposal. Why should it be the case that whereas on the Floor of the House any hon. Member, the Prime Minister or the humblest Back Bencher, can move as a point of order a motion for the closure, a procedural motion, or even rise at any stage and shout "I spy strangers"—and that is a Question that the Chair must put—the Chair can refuse a motion for the closure for any or no reason, but presumably because it is unfair, oppressive or frivolous? Some time ago my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) moved the motion "I spy strangers". That motion must be taken and voted upon. I pray that only as an example in aid in support of the argument that any hon. Member concerned with the legislative process, so called, should have the right to move that the debate be extended.

    I leave it to others to discuss in detail the pros and cons or the minutiae of the amendment that I have proposed. I return to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Mr. Tuck). The day will come, no doubt, when, in one way or another, which cannot be burked, the activities of a Minister or of the Government—I would think in particular the Minister of Agriculture—will be alleged to be illegal by a Community law. I hope—and I hope that this is not an unparliamentary expression—that my right hon. Friend will tell the Community to "go and get stuffed".

    If my right hon. Friend does so, there will have to be some proceedings in the courts. If a situation is reached when, let us say, the Community tells us to abolish the Milk Marketing Board, we say "No", the Community says that it is illegal and then it is determined by the court of the Community as being an illegal act by a British Minister, the day will come when the High Court Tipstaff will have to decide whether he takes orders from the court of the Community or the High Court here.

    It is a very serious and not so far-fetched point, perhaps, whether the High Court would obey and take cognisance of what was going on abroad. I cite an example from, of all places. Canterbury Crown Court, where according to an article in The Times of 2nd February this year, I note that a case involving a perfectly straightforward charge of smuggling was adjourned to see whether the statute on the book which is allegedly contravened by the defendants in the case itself contravenes the EEC customs law. Therefore, this matter is not so far-fetched as all that.

    This is not just an academic exercise. The debate today is not just a lawyers' benefit match, as some of my hon. Friends may think it to be. These are practical possibilities.

    If the occasion arises on which we see the tipstaff marching through the Central Lobby, and not being stopped by the Serjeant at Arms, to arrest my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture for breach of the law, for contempt of court, qua contempt of the Community court, the fun and games that we had during the Midland Cold Storage business with the five dockers would look like the tiff at a vicarage tea party as compared with the row that would occur then. Then the crunch will come and we shall have to decide whether we are in fact indissolubly locked into this extraordinary, hapazard and ill-constructed organisation of the European Community.

    I shall end with this comment. I know that some of my hon. Friends, including my hon. Friend the Member for Horn-church (Mr. Williams), are sincere federalists. I understand their sincerity and consistent point of view. My hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch is more consistent than my right hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Prentice), who seems to have done an about-face to ingratiate himself with some of his hon. Friends—but we shall forget that. The omens for federation and confederation are not good.

    For example, since the war, the Central African Federation came to pieces. The West Indian Federation came to pieces. The South Arabian Federation broke up almost as soon as it was created. The Federation of Nigeria was riveted together only after bloody civil war that lasted three years, and many of us who worked in West Africa could see that something of that kind was coming.

    At present, one cannot think that the Federation of Canada is in a particularly happy situation. I take no pleasure in that. I am sorry that it should be so. However, no one looking at the situation there could think that even after 100 years Canada has managed to gel together satisfactorily Quebec with the other provinces of that country. It is unfortunate. We had better face up to the situation and realise that we are not just discussing butter mountains, idiotic though they are, or sugar policies, destructive as they are to the economies of primary producing, underdeveloped countries, and processes which involve engaging in extra ordinary exercises in shunting commodities across frontiers for the benefit of high-cost producers who have considerable muscle in France and Italy.

    We are confronted with a constitutional situation and we have to face up to it. The ostensible purpose of my amendment is a modest one. It is to try to increase the extent to which we invigilate and scrutinise legislation. If I can achieve that, it will be something from which we can draw a certain measure of consolation, but in the last analysis it is right to say that beyond that there lies a far more fundamental question.

    Many of us who are in a minority in the House but, I suspect, a majority outside the House in our attitudes to the Common Market can take comfort from the fact that the day will come when we shall repeal this Act.

    12.1 p.m.

    It is possible, since I have engagements outside the House today, that I may have to leave before the end of the debate. If that be so, I should like to apologise to the House and particularly to hon. Members taking part in the debate and say that I mean no discourtesy to them. I shall very much regret it if I have to leave before the end, because it is clear from the opening speech and the interesting arguments adduced by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Mr. Lee) that this will be an extremely interesting and worthwhile debate.

    I hope that I may be forgiven for not following the hon. Member in his constitutional arguments. That is solely because I intend to speak only briefly and to address myself to one section of the motion. However, I should like to venture a personal comment on the constitutional observations which he made. I had always assumed that if it be the will of the House and the determination of the Government to change the European Communities Act, that change could take place.

    I felt for a while that the hon. Member for Handsworth was a little bit tilting at a windmill. My view was more than reinforced by the intervention of the Minister, who seemed to confirm my own view on the subject. However, it was an extremely interesting speech. I followed with fascination the hon Member's references to earlier Acts and would love to argue this still further through with him.

    But it is worth emphasising that if it becomes manifest to this country and to the House that our continuing membership of the European Community is operating against our overall national interest, to the extent that there is a loud and continuing outcry against it, this is bound to have an effect on the Community as a whole and it is bound to weaken the Community. In those circumstances, it would not be in the interests of other member States that we should remain a member of the Community, and it would certainly not be in our interests to remain a member of a Community which was so manifestly operating against our national interest.

    My own position is clear. I believe very strongly that we were right to join the Community and that, apart from the odd little local difficulty here and there which arises, by and large our overriding national interests are best served by remaining a member of it and acting as a positive and constructive member of the Community. Looking ahead to the future, I believe that when these earlier difficulties are surmounted and the transition period moves further into the past we shall benefit very considerably from working in this close community relationship with our neighbouring countries.

    I should like to comment briefly on the second part of the motion moved by the hon. Member for Handsworth, the part which seeks to amend Standing Order No. 73A. I do so as Chairman of the Scrutiny Committee but not on behalf of the Scrutiny Committee. I speak only for myself. I say at the outset that it is only just three months since I took over the chairmanship of the Committee from my right hon. Friend the Member for Knutsford (Mr. Davies), and I should like to pay a warm tribute to the pioneering work that he carried out in the early stages when he developed the practice of scrutiny and guided so much of the work of that Committee and very well served the interests of the House.

    I also wish to say how grateful I am to my colleagues on both sides of the House who serve on the Committee, including the Deputy Chairman, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Silverman). There is no doubt that the work of the Committee is carried through in a manner which is designed to meet, as far as it is possible for the Committee to do so, the best interests of the House and the needs of our colleagues in the House. We are very fortunate in being very well served by a most able Clerk and officials and other advisers, to whom tributes have been paid by interests outside the House and by expert opinion in Brussels. They are held in very high regard, and quite rightly so. They serve us extremely well.

    The proposals for amendment in the motion seem to be fairly much on all fours with what was recommended in the Select Committee on Procedure's report on European secondary legislation in March 1975. A study of the debate which took place on that report in November 1975 makes clear that the majority of hon. Members who took part in the debate were in favour of the recommendations of the Select Committee on Procedure.

    Yes, all but one.

    That debate and that report were further followed through by the report of the Scrutiny Committee for the Session 1975–76, which reinforced many of the observations of the Select Committee on Procedure in the light of its own experience. Paragraph 29 of the report of the Select Committee on European Secondary Legislation states:
    "The Standing Committee procedure can be said to be still in a formative stage. The Committee believe that the limit of 1½ hours is unsatisfactory, but they are aware of the fact that discussions have been taking place about what would be the most appropriate alternative formula and they hope that a sensible solution will emerge. On the question of the form of motion which is before the Standing Committee, the Committee agree with the views expressed by almost all Members who took part in the debate on the Procedure Committee's Report on 3rd November 1975—namely, that the Standing Committee should be enabled to discuss whatever motion the Minister considered suitable and that this should be open to amendment. They hope that this matter will be reconsidered, even if this may only be in the context of a wider consideration of the role of Standing Committees which they believe may be undertaken by the Select Committee on Procedure when it is appointed."
    That is a collection of views and opinions by those hon. Members who have been most closely studying these matters and have been most closely associated with the work of scrutiny, and they stand on all fours with the amendments proposed to Standing Order No. 73A.

    The right hon. Gentleman has correctly pointed out that there is a widespread opinion among hon. Members, whatever may be their views on the merits of the matter, that this is the right procedure. Can he say whether there has been any official response to the report from which he has quoted and which may be given in the House, because it seems that as yet the Government have put forward no argument showing why they do not agree with the amendments proposed?

    There has been no further response than the reiteration of opinion which has been voiced in the House by the Leader of the House. We all know his views on this matter. I studied the evidence which he gave to the Select Committee on Procedure in December 1976 in which he expressed certain opinions, to which he referred obliquely during business questions yesterday. I am glad to say that we in the Scrutiny Committee will have the opportunity of pressing the right hon. Gentleman further on these matters when he gives evidence to us next Tuesday morning. I am sure that it will be a fruitful and productive exchange.

    I recognise the doubts of the Leader of the House, but we must also recognise that we are still engaged in working out the best way of dealing with a new situation. For that reason, I have great sympathy with the views expressed in the 1975 debate by my right hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Page). He felt—I hope that I paraphrase him correctly—that, as we are faced with a new situation, we need to devise a new procedure for dealing with it. We should, perhaps, still consider doing that rather than seek to graft on to existing practices the necessary adaptations to bring within their scope the whole range of Community documents which we need to study.

    It is important to emphasise that Community documents are not Statutory Instruments. Therefore, they should not simply be regarded as additions to the Statutory Instrument process. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] They are different in substance and in quality, and different treatment of them in the House is required. The idea is that Ministers should first receive and then take into account the opinion of the House on the documents.

    We must therefore devise a procedure which, without excessively taking up the time of the Chamber, will make it possible for all hon. Members to express their opinions on the Community's legislative proposals and to give those opinions in such time as to enable Ministers to take them into account before they have to decide their posture in the Council of Ministers.

    I have great sympathy with what the right hon. Gentleman is saying. Is not the logic of his argument that the House needs a coherent committee system, which it lacks at present?

    I have been careful not to go further into that wider subject. That is why I think that for the purposes of this debate it is possibly as well to concentrate on what is, after all, a complex enough subject, namely, the improvements which we would seek to have made in the method by which we deal with Community documents and process them through the House.

    I know that recently the Government have been trying to meet the desires of hon. Members to be given more up-to-date information before they debate Community documents and to try to ensure that the debates take place earlier. I am sure that other hon. Members will take the opportunity provided by this debate to underline the necessity of having debates on the reports of the Scrutiny Committee as soon as is possible after their publication and to ensure that up-to-date memoranda are provided in good time so that hon. Members may have the opportunity of taking them into account.

    I wish to say a final word about the fears of the Leader of the House, because he is, as I see it, the principal opponent to any changes that hon. Members may wish to see made along the lines of the suggested amendment to the Standing Order. I think he is fearful that, if we build up too strongly a Standing Committee procedure with the opportunity to express in the form of a motion a view which had been the subject of debate and possibly of amendment in Standing Committee, it would derogate from the powers of the Chamber He properly wants to preserve the standing of the House. He wants to ensure that the attention given to the opinions of the House remains paramount in all the proceedings in Parliament, wherever they may take place.

    However, I do not accept that, if there were to be a debate on a motion which would be amendable in a Standing Committee which would then be reported to the House, it would derogate from the powers of the Chamber, because it would still be open to the Government, had they the mind to do so, to propose their own amendment to the Standing Committee's resolution.

    I apologise for intervening yet again, but the right hon. Gentleman is dealing with a very important point. It may well be that the Leader of the House has omitted to remember that if the Government feel that the documents concerned are of great importance they can table them for discussion on the Floor of the House; they need not go upstairs Alternatively, if 20 hon. Members rise at the right time the matter can be debated in the House. The Lord President's fears are covered to some extent by that procedure.

    I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. Both his points are valid and right. However, I am thinking of a situation in which there is a committee to which quite a large number of the documents could quite properly be referred because they could be more readily studied there. That would avoid excessively encumbering the time of the Chamber. We need to find a balance between the two.

    However, I am not suggesting that matters which might be referred to the Standing Committee would be of lesser importance or significance. The reason simply is that that might be the more appropriate way of examining the Committee's proposals in greater detail.

    One of the problems which we should have to watch most carefully would be the question of the Members selected to serve on the Committee. The Select Committee concerned with direct elections was packed—that is the right word—with a number of hon. Members who specifically shared one view. I could have written the report which they would have produced knowing full well what their views would be. It would be highly dangerous and would place much power in the hands of the Whips if, in order to get a document through the Committee, they could select certain people to serve on it.

    I do not think that that point need trouble my hon. Friend unduly since it would be open to any hon. Member to attend that Committee and speak. Such hon. Members would not be counted as part of the quorum and they would not be able to vote on its proceedings—unless they were appointed to the Committee—but they would have an opportunity to influence the decisions of the Committee. That is why I think that this would be a helpful development in our examination of Community documents.

    I accept that the Leader of the House wants to ensure that the standing of this Chamber is preserved. He wants to see this Chamber continue to be the place for party debate and party clash, quite rightly. We all want that. But many matters come before the Scrutiny Committee which justify further consideration by hon. Members which are not naturally issues of party controversy and would not naturally give rise to the normal process of opposition between the two sides of the House.

    That is why I think that a Standing Committee procedure along the lines suggested in the amendment would be appropriate. I hope that, now the Government have had some time in which to consider all these matters, they will be forthcoming in their reply to the debate and that they will give a clear indication of their desire to meet the expressed wishes of this House to improve upon the methods by which we scrutinise EEC documents.

    12.22 p.m.

    I agree with a good deal of what the right hon. Member for Bournemouth, West (Sir J. Eden) said about the procedure that we are discussing. I join with him in paying tribute to the work of the Scrutiny Committee, of which I was a founder member. I remained a member for only a fairly brief time. We owe a considerable debt to my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Mr. Lee) for raising this issue. I only regret that on this important constitutional issue we have no Member of the Liberal Party present. Perhaps the Liberals are in hiding, or trying to reach agreement on the question of the additional tax on petrol. For all I know, like the EEC Council of Ministers, they may have sat throughout the night and into the morning to try to resolve their differences on that issue.

    We should be grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Handsworth for raising this, because no one who believes in the reputable process of legislation can be fully satisfied with the methods by which EEC legislation is enacted either in Brussels or in the attendant discussions in this House.

    We cannot expect the British people to show respect for the law if the law is enacted by methods that cannot be respectably defended. Legislation in a parliamentary democracy must at least satisfy three criteria if it is to be morally binding on the citizen. First, it must be enacted by the elected representatives of those to whom the legislation is applicable and against whom it is to be enforced. Secondly, it should be debated, amended and approved—or disapproved—in full public discussion. Thirdly, both in draft and in final form the legislation should be in precise and full language and available to anyone who wishes to study it.

    All those three principles of legislation have so far been observed in this country. The year 1611 has been quoted. I do not go back quite as far as that, but I think that these principles of publicly-debated legislation by elected persons have been observed since 1689 at least and no one has severely questioned this except, perhaps, Oswald Mosley and Paul Foot, and a few other people of that kind.

    All these three principles are flagrantly violated by the co-called EEC legislation that is now being thrust upon us. This is the background to the discussions on procedure here—a background that, so far, no one has precisely mentioned.

    First, EEC legislation is enacted by the Council of Ministers and let us not forget, much more often by the Commission neither the Council nor the Commission is an elected body. Secondly, the discussion is in secret, and there is no public record of what is said in the debates or how those present have voted. Thirdly, as we in this House and on the Scrutiny Committee have repeatedly discovered, changes are constantly made in the drafts right up to the last moment and sometimes they are not even seen by those taking part in the discussion until the meeting has begun.

    With legislation of this kind, no one outside the narrow circle of Brussels officials or functionaries, or whatever one likes to call them, can normally hope to know what is being enacted. To my mind, that is not a defensible method of legislation. It is a system of authoritarian decrees rather than democratic legislation. As such, they cannot expect the same moral respect as that which the British people give to ordinary legislation enacted by this Parliament.

    Yet these decrees, emanating from Brussels, claim to be as binding on the British people and on the courts as fully enacted democratic legislation. Several years ago the Foster Committee attempted to devise a method by which this House could establish at least some democratic control over these authoritarian instruments emanating from Brussels. Even the Foster Committee's proposals have not been fully carried out by the Government.

    It is no good setting up a Scrutiny Committee that refers major EEC legislation for debate and discussion in this House unless we are at least sure that the Government will not assent in Brussels to that legislation before we have had an opportunity to consider it. At present, the Government's undertaking to not jump the gun in this way rests only on an undertaking given by a Foreign Office Minister in answer to a question of mine in a debate in June 1974. It was simply a ministerial answer to an intervention in a debate.

    Such a crucial constitutional safeguard should not rest on a mere ministerial answer, however solemnly and sincerely it may have been given. It ought to be enshrined either in our Standing Orders or in a formal resolution of this House. I have already urged the Leader of the House to adopt a motion which would achieve this, and which I shall briefly read to illustrate what I mean. My suggested motion reads:
    "Where the Select Committee on European Secondary Legislation has recommended that any draft legislative or other proposal published by the Commission of the EEC and submitted to the Council of Ministers should be further considered by the House, no Minister of the Crown shall give agreement to such a proposal in the Council of Ministers until such time as this House has come to a decision on a motion relating to that proposal."
    I urge the Government to accept and, if necessary, to move a motion in those terms. If they mean to honour that ministerial undertaking—as we are assured they do—why should they not endorse it and put it beyond doubt by enshrining it, in a resolution of the House? They cannot deny that so crucial a parliamentary safeguard as that should be embodied in a resolution of the House and not in a mere ministerial statement.

