§ Mr. Douglas Hurd (Mid-Oxon)
I beg to move Amendment No. 183, in page 11, line 30, at end insert:'(aa) those who were entitled to vote as electors at a parliamentary election in a parliamentary constituency wholly or partly comprised in the Assembly constituency but who. on that day, are not so entitled being resident in one of the other member States of the European Communities, and who have made a written declaration to the registration officer in the parliamentary constituency in which they were last entitled to vote as electors at a parliamentary election to the effect that—
such persons being entitled to vote by proxy subject to the provisions of any regulation made under sub-paragraph (3)(c) below (including any provision for the verification of their written declaration); and '.
- (i) they have established, or are able to establish, right of abode in the United Kingdom within the meaning of section 2 of the Immigration Act 1971; and
- (ii) they or their spouses have been resident in the United Kingdom; and
- (iii) they or their spouses will on the day appointed under paragraph 3 below for the election be resident in one of the other member States of the European Communities by virtue of their occupation, service or employment; and
- (iv) they intend to return to reside in the United Kingdom,
§ The Chairman
With this we may discuss the following amendments:
No. 53, in page 11, line 35, at end insert:(c) United Kingdom nationals temporarily resident in other member States of the European Communities provided that two weeks notice of intention to vote is lodged in writing at the nearest United Kingdom consular post.'No. 54, in page 11, line 35, at end insert—`(c) nationals of any country within the European Community who have been continuously resident in the United Kingdom for the past 10 years or have been resident here for a period aggregating 10 years in the past 15 years provided their names appear on a special register of electors prepared pursuant to the requirements of paragraphs 7 to 10 of this Schedule'.1465 No. 184,in page 12, line 10, at end insert' and(c) as to the form in which written declarations under paragraph 2(1)(aa) above shall be made, the procedure to be followed for the verification of such declarations and for the issue of poll cards to those appointed as proxies for persons entitled to vote by virtue of paragraph 2(1)(aa) above.'.No. 55, in page 15, line 5, at end add—'(7) The Secretary of State shall cause a special register of nationals of the European Community who have been resident in the United Kingdom for 10 years or have been resident in the United Kingdom aggregating 10 years in the past 15 years to be compiled in all assembly constituencies and may make regulations for that purpose.(8) Ten years continuous residence in the United Kingdom shall be construed as covering that period immediately prior to the date set by the Secretary of State for the compilation of the special register.(9) Community residents in the United Kingdom shall vote in only one country. It will be an offence under section 12 of this Act if having voted for a candidate in the Assembly Elections in the United Kingdom he votes or attempts to vote elsewhere in the Community or registers or attempts to register a vote in an Embassy within this country for that purpose.(10) Special registers shall be available in all assembly constituencies and shall be treated as supplementary to the general register of electors.'.
§ Mr. Hurd
The purpose of Amendment No. 183 and the consequential Amendment No. 184 is to enfranchise for European elections only British nationals and their wives or husbands who are living and working in the European Community. We believe that these are important amendments and we hope that the Government will accept them.
I shall deal first with the principle involved and then with the specific proposal. The principle is that we are dealing with a group of British people who are in effect the spearhead, or part of the spearhead, of Britain's effort in Europe. Upon them depends in part our chances of making a success of the partnership in Europe to which we now belong. Furthermore, their lives and prospects are probably more deeply affected than those of most people by the decisions which the Community has taken and will take and which the European Parliament, when directly elected, will influence more strongly than at present.
These people feel strongly that they should not be excluded from this franchise. The information which individuals 1466 and groups gave to the Select Committee on this matter provides copious evidence to that effect. We believe that they are right in this contention. That is why we tabled the amendments.
It would not be accurate to say that all Britons resident in the Community are excluded from the franchise in these elections under the present arrangements. Far from it. Not only are there many Service men in the British Army of the Rhine and elsewhere but we have Government servants in embassies and British Council offices who, under longstanding arrangements, are entitled to the franchise. They are also part of the vanguard of our effort in Europe. In natural justice it is not clear why they should be accorded a right which is denied to people who work in private firms or international organisations instead of British Government organisations. Yet if we simply hold to the existing arrangements, that is the distinction or discrimination which will apply.
Most hon. Members present will recall that when we went over some of the same ground—it was broadly similar ground at the time of the referendum—many people were active in this connection. My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch and Lymington (Mr. Adley) was particularly active in assembling a massive petition which showed the strength of feeling on the issue.
The proposal which the House debated on that occasion came from the hon. Member for Belper (Mr. MacFarquhar), whom I am glad to see in his place this afternoon ready, I hope, to give us support on the present proposal.
On that earlier occasion, the proposal similarly to enfranchise the Britons to whom we are referring was resisted by the Government. It was resisted, basically, on two grounds. The first was the familiar ground that it was something new and should therefore be resisted. Indeed, the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Fowler), then Minister of State at the Privy Council Office, coined the daring phrase that we were being asked to make a leap into the dark.
That is a familiar defensive ploy, and I hope that we shall not hear it from the Minister today. Whenever proposal A is put before the House, Ministers shake their heads gravely and say that it would 1467 be quite wrong to consider or to endorse proposal A without considering proposals B and C at the same time. Then, when that argument has prevailed with their supporters and proposal A is out of the way, they go back to sleep and neither proposal A nor proposals B and C are discussed thereafter. I hope, therefore, that we shall not again have that stonewalling tactic which we had from the hon. Member for The Wrekin.
The Lord President of that day enlivened the debate and made great play with his description of the unworthy people who would be admitted to the franchise then proposed. We heard about lotus eaters who live by the Mediterranean, and hon. Members on the Government Benches were whipped into a high state of excitement by the prospect of people being allowed to vote when they had left this country in search of the sun or in order to avoid taxes.
I do not know whether the then Lord President, now Lord Glenamara, holds the same view about lotus eaters now, but we have tried in this amendment to take account of the Puritan preoccupations which the Government then expressed.
§ Mr. Roderick MacFarquhar (Belper)
Does the hon. Gentleman recall that, due to Lord Glenamara's pronunciation, presumably, a correspondent of a French newspaper reported the reference as being to lettuce eaters?
§ Mr. Nick Budgen (Wolverhampton, South-West)
Will my hon. Friend explain where the logic of these proposals will take us? First, what proposal would he have for EEC nationals resident in this country? Would he wish them to vote in this country if they had no vote in their own?
§ Mr. Hurd
My hon. Friend has a keenly developed sense of logic, and he senses that, in the logical development of my case, I was about to come to that point. He leads me naturally to the next step.
1468 My hon. Friend is right to remind us that, as we move from the referendum, which was concerned simply with this country, to direct elections held across the Community at the same time, there is another perfectly logical way of tackling the problem, and that would be to allow people to vote in their country of residence inside the Community rather than anywhere else.
In paragraph 48 of its evidence to the Select Committee, the Labour Committee for Europe made that specific proposal, saying:We believe it would be in the best interests of the development of the European Community if nationals of any member State were allowed to vote in their country of residence…rather than in their country of origin.That may be, but it would require an agreement among the Community States. The Select Committee looked into it, and there is on the record a memorandum from the Foreign Office showing—convincingly, in my view—that there is no possibility of achieving that agreement within the Community before the first round of direct elections. The only two member States which have such an arrangement between themselves are the United Kingdom and the Irish Republic, and the Committee will be glad to hear that I do not intend to get into that argument since it is not relevant to the amendment before us.
What is certain is that, whatever the merits of such a special arrangement, there is no possibility of extending that principle through the Community at the present stage. The Foreign Office memorandum submitted in evidence to the Select Committee makes that point and, I believe, proves it.
Therefore, if we believe, as we on these Benches do, that it is right on the occasion of European elections to enfranchise people working in the Community, we have to fall back on specific arrangements enabling United Kingdom nationals to vote in the United Kingdom. Such specific arrangements are made by several of our partners in the Community in regard to their own nationals.
§ 4.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Max Madden (Sowerby)
A few moments ago the hon. Gentleman referred to taxation, and he spoke earlier of those whom he described as being in the van 1469 guard of the Community. How many of those people are not subject to United Kingdom taxation, and does he agree that there is no case for someone not subject to United Kingdom taxation to have rights to determine representation from the United Kingdom?
§ Mr. Hurd
I suppose that, in practice, it would vary from individual to individual according to the application of our Inland Revenue rules, but on this occasion, when we are talking about elections to the European Assembly or Parliament, I would not accept the principle which the hon. Gentleman enunciates. Clearly, it does not apply in the present context, although, if we were talking about extending the franchise in this way to General Elections held in this country, the hon. Gentleman would, I imagine, be entitled to argue that case.
§ Mr. MacFarquhar
It will be remembered that when Lord Glenamara was dealing with this very topic in the referendum debate, the lotus eaters—or lettuce eaters—were said to be mainly resident in Spain and Portugal, and the question of those countries does not arise on the present amendment.
§ Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch and Lymington)
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for allowing me to add another word before he resumes. Having recalled the occasion when we last debated this matter, perhaps my hon. Friend will invite the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Madden) to say whether he believes that anyone who pays taxes to this country is entitled to vote. That is an interesting point.
§ Mr. Hurd
I dare say that the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Madden) will resist no temptation to seek to catch the eye of the Chair in order to develop his argument. Since we are talking about elections to the European Assembly, I do not accept the principle that he sought to establish.
The hon. Member for Belper has rightly led me on to the next point. If we believe that there must be a special United Kingdom arrangement for people to vote in the United Kingdom, we then have to consider the scope of the coverage. In our amendment we have laid down a very restrictive definition. Indeed, it may be disappointing to some who have 1470 argued the case in the past, that the definition is so restrictive.
For example, our definition is narrower than that recommended by the Select Committee in its report. The Select Committee recommended that United Kingdom nationals working—I shall come to "working" in a moment—outside the EEC as well as inside should be enfranchised for these elections.
