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European Assembly Elections Bill

Volume 940: debated on Thursday 1 December 1977

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Again considered in Committee.

Question again proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

On a point of order, Mr. Murton. With great respect, I was in mid-sentence when you were required to suspend proceedings by the rules of the House. Is it not the custom that if a Member has the Floor when there is an interruption, he is called to complete his observations?

Not in Committee. If a Minister rises, the Chair is bound to call him.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Murton. It may not be absolutely necessary under the rules than an hon. Member who is speaking in these circumstances should continue, but surely, as a matter of normal courtesy and the normal practice of the House of Commons, it must be right that my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo) should be given the chance to continue. I hope that in any case my hon. Friend the Minister of State will extend that courtesy to him.

10.15 p.m.

Perhaps I can explain to the right hon. Gentleman. I may not have made it clear. I am not bound to call a Minister, but it is customary. The hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo) could resume thereafter if he felt inclined to do so.

On a point of order, Mr. Murton. It is surely not the practice of the House of Commons for a Minister to be called simply because he rises. That is surely even more the case if an hon. Member is already on his feet. What seems to have happened in this instance is that, through the purely fortuitous circumstance of my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo) having been interrupted by the need to suspend the 10 o'clock rule, a Minister has taken the opportunity of rising to his feet. However, what it means is that he has risen in the middle of a speech being made by my hon. Friend.

We are in fact in Committee, and that has a certain bearing on the matter.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Murton. I have served on hundreds and hundreds of Committees in my time and I cannot recall a single occasion in all my parliamentary experience when a Member who has been interrupted in the middle of a speech as a result of some procedural change has not been called to finish his speech, irrespective of who rises to speak. I am bound to say. Mr. Murton, that I understand your difficulty. I think that a better advised Minister would have had the good sense and the courtesy not to rise in the middle of a speech of one of his hon. Friends. I very much doubt whether the Minister will commit the same silly mistake ever again.

Order. I think that the hon. Gentleman, who is a very experienced parliamentarian, knows that that is not a matter for the Chair.

On a point of order, Mr. Murton. I would simply like to say that I have listened with such engrossed fascination to what my hon. Friend was saying that I was very anxious to seize an opportunity of beginning to deal with some of his lucid points. However, if my hon. Friend wishes to continue, far be it from me to interfere with his flow of reason and thought, and I shall willingly give way to him.

Perhaps we could take a point of order from the Opposition side of the Committee.

I wonder whether you would be good enough, Mr. Murton, to clarify your ruling. Even if the Minister gives way and allows the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo) to proceed, I think that some of us are a little bit concerned about the ruling that you have given about the normal custom in Committee. Those of us who sit on the Back Benches find it hard enough to compete with the Front Benches in the normal procedures of the House of Commons. I think that we would be a little alarmed if it was recognised to be the custom for Ministers to have priority and that when they chose to rise they would be recognised by the Chair.

Whilst I cannot claim to have the experience of the hon. Member who is at the moment in mid-sentence, in the seven years that I have been a Member of Parliament I have never known an occasion in Committee when a Minister who has chosen to rise has automatically had, when a Member was in mid-speech, the right to catch the Chairman's eye by custom or by the rules of the House of Commons. I would be grateful, Mr. Murton, if you could clarify the position.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Murton. We must have clarification on this point because it seems to me, although I have not the experience of my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo), that Back-Bench Members in Committee will in future be at the mercy of the Front Bench and that, at any time when a Member is making a telling point that a Minister does not like, the Minister can get to the Despatch Box, catch the Chairman's eye, and take precedence over the Back-Bench Member who is on his feet. That is an intolerable intrusion into the rights of Back-Benchers, and I hope that you will reconsider your ruling.

On the resumption of debate in Committee, the hon. Member who was speaking on the previous occasion does not automatically have the Floor. I think that that is well understood.

