Skip to main content

Direct Elections

Volume 931: debated on Wednesday 4 May 1977

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement about the progress of the nine members of the EEC towards direct elections.

I refer the hon. Member to the account given by my hon. Friend the Minister of State during the debate on direct elections on 25th April.

In spite of the fact that the Foreign Secretary has just told us that there is very little concern in the rest of Europe about the progress of this country towards direct elections, does not the Minister accept that it seems, from what we have learned today and at other times, that there is likely to be a slight controversy about the nature of any Bill that may come forward? Therefore, if the Government are to use their best endeavours to get it through, would it not be wise to bring it forward at an early date?

The question of bringing forward the Bill is not a matter for myself or for my right hon. Friend. But, as I have said repeatedly, the Government are committed, and have made quite clear their commitment, to use their best endeavours to hold the first elections in 1978. I do not believe that there is any reason why the United Kingdom should hold things up.

Can my hon. Friend confirm that whatever this House may decide about Britain's participation in direct elections there exists an increasing acceptance among our European partners that they will not take place in 1978? Does he agree that that is acceptable and necessary if the House is to subject to proper scrutiny the fundamental issues involved in direct elections?

I note carefully what my hon. Friend says. I, too, have been engaged in discussions with people in Strasbourg. But the situations in other countries are not a matter on which I can comment. If other countries have difficulties, I am not aware of them. I can see no insuperable reasons for our not meeting the target date of 1978 to which we have committed ourselves.

Did the hon. Gentleman agree with the Foreign Secretary's statement just now that we were not behind any of the other member States in their preparations? Will the hon. Gentleman now spell out clearly and categorically which of the other member States, with the exception of Belgium, are behind us in their preparations?

It is not for me to comment on each member State; it is for each of the member Governments to decide how to implement their expressed intention of enabling direct elections to take place in May or June of next year. The procedures are different in each country, but overall we are not lagging behind.

But in view of the answer given, will the Minister please now give an answer that the Home Secretary failed to give the other day, and tell us the latest date at which the preferred system of electoral arrangements by this House can be implemented? What is the latest date by which the Bill must be presented in order to carry through the preferred system of elections?

As the House has not yet decided on the preferred system, I am not in a position to give an answer.