I believe that there are strong arguments for the Select Committee's recommendation, but we wish to persuade the Government on this matter. We recognise their reluctance or slowness, and we are, in effect, offering the Minister a compromise rather than an extreme proposal—a compromise which, we hope, he will accept.
We have introduced a further restriction compared with what was being considered at the time of the referendum. The amendment would restrict the franchise to those working within the European Community, together with their wives or husbands. The phrase is:by virtue of their occupation, service or employment.That means, in effect, that lotus eaters need not apply. I should say, in passing, that I think that a harsh term to use to describe people who, towards the end of their lives, use their savings to establish themselves in a warmer climate than we enjoy. However, that is not an issue in this debate, since we are talking about people who are actually working.
Here again we have recognised the Government's reluctance and genuinely seek to meet the points they have made. In regard to numbers there is some confusion in the evidence that is available to us and perhaps the Minister could comment. At one stage in the evidence a figure of 270,000 people is given as representing those who are resident in the EEC, that is to say, including people who are retired. At another point the same figure is given for those who are actually working and covered by the amendment. Therefore, we need from the Government some indication whether that 270,000 figure is the best estimate or whether it should be a lower figure, because one has to deduct those who have retired.
§ Mr. Budgen
I hope that my hon. Friend will put forward the general philosophy to explain who will be allowed to 1471 vote in Britain in these EEC elections. I hope that he will consider the proposition that only those whose primary loyalty is to the United Kingdom nation State should be allowed to vote here in the United Kingdom. If that is the proper principle to apply in deciding where to draw the line, it is interesting to note that some United Kingdom nationals who will be working for the EEC institutions apparently have a vote in this country. Is that not an anomaly, because their primary loyalty may be to the EEC?
§ The Chairman
Order. I urge hon. Members not to make interventions too long. They will have an opportunity to catch the eye of the Chair at a later stage.
§ Mr. Hurd
I am amazed at the development of my hon. Friend's thoughts. I had regarded him as a person with libertarian principles. On this matter he seems to be proposing loyalty tests opening the windows into men's souls, as Queen Elizabeth I remarked. I do not see that the opening of windows into the souls of European Commissioners is profitable. The present situation will mean that some people in certain parts of Brussels, for example at the Rond Point Schumann, will be able to vote, because they are working in the United Kingdom Mission, but others who are also working for Britain's efforts in Europe a few yards away would be debarred. That is not an acceptable situation.
§ Dr. Colin Phipps (Dudley, West)
I am seeking clarification. I do not believe that it is reasonable to prevent United Kingdom citizens who may seek to retire from their employment in the United Kingdom to an EEC country from voting, but I want to know what is the exact meaning ofby virtue of their occupation, service or employment".I rather hoped that that would encompass those who had retired from the United Kingdom and who were living in the South of France.
§ Mr. Hurd
I see the strength of the hon. Gentleman's case, but we felt that 1472 to obtain even a step forward by the Government in this matter we should make our proposal fairly narrowly confined, and we deliberately excluded the category which the hon. Gentleman has in mind. The restrictions that I have mentioned would confine this extension of the franchise to people who, by virtue of occupation, service or employment—not retired people—are absent from the United Kingdom.
I turn to the mechanics of this proposal. If the principle is accepted, there are many ways of implementing it. We see two ingenious schemes set out on the Amendment Paper by my hon. Friends the Members for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) and Bedford (Mr. Skeet), who have set themselves this task. The Opposition, whether Front Bench or Back Bench, are always vulnerable on technicalities. It is easy for the Minister to rise, shake his head and say "If only we knew all the technicalities, such an amendment would not be acceptable". We think we have a small advantage in this respect—this is why we preferred to table an amendment of our own—in that the specific amendment we have tabled embodies a Home Office scheme. It has been lifted from the helpful memorandum submitted to the Select Committee by the Home Office and reproduced on page 3 of the minutes annexed to the Select Committee's Third Report. In that report will be found not only the germ but the whole content of this amendment.
The Committee will find in that memorandum the principle of the written declaration, which is the key to our amendment. There are four definitions of qualification laid down in the amendment, and again they are set out in the Home Office memorandum. I believe that the choice of proxy voting is the right mechanism for delivering the vote. That, too, is set out in the Home Office memorandum. So too is the desire to avoid placing the work load which might—I emphasise "might"—prove excessive in respect of embassy and consular posts. The Select Committee heard evidence on this point and the amendment is tabled to avoid any great burden or expense involved for Her Majesty's overseas missions.
The amendment puts on paper exactly the propositions which were put to us in the Home Office memorandum 1473 for what it would be reasonable to recommend in a scheme if it were decided in principle that a scheme were required. some importance which we do not cover
There are technical difficulties of in the amendment. It is the purpose of the consequntial Amendment No. 184, which leaves to the Home Secretary the task of making the regulations together with many other regulations that he will have to make for approval by this House, to fill in the mechanical gaps that exist in our amendment. Without burdening the Amendment Paper with almost a book, one could not fill in all the administrative regulations required.
There is the subject of the register and how new names appear there. Evidence was taken by the Select Committee from the Home Office on that point, and it is available. There is the question of verification which we discussed at length in the Select Committee with witnesses from the Home Office. We specifically mention that as something to be covered in the regulations.
It seems to us right that the Home Secretary should consider and put into the regulations, if the Committee accepts the principle of this amendment, the safeguards that he considers desirable to safeguard against fraudulent declarations and double voting. This is important and it could give rise to concern. But the Committee should consider whether as a matter of common sense a large number of people are likely to devote a great deal of energy and run the risk of prosecution in order to vote fraudulently in these European Assembly elections. It is right to introduce safeguards, and we have tried to indicate what they should be. However, we do not believe that the need for safeguards should be used as an excuse for defeating the whole proposition. If one or two people use a right to which they are not entitled—and there is a chance that we shall have one or two of them—this does not seem to be sensible reason for depriving a large number of people of a right to which they are entitled. That leads us back to the principle that we believe to be important.
I have received a large number of letters and I wish to quote from one of them.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)
I apologise for interrupting the hon. Member, but before he leaves the content of the amendment, I wonder whether he would clear up a point of explanation which some of us may find difficult. I refer to the words at the beginning of the amendment:those who were entitled to vote as electors…but who…are not so entitled".What does that mean? Does it mean that this is restricted to people who at some past time have been entitled to vote but are not entitled on the day in question? That would appear to be grammatically possible. On the other hand, since the alternative of a spouse having been resident is permitted in sub-paragraph (ii), that would appear not to be the case. Therefore, I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman could explain the meaning of the words,those who were entitled to vote as electors".When, and in what circumstances?
§ Mr. Hurd
I think that the entitlement is restricted to those who at some stage in the past were entitled to vote—that is, those who were on the register of electors for a parliamentary election but who are no longer on the register because, by virtue of their occupation, service or employment, they have moved to an EEC country and are not longer, therefore, on the current register. I see the point at which the right hon. Gentleman is aiming, but I doubt whether in practice there would be great difficulty over that because I think that the purport of the amendment is clear.
§ Mr. Douglas Jay (Battersea, North)
I am trying to follow what the hon. Member is saying. Surely the words do not mean that. They would mean that anyone who at any time, perhaps 20 years before, was on the register and had then ceased to be on it for any reason whatever would now be covered by the wording.
§ Mr. Hurd
No, indeed not. Of course, the amendment does not lay down at what stage the persons concerned had to be on the register in order to qualify. I think that that would be absurd. But the reason for which they are no longer on the register is clearly defined in subparagraph (iii) of the amendment. It is 1475 by virtue of their occupation, service or employment. I think that the right hon. Gentleman is here pursuing a difficulty that does not exist.
§ Mr. Powell
As the hon Member has explained that this is intended to mean "who have at some past date been on the register "—because one cannot be entitled to vote unless one is on the register—what is the point of sub-paragraph (ii), which makes it a condition that they or their spouses have been resident so that it might cover a person who has not himself been resident? That is in contradiction to the specification that he must at some past time have been on the register and means, therefore, that he must at some past time have been resident.
§ Mr. Hurd
I speak subject to correction. This is an illustration of the point that I made earlier about the technicalities in these amendments. I should have thought that the more restrictive application must apply. The amendment starts with the propositionthose who were entitled to vote as electors at a parliamentary election".That is our intention, and I should have thought that that governs what follows.
§ Mr. Hurd
Either right hon. Gentleman can develop this point. I think it will be found to be a small one if it exists at all and that the two phrases that the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) has quoted do not contradict but reinforce each other, and the earlier one is the clear introduction and purpose of the amendment.
However, in conclusion, one must return to the principle of the matter, which is of very great importance and is certainly felt to be such by large numbers of our fellow citizens. Over the last two years I have had a surprisingly large number of letters on this subject, and I am certainly not unique in that respect. I shall quote from only one of them, because it happens to be the latest letter that I received, last week, from a British 1476 business man living in France. He says:With regards the EEC, the British practice of prohibiting its citizens voting is absolutely contrary to the spirit of the Community which encourages its member citizens to live and work in other States, presumably with the aim of increasing mutual understanding and co-operation.I think that that is quite moderately and cogently put.
That feeling underlies a great deal of the comment that I have received. The people concerned simply do not understand how they are asked by their firms or their organisations to work in Europe and to work to make the European Community to which we belong a success, if at the same time, by virtue of having agreed to undertake that task, and because of it, they are denied the right to vote in European elections.
Therefore, we believe that there is an overwhelmingly strong case for the amendment. We know the strong sense of disappointment—indeed, anger—that will result if this right is denied. We urge the Minister to accept the amendment. If by mischance he decides not to do so, we should feel obliged to ask our right hon. and hon. Friends to support it in the Lobby.
§ Dr. Phipps
When the matter of voting by overseas United Kingdom citizens was raised in regard to the referendum by an amendment in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. MacFarquhar) and in my name, I argued very strongly that the franchise for the referendum should be extended not merely to United Kingdom citizens resident within EEC countries but to United Kingdom citizens resident outside the United Kingdom anywhere in the world.