    I suspect that Ministers will argue that it is not possible to give an absolute undertaking not to jump the gun in that fashion, because the process of negotiation goes on in the Council of Ministers and it is sometimes impossible for a Minister to wait any longer before coming to a decision. That is to confuse negotiation with legislation. That confusion is a vicious characteristic of the Brussels machine and runs through the whole operation of its constitution. In normal negotiations between Ministers no doubt it is sometimes legitimate to say that immediate changes have to be made, decisions taken and unforeseen amendments made. But with legislation it is indefensible to advance that argument.

    What would we think if the Chancellor of the Exchequer were one day to announce that he was doubling the petrol tax but, since he was in a hurry, his civil servants rather busy and the whole matter rather complicated, he was not going to bother to bring a resolution or Finance Bill before the House? What would we think if he did that, and asked us to agree on the nod and pass a motion saying that we had considered the matter? If I put the problem that way hon. Members would regard the situation as ridiculous, but that is what we are doing with EEC legislation and the fact that the House does not laugh proves the double standards under which we operate.

    Perhaps a way round the difficulty on Monday would be for us to "take note" of the £600 million proposal for petrol.

    I am sure that if such a motion were moved all the pro-Marketeers, including Members of the Liberal Party, would assent to the resolution at once, and no doubt the question of the legal validity of petrol stations would have to be referred to the European Court.

    It is no more justifiable to treat EEC legislation that way than it would be to impose all taxes in that way, particularly as the EEC Commission is doing precisely that by imposing taxes on a number of foodstuffs consumed by the British public.

    It is also sometimes claimed that we cannot engage in a full and defensible method of legislation because there is no time to consider all the EEC regulations and decisions that come before our own Parliament, and that therefore those of less importance should be considered in Committee.

    Instead of the EEC enacting about 3,000 legislative instruments every year on every subject from isoglucose, and mayonnaise to brucellosis, it would be better if it left those dtails alone and enacted only 30 or 50 such instruments. That would be an excellent way of making the problem measureable. However, until that desirable state is reached, it is not good enough for the Select Committee that examines the minor proposals to be confined to a motion saying that the Committee has considered the proposals. The Committee should be able to approve or disapprove the proposals, with a right for the Government to appeal to the House against its decision. No doubt a procedure could be devised to do that.

    The present procedure is inadequate and will not restore full respect for the law or proper parliamentary control over legislation—control that was undermined by the European Communities Act. The only way to do that now is to amend substantially the European Communities Act itself. There is no need to cast doubt on the competence of the House to do that, as the Minister told us today. Not only was the full and unfettered right to amend the European Communities Act enshrined in the White Paper that the Minister quoted; it was emphasised to us by a number of legal luminaries—some in this House and some outside—at the time of the passing of the Act.

    The first person to do that was the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon), who is as learned as my hon. Friend the Member for Handsworth. The right hon. and learned Gentleman assured us that we could amend the European Communities Act, as did the right hon. and learned Member for Surrey, East (Sir G. Howe). After listening to the right hon. and learned Member for Surrey, East during the Budget debate yesterday, one might have thought that he was a somewhat frivolous character, but I have no doubt that on legal if not on economic matters his opinion is weighty and authoritative. Without qualification, he said that there was no doubt about the ability of the House to amend the European Communities Act. Lord Hailsham said the same. His legal opinion will command the respect of the present Opposition Front Bench. Although the right hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) is not learned, I am sure that he will not question the learning of Lord Hailsham and his right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Surrey, East. They all assured us that the Act was amendable.

    Not only were they correct, but a subsequent Act concerning Stormont in Northern Ireland has already amended the European Communities Act. They were, therefore, not only right but demonstrably so.

    I agree with my hon. Friend. It is more convincing to tell the public that that has actually been done than to say that it is possible. Not only do we have the authority of the White Paper; we have the Government's referendum manifesto, which, since the electorate assented to it, we must regard as having considerable authority. That referendum manifesto said that our continued membership of the EEC depended on the continued assent of Parliament—meaning, of course, this Parliament. Therefore, in my view, this Parliament has the right and the duty to say that its continued assent can be given only if democratic control of legislation is re-established and the present method of authoritarian decrees emanating from Brussels is amended drastically.

    The European Communities Act should be amended substantially—this would not be difficult, in terms of legal draftsmanship—so as to lay down that no EEC regulation or decision, whether from the Council or the Commission, would be legally applicable to this country unless it had received the assent of the United Kingdom Parliament. That is the nub of the matter.

    No doubt many such instruments, where they are found by the Scrutiny Committee to be of a minor character, like our own Statutory Instruments I agree that there is a difference, but some of the procedure could be similar—could be referred to some appropriate Select Committee with provision for appeal to the full House in cases where the House itself desired it. But, in principle, the opportunity must be given for this elected House to challenge and, if necessary, to reject any instrument that claims the force of law in the United Kingdom. To my mind, that is the fundamental point behind these discussions on procedure. That is what we should now set out to do and, thereby, re-establish fully reputable legislative processes and public respect for the law.

    12.42 p.m.

    Like the right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay), I regret the absence of Liberal Members from the debate because the Liberal Party has always been so enthusiastic about the Community. In the light of recent events, especially those of yesterday, it is disturbing that Liberal Members are not bothering to turn up on important occasions like this. We had Questions the other day to the Department of Energy, and there was no Liberal Member present to represent his party's Shadow Energy Minister. I very much regret their absence from this debate.

    In fairness to the Liberal Party, will the hon. Gentleman agree that its disagreement about the proposed duty on petrol may be so serious that Liberal Members have no time at the moment to give attention to other matters?

    That may be so. Alter natively, they may be sulking in their tents after last night's by-election result. I have no doubt that we shall discover on Monday night whether the right hon. Gentleman is right.

    I agree with the right hon. Member for Battersea, North about the confusion in dealing with legislation. The confusion concerning EEC legislation is about the one subject the Community has harmonised rather well.

    I also agree with the right hon. Gentleman that, if we want democracy in the Community, each of the Parliaments in the Community must control its Ministers when they go off to the Community. When Ministers reach agreement, the subject of that agreement should not become law until they have returned to their respective Parliaments and asked them whether they agree with what they, the Ministers, have agreed tentatively in Brussels. That might result in matters moving a little more slowly. It would undoubtedly mean an additional journey to the Community. But, in the interests of parliamentary democracy and its survival, ultimately that is the only way in which we can achieve the aim of real parliamentary democracy continuing in the Community.

    That is why, purely as an aside, the idea of direct elections is sheer spoof. They will not make anything more democratic. There are direct elections in Russia, but they have not made Russia any more democratic. It is the control of Ministers in this House which does that.

    Just about everyone has now informed the hon. Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Mr. Lee) that, interesting though the beginning of his speech was, we can always get out of the Community at the drop of a hat if this Parliament agrees that that should be done. That is a comforting thought to many of us who see the Community going into a state of consumptive decline.

    The hon. Member for Handsworth spoke about the omnicompetence of this Parliament, and one matter that I wish to stress in that connection concerns the European Court of Justice. In this country, we pass a law here and the courts interpret that law. If their interpretation, which has to be followed in subsequent cases, is different from the original intention of Parliament, we can have an amending Act in this Parliament of which the judges will have to take note. We will put it right. We can give voice to what Parliament really intended. In the Community, when the Court of Justice has made a law which we do not like, which we do not agree with or which conflicts with one of our own laws, there is no question of this Parliament altering it to get it right. We cannot do that unless we have the consent of the other eight members of the Community.

    We have lost completely our omnicompetence to amend law in order to reverse the decisions of the courts. That is a very serious aspect of parliamentary democracy to which we have been used and which we have lost. We have lost it in regard to trade and we shall lose it in July in regard to dumping. These are very important matters.

    I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West (Sir J. Eden) that the House should not look upon this legislation as secondary. That word was put in by certain people, without mentioning their names, and it was taken on in front of the word "legislation" merely to, make it seem unimportant so that right hon. and hon. Members would not bother about it and it would simply go through. Happily, that has now been put right. The Leader of the House has agreed to take out the word "secondary".

    When we are discussing how the House should handle this vast amount of legislation on the Floor of the House, which to my mind is the essence of this problem because anyone should be able to vote on the Floor of the House if the House so wishes, we might try a system of devoting to it a day or two a month in much the same way as we do with the Consolidated Fund Bill. I do not mean that we should go on until 8 o'clock in the morning. We could, say, between 3.30 and 11.30 p.m., take perhaps four different subjects on which we could then vote. That would be a method of clearing away some of the major pieces of legislation, and it would also mean that these debates could be held at a reasonable hour of the day. I suggest that it is worth thinking about.

    Am I right in understanding that my hon. Friend is not seeking to have Ministers mandated by this House in the sense that I believe is the case in the Danish Parliament, but that he wants Ministers to be accountable to the House for their actions and to ensure that, before they take decisions, they shall take into account the opinion of this House? My hon. Friend recognises that Ministers have to negotiate and to come to conclusions in those negotiations. But they are then responsible to this House. I am a little concerned that my hon. Friend's remarks and those of the right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) were both leading to the novel situation of trying to mandate Ministers.

    Not quite. The idea of being accountable to the House is not realistic. I remember the previous Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food agreeing something in Brussels that did not have the agreement of the Scrutiny Committee and the House. When he returned, nothing happened. The Minister was not sacked when he should have been. Perhaps we are too nice to sack Ministers. It seems that that is not a deterrent. All I am saying is that, when Ministers agree something in the Council of Ministers, the terms of the agreement should not be law until the agreement has been brought back to the House and the Minister says "I have agreed this ad referendum. Does the House agree with my decision?" Such a process might be slightly slower, but I see no disadvantage in the system. I hope that that has answered my right hon. Friend.

    To follow that procedure through would have a marked impact on the operations of the Council of Ministers and make it virtually impossible for the Council to come to any conclusion.

    No. The whole theory of the Common Market is that its members should speak with one voice. No doubt they would do things very quickly. I do not think that my right hon. Friend raises a very strong argument.

    The second part of the motion has been much discussed and extremely well discussed. I shall consider the need to review the European Communities Act and all that is implied with it. In doing so I shall strike a rather different note from that which has been struck so far.

    I feel that we should set up a Select Committee to review the whole of our membership. This is something that I have been raising in the House from time to time in the recent past. I believe it is relevant to the motion to advance my reasons for thinking that the time has come for us to set up such a committee. It would be necessary to state in its terms of reference that it should consider the European Communities Act and all that is implied in it.

    The committee would have to be properly balanced—I use an old-fashioned term—between the pros and the antis on the Government Benches and Opposition Benches. In attempting to achieve the right balance, it would be rather like completing a football pool. We do not want another occurrence of the selection for the Select Committee which carried out an investigation into direct elections, which, I think, discredited Select Committees as the selection was nearly all from one side.

    The Select Committee must consider a wide variety of matters in the activities of the Community. If it found that it was wrong for us to have joined, we should return to the first part of the motion, which is either to amend or to repeal the European Communities Act.

    My right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West, with his tongue firmly in his cheek, referred to some of these matters as little local difficulties. I think he must have had his tongue in his cheek because they are clearly so serious. That is why we should consider the European Communities Act and all that goes with it. Before we joined the Community I remember so well being told about the dynamic effect that membership would have upon the economy. That came out very much in the debates on the Act. In 1971 the trading deficit with the Community countries was £183 million. It is now running at an annual rate of £2,500 million. That is the latest figure. Why has that happened? Surely if it is that bad we should reconsider the Act.

    In 1971 we were told about the great prospects of growth that would arise if we joined. So far as I am aware, there has been no growth since we joined. Why is that so? Surely that is something we must consider.

    In arguing across the Floor of the House, we tend to take fairly fixed and critical views about these matters but we do not probe into exactly why certain things have or have not happened in an all-party committee.

    Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, at least in respect of food prices, the effect has been dynamic in the sense that they have not merely increased once but have increased every year, and will do so for as long as we remain a member of the Community?

    That is one of the subjects that I should put on my list. I should include food prices and alternative sources. I should also put regional aid and the regional fund on my list. Those are matters that are being dealt with by the Select Committee. I am not sure whether its report has yet been printed.

    There were great expectations about the benefits that we would derive from the regional fund. In the first report from those responsible for the regional fund—the report covered three years—it turned out that we had received £150 million from the fund. As we contributed 50 per cent. of what we actually received, we got only £75 million. That was received not in one year but over three years. It seems that we are receiving about £25 million a year, compared with about £700 million a year that Governments contribute in regional aid. Has it been worth it? That is what I want the Select Committee to consider.

    In 1976–77 our net contribution to the EEC was £170 million. If we look forward three years and dig into the White Paper on public expenditure, we find that our net contribution will leap to £700 million. Why is that to happen? Is it still worth being a member of the Community and adhering to the European Communities Act?

    The right hon. Member for Battersea, North referred to the cost of food and Community agriculture. I do not know whether the Minister has had time to read the paper produced by the Cambridge University Department of Applied Economics, a department which is respected by economists and whose views are noted by Governments and Oppositions when it suits them to do so. The department states that the total cost of our membership to the balance of payments as a result of the common agricultural policy is at least £650 million and that if the present price proposals of the Commission are accepted they will take the cost of our food to the balance of payments up to £900 million.

    I cannot competently argue with the eminent gentlemen who put the report together, but it really is extremely alarming. Surely we must question whether it is right to continue when there is cheaper food in the rest of the world. If we were not in the Community, if we were getting that cheaper food and saving ourselves £900 million, what effect would that have on the wage negotiations in stage 3, for example? That is what the Select Committee must consider.

    There is no policy on energy. We have heard about the failure of the Joint European Torus talks. Apparently they have broken down. There is no policy on fisheries that I can see being agreed because we should have to surrender so much if there were to be an agreement. There is no policy on political matters. The Tindemans Report was prepared after a year's survey. What has happened to it? It seems that it has been thrown out of the window. There is no policy on unemployment. It must be accepted that unemployment has increased since we joined. I know that the Prime Minister has said that the Community will consider the matter, but is there anything it can do?

    Inflation has been rampant. The economies were supposed to converge, but exactly the opposite has happened. They have diverged, and the gap between the economies of the various countries has widened.

    The great thing about the Community was supposed to be freedom of competition. That is the reason why we in the Scrutiny Committee have so often had to deal with little matters like the harmonising of water. Why harmonise water? It is for reasons of free competition. Why label things in a certain way? It is for reasons of free competition. But when it comes to things like steel, shipbuilding and textiles, there is no free competition—it is all subsidies here, subsidies there and a rigged market. I would therefore want to know, in the Select Committee that I have suggested, what is meant by free competition in the Community.

    Promises and hopes were held out and many hon. Members voted, because of those promises and hopes, to go in. Now those hopes have been dashed, and I think that we have to look at this matter maturely and ask ourselves why it has happened. I believe that only a Select Committee of the right people, properly appointed, can do that. If it finds that it was a mistake for us to join, for international and national reasons, this House must be grown up enough to say that we made a mistake and—coming back to the motion—that we shall amend or repeal the Act.

    I begin to wonder more and more whether the Treaty of Rome is not now out of date. People keep referring to it. They say that under the Treaty something must be done when it suits them and that under the Treaty something else need not be done if it does not suit them. I should like to see the Treaty torn up and a new one drawn up which recognises the reality of the world in which we live.

    I hope that I have not been out of order—at least, I have not been pulled up—in making this sort of speech, but I have tried to relate it to the need for the Select Committee to consider the whole matter, after which we would decide whether to continue to support or to amend the European Communities Act 1972.

    1.2 p.m.

    I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Mr. Lee) on having raised this serious and important topic. I do not want to refer at length to the first leg of the motion, which deals with the competence of Parliament to secede from the Common Market or to amend any legislation that has been passed relating to the Common Market. By common consent, it is conceded that this Parliament has that power. I want to deal, as a member of the Scrutiny Committee, with one or two of the Committee's objects and objections.

    It is our object, of course, to ensure that there should be a proper scrutiny of European legislation and that the House should have the opportunity to discuss it and to express an opinion upon it. It is arguable whether a Minister who goes to Brussels should have a definite mandate, but at least he should go knowing the opinion of this House. At present, the Scrutiny Committee is primarily con- cerned with bringing these matters to the attention of the House.

    It may be argued that it is not our function to decide what form a debate in the House should take or whether the matter should be referred to a Standing Committee, and what form the debate should take there. Obviously, however, if the Scrutiny Committee is to serve any function it must have the right to express a strong opinion that its decisions or references shall not be rendered futile by a debate that is meaningless or simply a ritual exercise.

    That means that there must be a proper expression of opinion at the right time. Much has been said already about having the debates after 10 o'clock. One appreciates that it is difficult for the Government to find the time, but these are sufficiently important matters for that to be done.

    Would my hon. Friend confirm that, despite the enormous amount of time and effort which the Scrutiny Committee takes, including the evidence that it sometimes takes from Ministers, it is debarred, perhaps properly, from expressing an opinion on the merits and that therefore the fruits of its labours can only be a proper debate.

    My hon. Friend is no doubt referring to the Scrutiny Committee. Of course we do not refer to the merits of these matters. We simply say that an issue is important or controversial and/or that it should be referred to the House for debate. Sometimes, we make a recommendation that the matter be referred to a Standing Committee. Except sometimes by implication, we express no view on the merits. Obviously, in the paragraph prepared for hon. Members to consider we state the issues, which may imply something about the merits, but the merits do not fall within our terms of reference or our competence.

    If the Committee is to function and to have valuable results we are concerned that there should be proper debate in the House for the right length of time and at a time when Members can conveniently attend. There has been mention of the comparison with Statutory Instruments, but I do not think that many of the EEC legislative proposals can be compared to Statutory Instruments. One obvious difference is that if a Statutory Instrument is approved by the House, the Government or a future Government can introduce legislation to over-ride it. But once any legislataion is passed by the Community and approved by our Minister, it cannot be amended. The Minister cannot go back to the EEC and ask that it be amended or withdrawn, because he could not get a majority or unanimity in the Council of Ministers'. Once these things are done, they are done for good; the process is irreversible.