Further to the point of order, Mr. Murton. I submit to you that it is not on all fours with the situation that a Member who was speaking at the conclusion of the previous sitting has the Floor when the House resumes in Committee but that it is extremely rare and unusual for the Member who was speaking not to remain in possession of the Floor when the House is resumed after being interrupted merely in order to take the suspension motion. I am sure that it would be helpful to the Committee if you could draw the attention of hon. Members to the last occasion when this practice was put into effect.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Murton. As a relatively new Back Bencher, it seems to me that on many occasions in Standing Committee we have to suspend the sitting in order to come down to the House to vote. That seems to be an open invitation to the Minister in charge of a Bill imediately to rise to his feet when we return upstairs. As an ordinary, relatively inexperienced Back Bencher, I think that we should have clarification of this matter, because obviously when we are speaking in Committee we should have to bear in mind the whole time that we might be called away to vote in the Chamber and we would not know when we returned whether we would be able to continue to make the points we wanted to make.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Murton. It is such a manifestly ridiculous practice that you are suggesting exists in the House of Commons that it probably is the practice, and I accept it. I wonder whether you would enlighten us as to the page of "Erskine May" on which this appears, and could you read us the appropriate sentence?

It may be necessary for research to be conducted, but what I said before is the fact. I suggest that there is a slight difference between returning to the Chamber to vote for a particular purpose, as the hon. Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Thomas) suggested, and the situation resulting from resuming the House to take the business motion. In normal circumstances I would say that if a Minister rises he catches the eye of the Chair, but there is nothing to prevent a Member who has spoken once from rising and speaking again should he catch the eye of the Chair.

Further to the point of order, Mr. Murton. You will recognise that very often in Committee upstairs a Member is on his feet at the end of a sitting. I have served in the House of Commons for only seven and a half years, but in that time it has always been my experience that at the next sitting that Member is automatically called to continue his remarks.

The same practice may not apply on the Floor of the House. Obviously, one understands some reasoning behind this practice, but, in contrast with sittings of the House, as such, a Member, as you say, can rise again, and my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo) can rise again to pick up the second half of his speech if the Minister intervenes now.

The question is, what is the practice of the House? The practice of the House should be enshrined in a Standing Order, where it ought to be, of course, but never is. There is no Standing Order, I suggest, which you can invoke in support of the ruling you have given. There never is. Is there a sentence in "Erskine May"? I am prepared to recite "The Green Eye of the Little Yellow God" or whatever is necessary in order to let this appropriate sentence be found, but either we go according to the established practices of the House as enshrined in that silly book or we do not. If there is something established about it, we should know and it should be possible to quote it immediately before one has to look up the index.

Further to the point of order, Mr. Murton. Following on from what everybody else has said, as a relatively inexperienced Member—a member of the awkward squad—may I ask whether as the custom is of extreme long standing and reference to it is difficult to find, rather than hear my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) recite "The Green Eye of the Little Yellow God", it would not be sensible to allow you, Mr. Murton, and the Clerks to consult the books? The only way in which that can be done satisfactorily is to suspend the proceedings.

Further to the point of order, Mr. Murton. I was sorry to be deprived of the opportunity of hearing my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo) continue his speech. Under the heading "Precedence on resuming an adjourned debate", "Erskine May" states on page 416:

"When a debate has been adjourned, while a Member was speaking, upon the interruption of business prescribed by the standing orders, he is entitled, on the next occasion, to resume the adjourned debate, and continue his speech".
I should be grateful, Mr. Murton, if you would reconsider your ruling in the light of that statement.

The hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Madden) is perfectly correct about page 416 of "Erskine May", but it must be read in conjunction with page 419, where it is stated:

"Practice in Committee. In a committee of the whole House the restriction upon speaking more than once is altogether removed".
I do not know where that gets us. I should have thought that honours were even. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Even if they are slightly uneven, the Minister has said that he is prepared to give way to the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikado). The Chair is in the hands of the Committee as to which Member should speak next.

Further to the point of order, Mr. Murton. Would not the most constructive solution be for the Minister to move to report Progress to give you time to read right through "Erskine May"?

Further to the point of order, Mr. Murton. I am sure that the Committee appreciates the generosity of the Minister in being willing to resume his seat. However, unless the Minister had a right at that point to be called, it is not unsatisfactory that the matter should be left as it is, otherwise the custom as quoted by the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Madden) may be held to have been superseded by your ruling today, which would create a new precedent? I should hope that it would not be left that the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo) had the floor by courtesy of the Minister but that he was allowed as of right to resume his speech, subject to any subsequent investigation.

I entirely endorse what the right hon. Gentleman has said. I think that it would be by courtesy of the Minister—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I beg pardon: it is the other way round. That is what I gathered the right hon. Gentleman said.