The reasons for my argument were based very strongly upon personal experience. For eight years I was a United Kingdom citizen who lived and worked outside the United Kingdom, for part of that period within the EEC, in Holland, for a longer part of that period, in the United States, and, in particular, in South America—Venezuela.
The point that struck me when I was living overseas was that as a United Kingdom citizen with children who had every intention of returning to the United Kingdom, I was in a position in which I had absolutely no say about that which 1477was going on politically in the United Kingdom and which would determine the kind of country to which I would return and in which my children would be brought up. I had no franchise at all. What was going on in my country was something over which I had no control or influence. Had I had a vote in Venezuela, it might have been a different matter, but I did not have a vote there and it was never my intention to stay there.
§ Mr. T. H. H. Skeet (Bedford)
When the hon. Member was in Venezuela, I dare say he was paying the local taxation. If he was there for a number of years, would it not be right to assume that he should have had some say as regards the legislature of the place in which he was residing?
§ Dr. Phipps
I do not wish to go into the argument about whether I should have been allowed to vote in Venezuela, the United States, or Holland. However, on the question of taxation, which I proposed to take up later, although it is an argument that non-residents are paying taxation in the countries in which they live, most of those countries are the subject of double taxation agreements with the United Kingdom, and on return to the United Kingdom one must bring back all the money that has been earned or saved overseas. It is part of the Bank of England's controls. That was certainly the case with myself when I returned. We have double taxation agreements with most other countries.
I accept that when this argument was put forward in the referendum debate in the form in which the amendment was worded many points were raised concerning the lesser breeds without the law, the lotus eaters and many others who would in some way be abusing the privilege of voting. It was said that these were points which certainly had not been included in that amendment and were perhaps validly to be taken into account. But that hardly seems to be the case with the present amendment which, as the hon. Member for Mid-Oxon (Mr. Hurd) has quite clearly demonstrated, has been drawn just about as tightly as possible in order to take into account all the criticisms which were made in the referendum debate of the 1478 amendment in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Belper.
I think that there is also a case for restricting the provision in this instance to the United Kingdom citizens resident within the EEC countries. I am basically in favour of allowing United Kingdom citizens who are non-resident to have a vote in elections in this country and in the EEC. Other countries do this and I see no reason why we should not do it. But I accept the point made by the hon. Member for Mid-Oxon, that in seeking to persuade the Government that this is a principle which should be adopted it is perhaps better to draw it as tightly as we possibly can in order that there should not be the opportunity for the Government to say that it throws open this or that door or creates this or that anomaly.
In supporting the amendment, the aspect of it which disappoints me most is the one that I have already raised—that in drawing it so tightly it has excluded the people who quite legitimately, it seems to me, could have spent a lifetime working within the United Kingdom and then decided that they preferred to spend their retirement somewhere else. I appreciate that this is getting very close to the nub of the European argument in general, that is, are we Europeans or are we Britons? Are we to merge ourselves in Europe and to regard Europe as a greater sovereignty to which we shall belong? I fully understand why such a suggestion should be anathema to people who are opposed to Europe in general. It strikes at the very heart of that which those of us who are pro-European—or even unashamedly pro-federalist—wish to see brought about, namely that we should become members and citizens of a greater Europe.
There may be arguments for restricting the vote in the case of people who retire to Spain, but it seems to me that someone who has spent his working life in this country and decided, as a citizen of the EEC, that he wishes to spend his retirement in some part of the EEC should be fully justified in so doing and not thereby be robbed of the franchise.
If our approach to Europe means anything, it means that that which is done in Europe is done for and on behalf of all of us. I hear laughter from some of my 1479 hon. Friends and can appreciate that those who do not wish this to happen might be upset to see us moving in that direction, but this is the reality of the EEC that many of us hope to see achieved. If, indeed, decisions taken by the EEC are taken on behalf of all citizens of the EEC, it seems to me perfectly reasonable and legitimate that all citizens of the EEC, no matter where they live within the EEC, should have the right to the franchise to determine those matters which will directly affect them.
§ Mr. Budgen
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the amendment is an important step towards the federal outcome of the EEC that he wants?
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Dr. Phipps
I certainly accept the argument. I hope that no one believes that I am guilty of subterfuge in this matter. I do not think that I have ever hidden from hon. Members my desire for a federal Europe. I unashamedly accept that the amendment is for me a step in the right direction, but I should like, nevertheless, to go to the principle which is at stake and try to be as objective as possible, in much the same way as I hope I was in the referendum debate.
I think that we are all guilty perhaps of gerrymandering in the mind when we consider measures of this kind. We perhaps tend to ask ourselves whether it is good from the point of view that we support, whether it is good for our party, and whether the people who are enfranchised are likely to vote Labour or Conservative or to be pro-European or anti-European. I accept that it is very difficult not to take account of questions of this sort. One would have to be extremely objective so to do.
In looking at the question as objectively as I can, I still believe that the principle—and it is, after all, a principle which has been adopted by many other countries for which this particular problem of Europe does not arise—stands up of its own accord. That principle struck me forcefully in the years in which I lived overseas, working for a British company. Although three of my four children were born in other countries, they all have British nationality. I knew that all of them would come back to this country to be educated, and I knew that 1480 I would come back to this country, yet there were proposals for the development of my country about which I had no say whatever.
That seems to me to be the overriding principle. Applying it in particular to Europe, where we are all citizens and all under the same sovereignty, I find it impossible to accept that someone who is a United Kingdom citizen but happens to be resident in France should not have the right to vote for a European Parliament which will make decisions about the way he lives, whether he lives in the United Kingdom or in France. This seems to be the central point. It does not matter where in the EEC he lives. The decisions made by the European Parliament will affect him.
§ Mr. Adley
The hon. Gentleman will recall that earlier in his speech my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen) intervened to attribute motives to him. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will join me in hoping that when my hon. Friend makes his speech he will attribute motives to New Zealand or United States citizens or to the citizens of many other countries which similarly offer to their citizens the right to vote when working abroad.
§ Dr. Phipps
I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's point entirely. The principle is well established internationally. One of the reasons given in the past for this country not giving that right to its citizens was the very reason brought up by the Government in refusing the amendment on the referendum Bill. I think that the Opposition are seeking to obviate it by their close definition in the amendment before us today.
I believe that, irrespective of the factors involved which appear to favour one future or another for Europe, there is at stake here a wider principle, and I would wish to see it applied not merely to EEC elections but to United Kingdom internal elections. The amendment is not as widely drawn as I should have wished, but I accept the reasons for drawing it as tightly as it has been drawn. I shall be supporting it in the Lobbies this evening, and I hope that the Government will accept it.
§ Mr. Powell
The speech of the hon. Member for Dudley, West (Dr. Phipps) 1481 has made it very easy for me to deploy briefly the reasons why my hon. Friends and I find ourselves opposed to the amendment. The hon. Gentleman was certainly right when he said that the whole principle of direct elections to the European Assembly implies a European electorate, and he went on to indicate that to recognise the existence of a European electorate is to recognise the argument for a European franchise.
But even if we had a European franchise—even if we had gone all that distance and drawn that deduction—we should still be faced with the question which the amendment poses, and to which the hon. Gentleman returned at the end of his speech—the question of extra-territorial voting, because the electors of the Community would then be asking "When we go abroad and work and reside in New York or in Australia, are we to be deprived of the opportunity of exercising our European franchise?"
We come back, even after the interesting excursion on which the hon. Member for Dudley, West took us, to the question whether we are to attempt to introduce by the amendment, however partially, the principle of extra-territorial voting. Make no mistake: whatever we decide on, the amendment cannot but reflect upon our law governing parliamentary representation, governing representation in the House of Commons.
It is impossible to argue that, dealing with an Assembly vaunted as being merely consultative, we ought to provide for those who are not resident in the United Kingdom to be able to participate in the Assembly's decisions, and at the same time to deny to those who were in the position in which the hon. Member for Dudley, West has been for most of his life—
§ Mr. Powell
Eight years. I am sorry—the position in which for a considerable period of his life he has found himself, the opportunity to participate in decisions which could be of a most radical character which are taken for this country at a parliamentary General Election.
§ Mr. Adley
While the United States is not yet, at any rate, a member of the EEC, why does the right hon. Member 1482 for Down, South (Mr. Powell) argue that because a Briton working in the other eight EEC countries might have the right to vote, a Frenchman working in the United States might demand the same thing? The whole point is that one is restricting it to other people living in other EEC countries.
§ Mr. Powell
The argument is that here are EEC elections which will be as determinant for the future of our nationals resident in EEC countries as they are for the future of our nationals resident here. That is exactly the same as the case posed by the hon. Member for Dudley, West in respect of a franchise for elections to the House of Commons, namely, that those elections may just as much affect the future of British nationals temporarily resident abroad as they affect those who actually elected us to sit in the House of Commons. We are raising the whole question of the basis of parliamentary franchise.
The parliamentary franchise has basically two elements. One is citizenship or national status, though in fact it is the status of British subject and not of a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies which is the qualification. At any rate, the one qualification is nationality. But the second essential qualification is residence. The House of Commons is not merely a national representation. It is also a territorial representation.
The same does not apply to other countries. Other countries confer franchise on the basis of nationality. Consequently other countries are capable of allowing the franchise to their nationals even though at the time their nationals are not resident in them.
But that is not the law of parliamentary franchise, for this House is a geographical as well as a national representation.
§ Mr. Powell
No, because they have been given a residence in this country. It is only because they claim "a local habitation and a name" in this country, 1483 though there is a straining implicit in it, that they can be brought within the ambit of the principles of the parliamentary franchise.
There may or may not be a case for departing from the established basis of the parliamentary franchise in this country. That is not a principle with which we ought to tamper by a side wind in the context of the new elections which we are creating for direct representation in the European Assembly.