    The situation is that of one Minister against several over Commission legislation. One assumes in this country, sometimes mistakenly, that civil servants and Ministers prepare legislation in this country's interests. One cannot assume that that is so in the case of the Community. The Commission will have a general view, probably benefiting one or a group of countries but by no means necessarily in this country's interests, and sometimes opposed to them.

    Community legislation is quite different from legislation produced in this country. It is prepared by the Commission after secret discussions and when it emerges it goes to working parties and to the European Parliament for proposed amendments. It returns to the Commission before it goes again to the Council of Ministers. There are all sorts of negotiations and transactions. This process is conducted partly in secret and partly by negotiation—what may be called in some cases "horse dealing". It is vastly different from what we in Britain understand by legislation.

    It is therefore necessary for Parliament to have proper scrutiny of the legislation, and at the appropriate time. Frequently, however, the Government leave these matters to be considered in order that the ritual may be performed at the last moment before it comes before the Council. This is not satisfactory. It is necessary if the Minister is to be properly briefed as to the opinion of the House, that this be done at an early stage, preferably before the negotiations are completed or even properly embarked upon.

    If there is to be proper discussion of these matters I believe that the House and the Scrutiny Committee should be given information at the earliest possible moment about some of the documents that are considered by the Government to be confidential and that are not disclosed to us because they are under negotiation. Perhaps information should be given during the development of the processing of the instrument concerned so that the House can express its opinion.

    I hope that it will be possible to persuade the Leader of the House and the Government to accede to these demands and to bring about an effective scrutiny of legislation of this kind. The legislation varies considerably. Sometimes it is of little importance. Indeed, a good deal of nonsense comes before our Committee. We receive pieces of legislation which the Community should not legislate at all; they concern matters that should be left to the individual member States to deal with. All these pieces of legislation eventually clutter up our statute book. It makes no difference whether they are pieces of legislation or directives which compel us to tntroduce legislation. If we were not so inundated with the trivia, the more important items would receive greater consideration.

    I do not blame the Government entirely for this problem. Much of the blame lies with the Community itself and the sort of legislation that it introduces. The members of the Community must make up their minds whether they want to operate the Community as it is or whether they want to become a federal institution with supranational powers.

    We need to ensure that the more important pieces of legislation receive proper scrutiny and consideration by the House—or, if not in the Chamber, that they be referred to a proper body, a Standing Committee suitably constituted, which can express an opinion upon the merits and whose opinion can be endorsed or rejected by the House as a whole.

    1.14 p.m.

    Participants in debates on this subject tend to be the familiar faces. I have not taken part previously in one of these debates. I was a strong supporter of our entry into Europe. Many of these debates have followed a predictable course. The debates on directives and other Commission documents have taken place not on the substance of the documents but on the old argument whether we should have entered the Community in the first place. To some extent that argument has been rehearsed yet again today.

    We do not serve the House at all well by continuing in this way. One of the reasons why we must have today's debate about the procedures of the House, yet again, is that we always end up by having the age-old argument about whether we should have entered the Community.

    Of course it is true—here the hon. Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Mr. Lee) was pushing at an open door—that the House has the constitutional power to alter the 1972 Act. It would be interesting to know whether it could pass an Act saying "Notwithstanding anything contained in the European Communities Act 1972, we shall do the following".

    Be that as it may, what matters is that we have entered into international obligations. What will contain us in Europe or take us out of Europe—or, taking it on individual matters, whether we can opt out of a particular decision in Europe—depends as much upon the reactions of the other member States as it does upon ourselves. We are willing to accept the decisions of the Community when they are in our favour. We must therefore accept the disadvantages that may arise on individual matters if we cannot ameliorate them.

    In any such system, undoubtedly a form of bargain will be struck. Our procedures must therefore recognise that we are dealing constantly with a form of international negotiation and bargain-making. As I do not want to opt out of Europe, I do not particularly want to enter into that part of the discussion which has dealt with the repealing or decimating of the 1972 Act.

    The hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Silverman) said that the Common Market must decide whether it wants to be a federal State or to carry on as it is. My hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) said that the 1957 Treaty was out of date. That is true. There is no way in which the Community as visualised in the 1957 Treaty of Rome will be governed in a manner thought suitable by those concerned in 1957. The gentlemen who drew up the Treaty, if they are not already dead, will soon be passing on. Coming generations will not be bound by what was in the minds of the founders of the Community.

    It is exactly the same situation as with the founder fathers of the United States. The United States constitution has not been substantially altered in words, though in parts it has. But the Supreme Court of the United States has been able to adapt the constitution to the circumstances of the generations as they have gone by.

    No one in the House or elsewhere can alter the fact that the historical momentum of Europe will make the Community what the people of coming generations want it to be. We shall be wasting our time completely if we spend it by looking at the fine print of the Treaty, except, as people always do with constitutions, in order to make the point that they want to make, anyway.

    I have made that point at some length because I sincerely believe that we must move the nature of debate on to a totally new level. The House hardly ever discusses the nature of the Community as we want it to be. The proper debate could well be, as it has been with other unions, federations or confederations, about the proper balance between the centre and the State, if I may so crudely put it—or in this case between the centre and the nations. I do not want to upset my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury. I am simply using shorthand, as he understands.

    We in the Conservative Party would expect, being a Right wing party, to be that party which was most keen on preserving the balance in favour of the nations or States rather than in favour of the central Government. That has traditionally been the position of Right wing parties.

    That is certainly something to which I subscribe, but at present we are prevented from having a debate of that sort because we are subject to the two conflicting pressures that are revealed again here today.

    The first pressure is that we are constantly having to demonstrate our virility as European enthusiasts. In my view, one can make a perfectly good case for having a far more national approach to the European Community, demonstrating thereby that one is a better European.

    Second, we are hooked by another disease that also has infected this debate —that this House has been disgracefully unwilling to adapt its procedures to meet the new circumstances. So we have a state of affairs in which the keen European radical on the one side, and the die-hard conservative Member—with a small "c"—not wishing to make changes in the rules, on the other, have produced a kind of paralysis. It is a classic case of paralysis, in my view, of which the House ought to be thoroughly ashamed.

    The position is clear, and has been for some time, and I put it in the context of what I have just said about the European enthusiast on the one side and the conservative on the other. There are all sorts of ways by which the pressure upon the House could be relieved. I believe that I could argue and remain a good European, as I think I am, that the nature of the operation of the Common Market should change.

    We can see ways in which it has changed. For example, we now have optional harmonisation. Rather than try to impose a similar series of rules in all countries, we could simply allow free movement of trade to operate in what we might call Eurotrade. Moreover, I believe that we could perfectly well have a good Europe by changing the burden of proof, maintaining the principle that one must establish the free flow of trade but saying that the burden of proof should be on those who say that that cannot come about unless we make alterations in our national laws—not the other way about, as we have it now.

    I believe that we could put a good argument in that direction while in no way destroying or hampering the growth of the Common Market. There are examples of countries that have taken that line. The Danes, for instance, who are as good European as we are, have, within their own parliamentary system, found a perfectly suitable method of keeping better control over European legislation.

    The fact that we have gone into Europe does not mean that the traditions of this place and the way in which our laws operate must change overnight. The constitutional behaviour of this country is quite different from that of, say, France. As I understand it, under the French constitution much of the power is within the Executive. Parliament has a defined area of responsibility and the Executive has the rest. The reverse is true here.

    I do not believe that we should all have to adopt the same system. The important requirement is that the House of Commons should get off its backside and resolve the problem in a relevant way, according to our traditions, but this it has singularly failed to do since 1972.

    Turning, therefore, to this House and our problems in relation to those of Europe, I believe that the original principle has never been challenged. In its Second Report, published in October 1973, the Select Committee on European Community Secondary Legislation had this to say in paragraph 39, after considering the evidence which it had received:
    "it could be a great deal easier for a negotiator to obtain a successful outcome if he is not hedged in by any restrictions and indeed he may be positively hampered if so restricted".
    But the Committee rejected
    "entirely any suggestion that the Executive should, for that or any other reason, have an unfettered right to make or alter any part of the law it may choose, subject only to securing the agreement of other Governments to those changes."
    That was the statement made then, and I believe that virtually all right hon. and hon. Members have adopted this principle since. All we have failed to do is find a procedure that would allow us to do just that. We have been at it since 1972, and I find it amazing that this should be so.

    As I understand it, the motion follows closely the view of the Select Committee—

    follows entirely the original proposal of the Select Committee. I admit frankly that I do not know whether it is perfect. I can see certain objections to it, but it would enable us to do something about this continuing problem, and we should be able to get on with the job in a way which we are prevented from adopting at present.

    Let me quickly take the House through that procedure and explain why I do not see it as the danger that the Leader of the House apparently, imagines it to be. In the first place, if a Community document comes to the House it goes to the sifting Committee, if I may so call it. The first stage of the sifting takes place. It would reach the stage covered by the Standing Order only if that Committee decided that it was worth the consideration of the House.

    We have, therefore, a sifting procedure, and a lot of rubbish is thrown out at that stage. In no way is the House impaired, and the Chamber itself is not affected, because it would not want to discuss the document anyway.

    Next, one of the possibilities open to the Committee is that it may decide that the document should come here—or, of course, it is open to the Government to bring it here. If it is a major matter, the Government can bring it here in any form they wish—introduce a motion, bring in a Bill or an order, whatever is appropriate. In such circumstances, the House can express a view, amending, voting or doing what the hell it likes with the matter before it. That is certainly possible if the Government regard it as of sufficient importance.

    If, on the other hand, the matter is not of such importance, it can be sent to the Standing Committee. The Standing Committee also has a double option. It can do nothing or it can debate the matter, and any Member of the House may attend, although the actual decision can be taken only by the members of the Standing Committee. Here also there is a splitting off or sifting. If the Committee takes a decision to agree, no further action by the House is necessary and nothing is lost thereby. Other right hon. and hon. Members have not lost, because, if they were worried about it, they could turn up at the Standing Committee and speak, or they could stand in their place to prevent it going to the Committee in the first place. In no way is the Chamber handicapped by that.

    Thus, we have the second sifting stage, and if the Standing Committee comes to a decision that is not acceptable either to the House or to the Government, it is still open to the Government to bring the matter before the House for a decision.

    I do not understand why it is not possible for the Government to accept that proposition. It seems to me sensible in outline, and it is certainly worth a try. For goodness sake, nothing has been done for five years—no, I withdraw that. It is unfair to the sifting Committee, to my right hon. Friend the Member for Knutsford (Mr. Davies) and others who have worked in the Committee. I do not mean that we have done nothing. Of course, we have done something—but we have never grasped the nub of the matter. What does the House do to come to a firm and final decision about the degree to which we give an opinion before the Minister does his negotiation in Brussels?

    I am not one who thinks it sensible and realistic to imagine that the Minister should go to Brussels and then have to come back here, and so on. The processes of law have changed, and not unreasonably. I do not find the situation terrifying. It is simply that we have got so used to the old ways. Nevertheless, I think it important that the House should have the opportunity open to it to mandate the Minister in some measure, if it wishes to do so, before he goes.

    That also is an option of considerable width. There is no reason why the Minister should be told "You will go and make precisely this agreement", because we should in all probability see him come back with nothing. But there are limits. There is a band or spectrum within which he can be made to operate.

    Does my hon. Friend agree that a negative restriction on the Minister would be satisfactory—not a precise instruction that he shall do this or that, but that he shall not do this or that? That seems to me to be more important.

    Obviously, it could be negative, but I think that it would be a pity if we limited ourselves to being negative. I believe that the Common Market can be a good thing. I do not share my hon. Friend's view. I should like to see the Common Market grow and develop into a useful and nice institution. I believe that the House should have something to contribute to it, and I should not want always to be negative, but I agree that in certain circumstances it could be negative.

    The simple point that I make is that we could do all that I have outlined. It would fit into the procedures of the House. It would not queer the Government's pitch in any way, neither would it drive a coach and horses through the Common Market. But it would mean that we were taking ourselves seriously.

    I may have misheard him, but I thought that my hon. Friend said something about it being up to the Government to take these decisions. I suggest that he looks at the Chamber today. We have not made the decisions, either, have we? There is hardly anyone here. As my hon. Friend said, no Liberal Member is here. I find it incredible that if we are serious in saying that we are worried about the rights of the House and the way in which we conduct ourselves we are not prepared to use the power within our own grasp. I find that the most amazing and depressing feature of the whole exercise.

    1.30 p.m.

    I am grateful to have caught your eye, Mr. Speaker, immediately after the hon. Member for Manchester, Withington (Mr. Silvester), because he has illustrated through his commonsense approach to the question, which is entirely within the traditions of the House, that whatever may be our views about the EEC there is room for a wide bipartisan approach on this House of Commons procedural issue. That was also shown by the Chairman of the Scrutiny Committee, the right hon. Member for Bournemouth, West (Sir J. Eden).

    I well recall the last debate on this matter, on 3rd November 1975, when we considered the Select Committee's report and my right hon. Friends the Members for Fulham (Mr. Stewart) and Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) went into the same Lobby and the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) followed my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mackintosh) into the Lobby. That illustrated that one could hold different views about the EEC but the same views on this matter.

    I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian is not present. I frequently hear his views on the radio, and I should like to hear them more often in the House, where one could intervene and debate with him. But no doubt other people elsewhere have the benefit of his experience.

    There are two parts to the debate. The first concerns the review of the European Communities Act. I gather that the Government accept that part of the motion since they have not sought to amend it. I should like to spell out one or two matters that require investigation, again from a bipartisan point of view. I think that almost all my speech, except the tail end, will be entirely bipartisan and one to which not even my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian would take exception. The second part of the debate is about the changes of Standing Orders, for which there has been a widespread welcome in the House.

    I now return to the Act, beginning with some parts which have not so far been mentioned. Section 1(2), which relates to the Community's powers to make treaties, speaks of:
    "any other treaty entered into by any of the Communities, with or without any of the member States, or entered into, as a treaty ancillary to any of the Treaties, by the United Kingdom".
    There are many such treaties. I understand that this year there are about 64. Thirty are related to food aid, but the other 34 concern all sorts of interesting matters. They are printed by Her Majesty's Stationery Office as Command Papers. There is Cmnd. 6405, "Convention setting up European University Institute", whatever that may be. Cmnd. 6449 is entitled "Argentina (Trade) Agreement". Because these treaties are directly applicable, we do not debate them and they do not even go to the Scrutiny Committee. I should like the Government to make sure that such treaties are listed and that the purport of automatic treaties under Section 1(2) is conveyed not only to the House but to the public.

    My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Mr. Lee) quoted Section 1(3) of the Act, which deals with the conversion by Order in Council of Community treaties other than those ancillary to any of the treaties. What has happened in that regard is rather surprising. The use of the Royal Prerogative is involved. This is very important to the House, because in a sense the European Community organisation is fulfilling the ancient rôle of a monarch in constitutional terms.

    Hon Members may be surprised to know that the Treaty of Rome has been amended by the House and that there has been a debate on that amendment. The problem is that the House and the public had no knowledge that it was taking place, because the business on that occasion-8th December 1975—was stated to be a debate on the European Communities (Definition of Treaties) (No. 3) Order. The schedule to that Order said:
    "Treaty amending certain Financial Provisions of the Treaties establishing the European Communities".
    The words "Treaty of Rome" did not appear on the Order Paper or in that Statutory Instrument.

    Cmnd 6252 does not use those words either. It is called:
    "Treaty amending certain Financial Provisions of the Treaties establishing the European Communities."
    It is not until we look at page 11 that we see that
    "Article 203 of the Treaty establishing the European Economic Community is replaced by the following".
    Then there was an important change in the powers of the Assembly.

    That is how the House has been asked to amend the Treaty of Rome, with an hour and a half's debate on the Floor and with no proper notification of the nature of the business to be transacted. I hope that in their review of how the Act has worked the Government will examine that matter.

    Another matter that the Government might consider relates to the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments. Not long ago, it considered the European Communities (Definition of Treaties) and (Definition of Treaties) (No. 2) Orders 1977. Statutory Instruments similar to those that I have quoted. In its as yet unprinted report, the Committee says:
    "no indication is given in the Orders or in the Explanatory Notes of the nature of those provisions; and it is accordingly difficult for Parliament to assess the practical effect of the Orders that it is being asked to approve."
    When the Committee is asked to look at such a matter, it cannot do so. I understand that it cannot find out the precise nature and effect of some of the treaties, even from questioning witnesses from the Civil Service. I hope that the Government will consider this in their review. Hon. Members have referred to the improper use of the Statutory Instru- ment procedure for looking at documents. I suggest that the Statutory Instrument procedure for definition of treaties is also defective.

    I am glad to see my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Privy Council Office here. I should like to tell him that there is another matter that the Government might consider. We have before the House the European Communities (Definition of Treaties) (No. 2) Order 1977, the schedule to which states:
    "Decision of the Representatives of the Governments of the Member States of the European Coal and Steel Community, meeting within the Council of 20 January 1976".
    I gather from that that treaties are now being made not by representatives of member States but by officials. That is something with which the House would not necessarily agree, unless the matter in question is one of minor administrative concern.

    I turn to Section 2(1) of the Act, the super-King Henry section, where we find the self-applying laws. I hope that for the benefit of the people of Europe generally the Government will suggest to the Communities that they try to sort out those regulations, which we know can vary in scope and purport from what we call a White Paper to a Statutory Instrument, a Bill or an amendment to a Bill. We hope that regulations can be given proper sub-divisions so that we know what they are. Many of them are very short, tidying up existing regulations. Perhaps we can have a better nomenclature. It has already been said that the documents change very much.

    The Scrutiny Committee also recommended that there should be proper indexing and that officials of the House should keep a table of the progress of EEC legislation. On 3rd November last year the Government refused to do that. There is no reason why they should not do it, and I hope that in their review they will reconsider that decision.

    Another matter relating to self-enacting legislation is the way in which the House can receive the views of bodies within the United Kingdom. In a recent debate the responsible Minister had to withdraw a motion on lorry axle weights. It was clear that hon. Members had in their possession a draft instrument which was available to interested groups in this country but not in the House. We have not yet reached the position where it would be possible for interested parties—employers, users or consumers in this country—legally to have a draft legislation from the Community that the House could not have. I hope that the Minister will look at that as well.

    Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will also see how the House can be kept better informed of debates in the Lords and of the activities of the Lords Scrutiny Committee, because, unlike our Scrutiny Committee, the Lords Committee can give a pronouncement on the merits of any particular matter. I notice that the Lords Scrutiny Committee recently published some interesting reports. They were quite substantial—the Thirteenth Report of the House of Lords Select Committee on the European Communities, 1975, and the Eleventh Report of the House of Lords Select Committee, Paper 60, of this Session. Many of those reports could be of benefit to debates here.

    The second part of our debate is about amending the Standing Orders of the House. The case has already been well put by many speakers today. Not one hon. Member has dissented from the terms of the amendments. Nobody is suggesting that we are necessarily making law by this. We cannot, alas, do so. We are saying that we must devise a proper procedure whereby the House of Commons can express a proper opinion on proposed EEC legislation. Without a proper opinion having been expressed by the House, when the Minister goes to the Council of Ministers, where the final legislative decisions are made, he will not be apprised of the views of the House.

    Before the referendum and before 3rd November 1975, much of this discussion had to take place on the Floor. There were almost 25 debates in the House on EEC legislative proposals. Either you, Mr. Speaker, or your predecessor, on application from the Scrutiny Committee, accepted Back Bench amendments. There were therefore, proper debates, although they were limited to one and a half hours. Many people found that that was unsatisfactory and asked whether the least important documents could not be considered upstairs in Committee. There was no dissent. That was a commonsense way of dealing with things.

    The Select Committee in its report for the Session 1974–75 came up with a series of proposals which, if we adopted the amendments before us today, would indeed achieve that aim. The amendments would enable the Committee to do exactly what the House had done up to that time on the Floor. I quote from paragraph 42(a):
    "There are two respects in which Your Committee recommend that the procedure in the proposed Standing Committee should not follow that provided by Standing Order for Standing Committees on Statutory Instruments:
    (a) In those Committees the only Motion which can be made is that the Committee have considered the Instrument, and that Motion is unamendable. Your Committee consider that such an (unamendable) Motion would not be suitable for the consideration of European Secondary Legislation. They recommend that the Minister in charge of the business in the Standing Committee should be entitled to make whatever Motion he considered suitable. Motions to take note or to approve, or to do either with reservations, would obviously be appropriate; there might well be other forms suitable in different cases."
    The Committee recommended that the motion should be open to amendment. That is the nub of the proposal that is before the House today. It is a perfectly proper one that we regard as helpful to the proper powers of scrutiny and debate of the House.

    But there were several other aspects of that Select Committee's report, which was also debated on 3rd November, which have not received much attention so far today. We have talked about the proper type of motion and the fact that it should be amendable rather than a meaningless one. A Committee has advantages over the Floor of the House, particularly when dealing with technical matters. In Committee an hon. Member can speak more than once. He can press the Minister for views and perhaps reach factual conclusions on a matter on which that would not otherwise have been possible. It is also possible for a Committee to sit a second time. The Committee can debate documents for only an hour and a half, which is too short. The Select Committee said that the time should be two and a half hours—that is, from 10.30 a.m. to 1 p.m.—and that it should be able to decide when to sit again and for how many times.

    In the debate of 3rd November, an undertaking was given by the Government to enable that to happen. That undertaking has not yet been discharged although it was given 18 months ago. In the amendments now before the House we have compromised on that. We have said that it should not be open-ended for the Committee to decide upon six or eight weeks; that would be unfair. We recognise that there are timetables to be adhered to. There should, however, be the opportunity for the Committee to sit again on one further day. That is a considerable restriction in powers. A Committee on a Bill can go on as long as it likes, within reason.

    The Government, in their desire to restrict the time—and, I think, for no other cause—have said "No" and that it cannot be for the Committee as a whole to decide. The Committee can only so decide if a Minister moves that there should be a second sitting. That is completely indefensible. The Committee could be extended for only one more sitting. To restrict the moving of such a motion to the Minister alone means that the Government would have an automatic ability to restrict the Committee to two and a half hours, unless the Minister is willing to lift the restriction. That is a wholly inappropriate procedure. I hope that the Minister will reconsider this also. I hope that he will give some justification for it in what he says today.

    In relation to the reporting back of such Committees, an unfortunate habit has grown up whereby many of these matters—Statutory Instruments and EEC documents—are reported to the House late at night. This was never intended in the original proposal. Speaking on 22nd March 1973 in relation to procedural changes for Statutory Instruments, the former Leader of the House said:
    "It is not subject to debate and the House takes its decision immediately after the start of public business at 3.30 p.m. when the vote is taken."—[Official Report, 22nd March 1973; Vol. 853, c. 689.]
    Many of those documents and Statutory Instruments come to the House late at night and early in the morning. Clearly, the intention when the procedure for Statutory Instruments was introduced was that they should come before the House, if not at 3.30, at least at the beginning of public business.

    Whatever views we may take about the Common Market, there is a common view on both sides of the House that the Select Committee's proposals should be accepted. Why have not the Government accepted them in the past, and why, by putting down amendments to today's motion, are they not accepting them now?

    The only Government views that we have heard have been those that were expressed in absentia on behalf of the Leader of the House by an Opposition Member. That was the view that the proposals would detract from the House. It is open to the Government, if they wish, to take every document on the Floor. They can decide, according to the motion that they put down, whether any document is discussed on the Floor or in Committee. It is unlikely—because many of these deal with details—that there would be the 20 Members standing procedure and that Members would force discussion on the Floor. That is unlikely because we are practical and we know that the House's time is limited.

    The argument of the Leader of the House that it would detract from the notability or standing of the great debates on the Floor cannot stand on that ground alone. It has been emphasised constantly that if the Government did not like the Committee's conclusions, those conclusions could be negatived when the matter came back and the procedure would start all over again. There is therefore, a safety net for the Government in that. Their present position in not accepting these amendments maintains an unreasonable degree of power in the Executive and, through the Executive, an unreasonable degree of power in the Executive across the water.

    If the House of Commons is to do its job properly, it must have proper functions in receiving the legislation in time, scrutinising it, debating it, amending it and, if necessary, giving a proper opinion to Ministers. That is all it is. We are saying "How can the House of Commons best provide an opinion?"

    I come now to the last part of my comments, which may not, perhaps, have quite the same universal acceptability as the first part. However, on this day of all days it is important that it be said. We are talking today about consultative procedure. We are not talking, alas, about legislation of this House. We are only asking how this House can give its opinion to Ministers. Legislation is elsewhere.

    As I understand it, because of the possibility of direct elections if nothing else, this is one of the ways in which the new European legislature can get opinions. The other way is through another Parliament or another Assembly across the water.

    Unless we protect the powers of this House and ensure that we have the proper machinery for looking at this proposed legislation, scrutinising it and debating it, the powers of this House will thereby be reduced, and ironically, if the Government do not accept the amendments to Standing Orders that we have put down today, they will be reduced at the expense of any alternative channels for advice.

    Under the Treaty of Rome the only statutory advisory body in relation to legislation is the European Assembly and no other. No national legislature has any place in the Treaty of Rome as far as consultative procedures are concerned. With our unwritten constitution, this is of considerable significance.

    Today the Government published their White Paper on their proposals and the discussion about direct elections—Cmnd. 6768. The first part of it deals with the constitutional implications of direct elections, but nowhere in the paragraphs on the constitutional implications do the Government make clear that we are talking about parallel and competing channels of consultation.

    Therefore, I say to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, who is representing the Lord President today, that if he does not accept the amendments that are on the Order Paper in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Handsworth he will be weakening the ability of this House to give a view on matters of legisaltion at the same time as the Government are saying in their own White Paper that we must help the democratic process in the competing Assembly.

    I do not think that that is a position in which Her Majesty's Government would wish to be. I do not think that it is a position that my right hon. Friend the Lord President would sustain or wish I hope, therefore, that when it comes to the point my hon. Friend the Parliamen- tary Secretary will reconsider the amendments that he has on the Order Paper today.

    1.53 p.m.

    I am sure that it will not in any way curtail this very interesting and valuable debate if I rise at this stage and implicitly invite the Minister to rise after me to answer some of the points that have been made, particularly those made by the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing), who, from his great knowledge and his work on this subject, has put some very potent questions to the Minister, to which I am sure that we shall get an answer later in the debate.

    I congratulate the hon. Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Mr. Lee) on bringing this matter before the House by way of his motion, which he put before us as a twofold proposition. He said that it gave an opportunity for us to review the European Communities Act 1972 and, secondly, that it gave an opportunity for us to consider enlarging the scope of our processing of European legislation. He said that he deliberately used the word "process". I must agree that this is a correct word to use, as we are talking of a consultative procedure rather than a legislative procedure. Not one speaker, I think, has shown any satisfaction with the way in which we in this House process proposals for European legislation and the European legislation itself.

    Like other speakers, I do not join issue with the hon. Member for Handsworth when he says that the 1972 Act is repealable and amendable. Of course, I would not advocate the repeal of the 1972 Act, but it may be that in considering the process of European legislation through this House we may come across provisions that could be improved by amendments of the Act itself. To that extent I am thankful to the hon. Member for Handsworth and to the right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) for the arguments that they so ably developed about the possibility of amending the Act.

    Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West (Sir J. Eden), I should like us to act in a positive and constructive manner in our relations with the Community. However, I could not, perhaps, be quite so constructive—I might even say "destructive"—as the right hon. Member for Battersea, North. He set before the House three principles. The first was that legislation should be enacted by the elected representatives. Indeed, I think that that point has already been given away in the 1972 Act and that we must, while that Act is on the statute book, accept that there is legislation that is passed in Europe that is not enacted by the elected representatives in this Parliament.

    Secondly, the right hon. Gentleman put forward the principle that legislation should be debated and approved or disapproved in full public discussion. In our procedure here we have tried to supply parliamentary debate. That is not, perhaps, full discussion, but, after all, do we have full debate and full discussion of much that passes through this House? We certainly do not have it on all the delegated legislation. I think that it would be an ideal towards which we ought not, perhaps, to strive, to think that we could debate fully all the matters that go through the Council in Europe.

    My hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) said that if we really want democracy this House must control the actions of the Ministers in Brussels. I think that that is perhaps the way in which we should look at it, rather than try to debate European legislation here. We certainly ought to try to control the actions of the Ministers in their negotiations for that legislation. I think that that is the procedure that we have been trying to set up, not altogether successfully, in this House.

    It is important that we should now try to perfect what I might call our pre-European legislation process in Parliament, and, as the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Silverman) said, have an effective scrutiny of both the negotiating procedure and, as I would suggest, of the legislation when it is produced—such of it as needs some scrutiny after it has been put in the form in which it is binding law on this country.

    Again, as the hon. Member for Erdington said, this is an irreversible process, which is not even like our delegated legislation here, where one can perhaps persuade the Minister to withdraw a Statutory Instrument, rewrite it and reintroduce it. That cannot, practically, be done with European legislation.

    My right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West intervened to ask my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury whether he was suggesting that the Minister should be mandated or accountable. I am not sure that one can really draw a firm line between those two. For much European legislation there can only be ex post facto accountability under the present procedures of this House.

    My hon. Friend the Member for Banbury proposed a Select Committee. I understand that he wanted not so much to review the Act of 1972 as, rather, to review the whole matter of our accession to the Community. I doubt whether, in a Friday debate of this sort, we can widen the debate to that extent, although my hon. Friend's speech was extremely interesting.

    The right hon. Member for Battersea, North put forward three principles, and I think that it is on the third one that we can do some good work in a debate of this sort—the principle that legislation should be precise and full in its language. I do not think that one can possibly pretend that the process by which decisions of the Commission become part of the law of the United Kingdom accord with our principles of legislation or our concepts of the rule of law.

    It might be thought that we could adapt ourselves to the imprecise language and the imprecise method of expression of law adopted by the Community. After all, we in this country have no written constitution; we rely on conventions. We have an unenacted mass of law which we call the common law, including Magna Carta, the Bill of Rights, and so on, which is extremely vague and imprecise. In more modern times we have been very much governed by departmental circulars and by Lord Denning in interpreting the adjust ourselves to the way in which the law of the European Community is expressed and not be pedantic about law, so perhaps we ought to be able to having it precise and ascertainable.

    Many learned judges and academics, and even Committees of the House, have argued that our laws should not be so precise, or at least not as precise as we endeavour to make it, that our statutes should be no more than statements of principle, and that the manner in which the principles should be operated should be left to the Executive or the judiciary. But that argument has not yet been accepted by Parliament.

    We continue to create new law by the process of detailed statutes and Statutory Instruments. It is only fair to the citizen that, if he is bound by the maxim that ignorance of the law is no excuse for the breach of it, the least that we can do is to leave him in no ignorance of where to find the law if he does not know it in detail. For generations we have insisted on our legislation being fully stated—perhaps over-fully—and as defenders of the faith which we proclaim and the sovereignty of Parliament and the rule of law—[interruption.]

    Order. It is quite wrong for any hon. Member to stand while another hon. Member is addressing the House.

    Many of us, as defenders of the faith, and, we thought, of Parliament and the rule of law, have spent many weary hours of our parliamentary lives upstairs in Committee arguing a Bill clause by clause, line by line, word by word, comma by comma. It comes as rather a shock to us to find that there is now being introduced into our law and into the enforceable law of the United Kingdom an ever-growing body of law, much of which is undiscoverable even by practitioners of law and is certainly undiscoverable to the ordinary citizen.

    I do not wish to revive the issue of sovereignty. I think that the United Kingdom has accepted that it is bound by the law created by the Commission in Europe. My anxiety is about the method of expression of that law as a part of the law enforceable in the United Kingdom.

    The House knows well that what emanates from the Commission in its final form is of two kinds—that which is directly applicable here as the law of the United Kingdom and that which requires implementation by further enactment in this country. Broadly, one can say that regulations are the law of the United Kingdom without our doing any more about them, and directives are the law only when we enact them by dele- gated legislation in this Parliament by means of Statutory Instruments.

    The constitutional purists can just about stomach directives, because we have put those directives into law here in our own fashion and in the way to which we are accustomed. But then we come to regulations, in which I ought to include both the decisions and the treaties because they are directly applicable. I shall take treaties as an example.

    The hon. Member for Newham, South referred to the way in which treaties can become part of the law of the United Kingdom, particularly the orders before the House now, which may be debated in a week or two, and on which the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments has reported. Those instruments merely set out in schedule the titles of treaties and protocols of international agreements without any indication of what law those treaties introduce into the law of the United Kingdom.

    What is perhaps worse is that the European Court has decided that we ought not to indicate at all what parts of those treaties are part of the law of this country. Therefore, Government advisers have given evidence before a Committee of the House and have stated that it would be wrong, in view of the decision of the European Court, for them to give any guidance to the House about what parts of those treaties are part of the law of this country.

    It is an astonishing position, but, as I understand it, the European Court in its decisions says that member States should not try to rewrite the law contained in treaties and should not even try to write into their own law the regulations as far as they are directly aplicable, so we are left without any guidance at all on this.

    We have to apply some rule laid down in some decision of the European Court to decide for ourselves what part of those documents is part of the law of the United Kingdom. Although we are not permitted to rewrite regulations into the law of this country we can supplement them; for example, by adding punishments for breaches, and so on. At the moment we are left, mainly by decisions of the European Court, in some darkness about the exact law introduced into this country in that form.

    I should have thought that the Government could publish, without prejudice to subsequent interpretation by the courts, for the benefit of the House and of the public, an official guide on the law introduced by the documents—a sort of "direct applicability without tears".

    When I said that directives were brought into our law in the normal manner by Statutory Instruments so far as they were needed to be brought in, I hope that I did not imply that that was satisfactory. Such instruments may come before the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments on the question of validity, unexpected use of the powers, drafting, and so on. They may come to the Floor of the House on their merits if any Member wishes to table a Prayer about them, or they can go to a Merits Committee upstairs.

    That brings me to the second part of the motion which seeks to improve the procedure. The House adopted the Statutory Instruments procedure for the consideration of Commission documents perhaps because nothing better was available, but it has turned out to be a very inappropriate way of dealing with documents relating to negotiations and not to the final expression of law. It is a pity that it was decided to adopt that procedure—which is moderately applicable to Statutory Instruments that are already law, with their merits being considered by that Committee—for studying negotiations in which Ministers are involved in the pre-legislation stage.

    One needs only to go back to the early 1950s to find the origin of the procedure for Committees on Statutory Instruments and to understand how they became the Committees for dealing with Commission documents. In the early 1950s we debated Statutory Instruments until very early hours in the morning. I recollect some of the skilled artists in the job of keeping hon. Members awake—for example, the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo), the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross), the late Stephen Swingler, and Mr. Geoffrey Bing, who made a tremendous team.

    We went well beyond midnight we went to the early hours of the morning.

    The House felt that that procedure could not continue. Therefore, the 11.30 Standing Order was introduced, the idea being that we would not discuss Statutory Instruments, certainly those tabled under the negative procedure, after 11.30 p.m. When the order was introduced, the then Leader of the House, Harry Crookshank, gave an undertaking that, if we would accept the new Standing Order, the Leader of the House would always find time for a Prayer against a Statutory Instrument. That undertaking was soon forgotten. Perhaps that was why the procedure for sending Statutory Instruments to Merits Committees upstairs was approved.

    I have no hesitation in saying that the Merits Committees have failed. They have failed to attract hon. Members to debate in them, and they have failed because the motion before them, relating either to Statutory Instruments or to Commission documents, is nonsensical and absolutely ridiculous.

    Does my right hon. Friend agree that in those days all the Statutory Instruments that came before the House, many of which had considerable influence in various spheres, were thoroughly debated, and on many occasions serious matters came to light because of the probing by the House, which is now impossible? Is there not a case for the House once again considering them?

    Perhaps in those days there was not such a body of Statutory Instruments coming before the House and probably we could give more time to debating them.