I am sorry, Mr. Murton, if inadvertently I was not clear in what I said. My point was that, although the willingness of the Minister, had he been legitimately called, to resume his seat was a courtesy and is appreciated, in view of the uncertainty, to put it at its lowest, and possibly because of the precedents with which the hon. Member for Sower-by has acquainted the Committee, it would not be satisfactory that the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow should continue his speech merely by courtesy if the practice of the House is to give him the right to do so.

10.30 p.m.

I misunderstood the, right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell). I entirely agree with the statement that he has just enunciated. I apologise for not having appreciated the exact point the first time.

Since the Minister made an amende honorable, and since I always rejoice of sinners who repent, out of courtesy I shall give way to him. I do so because I am sure that I shall catch your eye later, Mr. Murton, when I shall resume where I left off —although it might take me a while to pick up the thread.

I say again that I sincerely apologise to my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo). He is a long-standing friend, and no discourtesy was intended. I was so impressed with the significance of his remarks that I was over-keen to deal with some of the pertinent points in his contribution.

I shall deal with a few of the observations in the elucidating period since the amendment was dealt with. First, the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) said—I noted his words carefully—that the clause must be very carefully drafted. Without any qualifications, I can give him the absolute assurance that the clause will be very carefully drafted.

The hon. Member also remarked upon the dangers of a drift to federalism. I must be careful not to bore the Committee with repetition, but I must draw the Committee's attention to what my right hon. Friend said earlier this evening. He referred to the communication sent by the Prime Minister to the General Secretary of the Labour Party in which it was stated categorically that the Government have never accepted that the Community should develop into a federation.

That was not only said in a letter from the Prime Minister on that occasion but it has been said with the full authority of the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary and of the Prime Minister in this Chamber. I therefore emphasise and re-emphasise that our concept of the European Economic Community is of a Community in which independent and sovereign States collaborate together for the common good.

I apologise to the Minister, but I was playing a verbal billiards game and trying to get the cannon off the Minister's Bench to my own Front Bench to get those sitting there to say the same thing.

When we were dealing with the business statement for Europe, I assured the hon. Member that I was always willing to bring his views to the attention of his own Front Bench. I am sure that that has happened again this evening.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow warned us about the dangers of piecrusts and the unsatisfactory nature of expecting the Committee to rely simply on ministerial assurances on issues of this magnitude. That is why it is so important that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has been able to assure the Committee this evening that we shall bring in a new clause.

That brings me to the other substantial point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow.

May I take up the question of the Foreign Secretary's assurance? Is the Minister aware that, when I raised a point of order earlier about the scope of the Bill and the extent to which amendments might be in order, I was told by the Chair that any amendment which sought to affect the present powers of the Assembly or to change its future powers would be out of order and beyond the scope of the Bill? In considering the drafting of the new clause, have the Foreign Secretary and his Department taken advice on what would or would not be in order?

This ties in well with the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow and with which I was about to deal. My hon. Friend was emphasising that he would find it difficult to resume his seat permanently—he has generously done so temporarily at this juncture—until he had seen the terms of the new clause. He is an old friend, and I say to him in honesty that I find it difficult to see the logic of that case.

My hon. Friend has emphasised forcefully that the intentions of the Committee should be well understood and adequately reflected in any clause which is introduced to deal with this matter. That is why this debate, which has been continuing for some time now, is so important. It means that the views and anxieties that exist in all parts of the Committee will have the opportunity of being fully reflected in the clause when it is drafted. But my hon. Friend must accept that it is not possible to draft the clause immediately and at the same time take proper account of the views expressed. We must have time in formulating the clause to look into and take account of the points that have been made in the debate.

I am not in the slightest bit concerned about the immediate appearance of the new clause. I suspect that I shall not favour it when I see it. I simply wonder whether the Government will be able, in the light of the ruling I was given, to alter the Bill, of which at the moment I rather approve, by the inclusion of the new clause which has been offered tonight.

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said earlier this evening that he was confident that that could be done.

I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow that we wish to take seriously the kind of points that have been made in this debate. We intend to ensure that no rushed or ill-drafted legislation is put before the House and that whatever is put before the Committee is fully effective in meeting the kind of problems that have been outlined this evening.