§ Mr. Jeremy Thorpe (Devon, North)
Would the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) not agree that there is no logic in saying that it is unfair to grant a vote to someone in the Community because one might be depriving a British citizen living in New York of a vote? Surely there is a reason for depriving him of that vote? What is happening is an election in an area covering nine countries, and a citizen may be resident in one of those nine countries. Therefore, there is the qualification of residence.
§ Mr. Powell
If the right hon. Gentleman wishes to make a case for those Assembly elections being based upon a new dispensation, if we are to take a new view based upon the electorate of the Community and set up a Community franchise, I am prepared to agree that it is implicit, though I detest it, in the step that we are taking. I understand that perfectly well. But what we are doing in this legislation is applying our electoral process to this new purpose in relation to this consultative Assembly.
I believe that we ought in doing that to maintain all the rules and qualifications of the parliamentary franchise since, if we once depart from those, we call in question the validity of those rules. Those rules ought to be debated and considered first and primarily, if we are to alter them, in the parliamentary context.
That is not the only reason why I object, as a Member of this House. to the change that is proposed in the amendment, but it is a reason why it is so strongly repudiated by my hon. Friends and myself, representing, as we do, constituencies in a part of the United Kingdom upon which the House of Commons has seen fit to set the mark of a separate form of election from that 1484 which applies in elections to the House of Commons for parliamentary purposes. We believe that it was an entirely wrong step not to apply to the whole of the United Kingdom for this purpose the principles of parliamentary election. We are certainly not prepared to consent to the alteration of those rules in any other context.
§ Mr. Powell
I voted for it. I am prepared to vote for anything which results in the wrecking of that Bill. In doing that I am not calling in question the validity and integrity of the electoral practices and the law of franchise in so far as it governs elections to the House of Commons. It is because the amendment does that by a side wind that I believe the Committee would be well advised to reject it.
§ Mr. Michael Stewart (Fulham)
I refer to a small point raised earlier by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) concerning paragraph (ii) of the amendment, which says:they or their spouses have been resident in the United Kingdom;I think that I am right in saying that if those words were deleted it would make no difference to the meaning of the amendment and that their presence does not make any difference, either. We probably need not bother to argue about them further.
§ Mr. Stewart
On the main issue, I do not think that we need to try to draw parallels with British subjects resident, say, in the United States or Venezuela. We are discussing a narrower and simpler issue than that. I take it that we are all agreed that anyone who is both a British subject and resident in the United Kingdom is entitled to vote for the Parliament of the United Kingdom.
However, I should have thought that it was equally a just proposition that anyone who is a citizen or a subject of an 1485 EEC State and lives in the EEC should be entitled to vote for the European Assembly. That seems to me to be quite reasonable. The ideal way to do that, and the way that I think in the end it will be done, is for EEC citizens to vote for the European Assembly in the country in which they are resident at the time, though there would be the usual procedures for getting oneself on the voting register. But whether one voted in Paris or London, it would be a matter of where one was residing.
We have not got that position at present and cannot get it in time for the Bill. We have to accept the fact that many of the provisions of the Bill are, by their nature, temporary until the EEC agrees on a convention for election by a uniform method throughout the Community. On several occasions in the Bill, therefore, we have had to consider what is the nearest approach we can get to justice and common sense until that event takes place. On this issue I think that this amendment is the answer.
The ideal way of getting the right result is for every EEC citizen to be able to vote in the part of the EEC in which he is living. At present we cannot do that. We therefore make provision that at any rate for those for whom we can do something we shall enable people to vote, presumably in the constituencies in which they were last resident when they were resident in this country. It seems to me to be very difficult in justice to deny that. I most earnestly hope that the Government will decide to accept the amendment.
§ Mr. Skeet
I have listened carefully to the right hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. Stewart) and I am glad that he approves of my Amendments Nos. 54 and 55. We have been considering Amendments Nos. 183, 184 and 53 which would enable Britons in the EEC the right to vote in the United Kingdom. Amendments Nos. 54 and 55 seek to enfranchise for the purpose of these elections EEC residents who have held long residence in the United Kingdom. This, I agree with the right hon. Member, is a logical step and one which makes common sense, but I do not ignore the obstacles to it. I am looking ahead to the common European 1486 nationality that will eventually come. But it is not immediately round the corner.
Let me read the terms of the amendment because it sets out exactly what I have in mind. It says that people entitled to vote arenationals of any country within the European Community who have been continuously resident in the United Kingdom for the past 10 years or have been resident here for a period aggregating 10 years in the past 15 years provided their names appear on a special register of electors prepared pursuant to the requirements ofa later part of the schedule.
The 1971 census showed that 108,900 Italians who were born in Italy were then resident in the United Kingdom. That was out of a total population of 53.9 million. Their number represented only 0.2 per cent. of the United Kingdom population. Since then the number has gone up considerably. I think that the number in London is more than 100,000, and the number outside London over 150,000.
No fewer than 8,000 to 10,000 Italians are living in Bedfordshire. They came to work in the brickfields many years ago, but still they have no opportunity to vote in parliamentary or local government elections. I earnestly suggest that European elections are a natural subject upon which they should vote. Of course, we should not forget the West Germans and the Dutch who live here. These people cannot be ruled out on the basis that they are minority groups of inconsiderable numbers who should not be considered. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Oxon (Mr. Hurd) has referred to a group who might be on business in Paris or elsewhere and who should not be overlooked in the election. I draw attention to paragraph (2)(b) of the schedule which seeks to enfranchise peers for the purposes of the election. Their numbers are relatively small.
I want this matter to be ventilated today because the European Assembly will involve a community of nine countries, of which the United Kingdom and Italy are but two. It is therefore prudent for us to anticipate the implications of a common European nationality. This concept was offered to the French in the Second World War, but was not unfortunately taken up when it was put forward by Winston Churchill. The course 1487 of European history might have been different had that been accepted then.
Community individuals who are long resident in the United Kingdom have ample opportunity to acquaint themselves with local United Kingdom candidates for EEC elections, but they will have little interest, knowledge or say in the Italian candidates who are standing in Italy for constituencies they have long since left, and, in many cases, remember only from their adolescent days. This then is a question of identity and of whether they are to back anyone in whom they can have confidence.
§ The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Brynmor John)
I take it from the argument that the hon. Member is adducing about Italians who have little connection with Italian constituencies that he will not be supporting the amendment moved by his Front Bench.
§ Mr. Skeet
I find that amendment embarrassing to the argument I am pursuing. It has much too narrow a base. The lotus eaters are not included, but on that narrow basis it includes only those who are working abroad. My amendment includes all people who are resident in the United Kingdom and have been here for 10 years.
It may be assumed that Italians long resident in the United Kingdom might be excused if they are more intimately concerned about European matters affecting the country in which they live than European issues which affect their counterparts in Italy. This is recognition of a political reality.
I turn now to a point that I put to the hon. Member for Dudley, West (Dr. Phipps). When a person pays his tax should have some say in the election of the Member who is to represent him. If this right cannot be conceded to EEC nationals in local and parliamentary elections, the anomaly should be corrected now, since the House is discussing representation on a broad front.
§ Mr. Skeet
I am grateful to the hon. Member for that.
One difficulty to which the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) referred is that there is a block on those who do not hold United Kingdom nationality. But it is strange that the 1488 Southern Irish have a vote in the United Kingdom. An exception has been made for them, and if this is so, why cannot it be conceded to the very small number of people who have taken up permanent residence in the United Kingdom because they like living here and have obtained jobs here?
I have provided, in Amendment No. 55, under the register, the ways and means whereby plural voting is to be avoided. Perhaps the Committee would like to know what alternative arrangements are likely to occur. On this I have had the opportunity of consulting the Italian Embassy in London which told me that the prospect is that Italians will have the opportunity to vote on the Saturday or the Sunday following the United Kingdom elections, which will probably be held on a Thursday. There are to be about 140 polling stations alongside the British ones, and these will be furnished with lists prepared by the Embassy. Of course, the United Kingdom Government will have no right of access to these registers.
I see possible complications here. If a United Kingdom Italian, for the sake of argument, is to receive a polling card in respect of a candidate in Bari, a candidate he does not know, he will have little idea for what the candidate stands and he will have little interest in voting for him. The card will probably go straight into the wastepaper basket and the elector will disfranchise himself by not voting.
Further, if arrangements similar to those for the Italians are to be provided for the other EEC nationals, there will be a multiplicity of polling stations all over the United Kingdom, and that will eventually defer the result of the poll. In addition, I see the prospect of plural voting in a big way.
I do not propose to go further than to suggest that the House might consider the possibilities of anticipating the movement towards a common European nationality. This is a subject on which we should think carefully and deeply in view of its great importance.
§ Mr. MacFarquhar
I do not wish to detain the Committee for very long. It seems to me that on this issue, compared with 1975, we are discussing something of slightly less fundamental importance.
1489 I remember arguing at the time—I still believe strongly—that if we were to take the major step of having a Community referendum it was right that all British citizens should have a vote in the matter because it was likely to affect them for many years beyond. But in the present case, of course, we are taking a decision with regard to elections to an Assembly that will have a fixed term. Therefore, it is always possible—as in the case of domestic elections—for people to return to this country and perhaps vote in the next elections. That is assuming we do not pass this amendment.
Nevertheless, there are strong grounds, which the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) has enumerated, for agreeing to this amendment in this particular context. We are faced with a European-wide election. We shall almost certainly have the elections on the same day. It seems to me only right and proper that all people who are residents and citizens within the European Community on that day—or two days—should have the right to vote.
All sorts of memories have been conjured up from the past with regard to the 1975 debate. The phrase "lotus eater" was one. Another was the famous phrase of the right hon. Member for Down, South—"side wind". That was a phrase introduced by the right hon. Gentleman at the time. I remember having heard it on that occasion for the first time. It is a totally inappropriate phrase to use in this kind of discussion.