    The Committees upstairs have succeeded neither in relation to Statutory Instruments nor in relation to Commission documents. Without seriously amending the procedure of the Committees, they are the wrong places in which to deal with Commission documents. In the motion of the hon. Member for Handsworth we have a proposal for improving the work of those Committees. It would also get over the difficulty that no motion comes before the Committees which makes sense and that there is a time limitation on the debates.

    Perhaps the "no motion" rule was appropriate enough for a Statutory Instrument which, it has always been recognised, the House can approve or reject and not amend. Therefore, merely tabling a motion that the Committee takes note of the Statutory Instrument may have been appropriate. But it is certainly not appropriate when the Committee is discussing not a set piece of delegated legislation but negotiations in which a Minister is involved. In such a case—and I take the point that the hon. Member for Handsworth made—it is the vote that counts and not merely the Minister's interpretation of the tone of the debate. It should be possible to have a meaningful debate on the documents so that the Committee may know about the negotiations that the Minister is conducting.

    I see no reason for a permanent Standing Order guillotine on such debates. If the debate take place on the Floor of the House, for the convenience of the House and of the rest of the business of the House, it is reasonable to have a Standing Order that limits the time. We could then choose between having the debate on the Floor of the House by 20 Members rising in their places and having a limited time, or taking the matter upstairs with no limit on time. I would go further than the motion and would abolish the Standing Order guillotine on such debates and allow them to run for as long as Members chose to debate the subject.

    No speaker today has been satisfied with the present procedure for dealing

    'Leave out paragraph (4) and insert—
    5(4) Each committee to which a statutory instrument or draft statutory instrument is referred shall consider that instrument or draft instrument on a motion, "That the committee has considered the instrument (or draft instrument)"; and the chairman shall put any question necessary to dispose of the proceedings on such a motion, if not previously concluded, when the committee shall have sat for one and a half hours or, in the case of an instrument or draft instrument relating exclusively to Northern Ireland, two and a half hours after the commencement of those proceedings; and the committee shall thereupon report the instrument or draft instrument to the House without any further question being put.
    15(4A) (a) Each committee to which a commission document is referred shall consider each document on a motion, "That the committee has considered the document"; and subject to the provisions of the following sub-paragraphs the chairman shall put any question necessary to dispose of the proceedings on such a motion, if not previously concluded, when the committee shall have sat for two and a half hours after the commencement of those proceedings.
    20(b) At the first sitting of the committee, at any time after the question, "That the committee has considered the document", has been proposed a member of the Government rising in his place may claim to make a motion providing for a further sitting of the committee on another day, and the chairman shall put the question on such a motion forthwith, or may decline then to propose that question to the committee; and thereafter proceedings upon the original question shall be resumed.
    25(c) At one o'clock on the second day on which the committee shall sit, if proceedings on the motion, "That the committee has considered the document", have not previously been concluded, the chairman shall put any question necessary to dispose of it.

    with Commission documents. We have before us a motion that has been recommended by a Select Committee and I see no reason for the Government's trying to water down the recommendation. In an earlier debate on procedure I suggested that we should devise an entirely new form of committee which had the merits of both a Standing Committee and a Select Committee—in other words, a Committee that would be able to debate in public and would be able to take evidence from witnesses.

    The most extraordinary difference between our Standing Committees and our Select Committees is that a Select Committee cannot debate in public and a Standing Committee cannot accept witnesses. Why cannot we have a Committee that can do both? That is what I would like to see by way of an amendment.

    As the hon. Member for Newham South said, we must devise a procedure for the proper expression of opinion. I think that this suggestion of the hon. Member for Handsworth will be an improvement and I hope that the House will accept his motion. I have no love for the Government's amendment.

    2.21 p.m.

    I beg to move, to leave out lines 6 to 40 and add—

    30(d) When the motion, "That the committee has considered the document", has been disposed of the committee shall thereupon report the document to the House without any further question being put.

    I am in some difficulty—

    I had something else in mind. There is a difference of opinion in the Lord President's Office. He has consistently opposed the European Community and I have equally consistently supported it. It is no secret that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House would be much more likely to be sympathetic to the diagnosis of my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Mr. Lee) than I am. For that reason alone, I apologise for my right hon. Friend's absence. He asked me to apologise to the House. There is no discourtesy intended but he has urgent constituency engagements which were impossible to cancel. He was not talking to the Liberals. There are no Liberals in Ebbw Vale—there are no Tories either.

    If it is any consolation to my hon. Friend, I can tell him that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House would have received the same brief that I have. My hon. Friend has left no one in any doubt about his purpose, and I make no complaint about that. I have the greatest respect for him and for people with whose views on the Common Market I disagree. My hon. Friend is intent on getting us out, and he is entitled to pursue that course in any way open to him.

    If I allowed my hon. Friend to take a major step in that direction, I suspect that the Prime Minister would be rather less than pleased. To come out of both Stechford and Europe in 24 hours would be too much for the Government. I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) that all the matters they have raised today will be considered. I recognise the importance and the significance of those matters. They will be drawn to my right hon. Friend's attention and will be given the fullest consideration. That is true also of the request from the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) for a Select Committee.

    Would the Parliamentary Secretary agree that my hon. Friend's motion does not suggest taking any step in the direction he has indicated, and that the support of the hon. Member for Manchester, Withington (Mr. Silvester) illustrated, as indeed did the right hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page), that the motion before us is not a pro or anti motion but is a House of Commons motion?

    I would have expected that view from my hon. Friend. I should like to think that I am not quite that naive.

    There has been some discussion about the ability of this Parliament, if it chooses to do so, either to repeal or to change the 1972 Act. I quoted one sentence, but it might be as well if I quoted the whole paragraph from the White Paper on the renegotiated terms. Paragraph 135 on page 39 says:
    "The problem therefore has to be considered from two aspects: first, the general issue of whether the ultimate sovereignty of Parliament has been weakened, and secondly, whether Parliament can play an effective role in the making of any particular new Community law. On the general issue, Parliament by the European Communities Act 1972 authorised the application in this country of directly applicable Community law and to what extent has delegated its powers. Parliament has however the undoubted power to repeal that Act, on which our ability to fulfil our Treaty obligations still depends. Thus our membership of the Community in the future depends on the continuing assent of Parliament."
    I, like the right hon. Member for Bournemouth, West (Sir J. Eden), believed when I came here some years ago, and I still believe, that this House can do whatever it chooses to do if it has a majority. I am not aware that the Government have ever on any occasion sought to alter that position.

    The motion calls upon the Government to
    "institute a review of the operation of the European Communities Act 1972".
    I do not believe that such a review is necessary. Its real purpose would be to reopen the discussion of sovereignty, an issue which was thoroughly debated by the House during the period immediately before Britain joined the Community and again during renegotiations.

    The European Communities Act is legally the cornerstone of British membership of the Community. Such legislation was recognised from the beginning as being an essential part of our membership. It is a crucial constitutional measure and we believe that it is not one from which we can pick and choose provisions as we like. It either stands or falls as a whole.

    The White Paper on renegotiation did not attempt to gloss over the constitutional implications of membership. On the contrary, it contained a substantial passage on sovereignty and membership of the Community and dealt in detail with the rôle of Parliament and the Act. The Government considered that it was essential that a decision whether Britain should remain a member of the Community should be taken on the basis of a considered assessment of the whole context of the advantages and disadvantages of Community membership.

    Did the White Paper from which my hon. Friend has been quoting have any reference to direct elections?

    That is an entirely different matter. My right hon. Friend is trying to get me the sack. I can get into enough trouble without any assistance from him. That is an entirely different matter, which will receive a great deal of attention in this House over the next few months. I think that I ought to leave that matter until another occasion.

    I think we all agree with the right hon. Member for Bournemouth, West that the system we are operating leaves a lot to be desired. We believe that many of the difficulties arise from the nature of the problem as well as from the procedures that we have adopted in the past. Community legislation, once published, follows a course quite different from that which our Bills follow in our own Parliament. As a result, bringing Community draft legislation into the procedures of Westminster has inevitably created friction. The Government are conscious of the criticisms which hon. Members have made of the procedures. We recognise that debates on EEC matters too often have to be held late at night with insufficient opportunities for all those who wish to take part.

    A good many recommendations made by the Scrutiny Committee still need debate. In one or two cases there have been difficulties over the provision of up-to-date information and time for debate, although the Government are taking steps to improve matters as my right hon. Friend said in a Written Answer on 30th March. In one respect particularly, the Government share the dissatisfaction expressed by some Members with the present arrangements. This concerns the number of debates that the House is obliged to hold on European matters on the Floor of the House.

    The Scrutiny Committee has become expert in its handling of a mass of EEC documents. The Committee's identification of proposals which call for further consideration by the House makes the problem manageable and permits the House to concentrate on matters of greater importance. Recent debates on CAP prices and on fisheries are examples of hon. Members expressing their views on important Community business which the Committee rightly identified as of considerable significance to this country and which are still not settled in the Council of Ministers.

    The reports of the Scrutiny Committee are valuable because they point out to the House the essential issues for consideration on Community proposals and, as such, are a necessary basis for our debates. We value the institution of the Scrutiny Committee.

    The suggested amendments represent a difference of opinion about the role of the Standing Committee in relation to the Community documents that are referred to it. It may be helpful if I try to place that difference of opinion in the context of the procedure for the scrutiny and debate of Community documents. No one pretends that the procedure is beyond improvement. But we should consider its purpose and how far it achieves that purpose before deciding what improvements are desirable.

    Most hon. Members accept that the Government's part in Brussels is to further our national interest as members of the Community. In furthering that responsibility, the Government are accountable to the House. The scrutiny and debate procedure is a method by which that accountability is made effective. It has been developed in the light of the First and Second Reports of the Select Committee on European Legislation in 1973 and the report of the Procedure Committee in 1975. It gives Parliament the opportunity for oversight which compares favourably with the position in other member States, while allowing the Government the flexibility that is needed for negotiation in the Community.

    When considering possible improvements, we must bear in mind the need to hold the right balance between the Government's responsibility for negotiation and their accountability to the House. We must also bear in mind that the procedures in Brussels do not correspond with our procedures here. We must hold a balance between European and other business when arranging the work of the House. Within the constraints that I have mentioned, the Government have sought constantly to meet criticisms and to bring about improvements in procedure. The House will recall the Lord President's statements on 4th August last year and 30th March this year when he tried to meet the wishes of the House.

    The Scrutiny Committee plays a vital rôle in identifying matters which call for further consideration by the House. But not all those matters are of equal importance, and some of the less important items are suitable for consideration by a Standing Committee. If we could make proper use of the Standing Committee, we could give more attention on the Floor of the House to the more important matters and we could hold debates at an earlier stage in the process of Community legislation when policy is still at the formative stage. Hopefully, we could also do it at a reasonable hour. That in turn would improve the opportunities for further scrutiny and, if necessary, further debates at a later stage when there are significant changes in proposals of importance.

    The motion to amend Standing Order No. 73A attempts to change the decision of the House in two major respects. The first and more important is the question of the power that the Standing Committee should have in considering EEC documents. The present procedure under Standing Order No. 73A, to which the House has agreed, is clear and applies to all such Standing Committees. It is that the Committee shall consider the documents and then for the House as a whole to take a view upon the documents, once consideration by the Standing Committee is complete. That is the essential point.

    The effect of the amendments would be to give the Standing Committee the right to decide on the merits or otherwise of EEC documents. As far as I am aware, it has never been the practice of the House to delegate to a Committee the right to decide such matters on behalf of the House. The principle is very important.

    Is it advice, or is it a decision coming down from the Standing Committee on behalf of the House? That is the crucial argument, and clearly we are not going to agree.

    A Committee on a Bill has power to alter the Bill subject to what the House does on Report and Third Reading.

    We are arguing that the Standing Committee on European documents would be taking decisions on behalf of the whole House which we would have the right to reverse on the Floor of the House. That is not satisfactory. We think it right for the Committee to express its view, having considered a matter, to ensure that the Government are aware of that view and that a decision should be taken on the Floor of the House on a Government motion which is amendable.

    We must get this right. The Minister said that the Committee can express a view. Under the existing arrangements the Committee cannot take a view, although individual views may be expressed.

    The Committee cannot express an opinion because it cannot take a vote. The right place to take a vote is on the Floor of the House. I can see that there will be no agreement between the House and myself.

    Hon. Members voting on the Floor of the House will not have heard a single word of what is said upstairs. Due to the delay in printing, hon. Members will not be able to read what is said. But the Minister said that he wanted to use the Committee more. We shall never let him use it, because 20 of us will always stand up until the procedure is reformed.

    That is a situation that the Government have to face. I know the hon. Member well enough to know that he will do that. He will not lack support from some of my hon. Friends. We shall have to deal with that when it arises.

    The proposal that the Standing Committee should be master of its own time is also contrary to the practice of the House in prescribing how Committees of this type are to function. Their task is to report to the House within a period set by the House and not at a time of their own choosing. In practice, the need for more time has not been demonstrated by the work of the Committee. Nevertheless, the amendment standing in the name of my right hon. Friend the Lord President and myself would extend the time allowed from one and a half hours to two and a half hours, with the possibility of a further two and a half hours on another day on a Government motion.

    I recognise that there is a strong feeling in the House that not only a Minister should have the right to take that decision. I hope that there will be some sympathy for my situation. If I had any friends they have all gone home, with one possible exception.

    I always assume Whips to be sympathetic. They have no choice. I am also conscious that, for reasons that are well known, my right hon. Friend the Lord President is not here.

    Some hon. Members believe that a previous Minister gave a specific promise. I think that that is arguable, but that view is widely held. I am asking the House—I put it no higher—to approve a system which we believe will work and which will prove acceptable. I assure the House that if it does not work, and if hon. Members still believe that there should be changes, we shall take it back for further consideration. I am not seeking to close the door for all time. In those circumstances, I hope that the House will approve the Government amendment.

    2.40 p.m.

    I must first apologise for having missed the initial part of the debate. In the circumstances, clearly it would be presumptious and impertinent of me to make an extended speech. However, there are a number of important matters which must be aired in this debate, and I hope that the House will bear with me if I exercise my presumption, repeating my apologies and apologising further for the fact that, if the debate continues longer than was anticipated earlier, it will be necessary for me to leave in order to keep a prior engagement.

    Although I did not have the pleasure of hearing some of the earlier speeches, it is clear that one of the themes that have emerged from the debate so far and that the Government need to take on board much more than they have is the earnest desire of right hon. and hon. Members to have proper scrutiny procedures for European legislation. It is also clear that that view is not limited to those who conventionally are called "anti-Marketeers". It is essential for the Mother of Parliaments above all to get its scrutiny procedures right, orderly, rational, thorough and reassuring to all right hon. and hon. Members. This has not yet been done, although the Minister said that he would like the Government to be given time to prove their arguments right.

    If we are hesitant about it, it is because we are not certain that we have it right. We are asking the House to give it a try. We can come back to it if the House wishes.

    I am obliged to the Minister for that additional elucidation. However, it does not take us very much further. I think that it would be right for the House to accept that at this stage and, if necessary, to take it further later on if the hon. Gentleman so recommended.

    In any event, that does not gainsay the very poor quality of the scrutiny procedures of this House and the seeming inability, unwillingness or reluctance of the Leader of the House to do something decisive about them. It is that which is causing frustration in all parts of the House.

    There are several connected themes in this context. The first part of the motion calls for a review of the Act. Like other right hon. and hon. Members, I regard that as an absurd idea. There is no reason for it to happen. We joined the Community. We signed the Treaty and the additional protocols. There is no reason of policy, of law or of a fundamental change of mind for us to have second thoughts on that score. We are a member of the Community and I believe that in the long term the Community will do the country a great deal of good. The central weakness of the country means that we need the Community increasingly to help us out of our deep-seated crisis. Therefore, I see no need to reconsider the Act. If there are hesitations or anxieties on the part of some Members about the famous Clause 2 and about the other ways in which, constitutionally, we became a member of the Community, these, too, are grossly exaggerated. In my view, if we can get our scrutiny procedures right we shall be able to assuage the anxieties that have been expressed about the sovereignty effects of Clause 2.

    The hon. Gentleman spoke of a review of the European Communities Act, whereas the motion speaks of a review of the operation of the Act. It is in the operation of the Act, especially in terms of the courts and directly applicable legislation, that we have what, in a sense, is the need for a scrutiny function of this House to see how it is going on.

    I would have concentrated on that aspect if I had been satisfied that those who supported this motion had only that motive at heart, but we know that that is not the case. They wish to be more fundamental about it. But I was referring to the operation of the Act as well when I spoke about the need to improve our scrutiny procedures. That is the effective way of dealing with any lingering doubts there may be about the mechanistic aspects of the Act and their relationship to the constitutional sovereignty of this Parliament.

    Within the interconnected framework of the various strands of our membership there is the need to resolve our difficulties as a continuing member and the need to get right our scrutiny of European legislation. I wish to put forward several alternative suggestions, and I make them as one who was a Member of the European Parliament for a couple of years, where I saw the relationship between its procedures in furthering what I may call the European connection and the need for an interconnection with what goes on there and what goes on in the national Parliaments.

    If we in this House can get our scrutiny right, with the energetic assistance of the Government and not their present rather grudging approach, we shall be in the agreeable position of being well ahead of the other member States. None of the other members has any real substantive scrutiny procedure. Some of them did earlier on, but that has diminished or faded away. Others did not bother at all. Apart from Denmark, all of them have now given it up. But that does not mean that we should not encourage them, within their own constitutional frameworks, to look at this matter again, possibly by providing the lead in this Parliament and by providing that constitutional and political example that we always said was built in to the rationale of our membership—that the Mother of Parliaments and the oldest democracy could teach the Europeans.

    That brings me to the subject of direct elections, which I shall touch upon only fleetingly. In that context as well, it is disappointing to see this country lagging seriously behind other member States. That is perhaps the third of these interconnected themes, and I shall return to it briefly towards the end of my remarks.