No one is talking about rushing. Furthermore, I did not say, as my hon. Friend suggested, that I could not sit down until I had seen the clause. I said that the Committee could not be expected to come to a conclusion on the Question, "That the clause stand part of the Bill". I said also that we should not seek to finalise our view on the matter this evening but that at some appropriate stage this evening or tomorrow morning the Minister should move to report Progress. We have been told that there are no proceedings on the Bill next week. Therefore, we shall come to this Bill again in the week after next. That gives the Foreign Secretary 10 days in which to table the new clause. That is not much of a rush, is it?

In drafting the new clause we are anxious to take fully into account in a considered and appropriate way the kind of observations that have been made tonight. My other point—I think it is most significant in this context—is that there will, of course, be a full opportunity to debate the clause when it is put before the Committee. There is no question, therefore, of the Committee being asked to buy a pig in a poke in this respect, because the Committee will be considering specific wording which is formally before it. I imagine that we shall have a very interesting and a very searching debate on that occasion.

Will the Minister, however, not least for his own sake, address himself to the point made by the hon. Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke)? I think that the reference of the Foreign Secretary to his confidence that the thing could be done was a reference to the possibility of putting the intention into the drafting of a clause and not to the possibility of a clause on that subject being within the scope of the Bill.

I do not know whether the Minister was present this afternoon during the long proceedings on the scope of the Bill, but in the course of that the Chair ruled that an amendment dealing with the powers of the Assembly would not be within the scope of the Bill unless, like the amendment which was disposed of earlier, it was precisely related to the purposes of the Bill. It would therefore appear to be necessary, if the intention is to be carried out, that the clause should not only be so drafted as to give the assurance necessary but to give it in the context of elections to the European Assembly.

By definition, I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will agree that it will not be possible to introduce a clause unless it is in the context of the Bill and, therefore, within the rules of order and procedure of the House. My right hon. Friend has made it plain that he believes that this can be done. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that my right hon. Friend did not give such an undertaking in any light-hearted sense. He is a man who weighs his words very carefully, and he will have considered the full implications of the statement which he made to the Committee this afternoon.

Will the Minister crystallise again what he has just said, for the satisfaction and clarity of the Committee? Will he say that any new clause which comes forward over that period will be absolutely within the scope of the Bill, as has already been explained and agreed in the earlier discussion in the Committee?

I have just explained—I am sure that the hon. Gentleman heard it—that it would not be possible to introduce an amendment which was not within the scope of the Bill, and, therefore, the new clause will by definition be within that scope. We have had a good innings on this and I must proceed.

This brings me to the interesting constitutional observations by my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow on the difference of status between those resident within French overseas territories and those resident within British colonies. I am sure my hon. Friend would recognise that, while he may have underlined what he may regard as an unsatisfactory position in terms of their general constitutional and political rights, this difference is intimately related to the difference which exists between the people of the remaining colonies of the United Kingdom and the United King- dom itself, and those which are operative between residents of French overseas territories and France itself, where on many occasions there are representatives in the French Assembly representing their interests.

I turn next to the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing), whose consistent and honourable position on this whole issue is second to none and whose persistence I am sure we all admire. He made one observation which interested me considerably. He asked what our view would be if a constituent were to consult us about a problem which existed within the European Community and we felt that we had no option but to refer him to a Member of the European Assembly who would have limited powers. I do not want in any way to get out of order at this juncture, but it seems to me that this raises interesting questions about the kind of electoral system we have and which we shall be debating later.

I think that the point which has to be emphasised and re-emphasised is that the rôle of the European Assembly in no way resembles the rôle of our Parliament or, indeed, of any other Assembly in any of the member States of the Community.

Therefore, I believe that there is a good argument for emphasising this point by demonstrating, in the system of election that is employed, that this is a completely different function and that it is not a representative function for handling legislation in the usual way.

10.45 p.m.

My hon. Friend is mistaken about the point that I was trying to make and made rather badly at the time. The assurance given by the Foreign Secretary—perhaps my hon. Friend would not be so confident if he had been here during the earlier part of our proceedings —was that he would introduce a clause which would prevent the legislative power of the Assembly trenching upon that of the House of Commons. My point was that, because the Assembly already has the power of consultation on legislation which is directly applied to this country and the House has not, the mere fact of election would trench on the ability of hon. Members to protect their constituents. Therefore, that must come within the criteria laid down by the Foreign Secretary.