The right hon. Gentleman has argued—and I entirely agree—that the whole business of moving into Europe and tightening ties between this country and the other members of the EEC is not a side wind; it is a major constitutional change—a major process of change. On that, the opponents of EEC legislation and myself are at one. Nothing we can do in this respect is a side wind. There is no reason at all why in discussing this Bill for the first direct elections to the Assembly we should not take a major step forward in widening the franchise.
It is precisely because this is not a side issue—the right hon. Member for Down, South must be the first to admit that because he has argued cogently night after night—that we can afford and ought to 1490 take a step forward in widening the franchise on this occasion.
§ Mr. Adley
It is a pleasure and a happy coincidence to follow the hon. Member for Belper (Mr. MacFarquhar) on this occasion since he and I, the hon. Member for Dudley, West (Dr. Phipps) and my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) went through this earnestly and carefully on the previous occasion in 1975.
My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Oxon (Mr. Hurd) was kind enough to mention my name. Perhaps I can only add that on 9th April 1975 I presented a petition to the House signed by more than 10,000 British citizens living and/or working in continental Europe.
It is quite true that the amendment which stands in the name of the Conservative Opposition is a great deal narrower than the amendment which we discussed at that time. I support today's amendment. It is not as fundamental as I should have liked to see it, but it is a great deal better than the present unsatisfactory position.
It is also a happy coincidence that my hon. Friend the Member for Bedfordshire, South (Mr. Madel) has today had published his Representation of the People (Amendment) Bill which also seeks to right an injustice—at any rate, many of us feel is an injustice—with regard to the way in which people are unable to vote in British General Elections because they happen to be away on holiday.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen) asked about the principle that we were discussing this afternoon. Perhaps I may be so bold as to say that we are trying to cater for those who are entitled to vote, but who are unable physically to get to a polling station. We look after Service voters, sick voters and people who are temporarily absent by postal voting. I cannot believe that what is poposed in the amendment is in any way unfair or contrary to natural justice.
I hope that the Minister of State will be able to tell the House that the principle—if it be such—enunciated by the then Lord President, Lord Glenamara, on 10th April 1975 has now been abandoned. Lord Glenamara said with 1491 regard to the question of voting rights of Britons temporarily working overseas:That matter has been examined with care by the Foreign Office and the Home Office by request. They assure me that the problems involved are insoluble."—[Official Report, 10th April 1975; Vol. 889, c. 1424.]I hope that the Home Office Minister will tell us that the problems are not insoluble even if this is actually contrary to the wishes of the Government.
I want to quote from The Sunday Times of 20th April 1975 because it is wholly relevant to what we are discussing today. The article refers to the same Government. It states:Towards overseas Britons, on the other hand, the Government is being less statesmanlike. It wants to admit none of them to the poll, and is putting pressure on its own MPs who think otherwise. No one knows how many extra voters are involved, and Mr. Short has put up every kind of administrative objection to offering enfranchisement to any of them. Admittedly, time is short. But the most practical amendment, proposed by the Conservatives, would limit the external vote to passport-holders …and so on.
The first objection put forward at the time was the question of time within the confines of the referendum. Perhaps we can look at three possible arguments which the Home Office Minister might deploy today. The first is that the Home Office might still believe that what has been proposed is impossible. It might believe that there is not enough time or that the proposition is undesirable.
Surely it is not impossible for this country, with its long traditions of democracy and as an innovator of the democratic process over many years, to find a way of emulating other countries—New Zealand, France, Sweden, Italy, United States and Denmark, to name but six—which have simply found ways of enabling citizens forced to be out of their own country on polling day to vote at election time.
§ Mr. John Roper (Farnworth)
The hon. Gentleman quoted the example of Italy. My understanding was that it was possible for Italians who were outside Italy to vote, but only if they returned physically to Italy. Perhaps that is not the case, and perhaps the hon. Gentleman can give the evidence for his assertion.
§ Mr. Adley
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I discussed this with the Italian Embassy in London three years ago, but I do not have all the information with me. If I can find time to skip upstairs to my office and unearth it I shall do so. But I cannot promise the hon. Gentleman that it will be easy to find. The boxes and files with the 10,000 signatures took up so much room in my office that some time ago my colleagues insisted that it be removed.
There are various methods by which many countries arrange for their citizens who are out of the country temporarily to vote. I hope that we shall not hear the Home Office Minister say that it is beyond the ability of the Home Office to devise a system.
The second question relates to time. Because of the vote during the earlier proceedings on the Bill we know that the elections to the European Parliament will be delayed. As the Foreign Secretary put it so graphically in Brussels,Britain is not the only nigger in the woodpile".I do not know how the Race Relations Board would take that comment, but that remark indicates that we are not the only country causing the elections to be delayed. Therefore, the argument about lack of time, which was used by the Government in the referendum debate, is surely not an argument which the Home Office can now put forward. I hope that the Minister of State will say something about that.
The third argument is the undesirability—as the Government may see it—of accepting the principle. Perhaps the Minister of State will tell us whether the amendments we are discussing are impractical or undesirable. Does he find the principle that we are discussing wholly objectionable? It would be a good thing to have on record whether the Government accept the principle but not the amendments.
A number of hon. Members have made the point about the creation of a European electorate. Anyone who is opposed to the principle of membership of the EEC will do his darnedest to prevent an amendment like this one from getting on to the statute book. Like direct elections themselves, the amendment will help 1493 to democratise the whole process of Europeanisation.
Is our present system of voting so perfect and free from anomaly that we can put our hands on our hearts and say that this innovation is such as to spoil the perfect system of voting within the United Kingdom? That would be a very hard position to substantiate.
Our system has, for example, the anomaly of the Irish vote. A citizen of the Irish Republic can vote in a General Election in Eire and then vote in a General Election in the United Kingdom, and undoubtedly this has an influence on a number of constituencies. At the last General Election the percentage of votes cast by postal vote throughout the 635 United Kingdom constituencies was 2.9. In Fermanagh and South Tyrone it was 14.2 per cent and in Mid Ulster 11.8 per cent. When I took this point up with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, he tried to justify it by sayingA high proportion of people seek work elsewhere, outside the constituency, and for this reason, they may be away from their qualifying address on the date of the election.That seems a powerful reason for supporting the amendment.
§ Mr. Powell
Before the Secretary of State is allowed to get away with that prevarication may I point out that there is no difficulty in distinguishing between the postal votes due to a change of address and postal votes of those who allege inability on physical grounds to get to the polls.
§ Mr. Adley
I am grateful to the right hon. Member. Perhaps I can now quote from a booklet entitled "The British General Election of 1951" sent to me by David Butler. It says:In one remote polling-district in Mid-Ulster there were 128 electors all told; sixty-eight of these applied for postal ballots, but only six of them on the ground that they had moved away from the district. Of the 128 electors, fifty-seven shared the surname McHugh and thirty-five of these were certified as unable to get to the polling-station in person. The innocent might enquire the nature of the epidemic which struck the clan McHugh during October 1951.That strengthens the argument that our system is less than perfect. We have a long way to go to make it perfect. Some people may say that despite the amendment we shall still have a long way to go because our system does not cater for everybody's needs. During the Bourne 1494 mouth, East by-election you will recall, Mr. Murton, that it was a very cold night—
§ The Chairman
The Chair is totally indifferent to the weather, either in this Committee or elsewhere outside.
§ Mr. Adley
The Bournemouth, East constituency is roughly adjacent to yours, Mr. Murton, and I thought you might have some recollection of the weather that night. On polling night I met a lady when I was knocking on doors and she said that the weather was not conducive to her attendance at the polling booth. When I urged her to go and offered to take her in my car she told me that I was very kind but perhaps she would go tomorrow instead. By no stretch of the imagination will the amendment be able to satisfy people whose aspirations are as diverse as those of that lady. However, we must improve on the present position in so much as people who live in Britain but have interests in the EEC have to stay at home or lose the vote. That is a wholly undemocratic position. Therefore, I support the amendment.
§ Mr. Roper
This is a rather difficult amendment because while there is considerable sympathy for those who are covered by it, there are a number of practical problems about the way in which it is drafted. I want to raise two or three points in order to get clarification either from the hon. Member for Mid-Oxon (Mr. Hurd) or the hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell).
Like many other hon. Members I have been lobbied by those who feel they will be deprived of a vote in the future European elections and obviously if there is a common voting procedure throughout the Community there will have to be arrangements for citizens who are not resident in their own countries on polling day.
Are there not some difficulties about procedures such as these? I have been very concerned to read the interesting experiences in France where there is provision for overseas representation. A most unfortunate situation—I am being charitable—has arisen in which agents of the French diplomatic service seem to have been involved by political parties in the distribution of postal vote forms. These people made sure that the postal votes were directed towards marginal constituencies in large numbers. I am not 1495 suggesting that members of the British diplomatic service would be involved in such things. But when it comes to elections, temptations are placed in front of those standing at the elections.
§ Mr. MacFarquhar
Would the hon. Member not agree that we are talking about British elections, not French elections? In the case he has cited the French diplomats knew which were the marginal seats because they were dealing with familiar constituencies. We are dealing with totally new constituencies and we do not know which are marginal seats.
§ Mr. Roper
My hon. Friend may well be right about the differences in morals of those involved in British and French elections. I was not making moral judgments between us and other member States of the Community. My hon. Friend raises the question about the lack of knowledge of marginality. But it is perfectly possible to make assumptions, from the combination of United Kingdom constituencies, about those that are likely to be fairly safe and those that are likely to be less safe. Therefore, I do not understand the argument.
§ Mr. Hugh Dykes (Harrow, East)
Perhaps the hon. Member for Farnworth (Mr. Roper) might wish to change, modify, alter or withdraw the allegation that the French diplomatic service is lacking in morality in the preparation of postal votes. I must point out that the distribution of those blanks from one place on the occasion he has mentioned was very unclear, and the way in which he has represented the French diplomatic service and election authorities is very unfair.