    I agree very much with the suggestions made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Page). Although there may be an ulterior motive behind this motion, because of the well-known views of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Mr. Lee) about the Community, many of his detailed proposals about scrutiny, based on the ideas of the Select Committee, are very attractive to many right hon. and hon. Members and should not be ignored by the Government.

    It seems absurd that the Committee dealing with legislation from the Community should now be going through a farcical procedure whereby, although individual views may be expressed, no collective view can come from the Committee as the guardian and custodian of this House on European legislation. We have a stream of complicated material coming before this House on the recommendation of the Scrutiny Committee, which, it must be said again, does a very good job. But the House is overwhelmed by it, anyway, and when a Committee gets the chance to deal with it the whole basis is wrong and the Government, apparently, are still unwilling to do anything about it.

    The Committee needs to be able to make substantive motions in its own right. I should not be unhappy if the basic concept of the rights of the Committee were deliberately to be reinforced so that the Committee itself could decide an issue without necessarily having to send it back to the House. If a fairly minor but important piece of European legislation were to go to such a Committee, I should be happy if the Committee had the power to say "On this matter we have decided to pass a substantive motion that represents the conclusion of the Committee by the normal voting process of any Committee. We leave it at that. We do not recommend that the matter be returned to the Floor of the House."

    Equally, I should like other matters returned to the Floor of the House for further consideration on a motion introduced by the Committee if it thought that to be appropriate. I do not think that the Government need fear the complications that might arise from their present minority situation. In this context it can be presumed that the Government's lack of a majority in the House is a temporary situation. Surely the normal basis of a Government's utilisation of their majority prevails for this sort of material as it does for any other legislation.

    When we went into Europe—this is a matter that I face and I do not regard as a pity—one of the rational consequences was not that European legislation would be superior to national legislation but that it would be superior to any legislation that we pass in this place. That does not mean that the House should not have the proper sovereign constitutional procedures for dealing with it. This is not in any way a contradiction. It is literally true that the House at any stage can decide to do anything that is fundamental to the European Communities Act, although I hope that it will never do so.

    There might be crises on occasions when the British Government try to prevail in Committee, or when debating European matters on the Floor of the House, and do not succeed because of the collective expression of the votes of all the Members of the Committee on an important Division. They would have to go to Brussels and say "We are now bound by a decision of the Parliament". If the Government had their own majority it is not likely that that would happen. After all, that is the purpose of Whips. They organise votes on behalf of the Executive. However, the difficulty that I have described could arise occasionally. What would be so awful about that?

    It seems extraordinary that those who are enthusiastic members of the Community, and enthusiastic about our continuing membership, often do a disservice to the important nexus of the relationship between member States and the Community itself. They try to mount a cover-up operation by saying that the House of Commons should have token debates and not real debates.

    There would not be so much of a problem, in due course, if the Committee considering EEC legislation were to be changed into a Select Committee in the proper sense of the word. I think that that should happen, because we are now in what might be described as transitional period of the European Parliament, the last stage of the non-directly elected Parliament.

    I express a personal view when I say that I should like to see a Select Committee on European legislation sitting in the House and hearing witnesses on putative European legislation and instruments of various sorts. It could be a powerful body. The obvious question arises whether there should be a separate Committee, as there is now, called the Scrutiny Committee, sending the material to that Select Committee or to the Floor of the House for the Government to make a recommendation on how it should be debated, or whether the two should be merged into one? Obviously we are still in a formative stage in these complicated matters. It is an open question, depending on a practical test.

    I should settle for the existing Scrutiny Committee making recommendations of this kind and a powerful committee to deal with European legislation in its own right. It would fit in very well and felicitously with the central processes of legislation in the Community anyway.

    This is something that we see not only in the Community itself but in the relationship of the three institutions. We also see it in many of the other member States that have the Continental system of legislating. In that system what we might roughly call generically pre-legislative drafts go to a powerful committee of the Parliaments. This happens in the Bundestag and the National Assembly as well as in the European Parliament, which, as we all know, is not a powerful body.

    The draft is gradually put through an almost metaphysical process, which is often incomprehensible but is fascinating in its own right. The draft is honed to almost a Wilkinson's Sword degree of perfection. Perhaps the party political content is taken out or reduced. That may be a bad thing for many politicians but that process of legislating, given the conditions of the modern world, seem to be more rational and more sensible than that which we operate in this place, where, taking things by and large, we deal with things in the opposite way.

    In our system there is a vital vote of principle on which all parties are subsequently hooked. That applies to matters of detail and minor and subsidiary parts of the basic legislation.

    If we could think in these terms in the House in future by having a Select Committee of the sort that I have described, I think that it would begin a proper process of scrutiny. It could be sovereign to itself and represent the entire House by deciding what to do. If it were dealing with a major piece of legislation and it thought that second thoughts were needed, the legislation could go back to the Floor of the House for a major debate. The Select Committee could say, "We recommend that two days be devoted to subject 'X'." In respect of a minor piece of legislation it might say that is was sufficient to have half an hour in Committee with a witness and a final decision. It would be agreeable if we could be more flexible in the House so that we could begin to think about these things. I say this with due deference to Members who are now in the Chamber who are greater experts than I am on the function of the House.

    This proposal would fit in well with direct elections and the consequences of the new democratically elected European Parliament. That is precisely because among the supremely important witnesses before such a powerful Select Committee would be Members of the European Parliament, themselves directly elected, either a handful who were lunatic enough still to wish to exercise a dual mandate or a handful who would be separate from this place.

    If we were to try to construct a privileged quasi-membership status for European Members of Parliament subsequently in this House we would generate deep resentment among ordinary members of this place, but for European Members to come here as distinguished guests, as witnesses and evidence-givers, would be a different kettle of fish, and acceptable to hon. Members on both sides of the House.

    These matters are complicated. They have to be tackled over a time and they need a great deal of time. The hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) is a great expert in dealing with these matters in detail. The House would need time to develop them properly and coherently. I hope that the Minister, in giving what he dramatically called his assurance, will not feel that he is merely going through the motions and giving the Lord President a relatively easy time for another few months. It is an assurance that will be examined closely.

    A number of complicated factors have been introduced that need to be sorted out clearly. There are many question marks in the minds of Members on both sides of the House. The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, at a meeting of the revived Statutory Instruments EEC Committee in respect of a non-legislative piece of paper that was a report of the Director General of Information, said that the Committee would be the most suitable forum to deal with non-legislative matters. Presumably that was also a response to the fact that, on occasions, because hon. Members are dissatisfied with the existing procedures 20 or more will stand up to protest at the idea of legislative bits and pieces going upstairs as they do now.

    That is a pity. The idea that only non-legislative instruments or pieces of paper—documents from the Community—should go upstairs and all legislation be dealt with in this Chamber is a great mistake. It does the existing Committee, however poor and inadequate it may be, a great disservice. If that is to be so we shall be lumbered with continuing the present unsatisfactory basis whereby even important and complicated matters are dealt with in a ridiculous hour and a half after 10 o'clock and this House has no chance even to begin to grapple with Community legislation, which is often much more complex than our national legislative proposals.

    Therefore, if the Minister can continue himself to scrutinise and survey these matters, while consulting the Lord President, so that he may in a few months be able to say something more positive and worth while, we shall start to make faltering progress.

    3.0 p.m.

    I agree with much of what the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) said, but particularly about how the House of Commons deals with these matters. I am in a dilemma because I agree about the development of the Select Committee as he proposed. I listened with great interest to my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) and to the hon. Member for Manchester, Withington (Mr. Silvester). Both speeches were constructive and, in their way, persuasive.

    My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hansworth (Mr. Lee) made it clear that although he was deeply concerned—as he showed in a lucid speech—about some of these aspects of procedure, his real aim was completely to unscramble the 1972 European Communities Act. The hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) went even further, arguing for a Select Committee to look at the whole question of British membership of the Community.

    Therefore, two themes have run through this debate, one of which I support, but the central dilemma remains, that those who have been pressing for Select Committee changes are precisely the hon. Members who even now want to get Britain out of the Community. What is so disappointing—"distressing" is perhaps too strong a word—is that some hon. Members should take that position, in view of the referendum and the fact that the House of Commons voted overwhelmingly for British membership.

    My hon. Friend the Member for Handsworth said that, whatever came to pass he would always oppose British membership. That is also the position of the hon. Member for Banbury. I imagine that should both hon. Gentlemen find their way to Heaven they will still be drafting Early-Day Motions to that effect. The only problem is that they would so totally challenge the Treaty of Rome that they would find themselves in another place—which might give them greater expression for their considerable talents.

    Nevertheless, we should consider the implications of the argument. The key issue is the 1972 Act, which provides the rights and obligations arising from British membership. None of the basic provisions could be altered without undermining the basis of our membership. Therefore, I regard the proposal to consider these matters in a fundamental way with some suspicion.

    I sympathise with the Minister. I firmly believe in the growth of Select Committees. That is the way in which Parliament must develop and it is the only way in which it can control the Executive. But I am profoundly unhappy with the arguments used today for the use of the system in respect of the EEC, unless, of course, it is accepted that the debate takes place with the full acceptance of the existing treaties.

    My right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) challenged the Minister to say when, during the referendum debate, and where, in any Government statement or White Paper, there was any provision for direct elections. My right hon. Friend knows that the Treaty of 1972 accepted the obligation of direct elections because it is in the Treaty of Rome. It could not be more clearly stated. It is an interesting debating point, but the argument is disingenuous.

    I think that it was a mistake that this aspect was not emphasised more during the referendum debate. Whenever I spoke anywhere I made it clear that our membership meant direct elections and that, on the whole, I was in favour of that development. But it was played in a different way officially, and we are all regretting that now. Nevertheless, it was implicit in the European Communities Act 1972 and in the Treaty of Rome, so there is full authority for the White Paper that has just been published.

    In conclusion, in spite of the lucid way in which my hon. Friend the Member for Handsworth moved the motion, I am deeply suspicious of it. That is why I tabled my amendment. I am deeply suspicious of those who are calling for democratisation in respect of procedures in the House of Commons—I support them in that call—but who at the same time are deeply suspicious of developing the European Parliament. I can only think that the reason why they support the motion is that they wish to undermine our obligations to the European Community. For that reason, I oppose my hon. Friend's motion.

    3.5 p.m.

    I rise to make my first speech in this Chamber since I accepted an extraordinary dual mandate and became, in addition to being a Member of Parliament here, a sort of Euro-Member of Parliament in Strasbourg, Luxembourg, Rome and the various places to which they send us from month to month and from time to time in the European Community.

    I rise to make a speech partly because I believe that if one does not take the opportunity to make a speech in this Chamber one soon begins to feel a complete stranger in this place once one has been sent to Strasbourg. For that reason I feel it incumbent upon me to say something in this debate.

    Unlike some previous speakers, I do not want to look forward too far to direct elections—if they ever happen—and to what will happen to the European Members of Parliament at that point. I certainly never intend to become a distinguished guest in this place, as the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) suggested.

    I became a Member of the European Parliament only by accident of democracy, in the sense that the British Socialist delegation is the only delegation in the whole of the Assembly that accepts the principle of democracy to the extent of allowing itself to be elected by its peers in this Parliament rather than selected by the patronage of the party chiefs or Government chiefs.

    To that extent it is already apparent that the British Labour Members in the European Assembly feel themselves to have a wholly different mandate in that Assembly from that which other members of the Assembly have. I think that it is a better mandate, because at least they represent something specific and real.

    I stood for election to the Assembly only because the candidates from the region for which I am a Member appeared to be such Euro-fanatics that I felt that it was my duty to try to prevent one or two of them from getting elected—one of them in particular. I succeeded in my endeavour.

    This debate is specifically about the rights and powers of the House of Commons to give specific and detailed advice, not only to Ministers—to whom they should give advice—but to the various other institutions and people in Europe who will want to know specifically and exactly what the House of Commons thinks about the various legislative proposals that are in preparation in Europe and that tend, in Europe, to have an enormous gestation period, longer than that of the elephant or any other known mammal, I suspect. There is time to give clear advice if we have a proper Committee procedure to do so.

    I am sorry that my namesake, my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Privy Council Office, has departed—I hope that he comes back for the vote at the end of the debate—because I have to say, first, that I suspect that the principal reason why the Government are being so cagey about the motion is that they know that on specific recommendations from the Scrutiny Committee they are likely quite often to be defeated, and no Government likes being defeated.

    To that extent I have some sympathy with the Government, but I suspect that another reason is that they do not want to upgrade the discussions about European matters in this Chamber. They feel that it ought to be possible one day to have some sort of method by which European business will be dealt with in the European Assembly, if we are to have an elected Assembly, and domestic business, if I may so call it, will be taken in the House of Commons.

    I am a very new boy in the European Assembly and I have a great deal to learn there, but I am immediately and absolutely convinced that any division of that kind is out of the question. The overlap is total, and any member of the Government who might think it possible in some way to distinguish between the two should get the idea out of his mind at once.

    There are people who think that one can distinguish between the two. The federalists are keen on trying to do it. When one becomes a Member of the European Assembly there is tremendous pressure upon one to eschew national associations. Indeed, I believe that when he became President of the Commission Mr. Roy Jenkins had to take an oath—a sort of negative oath—not to do anything in particular but simply to forswear any national feelings that he might have. I am not sure of the denomination of the cathedral, chapel or whatever it was he said it in—

    I am sure that the hon. Gentleman does not wish to mislead the House. The central element of that oath is that the Commissioners will not unduly favour their own member countries.

    Yes, but fundamentally it is a negative oath to the effect that they will not feel British any more, but will feel European. That is what it is all about.

    I am sure that Mr. Jenkins meant every word of it when he said it. But the counterpart of that forswearing of national aspirations is that all the European institutions are organised on a party basis. There are many members of the Government who feel that if one is a Socialist Member of Parliament in Europe any pressure from Britain to change European legislation should be funnelled through what is now, in Europe, the wholly institutionalised Socialist Party system, Christian Democrat Party system or Conservative Party system—the Conservatives have one, but they call themselves a group of Conservatives—and that that is the place where things should be decided, not this place.

    Another of the little lessons one learns in one's first day at the European Assembly is that all the groups—not just the Socialist group or the Christian Democrat group, but all of them—are as fundamentally divided on issues in Europe—agricultural policy, energy policy, and the rest—as is the European Parliament itself and, indeed, as this House itself is divided.

    Worse still, although in this House and in our parliamentary parties we keep at least an element of equality, with every Member of Parliament, in a sense, being equal to all others is regards raising matters as an individual, all the institutions of Europe, especially the party group organisations, are so hierarchical and bureaucratic that it slowly dawns on the humble little newcomer that 10 years of graft will have to pass—and sometimes not very honest graft—before he can rise to any sort of position wherein he can exert any influence on anything at all.

    The experience of a mere month or so in that place has convinced me that it is in the House of Commons and its institutions that real and genuine scrutiny of what is going on can take place and ought to take place. It is no good having genuine scrutiny if one cannot say what the conclusion of that scrutiny is. My hon. Friend—I never know what the hierarchy is in his Department—

    Whatever it is, I wish today that it had not been. I am Parliamentary Secretary to the Privy Council Office.

    My hon. Friend is wrong to say that the Committee can give its opinion. The whole point about the present system is that it cannot. The only way to give an opinion in Committees or in the House is to have a vote and make the position clear. The present system in Europe is rigged so that matters can be discussed but opinions cannot be given. There is an enormous difference between views and votes.

    This is very important, because the European tradition is that one does not vote. One talks endlessly into the night, compromising and compromising things out of existence, writing in every conceivable opinion that everyone might have, from the Communists on the one side to the Italian Republicans on the other, calling that a motion and then defining it a bit more and a bit more.

    Our tradition in this House, of not talking endlessly but coming to conclusions, voting and saying "This is what we think", without postponing matters for another month, which is the European tradition, is very good. We should keep it and extend it.

    I am no European, but I do not think that I am quite like my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Mr. Lee). I regard Europe rather like Mount Everest—it is there—or rather like sin—one has to cope with it somehow; it will not go away.

    To that extent I do not intend to join in too happily and willingly—just a toe in the water occasionally.

    I am sure that those who vote for the motion will be people of all sorts—hon.

    Division No. 99]


    [3.18 p.m.


    TELLERS FOR THE AYES: Mr. Thomas Cox and Mr. Ted Graham.


    Atkinson, NormanMarten, NeilStanbrook, Ivor
    Bottomley, PeterMendelson, JohnStewart, Rt. Hon. Donald
    Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P.)Page, Rt. Hon. R. Graham (Crosby)Tuck, Raphael
    Douglas-Hamilton, Lord JamesPrice, C. (Lewisham W)Weatherill, Bernard
    English, MichaelPrice, David (Eastleigh)Wise, Mrs. Audrey
    Finsberg, GeoffreyRees Davies, W. R.Young, Sir G. (Ealing, Acton)
    Grant, Anthony (Harrow C.)Rooker, J. W.
    Jay, Rt Hon DouglasSilverman, Julius


    Kelley, RichardSilvester, FredMr. Sydney Bidwell and
    Kerr, RussellSims, RogerMr. John Lee.
    McCartney, HughSpearing, Nigel

    It appearing on the report of the Division that forty Members were not present, Mr. DEPUTY SPEAKER declared that the Question was not decided, and the business under consideration stood over until the next sitting of the House.

    Commuter Areas

    3.31 p.m.

    I beg to move,

    That this House is increasingly concerned by the hardship caused by the rising costs of travel to work, especially in the context of recent pay policy and the burden of income tax and rates; notes that many of the communities worst affected are suffering also from a serious decline in public road transport and from the failure to provide public services matching the expansion of their population; deplores the Government's actions on the distribution of financial help to local authorities, which will exacerbate these problems; and calls for a
    Members who believe in Europe and hon. Members who wholly object to it, hon. Members like my hon. Friend the Member for Handsworth and hon. Members like myself, who are fairly lukewarm, who did not like it when we went in and do not like it much better now, but who realise that it is there and that we must cope with it and do something with it.

    I very much hope that the motion will receive overwhelming support, that the Government's amendment will be voted down, and that we can for the first time set up a Committee system that can sensibly scrutinise and sensibly declare its opinion on matters, so that European MPs like myself, as well as the Government, can go to Europe knowing exactly what the House of Commons thinks.