We must not stray into this area, which will be debated in later proceedings on the Bill. However, one way of emphasising the different role and of making it plain that this is in no way a restriction of the legislative rôle of this Parliament would be to have a different kind of electoral system.

I fully understand the logic of those who want nothing to do with the European Assembly and are therefore against the concept of any direct elections. They have adopted a consistent position, and one can understand the logic within it even if one does not agree with it. However, I put it to my hon. Friend—indeed, I recall making this point in a debate on this subject earlier this year—that, once we have a clearly separately elected body fulfilling this function of the Assembly, the eyes of every elected Assembly throughout the Community will be focused on it as never before. In that sense, the Assembly will be watched intimately to make sure that it in no way advances its powers beyond those already established. I believe that that will be the position. But with the addition of the clause that has been promised to make the point clear, I believe that we shall have a double safeguard.

Is the Minister saying that he would be in favour of some system which made it obligatory for those who sit in the European Assembly also to sit here so that, if they say something in Europe of which we disapprove, we may have the opportunity of discussing it with them?

I have already made this point very clear. The point that we want to register—it will be underlined by the whole concept of the new clause outlined by my right hon. Friend this afternoon—is that we see the Assembly with strictly defined powers. We are asking the Committee not to buy a pig in a poke —that is the expression that I used earlier—but to vote for something that is clearly defined. We shall have an even more clear-cut situation, because we shall have a separate body of people fulfilling this limited function under detailed scrutiny by all the Members of the various national Assemblies throughout the Community.

Does my hon. Friend agree that there is a fundamental Test (Mr. Gould), between a clause which distinction, referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, refers to encroachment on the rights of this place and extension of the powers of the European Assembly? My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary did not give a satisfactory answer to that question. We are concerned about an extension of the powers of the European Assembly. In my view, the Assembly has already encroached on the powers of this place, and it is a subjective matter of judgment as to when that happened.

It is interesting that my hon. Friend has made that point because in many ways he has underlined the point that I have just made. It is arguable that there have been qualitative changes in recent months and years within the role of the European Assembly. But that has happened in the context of indirect representation where the whole issue has been confused and the edges have been blurred. I genuinely believe that it will be more difficult for that kind of thing to happen when it is seen as a completely separate body with the eyes of national Assemblies upon it.

I make one other point with regard to the anxieties of my hon Friends who are concerned about encroachment on the rights of the House, and the encroachment that may already have occurred. We should remember that it has been clearly stated by the Prime Minister in the letter from which I quoted, and it has been said in this House on other occasions as well, that we are determined to see effective action taken to improve the powers of scrutiny and accountability of this Assembly. That is another priority which we must see in company with the objective that we have just spelled out.

This has been a helpful debate. It has enabled us to understand much more fully the anxieties and doubts which exist in the Committee. But I submit that the clause is by definition an essential part of the Bill and I therefore trust that the Committee will fully endorse it.

The Minister has made a very odd speech in a number of ways. At one point he warned us against rushing into ill-drafted and rashly composed amendments to the Bill. That is exactly the reverse of what my hon. Friends and I have been doing.

About an hour ago I attempted to move to report Progress in order that we should avoid ill-judged and ill-drafted amendments. I put the arguments to your predecessor, Mr. Murton, but he was not quite as sympathetic to them as I expected. I put the argument that it would surely be better to give the Committee time to consider re-drafting some of the amendments which earlier today you found were not entirely in order and to do that before we had finished with Clause 1.

As a result of that argument's not being accepted, and as a result of the Government's attempt to rush on the "clause stand part" debate, we have been deprived of that opportunity. Those amendments are now not as well drafted as we would have wished. I find it extraordinary that the Minister should proclaim that he is trying to avoid the Bill and the amendments thereto being rushed and ill-drafted.

Secondly, the Minister protested that he agrees with nearly everyone else in the Chamber that it is not desirable to turn the EEC into a federal union. He also assured us that he did not wish to see the powers of the Assembly increased. But if that was true, why was he not willing to accept the amendment that we moved earlier?

The Government's refusal to accept that amendment, which would have secured precisely the objectives which the Minister says are his objectives, has aroused great suspicion about the Government's intentions, a suspicion which many of us did not feel earlier in the debate. The whole of the Minister's speech was an argument in favour of that earlier amendment. Since that is so, why on earth did the Government refuse to accept that amendment and recruit the pay-roll vote, or some element of it, into the Lobby against it?