§ Mr. Roper
I was not attempting to make a judgment. I have read the reports of the case before the electoral courts in France. Certain electoral papers have been ruled out of order because they came from the same hand and the same post. I do not know who was responsible for preparing them, but there seem to be opportunities for abuse in systems that are not necessarily too different from those proposed in the amendment.
There are a number of points about the amendment that need clarifying. Line 3 refers to those who are 1496resident in one of the other member States of the European Communities".I have a number of constituents involved in the long-distance road haulage business on a European basis. They often drive their lorries not merely to France and Italy but sometimes as far as Turkey.
§ Mr. William Clark (Croydon, South)
The hon. Gentleman is labouring the point. Even in parliamentary elections, if one goes away on business, one is entitled to a proxy vote.
§ Mr. Kenneth Clarke (Rushcliffe)
A person abroad on business is entitled to a proxy vote in the constituency in which he resides. The amendment seeks to remove the absurdity of the hon. Gentleman's constituent who is driving a lorry through Turkey having a proxy vote that can be exercised by his wife while someone running an office in Brussels will have no such vote.
§ Mr. Roper
Some people are regularly involved in the road haulage business and therefore may not remain on the register in this country. What will happen about those in the road haulage business who may be resident in Turkey but working in the Community on election day? What is the concept of "resident" in the amendment? If a lorry driver spends most of his time in the Community, would this count?
Lines 5 and 6 of the amendment refer to the places where people were "last entitled" to vote as electors. The amendment appears to entitle people to a vote even though they are not on the register. Indeed, it seems possible that a person could claim a vote when he had never been on the United Kingdom register.
On a similar point of detail, what will be the position of a person from the Republic of Ireland who has spent, say, six months here and would have been entitled to a vote if he had been resident in this country when the election register was drawn up? Would the amendment still entitle him to a vote even though he may have returned to the Republic where he had lived for, perhaps, 40 or 1497 50 years? It appears that anyone from the Republic who has spent however little or however much time in the United Kingdom would be entitled to claim a vote when he was back in the Republic.
§ Mr. Adley
That would depend on whether he had the right of abode as defined in the amendment and in the Immigration Act 1971.
§ Mr. Roper
I understand that such a person would have the right of abode in the United Kingdom. If I am wrong, no doubt I shall be corrected later. If a person has been here, he will have the right of abode, and most Community citizens have the right to come into this country.
The amendment is widely drawn and needs more attention. I am not altogether unsympathetic to its objectives, but the way in which it has been drafted has left it open to abuse and it could harm the objectives that I share.
§ Mr. William Clark
The hon. Member for Farnworth (Mr. Roper) seemed to be saying that he liked the spirit behind the amendment but felt that it should be tidied up. I am sure that if the Minister accepts the principle and says that he will bring the amendment back suitably reworded, there will be no need for a vote.
I should like to take up the point of the right hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. Stewart), who said that we were part of nine States and that everyone living in those States should have the right to vote in the direct elections. Our Select Committee deliberated upon this matter and came down firmly on the side of British citizens living in the Nine having the right to vote.
I do not think that this is a great change from our normal voting practice. We have 635 parliamentary constituencies and if a person moves from constituency "A" before an election, he will be entitled to a postal vote in that constituency. I accept that he will be moving within British territory, but the amendment is analogous to that situation. It gives British citizens in the Nine the right to a postal or proxy vote.
This is a one-off amendment. The method of voting in the European elections is due to be harmonised before the second set of elections and if the method 1498 is to be harmonised we shall probably have harmonisation of who can and cannot vote. The amendment is a temporary measure designed to give British citizens, wherever they live in the Community, the right to vote. It is an extension of the postal vote system.
§ Mr. Dykes
The principle behind the amendment is very important. Equally, it is easy for us to say that we shall inevitably be arbitrary in the way in which we first decide on what is effectively a major extension of the franchise going beyond the territorial principle, but limited, at this stage, to European elections.
I disagree with the hon. Member for Farnworth (Mr. Roper) who said that the amendment was widely drawn. It is limiting and, to some extent, frustrating to many who would like to see the principle established in a substantial way without further delay.
My hon. Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) was right to point out that one of the most important aims of the amendment is to remove the anomaly of postal votes being available for temporarily absent business men in national elections but not in European elections. Added to that is the obvious attraction that there is included not only the possibility of business men temporarily absent being included in the franchise for European elections, but also those who are absent for a long period but coming within the definition of "working" and the full corpus of officials and functionaries of British nationality and British residence in the European Community. That must be one of the most important parts of the amendment.
As is evident from the Order Paper, I with other hon. Friends proposed an amendment some weeks before Amendment No. 183 was drafted. It is drawn in wider terms and refers toUnited Kingdom nationals temporarily resident in other member States of the European Communityhaving the right to vote in the first set of European direct elections. Whatever we may say in the continuation of the debate about who should be included, how the definition should be drawn, and what importance we should attach to the important fact that we are dealing with the Home Office model scheme as put 1499 to the Select Committee, I believe that the principle is even more important than the details. That may sound somewhat illogical, but that must be so.
The amendment is the first step to the necessary extension of the franchise that in due course I hope to see extended into national elections. The experience during the referendum was disappointing. Many of my hon. Friends were fed up with the reaction of the Government, and certainly of the Civil Service, which showed a classical resistance to change or new ideas. I hope that on this occasion the reaction of both the Government and civil servants will be different.
I shall say a few words on Amendment No. 53. I shall not dwell on it at excessive length as it is not my wish to make you impatient on that score, Mr. Murton. The much wider character of its text and that of a related amendment was originally in one of the clauses. It is attractive in that "temporarily resident" would by definition, and certainly on all visible evidence, include in the franchise far more of those who are living abroad temporarily, working abroad temporarily or even abroad on holiday, than would Amendment No. 183.
I do not intend to labour that argument as I think that the first step, in whatever form and structure it is couched, is more important than the total encapsulation of the full principle, which would be unrealistic at this stage. As time goes on, the encapsulation of the full principle will need much more parliamentary work.
In common with my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch and Lymington (Mr. Adley), I am a sponsor of the Bill that is being published today by my hon. Friend the Member for Bedfordshire, South (Mr. Madel). It is a Bill that seeks to give people the right to vote if on holiday overseas. By definition those people would be included in Amendment No. 53. If that amendment were conceded, in due course they would be included both for national and for other elections. It is important to air these views even if amendments are not pressed.
The Home Office, and to a lesser extent the Foreign Office, might object to that which I propose, claiming that there needs to be a more precise and close definition such as that embodied in the model 1500 scheme, which is to be found in Amendment No. 183. It is said that we must not go beyond that because to do so would inevitably be to create complicated machinery. I am not sure whether that is an acceptable explanation or whether it is right.
I cite briefly the example and experience of another foreign country. It is not a member of the Community but it aspires to be so. I refer to Spain. The kingdom of Spain had its first elections last year. The very fact that they were held was a notable political triumph for the Spanish people and everyone involved in creating them. They were the first set of elections after years of dictatorial rule.
I hope that the right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) will concede that we in this place can often look usefully to the experience of other countries in deciding modalities for elections and other purposes. We can usefully pursue, or investigate and study, the experience of those in other countries.
I am conscious that I am being provocative by describing the experience of a non-Community country and being rash enough to select Spain, a kingdom that for years had no democracy and no real politics. In 1977 it had its first General Election for 40 years. It was held without difficulty. Presumably, far more people would be involved in a system akin to that which is outlined in Amendment No. 53—namely, reporting to the nearest consular post by a certain time before an election.
I do not wish to detain the Committee for too long, but I shall quote from the relevant document that was sent out to all Spaniards living abroad that indicated the way in which they could vote. It is a system that might conceivably prove to be a model not only for this country—I say that with some hesitation bearing in mind the length and tradition of our electoral experience compared with the puny experience of the Spanish—but for some other European countries where conventional election practice does not take place.
The notice reads:Spanish Nationals abroad, over 21 years of age, included in the Electoral Census of Spain can vote by post in the General Elections 1501 which will take place on 15th June 1977 according to the rules of the Royal Law-Decree of 18th March 1977.In order to vote by post your personal attendance is required with documentation at the Consulates General of Spain in London, Liverpool, Southampton and the Honorary Vice-Consulates dependent on the same.The Consular intervention is limited to the free issue of the necessary paper that the interested party should send direct to the appropriate Junta de Zona'—that means the electoral district—or in some cases their legal representative.The notice then goes into the period of time and urges people to proceed as soon as possible to help the Spanish Post Office.
That raises a couple of interesting points. Why should we emulate the Spanish when the Home Office has already provided us with a suitable model? Presumably, the British GPO would face the same difficulties as the Spanish Post Office if such a system were employed. However, there are interesting features that lead one to the tempting conclusion that a much freer system incorporating a much larger number of potential voters might be incorporated in this country's arrangements and elsewhere.
When we consider the situation that confronted the Spaniards and the mathematics of the population involved, we know full well that many Spaniards were resident abroad who presumably, on all the evidence, took advantage of the opportunity to vote. Therefore, an inexperienced and totally immature Spanish monarchy, which was unable to handle its elections with the facility and skill to which the United Kingdom is fully accustomed and justly proud of, encouraged the use of a system that enabled many Spaniards living abroad to vote, although there were some who probably did not want to take part in the elections.
All the experience suggests that many Spaniards took advantage of the system that was put before them, although some were understandably reluctant to take part. That reluctance may have had something to do with their previous absence from Spain under the former regime. It may be that there were political complications that made some unwilling to produce formal identification. However, that is a separate consideration. The fact is that the system was used 1502 widely. There were nearly 3 million people entitled to vote within the terms of the notice, but not nearly as many as that did. None the less, several hundred thousand, and probably more, successfully voted and there were no hiccoughs. There was none of the problems to which the hon. Member for Farnworth referred when dealing with an isolated scandal in France in the preparations for the French elections.