    Question put, That the amendment be made:—

    The House divided: Ayes, 0, Noes, 28.

    thoroughgoing review of Government policies towards these areas and the people who live in them.

    First of all, I should like to express my grateful thanks to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Royal Tunbridge Wells (Mr. Mayhew), who was fortunate in the Ballot for Private Members' motions only a few weeks ago. In those circumstances he has collaborated with me and has done a deal, as it were, that we should raise the same subject and that he would leave me to move my motion.

    I wish to make clear my hon. and learned Friend's association with me in my remarks and his own very keen interest in the problems of his area and the commuters who live there. Had there been longer time for this debate, he would have hoped to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I also refer to my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden), who has returned to the Chamber, although I fear that there may not now be time for him to catch your eye. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for taking the time to support me, in marked contrast to the hon. Members for Rochester and Chatham (Mr. Bean) and for Gravesend (Mr. Ovenden).

    Thanks to the amount of time taken up by our European friends, I have much less time than I expected. Therefore, I shall have to curtail the remarks that I had intended to make. My motion was deliberately drawn in very broad terms. Had I had the opportunity at the end of my speech to do so, I should have liked to go much wider than the problems of commuters and rail services.

    I shall make simply the general point that, by and large, the problems faced by commuters in commuter areas are closely associated with a whole range of other problems, most of them arising from the expansion of population. The expansion in population which, on the whole, creates the growth of commuting has not been matched by any comparable growth in public services.

    In my part of Mid-Essex, for example, and in many other comparable areas the growth in hospital provision, road facilities, sports facilities and public facilities of all kinds has not in any way been commensurate with the increase in population. That is an important part of the problems of commuter areas.

    Had I had the time, I should have wanted to say some very critical words about the disgraceful way in which these areas have been treated under the rate support arrangements, which will exacerbate these problems. I should also have wanted to say something about the way in which the transport supplementary grant has been treated, which is equally disgraceful and for the same reasons.

    Authorities which took the trouble to keep within the Government's guidelines are now finding themselves penalised in the amount of money being handed out by the Department. In Essex, the transport supplementary grant amounted to £2½ million last year but this year it is only £36,000. I am told by the county that this is primarily because it has fallen below the threshold of benefit for the transport supplementary grant. This comes about because the authority did what the Government asked. Now it is finding that the benefit is going to authorities which carried on being profligate.

    I should also have wanted to say something about the really disastrous increase in motor taxation, which again is adding to the problems of these areas. I also wanted to refer to the distribution of resources for health services, which are critical in any area like mine with a rapidly expanding population where there has been no major new hospital building since the war, a situation that is a scandal and a disgrace.

    I also wanted to say something about the problems of rural transport and to tell the Minister to get off his behind, stop conducting experiments and come forward with a policy. We have had years of experiments. We do not want a lot more experiments. We want action to save at least some of our rural and suburban bus services. That is a sketch of what I should have liked to talk about at much greater length.

    I shall turn to the specific problems of commuters, which are an important part of the debate that I had hoped to have today. I want to describe to the Minister what has happened for commuters from the main railway stations in my constituency. The cheapest journey is from Chelmsford to Liverpool Street. Less than three years ago the cost of an annual second-class season ticket was £167. Now it is £390. In less than three years it has increased by £223, or over 130 per cent. The most expensive journey is from Braintree. Less than three years ago the cost of a season ticket was £195. Today it is £453, an increase of £258, again more than 130 per cent. For other stations such at Witham and Hatfield Peveral the cost is between the figures for Chelmsford and for Braintree, but the increase is of a similar scale—130 per cent. or more in less than three years. It is almost unbelievable.

    That is not the end of the story. No doubt some commuters can walk to the station from their homes and to their offices from Liverpool Street, but many may have to drive up to 15 miles, using perhaps a gallon of petrol, to get to and from the station, or pay bus fares, which have been soaring, or travel on the Underground, which is becoming more and more expensive. Those costs may easily add another £2 to £5 a week to what commuters spend.

    There can be few of my commuter constituents who do not have to earn gross before tax at least £750 simply in order to pay their travel-to-work bills. For many of them the sum must be over £1,000 in gross pay to enable them to travel to work. That would be bad enough. When put in the context of pay policy, mortgage interest rates and taxation, the situation becomes catastrophic.

    A few weeks ago I asked the Treasury for comparisons on what had happened to the real income of various representative families between the second week in January 1975 and the second week in January 1977. The answer appears in columns 239 and 240 of the Official Report for 20th January. The assumptions which I set for the Treasury were a man with a wife and two children under the age of 11—a standard family—with a 20-year mortgage of twice his annual income, a fairly standard mortgage. I suggested as an assumption that the man had had two pay increases in the period exactly equivalent to the maximum allowable under the pay policy.

    Of the many figures in the answer, let me take the man earning £4,000 a year in January 1975 and turn the figures into weekly terms. In January 1975 his gross income, including family allowance, was £77·82. After paying tax, national insurance and mortgage repayments, his net income was £37·36. Two years later, in January 1977, his gross income had increased to £88·42. His net income had increased to £42·63 after allowing for extra tax, extra national insurance and extra mortgage increase—an increase in his net income of about £5 a week. In January 1977, however, £42·63 was worth only £30·83 at January 1975 prices. Therefore, in 1975 price terms, his net income after tax and mortgage, instead of rising, had fallen by £6·43 a week, or 17 per cent. That was before he had paid his increased rail fares. The weekly season ticket from Witham had increased by £6.

    The comparison becomes mathematically complex because of the different price bases and the fact that transport is to some extent allowed for in the retail price index. Therefore, I shall not attempt to give a specific figure. What I will say is that that commuter's real income must have fallen by about £10 a week. His standard of living has fallen by that much, which affects what is left over after he has put a roof over his head and paid his travelling expenses. He has that much less left to look after his family. This is at a time when the standard of living of everyone has been falling. This cannot continue. Many of the people affected cannot tolerate it.

    I had intended to quote some letters from my constituents. Instead, I will confine myself to one which brings home the point in graphic terms. This deals not just with the hardship involved but with the consequences for one man who has been writing to me since last December. In December he wrote saying that two years ago he and his family had moved from London into council accommodation. He had a good job in London and at that time the fare was £7 a week. He added that as from 2nd January the same journey would cost him £15. He told me that he was seriously wondering whether he could afford to carry on.

    At the beginning of January he wrote to me saying:

    "First of all, I must inform you that since I wrote to you last I have found myself in such dire financial trouble that in order not to get in any deeper I have reluctantly handed in my notice."

    He goes on to refer to his reasons for doing so. He says:

    "First, to save myself from getting £5 per week in debt".

    A fortnight ago I had a letter from him in which he said:

    "My present situation is that I am still unemployed, despite having had several interviews which have proved unsuccessful. I have applied to go to a training opportunities scheme for another trade but, as with everything else, there are long waiting lists."

    That is the consequence for one man. He has been forced to give up his job. He can no longer afford to work in London. He must be better off staying at home, unemployed, than carrying on with his job in London, after allowing for travelling costs. He is unemployed and in that sense a net loss to the community.

    It cannot make sense to allow that sort of thing to happen. If the Minister wonders why so many people have been offended by the implicit or explicit suggestions of Ministers that commuters are among the better-off section of the community and can afford such travelling expenses, he has to look no further than such a case. I have received many similar letters, as no doubt have other hon. Members.

    I do not believe that Ministers have appreciated the scale of this problem. I do not entirely blame them because many represent closely-knit industrial areas which do not suffer the same problems. But Ministers are supposed to understand these problems. There can be no excuse for the apparent complacency which they have shown. So great is the complacency that, if I recall correctly, in the one major debate on transport policy that we have had this year the Secretary of State barely allowed the word "commuter" to pass his lips.

    Does my hon. Friend remember that on 19th March last there was a debate on commuters, when pressure was put on the Government to provide information and help? Is he aware that this has never again been referred to? Nothing has been done.

    I endorse my hon. Friend's remarks. This issue is becoming a disgrace. Certainly it has been noted by my constituents, who observe what little concern and understanding there appears to be for their problems. These are problems which Ministers ought to appreciate and take more seriously.

    So far, I have concentrated on the personal implications for commuters and their families. I want now to deal with the broader matter of planning policy. This again is something which Ministers have not appreciated. I quote a couple of extracts from the latest "Strategy for the South-East: 1976 Review" published by the Joint South-East Joint Planning Team last October. Page 27 states:
    "the effect of the large increase in rail fares on the location of population and employment is not discussed"—
    that is, in the Government's transport consultative document—
    "nor are the far-reaching consequences for the many relatively low earners who commute to central London from cheaper housing areas with poor local employment opportunities and who would suffer considerable hardship. The ultimate decision on this matter should not be taken in isolation from the widespread housing and employment issues which are raised for the present generation of commuters and still more for the next generation."
    All hon. Members who represent commuter areas will say "Hear, hear" to that several times.

    The review goes on to say:
    "While, historically, convenient rail travel has encouraged the continuing movement of resident population from London, it is unlikely that this outward trend would be significantly reversed by a rise in rail fares. The more probable effect would be to encourage the decline of employment in central London. There is evidence to suggest that any further deterioration in the attractiveness of central London arising from a major escalation of commuter fares would further undermine London's long-term employment prospects."
    If that is right, it makes utter nonsense of everything that the Secretary of State for the Environment has said in recent months about stopping the flow of jobs out of London. It runs flat in the face of that. People will not move back into London. Firms will be forced to move out. Unless the Government deal with the situation, they will build up a bigger and bigger inner city problem.

    I shall refer to the evidence that we now have on the decline in rail traffic. Since time is short, I shall pick out figures which appeared in an article in New Society on 17th March about a station in my constituency. It is evidence of the decline in the number of people taking out season tickets from Romford in the period 1973–76. In that period the number of season tickets fell from 8,037 to 7,001. Over 1,000 commuters have stopped buying season tickets. Figures for many other stations in the South-East reveal the same picture. We do not know what has happened to the season ticket holders. Some of them may be paying for tickets in another way and some may have got local jobs. Others will have begun to use their cars, which is flatly counter to Government policy and to anything that makes sense in national transport terms.

    Having made observations about the problem, about the way it is growing and striking at the Government's strategy and, above all, about the sheer hardship that it is causing, I turn to what we should do about it. I reject the notion that commuters are among the better off. If they are better off when they start, they are not better off by the time they have paid their rail fares. I reject the standard Treasury argument about commuters having chosen to live in a cheaper area and, therefore, they must pay higher rail fares. That might have been true in the past, but it cannot now be fair after a period in which the costs of living outside London have moved up faster than the costs of living in London. There has been a dramatic shift in the balance. When talking of real people, that academic Treasury argument cannot be allowed to stand.

    There are three courses that should be taken. First, the Government must have a further look at the implications of their consultative document for the phasing out of subsidies. In its commentary on the document, British Rail has suggested that, to meet the obligations that are implicit in the document, suburban commuter fares will have to rise by an average of about 7½per cent. a year in real terms between 1977 and 1981.

    If that is allowed to happen, the situation for my constituents will become absolutely intolerable. I can see that my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham agrees with me. At the very least, there will have to be a commitment to limit any increase in fares. If there is to be a pay policy, it will have to include a specific limitation on increases in rail fares to the limit set in the pay policy. If the pay policy is X per cent., the increase in commuter fares should be limited to X per cent. If there is not a pay policy, perhaps it would be possible to take the average rise in incomes. But I do not think that in practice it will be possible to allow subsidies to be phased out at a rate which will produce that result.

    In the next phase of the incomes policy, specific consideration should be given to allowing employers to introduce schemes, apart from any pay increase, to assist their employees with the cost of travelling to work. In the long term it may be the most sensible way of tackling the problem. In many ways it is a cost of employment. Probably it should fall on employers, and it would be deductible at the corporation tax rate, which would channel tax relief to commuters. I think that that is something to be considered. I hope, too, that the trade unions, which must have many members affected by these problems, will make sure that it is considered in the next phase of the incomes policy.

    The third possibility is some tax relief for the costs of travel to work. Whatever else is done, there is a strong case for tax relief. I have indicated already that I reject some of the arguments against it. We know that it is done in Europe, so it cannot be impossible. It is said to be administratively difficult. But, if the Revenue can find administrative ways of taxing benefits in kind, I do not see why it should not devote some of its administrative ingenuity to allowing expenses of employment as well as its present efforts of taxing the benefits of employment.

    I accept that any tax relief would have to be for all travel to work and not just for rail commuters. It follows from that that, to avoid a mass of tiny claims, a threshold of, say, £100 or £200 of expenditure a year would have to be set with tax relief applying to amounts in excess of that. We might need a simplified way of deciding how the tax relief should be assessed. It might be done by way of a chunk of tax relief relating to a band of expenses for travel to work.

    I do not think that the administrative objections could not be overcome if there were the will to overcome them, nor do I believe that a scheme along the lines I have suggested, with a threshold, would cost the huge sums of money that are sometimes suggested.

    On 16th July of last year, a Treasury Minister said in answer to a Written Question asking him the cost of allowing all travel to work expenses:
    "I regret that the information needed to make a precise estimate is not available, but the cost could be expected to exceed £200 million.'—[Official Report, 16th July 1976; Vol. 915, c. 325.]
    If we assumed that £200 million was about right for that, on the basis that I have suggested the figure would be significantly less. That is not a large sum in relation to current tax revenue, and it would be an excellent way of channelling tax reduction to some of those who have been hit hardest by what has happened in recent years.

    I apologise for having taken up a good deal of the remaining time, but I do not apologise for having spoken strongly and for having returned to a subject which has been raised in the House before. It is important, and it has still not been fully taken on board by the Government. If I can do anything on behalf of my constituents and those of my hon. Friends the Members for Gillingham, for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) and for Chislehurst (Mr. Sims) to air this problem, it will have been a few minutes well spent. At the very least I want what we have not yet had, which is a sense of feeling that the Government recognise the problems and have some idea of what to do about them.

    3.55 p.m.

    I congratulate the hon. Member for Braintree (Mr. Newton) on his speech, which, as usual, was succinct and clear. He was in danger at one point of talking out his own motion, but he marginally avoided that. However, the cost is that I have only a short time in which to reply.

    The hon. Gentleman was long on problems but short on answers. The answers that he managed to give would be very expensive when considered in terms of the public expenditure constraints to which the Opposition say they attach so much importance. However, that is a different matter. The hon. Gentleman wanted from me really an assurance that the Government care about commuters.

    Perhaps I might quote the remarks that I made in a debate on rail commuters on 20th December last year. In reply to the hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Nelson), I said:
    "I can well understand the use by the hon. Member for Chichester of such words as 'desperation' 'victimised' and 'bewildered' about the attitude of commuters faced with these enormous increases. The figures are startling. Since 1974, fares have increased by about 90 per cent. on a cumulative basis, and if one adds the 12½per cent. expected in January, there is a considerable cumulative total for anyone to have to face in about two and half years. That is a much faster growth than the general rate of inflation."—[Official Report, 20th December 1976; Vol. 923, c. 349–50.]
    Whatever the hon. Gentleman may have read about what the Secretary of State has said, he can see from that quotation that we both take on board, and have done since we have been at the Department of Transport, the real problems which face commuters. We are well aware of the strong feelings which are engendered.

    I accept also that many people of poor means are commuters. They are not all better-off people coming from Brighton or somewhere. They include people travelling over long distances, on very different means. Of course they are hard hit by the sort of increases in fares that we have seen over the last two or three years.

    But why were those increases so startling? I noticed that the letter that the hon. Gentleman quoted related to precisely this period. He must admit that one reason was the price restraint policies of the previous Conservative Government. That simply shows once again that, if one tries to hold prices down in an artificial and unrealistic way against the trend of costs, one is bound to be in trouble later on, because they must be made up by excessive price increases concertina'd together in such a way that people cannot make rational decisions about their jobs and homes.

    It is much more helpful to people if we face the facts about costs of rail commuting and therefore, if we have to make increases, grade them over suitable periods, not lumping them all together by ignoring the problem for two years so that we have to solve it all at one go. That is the problem which the previous Government left us.

    Will not the Minister concede that wage inflation was the major cause?

    Of course there is an element of wage inflation, but is the rail-man to have a poorer standard of living than other people? Of course not. He must have the same opportunity as everyone else to increase his standard of living. One cannot expect him to subsidise the commuter.

    But if one faces the problem of increasing costs, which is partly caused by the general problem of inflation, one must try to help the commuter by staging increases sensibly and reasonably over as long a period as possible, not trying to hold fares down artificially for a year or two, knowing that at the end of that time the dam will burst and all the decisions that the commuter makes—the hon. Member was very eloquent about the sort of important decisions that a person has to make on the basis of what it will cost him to get to London to work—are put out by enforcing fare rises which should have been staggered over a longer period. That is something to which we should pay attention.

    The hon. Member for Braintree made some suggestions about tax help for the commuter and more subsidies. Despite the increases in fares over the last two years, there is still a subsidy of £80 million a year to the London and South-East commuter lines. That is considerable, and it comes directly from the taxpayer's pocket. To increase that substantially would again raise questions of public expenditure, which the Opposition are constantly pushing down our throats.

    I am surprised at the hon. Gentleman for putting that point so strongly. He must know the irony of the situation, that it is the Tory Party which consistently makes the point about public expenditure yet it is that party which wants more money for subsidies and more tax relief for commuters. Both factors enter the argument.

    There will always be a lot of noise on this issue if the decline of London continues at the present rate.

    It being Four o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

    Orders Of The Day

    Shops (Amendment) Bill

    Read a Second time.

    Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 ( Committal of Bills).

    Clean Air (Places Of Entertainment) Bill

    Order for Second Reading read.

    Second Reading deferred till Friday 22nd April.

    Dunfermline College Of Physical Education For Women (Change Of Name) Bill

    Order for Second Reading read.

    Second Reading deferred till Friday 22nd April.

    Statutory Instruments, &C

    In order to save the time of the House, I propose to put together the Questions on the three motions to approve Statutory Instruments.