Thirdly, some hon. Members opposite —I do not know for what reason—threw doubt on the proposed new clause of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary on the ground that it might be out of order. If there is any danger of that, surely this would have been an argument for accepting our amendment. Since you, Mr. Murton, ruled that the amendment was in order, it is perfectly clear that the amendment must have been within the scope of the Bill, within the Long Title, and in accordance with "Erskine May" from beginning to end. Here was an amendment that achieved what the Minister wished to achieve. It was well within the scope of the Bill, yet the Government asked us to reject it. I think that that requires an explanation.

I have a further question about the exclusion of some United Kingdom colonies while some French territories overseas are being included in the EEC. As I understand it, there are French territories in the Bahamas which are regarded as part of France for EEC purposes and which therefore qualify for representation in some form in this Assembly. If this is the case and these areas outside Europe are to be regarded as EEC territory, do they constitute EEC territory for the purposes of the common fisheries policy? Is any part of the ocean within 200 miles of Martinique to be regarded as part of the EEC's fisheries ocean in which United Kingdom fishermen are entitled to have some share? It seems that these French territories are part of the EEC. Is this so? Will the Minister clear this up, because there is some doubt in hon. Members' minds.

The Minister of State tried to help the House in his explanation, as did the Foreign Secretary earlier. The fears we have are not about the formal transfer of power from this House to the European Parliament. That is not realistic without this House being well and truly alerted, especially as there are a growing number of hon. Members sensitive about the subject—far more so than when the European Communities Act was passed in 1972.

The concern of some of us is about a transfer of power from the Council of Ministers to the European Parliament. We must recognise that in the European Communities Act this House transferred fiscal and executive powers to the Council of Ministers. I am concerned, and so are others, that there will be a move to release the Council of Ministers from certain of these powers and that they will be vested instead in the European Parliament.

The fiscal powers may prove more important. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) said earlier, there is no doubt that the European Parliament will seek to enlarge its powers by widening the scope of the European budget. He quoted the comments by some Members of the European Parliament who sit here. One of our colleagues said that there was nothing wrong with the common agricultural policy, or the fact that millions were spent on it and that the real wrong was in the regional, industrial and social policies, where not enough money was being spent. He said that once as much was spent on these policies as on the CAP, there would be less criticism of the CAP. He then argued for a very much larger European budget. That will be possible without any transfer of power from this House to the European Parliament.

11.0 p.m.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the difficulty about reducing the proportion of the Community's budget spent on agriculture will be even greater when the absolute sum spent on agriculture increases substantially as the consequence of enlargement? If other forms of expenditure are to loom larger in the budget, the absolute increase in those sums will be astronomical.

Yes, it is a terrifying prospect for those who have to buy food in this country. The greater part of the Community's budget in future will come from import levies. It is true that a large part now comes from external tariffs. Some of us who originally advocated entry into the Common Market hoped that the EEC would have a liberalising effect on world trade, but it has not.

Furthermore, it is apparent that it is becoming more and more protectionist. Hong Kong and other developing countries recognise how fiercely protectionist the EEC is becoming. It may be that a common external tariff will be raised on some commodities in future, and the other element to be considered is VAT. However, the financing of the Community budget must come from import levies. It is not recognised enough by our people how oppressive those levies already are.

Does the hon. Gentleman appreciate that in my constituency in the port of Avonmouth last week a cargo of corn arrived from Europe?

It was unloaded on one day by the dockers, and the very next day it was reloaded and sent back to a different part of the EEC. The shippers made a cool £20 per ton on that cargo under the ludicrous system of levies. This is a time at which dockers and others are being forced to abide by a 10 per cent. rule, and it is obscene that such profits can be made because of this lunatic economic system.

There are many examples of how that can be done. I believe the Irish can tell many a story of how much money can be made across the border with lorry-loads of pigs.

But what is not given sufficient publicity is the effect of these import levies on food prices. Those levies are to be increased on 1st January. From that time lamb from New Zealand will be taxed at a rate of 20 per cent. It will cost even more by the time extra capital needed to finance that operation will put the price of that lamb up by 30 per cent. A wide range of foodstuffs is subjected to these levies and they are decided by the Council of Ministers. It is that body and nobody else that decides. Wheat must be taxed at £33 per ton before it comes into this country, and that causes wheat to be priced at £90 a ton. It would certainly be very much less but for the levy.