I have explained the Spanish experience in some detail to show that there are other possibilities. It would be easy for our Civil Service to say "We must take this carefully. Let us have the narrowly drawn definition of those who may vote overseas for the first set of European elections." I hope that it will go beyond that. It will be disappointing to the Committee if the Government react in a negative way to the narrowly drawn amendment that is before it. That would mean that we are nowhere near the wider form that is encompassed in amendments such as Amendment No. 53.
There have been ideas put forward in the reverse direction by my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Mr. Skeet). The Committee expects a positive reaction from the Government in respect of this amendment, which has been scientifically drawn up by civil servants. It has been rationally constructed with great care to enable those in other European countries who are entitled, by natural justice, to a vote in this first set of elections to be able to exercise their right.
I readily concede that there may be some objections to sub-paragraphs (i), (ii) and (iii). None of these objections can outweigh or gainsay the fundamental point. I accept that the Government might wish to return with counter proposals in textual terms which will not alter the spirit and principle of the amendment but may change some of the controls and definitions in the subsections.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Oxon (Mr. Hurd) I believe that there is an understandable and legitimate pressure over these elections. All hon. Members will have received a good deal of correspondence on the issue from people who felt aggrieved because, at the time of the EEC referendum, they were in other European countries and 1503 could not take part. These people feel even more strongly about these critical direct elections. They will feel justly aggrieved if they are prevented from voting because there is resistance to change, to a legitimate and respectable electoral innovation. They will not accept resistance to adopting a system which many would like to see adopted in national general elections.
§ Mr. Paul Channon (Southend, West)
I, too, support the amendment. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) that the amendment is drawn extremely narrowly. There are some odd concepts in it. That the right to vote should be restricted to people in employment is a curious concept. It can only be justified by a desire to meet the objections advanced on the last occasion when this suggestion was put forward.
I agree with my hon. Friend also that there can be no grounds for saying that it is impossible to achieve the objectives set out in the amendment. Many of my hon. Friends, including my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch and Lymington (Mr. Adley) have shown conclusively that many other countries have managed to put the provisions of this amendment into effect. The argument on the grounds of practicality cannot be sustained.
The second thing which my hon. Friends have managed to show conclusively is that the argument that there is insufficient time to carry out this provision cannot be sustained. I do not know whether we can be given more information during the course of the debate about a likely date for the holding of the elections but we do know that they are not to be held this year so that there is plenty of time for any new scheme of this kind to be put forward if it is the will of the Committee.
The only argument that can be advanced against the amendment is an argument on the grounds of principle, if the Government are not prepared to concede the principle. I consider that there is an overwhelming case for the principle of allowing British people living and working in the countries of the Community to vote in the elections for the European Assembly. There is a distinction between 1504 voting in those elections and voting for this Parliament. A British citizen resident and working in France or Belgium would not have such a strong case for claiming the right to vote in elections to the British Parliament, which takes decisions on domestic matters such as the law of housing, taxation or education. The argument which says that a British resident living in one of the countries of the Community should have the right to vote for the European Assembly, set up by the Nine countries to deal with the affairs of the Community as a whole, is overwhelming.
I agree with those who have said that the time will come when people will be entitled to take part in elections irrespective of where they are living. An Englishman living in Paris would be entitled to vote in Paris, while a Frenchman living in Birmingham would be entitled to vote there. I am sure that this will come about when direct elections have taken place. A convention will be drawn up to allow that to happen. Until such a situation occurs, it is monstrously unjust that people working abroad, doing important jobs, trying to advance the interests of our country—
§ Mr. Channon
I did not say that they all were. It is unjust that such people, trying to do good for British industry, should not be entitled to vote in elections to the European Assembly.
I do not believe that the difficulties put forward by the hon. Member for Farnworth (Mr. Roper) can be sustained. The illustration he gave of the long-distance lorry driver is already covered by legislation. Such a person can obtain a postal or proxy vote with the greatest of ease. We might get an anomalous situation whereby the long-distance lorry driver trundling along the roads of Europe would be entitled to vote wherever he might be while the business man in Brussels would be unable to vote.
§ Mr. Channon
They have a strong case for being allowed to vote. I cannot think 1505 why, under existing law, they cannot do so if they are there for a temporary period.
§ Mr. Channon
Then they would be unable to vote. I believe that they certainly should be entitled to vote. It is interesting to note that the Council of Europe has brought strong pressure to bear with a view to allowing aliens to vote in elections in member countries. It is said that foreign workers in Switzerland should be given the right to vote in Swiss municipal and, possibly, national elections.
The idea that the vote should be confined to nationals in any country, an idea which I support, is nevertheless not supported by many in other countries who are experimenting with the idea of giving the vote to aliens in municipal and even national elections. The whole of the British Labour delegation voted in favour of such a proposition, which rather surprised me. I hope that it is in accord with Government policy. We can have such a situation without wanting to vote for federalism, without wanting a federalist State in Europe. None of us, except possibly members of the Labour delegation, wants to go that far or thinks that that is likely to happen. This modest amendment will right what those working abroad feel to be an injustice. I hope that the Government will be prepared to accept it in principle.
§ Mr. Roger Moate (Faversham)
The Committee would be ill-advised to accept this amendment. Having said that, I must say that it is easy to have a good deal of sympathy for those resident on the continent of Europe in particular who feel frustrated at being unable to register a vote in these elections. I have some sympathy with them, although that sympathy is diminished when I reflect on the fact that many of them are paying a much lower rate of taxation than they would be if they were living in this country. I suspect that one of the reasons they have taken care to ensure that they do not have rights in this country is to make certain they are entitled to the very much lower rates of taxation obtaining in Europe.
We are familiar with the cry of "No taxation without representation". I wonder whether, in this instance, we 1506 should not reverse it and say "No representation without taxation". If people were prepared to say "If I vote as a resident of the United Kingdom, I will pay taxation as a resident", I would be prepared to concede the case.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Adley
My hon. Friend must have a low opinion of the diligence of Inland Revenue officials. Thousands of people living and working in other EEC countries, some of them for two, three or four years, are still paying, and are obliged to pay, British taxes. What my hon. Friend is saying is not borne out by the facts.
§ Mr. Roper
I have some sympathy with the hon. Gentleman's criticism of the amendment. Would he not consider that his is a powerful argument in the case of national elections but that if people are resident in the EEC, where the own-resources situation operates, they will be levied the same percentage rate of value added tax towards the Community budget as those paying VAT in this country?
§ Mr. Moate
I can understand their feelings of frustration that they cannot vote in the European context, but I shall return to that point. There are certain other principles of our own electoral system that are even more important. It occurs to me that those people enjoying this privileged tax position abroad might be endangering it if they were able to establish that they had certain rights of residence in the United Kingdom under this provision. I would not want to put them off from voting if they were so minded, but they must think carefully before registering a vote if that would bring them back into the United Kingdom tax ambit.
Nevertheless, I can understand the frustration of such people, but frustration at not being able to take part in elections affecting the future of one's own country is widespread. Many other people are frustrated in this way, and I think that my hon. Friends supporting the amendment have placed it on such a narrow 1507 basis as to imply a lack of principle in what they are doing. The frustration is shared by British business men whether they live in Brussels or in New York. Surely a British business man living in New York is as concerned for the future of Europe or of the United Kingdom as is a business man in Brussels. Why, therefore, is it proposed that a person has to be resident in the Community?
My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) referred to his own proposition that people on holiday should also be entitled to vote. That is another category of people who will be frustrated at their inability to vote in the direct elections. But my hon. Friend does not suggest that they would have to be on holiday within the EEC. Presumably, he argues that they should have a right to vote in the elections wherever they might be in the world. If he is saying that a person who is a citizen of one of the countries of the EEC should be entitled to vote wherever he is in the world and should not be restricted to residence in the EEC at the time, that is an unfair proposition.
If that were the only objection, I should not think it right to support such a proposition, but there are many other objections as well. It has also been pointed out that, for some strange reason, the amendment would restrict the right to vote to people still in employment. That would be most unfair to people who have retired abroad. I can think of no sound reason for invoking such prejudice against pensioners. It would introduce an unfortunate principle, and I hope that on that ground also the amendment will not be accepted.
§ Mr. Moate
It is a limiting factor, since I do not know how one can prove satisfactorily in any circumstances that one has the intention to reside in the United Kingdom. It is a proposition incapable of proof. It is an intention, and no one can certify that that is what one will actually do. For example, it would be hard to prove that those in retirement intended to return. So again it is an unfair proposition. Many retired British citizens living abroad are desperately concerned about the future of the country. They have been described as lotus eaters, but they are still concerned about the country's future. They have been denied the right to vote, however. If we are to give the right to vote in these elections to the business man abroad, or in the EEC, we should give it to all other British citizens who are resident abroad.
Again, what about the Scots who are not to be allowed to vote in the Scottish referendum on devolution? Are not millions of Scots living abroad equally concerned about the future of Scotland or the future of the United Kingdom? They are to be denied that right to vote. It seems to me that my hon. Friends are advancing a limited case on the basis of special pleading and not on the basis of principle. If they came forward with a broadly based proposition, we could consider it, but as it is not being done in that way the Committee should not accept the amendment.
§ Mr. Moate
My hon. Friend missed the point of my earlier remarks and has anticipated my next point. Even if that were to be so, the proposition introduces certain features which would be in conflict with our parliamentary and electoral practices. It contradicts two vitally important factors. The first is the requirement of national residence in the United Kingdom. The second, and even more important, is the vital nature of the constituency link between elector and Member.
The amendment would require a person to produce evidence of some link with 1509 a constituency. Clearly, it could be a tenuous link. No time limit is proposed. The person concerned could go back to any parliamentary election—it could be an election of many years ago—and say "Such-and-such is my constituency." But we know that in practice it would not be his constituency and that he would have little interest in the candidates or in the nature of the candidacies. The proposition would undermine the constituency link.
I accept that if we were talking about a national list system, or some other kind of system, this idea would be acceptable, but the House has decided on the traditional first-past-the-post system and to preserve the very important constituency link.