    Motion made, and Question put forth with pursuant to Standing Order No. 73A ( Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.).

    Community Land

    That the Community Land (Excepted Development) Amendment (Wales) Regulations 1977, a draft of which was laid before this House on 10th March, be approved.

    That the Acquisition from The Crown (Grants) Amendment No. 2 (Wales) Order 1977, a draft of which was laid before this House on 10th March, be approved.

    That the Compulsory Acquisition by Public Authorities (Compensation) Amendment No. 2 (Wales) Order 1977, a draft of which was laid before this House on 10th March, be approved.—[ Mr. Graham.]

    Question agreed to.

    Wrongful Imprisonment (Compensation)

    Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[ Mr. Graham.]

    4.1 p.m.

    In this short debate I wish to raise the cases of two of my constituents who are seeking compensation from the Home Office for terms of wrongful imprisonment.

    I wish to make it abundantly clear at the outset that the cases are not connected or related in any way, other than through the fact that the two gentlemen concerned are my constituents.

    The first case that I wish to raise—I know that my hon. Friend will be aware of both cases and of my interest in the matter—is that of Police Constable William Glastonbury, of Beeches Road, in my constituency, a member of the Birmingham Police Force—now the West Midlands Police Force—since 1954.

    In the matter of a few sentences it is worth describing the situation that occurred, over the period of four years, to PC Glastonbury before I come to the points of his claim.

    In January 1973 PC Glastonbury was the subject of certain allegations regarding offences relating to traffic tickets. In October 1973 the then Attorney-General granted his fiat for conspiracy charges to be brought. In September 1974—that is, almost two years after the original allegations—the police constable was suspended from duty. He was brought to trial with a colleague in July 1975. The trial lasted for about three weeks. He was found guilty of conspiracy and corruption and was sentenced to serve a term of 15 months in prison.

    Police Constable Glastonbury served two-thirds of that sentence. He was released in May 1976, having gained remission of one-third of his sentence, which is normal for a person of good behaviour. On 16th December 1976, seven or eight months after he had been released from serving his term of imprisonment, his appeal was heard at the Court of Appeal and his conviction quashed. In January 1977 he was reinstated in the West Midlands Police.

    So in sum total we are talking of a period from January 1973 to January 1977—four years of what can be described as sheer hell for this man and his family. His appeal was not heard until long after PC Glastonbury had been released from prison. I was in the Court of Appeal on the morning that the appeal was heard and I know that my constituent was put on the spot when Lord Justice Lawton said to him "Have you any complaint about the length of time it has taken for your appeal to be heard?" Of course PC Glastonbury said that he had not, because he was depending on what the court would say later that day in reaching its verdict. I had a complaint, because I had been in touch with my noble Friend the Lord Chancellor several months before.

    It is little wonder that the prisons are overcrowded when cases such as this occur—of a man sentenced to a relatively short term of imprisonment having served his sentence completely and having been released months before his appeal was heard. This does not show the British legal system in a very good light and it is a disgrace to the concept of British justice, particularly as the prison population early this year reached the intolerable level of over 42,000.

    During his three-week trial in July 1975, 26 prosecution witnesses were called against PC Glastonbury, notwithstanding the fact, as I have said, that he was subsequently found not guilty of the offence with which he was charged. Then, in September 1975, after he had started to serve his sentence, one judge sitting alone refused him leave to appeal, and that judge did not even have all the relevant papers before him to reach a decision.

    Thus, all the way through this sorry tale, of the administration of British justice we find mistakes. The bureaucrats might say that there was no mistake, that this sort of thing is quite normal, but I cannot believe that my constituents or the British public as a whole would accept that. They would say that there were mistakes.

    When the appeal was allowed and the conviction quashed on 16th December, Lord Justice Lawton said, in the Court of Appeal, that the charges were not sufficient for the indictment to have been brought in the first place. I know that my constituent is taking quite separate action, as he is entitled to do, under the Police Act, and that has nothing to do with the matter that I am raising today, namely, the fact that he served a term of imprisonment that he should not have served, since he was subsequently found not guilty, and that in the prosecution the police themselves were guilty of breaking rules laid down by the Home Office, making use of PC Glastonbury's personal file in the police department.

    The police have been specifically instructed by the Home Office not to use the personal files of police officers or, for example, to use photographs to show to people who make complaints or allegations against members of a police force. That specific instruction has been issued by the Home Office after representations from the Police Federation. Yet it was broken in this case, and there was misconduct or negligence on the part of the police themselves.

    I fully realise that the Home Office will not hand out taxpayers' money to people in circumstances of this kind, even when they have been found not guilty, unless it can be satisfied that something went wrong along the way. It is, of course, a tragedy that anyone should serve a period in prison for an offence that he did not commit and of which he is subsequently found not guilty, but under the law there is no way by which he can obtain any compensation. That is why it falls to the Home Office to correct and make good any such gross injustice with a generous ex gratia payment.

    In PC Glastonbury's case, that ex gratia payment must at the very least take into account the fact that he and his family had to cash in a police insurance policy, thereby losing £5,000 in bonuses. They had to do that because between May 1976, when PC Glastonbury was released from prison, and December that year, when his appeal was heard and allowed, the police authority tried to evict him and his family from their police home. Although the appeal had not been heard, I understand that the police authority went ahead in court on two occasions. As a result, this man and his wife had to cash in their policies, because they had to think about finding a home somewhere else, and they lost £5,000 in bonuses.

    Again, I am not sure whether all PC Glastonbury's wages have been made up since he was suspended and then reinstated, but even if his wages have been made up I am willing to bet that they have been made up at the basic rate, and he estimates that he has lost over £2,000 in overtime during his period of suspension and imprisonment and subsequent unemployment before his appeal.

    The ex gratia payment should take account also of the fact that my constituent was a policeman. I accept entirely that society expects very high standards from the police. Perhaps those standards are too high in some respects, but a police officer knows all about it when he joins the force. If a "bad 'un" is found, retribution should be tough, but the other side of the coin is that if society makes a mistake in a case involving a policeman the compensation should be that much greater because he is a policeman. It can be no sinecure for a policeman to serve a term of imprisonment. He is an ex-policeman, the prisoners and the prison officers will know it, and if his appeal is pending that will be merely by the way.

    The very fact that this case has come to an end in this way after four years is bad for British justice. In my view, the Home Office should make very large recompense. It will be no answer for my hon. Friend the Minister to say that justice was done in the Court of Appeal. It seems to me that our legal system is not, as it were, attuned to our modern society and means of communication. Years ago, if such a case occurred, the circumstances might not be widely known. Today, however, everyone knows what is happening, and it is no good saying that a mistake was made, we have to accept it, and justice was done in the end. The Home Office must not give that sort of answer.

    I hope that my hon. Friend will make a positive offer today, or at least give a commitment that there will be an ex gratia payment. I do not expect her to specify an amount. It would be stretching credibility for any Member of Parliament to expect specific answers from any Minister or Department in an Adjournment debate. But let her give an assurance that my constituent can take good note of. Let her announce in this Chamber that there will be a payment and proper settlement from the Home Office.

    Time is short, and I wish to give my hon. Friend plenty of time to reply so that it cannot be said that she was not able to say all she wished to say. I turn at once, therefore, to the case of another constituent, about which also the Home Office will know from my correspondence, and probably his.

    This constituent is Mr. Leslie Long, of Rockford Road, Perry Bar, whose case has nothing to do with that of PC Glastonbury. In March 1974 Mr. Long was sentenced to four years' imprisonment for conspiracy to rob and burglary. He served two years of his sentence and then, in April 1976—once again we note the great speed of justice—the Appeal Court quashed his conviction, and he has been out of prison since then.

    Mr. Long's solicitors made a claim for compensation, which was followed by a claim that I made on Mr. Long's behalf. In answer to the solicitors the Home Office said:
    "Such payments"
    —that is, compensation—
    "are not made unless there has been misconduct or negligence on the part of the police or some other public authority"
    I understand that the Home Office has its own rules, but I think that there was negligence in this case, and the Home Office should reconsider its refusal of Mr. Long's claim.

    In February 1975, after Mr. Long had been in prison for nearly a year, the solicitors who acted for the prosecution—Messrs. Addison, Cooper, Jesson and Co.—infrmed Mr. Long's solicitors:
    "It has come to the notice of the Chief Constable of Staffordshire"
    —where the offence and trial took place—
    "that incorrect evidence was given by a Sergeant Roberts to the jury at the trial."
    The fact is that, by and large, it was only the evidence of that sergeant that placed my constituent in a certain place at a certain time and led to his conviction. Therefore, that letter shows that there was negligence by the police, when it was known that Sergeant Roberts gave incorrect evidence.

    It was known at the time that another sergeant—Sergeant Newbon—had driven the police van or had been in charge of it on the day, and that he expected to be called but was not. His superior officers were informed that he had the necessary evidence, but he was not called. Therefore, I think that the police made a mistake.

    In about September 1975 Mr. Long applied for parole. When the Parole Board assessed his claim a medical report belonging to another prisoner with the same name was placed before it. There was negligence by a public authority, the Prison Service. It is no good to my constituent to say that the board considered the matter again with the correct report.

    There are two cases in which there was negligence or misconduct by the police or public authorities. This was known to the Home Office when my constituent made his original claim shortly after leaving prison. This man has made complaints against the police that are not matters for this debate. He claims that he has been victimised since his release from prison and has lost at least one job, in the Ansell Brewery in the Midlands, because of police inquiries just before Christmas, several months after his leaving prison and after the Appeal Court had said that lie was not guilty of the original offence.

    Therefore, my constituent should have his claim for compensation reconsidered. I hope that my hon. Friend will commit the Home Office to at least reviewing Mr. Long's case. I hope that, above all, she will give positive answers and an assurance to PC Glastonbury and his family, other police officers and the Police Federation, so that police officers know that if they are ever on the receiving end of injustice they can look to the Home Office to correct it.

    There is no other body to which the police can go. The chances of taking county court action are very slim. Someone has to find the money and, if things go wrong, the money to pay for the other side. The Police Federation is not full of funds. It is not a tough, thriving, trade union, as it is itself finding out.

    My constituents' last long stop and defence—their last plea for some tolerance and justice in this country—lies at the door of the Home Office. I know that the Minister will do herself credit this afternoon by saying "Yes, we shall meet the claims of both of the constituents of my hon. Friend" and I invite her to now give that assurance to the House.

    4.16 p.m.

    My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) has spoken persuasively on behalf of his constituents. He had previously expressed his concern in correspondence, and by raising these cases in the House today he has provided a useful opportunity to discuss the difficult issues to which they and similar cases give rise.

    Before coming to the details of the individual cases, it may be helpful if I say something about the legal position and describe the policy with regard to the payment of compensation to persons acquitted by the courts. The law makes no provision for such payments to persons acquitted in the ordinary process of law, whether at trial or on appeal. If someone thinks that he has grounds for compensation, his legal remedy is to pursue the matter in the civil courts by way of a claim for damages. In exceptional circumstances, however, the Home Secretary may authorise an ex gratia payment from public funds, but this would not normally be done unless there had been some misconduct or negligence on the part of the police or some other public authority.

    Therefore, I hope my hon. Friend will agree that it would be unrealistic to contemplate the compensation, as a matter of course, of every acquitted defendant. I say "every acquitted defendant" because the same principle would logically apply to defendants acquitted at trial and to successful appellants. Reasons for acquittal are many and various. Sometimes the decision may depend on the interpretation of a difficult point of law; sometimes it may be a mere legal technicality. More frequently it is because the prosecution has failed to satisfy the jury beyond reasonable doubt.

    Our legal system provides that in criminal cases the onus of proof rests upon the prosecution, and as long as an accused person is not required to prove his innocence it is difficult to justify automatic compensation on acquittal. Nor does it seem possible to discriminate between acquitted defendants except on the ground that where there has been public default it is right that the State should make some recompense.

    What other criteria for selecting deserving cases could be adopted? Any other procedure for allowing compensation in selected cases only would involve invidious discriminations that might reflect upon those not compensated. The implication would be that the person whose claim was rejected was somehow regarded as being less innocent than the successful claimant. It is for this reason that the Home Secretary confines the making of ex gratia payments to cases in which the circumstances are compelling and where there has been some default by public authority.

    The first of the cases mentioned by my hon. Friend, that of Police Constable Glastonbury, is, as he knows, still being considered. Mr. Glastonbury's solicitors submitted a claim on his behalf towards the end of December. They were told that the matter was receiving attention. On 20th February my hon. Friend wrote in support of the claim to my hon. Friend the Minister of State, who replied along similar lines on 15th March. I must point out that the Home Office has no information about the details of individual criminal cases, and it is necessary when such a claim is made first to establish the facts. This may involve making inquiries of the police and the courts, which necessarily takes some time.

    In this case there is the additional complication that Mr. Glastonbury has, as my hon. Friend explained, complained to his chief constable about the way in which the investigation which led to his conviction was conducted. An officer of another police force has been appointed, in accordance with Section 49 of the Police Act 1964, to inquire into these matters, so I cannot yet say when we shall know the outcome. Since this may have a bearing on Mr. Glastonbury's claim, it would not be in his interests to reach a decision until we have it. When we have it, Mr. Glastonbury's case will be carefully considered in the light of the policy I have outlined. Therefore, I cannot forecast this afternoon what the outcome might be but I can promise my hon. Friend that the points he has made so forcibly on behalf of Mr. Glastonbury will be borne very much in mind when we make the decision.

    My hon. Friend has pointed out that Mr. Glastonbury's appeal was not heard until seven months after his release from prison—that is, some 17 months after his conviction. Although, as I have indicated, I am not in a position today to discuss the merits of the application for compensation, I should perhaps draw attention to the remarks of the Court of Appeal on the question of delay. The court said in its judgment that it was concerned to discover how it came about that, although the convictions had been as long ago as 10th July 1975, the appeals were not heard until 16th December 1976. It commented:
    "We are satisfied that the fault does not lie with the Court. The appellants had their own reasons for delaying the appeals. Mr. Pratt, on behalf of Glastonbury, has informed us that his client makes no complaint about the delay in hearing the appeals".
    I turn now to the case of Mr. Long. My hon. Friend has covered a good deal of ground but I should like to refer briefly to a few of the more important facts and some of the background. On 15th March 1974, at Stafford Crown Court, Mr. Long was convicted of conspiracy to rob, in respect of which he was sentenced to one day's imprisonment, and of burglary, in respect of which he was sentenced to four years' imprisonment. Three other people were involved. One was sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment, another to five years and the third, who had pleaded not guilty and gave evidence against his codefendants, received a suspended sentence of two years' imprisonment.

    Mr. Long and the two others who also received immediate prison sentences applied to the Court of Appeal for leave to appeal against their convictions and sentences. On 7th October 1974 their applications were refused by a judge empowered to consider such applications. They were renewed to the full Court of Appeal but for various reasons were not finally considered until 8th April 1976.

    My hon. Friend has commented about the delay—a matter on which, I understand, he has also corresponded with the Lord Chancellor. While we are, of course, very conscious of the hardship caused to acquitted defendants in such circumstances, delay in the hearing of an appeal cannot, of itself, be said to constitute grounds for compensation. As the case of Mr. Glastonbury illustrates, there may be reasons for delay quite beyond the control of the Court of Appeal.

    I do not want to take up my hon. Friend's time. However, I accept the fact, as my right hon. and noble Friend the Lord Chancellor has said, that the administration of justice and the courts were not responsible for the delay in either of these cases. The delay lay with a body for which there is no one answerable in the House except the Solicitor-General and the Attorney General—namely, the shabby British legal profession.

    I am sure that the parties concerned will have noted my hon. Friend's remarks.

    The case concerned an attempt in 1973 by four men to rob a firm in Birmingham of some £60,000 in staff wages. 'The offences came to light after the man who later gave evidence against his codefendants had been arrested on other charges. He made a full admission which implicated the others. There was circumstantial and forensic evidence against two of them, but the only corroboration of the evidence in respect of Mr. Long was a note by a Detective Sergeant Key of conversations which were said to have taken place between the co-accused on 10th October 1973, when all four occupied cells in a police van in which the officer was deliberately concealed in a separate cell. Police constable Roberts, an escorting officer, gave evidence confirming these arrangements and the sequence in which the prisoners had entered the van.

    It subsequently emerged that PC Roberts was not the escorting officer on that date. He had been a week later, when the men were returned to the court having been remanded, but on 10th October the escorting officer was a Sergeant Newbon. At the appeal hearing Mr. Newbon, who was by then no longer in the police, gave evidence which in certain respects was not in accord with Detective Sergeant Key's evidence. The Court of Appeal found that Mr. Newbon's evidence shed some doubt upon the accuracy of Mr. Key's recollection and, having regard to the fact that Mr. Long's alleged answers in the conversations described by Mr. Key were the only corroboration of the other evidence against Mr. Long, the court reached the conclusion that the verdicts were unsafe and unsatisfactory.

    Solicitors acting for Mr. Long applied to the Home Office on 5th May 1976 for compensation. After careful consideration of all the circumstances, a letter was sent to them on 17th August informing them that the case was not one in which the Home Secretary would feel justified in authorising an exceptional payment from public funds.

    My hon. Friend has argued today that much of the blame for the confusion in relation to the statements made by PC Roberts and Mr. Newbon rested with the prosecution. I do not think that it is as simple as that, but it is clearly impossible, in the time allowed for this debate, for me to review all the relevant circumstances. Nevertheless, I recognise the force of some of the arguments that my hon. Friend has deployed, and I would not be doing them justice if I were to dismiss them out of hand.

    I shall therefore arrange for the matter to be looked at afresh in the light of what my hon. Friend has said. That is not to say that I necessarily accept that there was any misconduct or negligence in the sense in which I have spoken, nor do I want to encourage my hon. Friend to think that the outcome will be any different. I do assure him, however, that we shall consider again with great care the plea he has made on Mr. Long's behalf.

    Question put and agreed to.

    Adjourned accordingly at twenty-eight minutes past Four o'clock.