In considering the clause, we must have regard to the transfer of fiscal power which will move from the Council of Ministers to the European Parliament. If the European Parliament extends those powers it will do so by extending its policy, and legislation will be required in the Council of Ministers or here. That can be done only by spending more money—in the way that Members of the European Parliament almost unanimously wish to do.

The other concern to which I wish to draw attention is the transfer of more legislative power than already takes place under the European Communities Act. My right hon. Friend the Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath), who is present and who played a notable part in that legislation, will confirm that under Section 2 the House surrendered a great deal of its legislative power to the Council of Ministers. We know that under Article 189 of the Treaty of Rome the Council of Ministers has power to pass regulations on a wide range of subjects and totally to bypass this House.

What the hon. Gentleman says is becoming increasingly true in, for example, tax harmonisation. In January tax on tobacco is to be harmonised and that will greatly affect the sales of cigarettes in this country. Plain cigarettes will become cheaper, because the tax will be based on production costs rather than, as at present, the weight of tobacco in a cigarette. As a result, tipped cigarettes are likely to go up in price, yet there has been a health drive to try to persuade people in the interests of safety to go for the low-tar, tipped cigarettes.

Because of interference from the Commission in tax harmonisation, the drive towards protecting people's health—rightly undertaken by the DHSS—could be reserved by a decision over which we have no power. It is disgraceful that the health of our people is being put at unnecessary risk. It would not have happened if we had not joined the EEC.

It is worse than that, because the regulation to which the hon. Gentleman refers was passed before 1972 and a publication produced in 1971 warned tobacco companies and the public of the consequences of the regulation. The tobacco companies, which are squealing about it now, shrugged their shoulders and did nothing about it. They left it to the Government to negotiate a derogation. Of course, no derogation was negotiated and the regulation is now likely to be binding on us. There is little we can do about it under Article 189.

There are numerous other examples. One which surprised hon. Members was the directive on the protection of birds. One of my hon. Friends made a sensible contribution to the debate on that directive last week, saying that he thought that the Common Market was something to do with the economy and did not realise that the protection of birds could be brought into its embrace. But, of course, anything can be brought within that embrace, and the protection of birds directive proved it.

There is a risk that the Council of Ministers will hand over its executive

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function to the European Parliament. We know that this is the wish of many members of the Commission, including Mr. Roy Jenkins, who has expressed that view clearly. We know that the Parliament rightly already plays a major part in consulting the Commission before any draft regulation comes before the Council of Ministers. It is a small and easy step from there, once the Parliament is directly elected, to apply pressure on the Council to surrender its influence. This House will then lose its influence over that legislation. At least we can have some influence over the Council of Ministers.

We have no power but at least we can approach Ministers attending the Council. We see them here and we can question them when they report to the House. As a result of the work of the Scrutiny Committee, we have debates on draft regulations, as we did the other night on the common fisheries policy. I hope that, as a result of that debate, we have strengthened the arm of the Minister of Agriculture, if it needed strengthening, and enabled him to take a firm stand on behalf of our fishermen.

In other informal ways we are able to influence Ministers attending the Council of Ministers. Once that function has passed from the Council of Ministers to the Assembly, once the European Parliament claims democratic respectability, this House will lose its indirect influence and impact upon Ministers.

My hon. Friend was referring earlier to the regional councils. Is he aware of the remark by Herr Apfel, talking about monetary union in the Community, when he said that Germany could not agree to a bigger and more redistributive EEC budget as long as countries such as Britain opposed political integration? This is precisely what this Parliament is opposing. Therefore, it is hardly likely that there will be a redistributive flow of funds.

I listened attentively to what my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) had to say earlier.

I am glad to have my hon. Friend's confirmation that I had not misunderstood him. He does not appreciate what many of us have been saying.

I beg to move, That the Chairman do report Progress and ask leave to sit again.

I think that the correct words are that we have had an interesting discussion. The Government have won a vote on the point on which the Prime Minister wrote to the General Secretary of the Labour Party stating his general intent about what this House should do concerning the powers of this House with regard to the Assembly. We shall return to that later.

Question put and agreed to.

Committee report Progress; to sit again tomorrow.