§ Sir Raymond Gower (Barry)
Is not my hon. Friend making a powerful case against ever altering our system, even if that would mean improvement? Americans living in London choose whether they will vote for someone in California or New York. Their votes can be credited to a particular part of the electoral college, although they are overseas. Is not our system capable and susceptible of improvement? Is my hon. Friend resigned to having an inferior system always?
§ Mr. Moate
I do not want to make ourselves part of a federal system as in the United States. That is the analogy that my hon. Friend volunteers. We are talking about the vital constituency link that the amendment proposes to undermine. If we were talking about a national list system there would be logic in the case, but we are not. We are talking of our traditional system with the constituency link that is so precious.
In all the arguments that we have had about proportional representation and different systems of voting it has come through clearly that the vast majority want to preserve the individual Member link with the constituency. That is one of the most important things of all.
§ Mr. Budgen
When I asked my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Oxon (Mr. Hurd) to attempt to explain where the line should be drawn in deciding who should have the vote in the European elections he rightly avoided the question. No doubt it is true that English thought dwells more easily upon practicalities than upon principles. I shall be so un-English as to suggest a guiding principle. It is that we should accord the vote to those who show that their primary loyalty is to the British nation State.
I believe that people demonstrate that they adhere to that principle by showing that they conform to the two pieces of evidence that we require. The first evidence is that they have British nationality and the second that they have British residence.
§ Mr. Budgen
I accept what my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon) says. There is the question of the Southern Irish. That opens up a whole host of different arguments over which my hon. Friend and I might take a different view.
§ Mr. Channon
My hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen) says that a loyalty to the British State is one of the prerequisites. That is also ruled out by the Irish situation.
§ Mr. Budgen
By conforming to these two requirements people adduce evidence that their primary loyalty is to the British nation State. I regard the Irish situation not only as an anomaly but as a denial of our overall principle. That is why I think that my hon. Friend and I would disagree.
§ Mr. Budgen
I am not saying that. I am saying that residence is a necessary part of showing where the primary loyalty 1511 of the individual is. There are exceptions by way of the business vote and for diplomats and Service men because they have been asked to be resident elsewhere and it would be wrong to deny them the right to vote.
Of course we do not say to others who live abroad "You are a traitor". All we say is "You do not conform to one of the criteria and it is uncertain where your primary loyalty lies." To a chap who has been resident in the South of France for 20 years we say" You are a British national; you have been enjoying the sun in the South of France and paying lower taxes for 20 years. We are uncertain where your primary loyalty lies."
§ Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)
Does the hon. Member agree that those people are not all that much different from such people as Tony Jacklin, Michael Caine, and a host of others, who make money in this country, have a good start in life and then, because they have to pay a bit extra in tax move abroad? Is not the loyalty of such as Roy Jenkins, the claret drinkers and others of that ilk no different from that of the Tony Jacklins?
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Budgen
People are entitled to change their loyalties. They are entitled to live in another country and say that they prefer the French or Spanish way of life. But certain consequences flow from that.
§ Mr. Budgen
These are matters that must be considered when we review the law of British nationality. In deciding where the primary loyalty of the citizen lies the criteria of residence and nationality are useful.
Even if I am wrong in saying that a primary loyalty to this country should be the test, the amendment has no principle attached to it. The more one looks at it the more uncertain one is about the principle. It is a mere bodge-up. There must be some principle involved in deciding where the line is drawn. Why, for 1512 instance, should people who work and live abroad be given the vote whilst those with an investment income who live abroad are denied the vote? How can it be proved whether a person who has lived abroad for 20 years intends to return to this country? There is no way of checking a person's intention.
§ Sir Raymond Gower
A retired person has a greater degree of choice than a person who might, by the exigencies of his employment, temporarily work in another country for a firm. Such a person has no choice whereas the retired person has a lot of choice. Does my hon. Friend make any distinction between them?
§ Mr. Budgen
Such people must face the consequences of their actions. A man working abroad may pay lower taxation, be paid more, and live in a better climate. One of the consequences of that is that his links with this country are, temporarily at least, slightly less close. Nobody is saying that such people should be denied the vote when they return to this country.
I am driven to vote against the amendment partly because it is defective in detail and partly because of the compelling argument of the hon. Member for Dudley, West (Dr. Phipps), who sees it as an important step along the road towards a federal Europe. I am not an anti-Marketeer, I am a pro-Marketeer, but a Gaullist. I want to see the electorate voting for people whose primary duty is to uphold the interests of the British nation State. If a large part of the electorate is resident in the EEC, it is possible, and even likely, that those who are resident in the EEC but voting in this country will wish to see a federal Europe.
§ Mr. MacFarquhar
Is it not equally possible that they will be at the sharp end fighting for British interests in Europe?
§ Mr. Budgen
I do not hold the view that anyone who is going to Europe is doing a job for Britain and that anyone who is importing is a traitor. I am saying that the person who lives in the EEC has temporarily slackened his links with this country. I say that such a person is more likely to be in favour of a federal Europe, more likely to be in favour of European nationality and of a European currency. I say that he is altogether less 1513 likely to want to support primarily the interests of the British nation State.
If, on the other hand, any right hon. or hon. Member wants to see this country progress within the EEC towards the federal solution—I see that the hon. Member for Dudley, West nods—he should know what he is doing. This is a significant step towards a federal Europe, and for that reason I shall vote against it.
§ Mr. John
My speech has been made so often for me by hon. Members on the Opposition Benches that it will be a relief to me now to present my argument in my own way.
I must start by giving one piece of information to the hon. Member for Mid-Oxon (Mr. Hurd) on the question of numbers—the 270,000. These are the people resident in the EEC countries who are patrial to the United Kingdom. That figure takes in about 70,000 children, so that the likely effect in respect of voting will be about 200,000 voters. That is our best estimate. We have no exact numbers to present.
Secondly—this will save him interrupting in ebullient fashion later—let me tell the hon. Member for Mid-Oxon that when the Home Office gave evidence to the Select Committee it did so at the request of the Select Committee, which asked the Home Office whether there was a feasible system.
It will be no part of my argument to say that the system proposed in the amendment is impossible. I shall argue that there are certain weaknesses in it, but at no stage was it a system put forward by the Home Office as a preferred system. That has to be made clear, just as it has to be made clear that there are some differences between that and the Opposition amendment today, and there were certainly some caveats in the Home Office technical evidence which the hon. Gentleman did not bring out. I shall deal with that in the course of my argument.
I have been invited to say whether I am in favour, in principle, of extending the vote overseas or of confining it to the present franchise. It is always difficult and dangerous to argue on behalf of the right hon. Member for Down. South (Mr. Powell), but his reference to a side 1514 wind, as I understand it, means essentially that the proposals now presented not only depart from the fact of our franchise but they depart substantially from the method of changing the franchise which this country has adopted over many years.
Since 1917 there has been the mechanism of the Speaker's Conference, which has considered and examined in great detail the question of franchise. The hon. Member for Mid-Oxon is already looking impatient. If he has reached that point at this stage in my speech, I feel that I should advise him to have a break outside, because his blood pressure will rise beyond endurance at the end of 10 minutes. However, the hon. Gentleman's reaction to what I am saying does not deflect me from my argument.
What I have heard today convinces me not only that this is an important amendment since it involves a significant extension of the franchise for one set of elections but that it cannot be hermetically sealed to those elections, and it will at least have some potential repercussions on the internal franchise. That is why I say that before we go back to a position which the House adopted pre-1917, when we tried, during the course of legislation on the Floor of the House, to collect together our own electoral rules, we should go to the tried method of the Speaker's Conference, where these matters can be discussed in detail and evidence about them can be given in detail.
§ Mr. Channon
If the Minister intends to resist the amendment, as his tone indicates, is he nevertheless prepared to say that the Government would refer the whole of this question to a Speaker's Conference, so that matters could be carefully thought out?
§ Mr. John
It is no secret that, although it would be extremely difficult to arrange, the Government would like there to be a Speaker's Conference. All I am saying is that this is a vital matter, which ought to be discussed through some such mechanism as the Speaker's Conference if we are to extend the franchise in a constitutional matter of this kind.
§ Mr. Thorpe
Since the Minister is so anxious to follow precedent and to refer matters to the Speaker's Conference, is it within his contemplation that his own Government departed dramatically from that rule when they asked the House of Commons to decide between varying electoral systems? That would normally be a matter for the Speaker's Conference. Does the hon. Gentleman realise that that was breaking with precedent?
§ Mr. John
The right hon. Gentleman has only just returned to the Chamber and he may not have heard all my argument thus far. My argument was not that the system here cannot be dealt with on a one-off basis but that inevitably the proposal to extend the franchise will have domestic repercussions, and because of the potential domestic repercussions we cannot treat it as a sort of one-off job, as we could the electoral method.
Before those interruptions I was dealing with the discussions in the Select Committee. It is important to note that the Select Committee discussed these matters, including restriction to EEC nationals. The Select Committee came to the conclusion that the extension of the franchise ought to be based anywhere in the world where British nationals are. With respect, I think that the hon. Member for Mid-Oxon admits that, so it is in no sense an accusation when I say that he has adopted a self-denying ordinance.
I see some difficulty here. Clearly, on a Bill of this kind, especially when we have been at pains to assimilate the procedure which we adopt for the first European elections to the existing electoral pattern in this country, it is perfectly respectable to maintain the principle which has been set forth in the amendment. But it is perfectly respectable also to point out that, because the European Economic Community affects all countries in the world, or its decisions affect all countries in the world, the franchise should be extended to all British nationals wherever they may be.
However, there is a fallacy, I suggest, in the argument which has been pre 1516 sented. I do not say that it rules it out as impracticable or that it should not commend itself to the Committee on that score, but it is right to point out that the amendment consciously restricts the franchise to those British nationals who happen to live in a particular area.
This limb of the case depends to a large extent on the argument that those who reside within the EEC are more closely affected than are others elsewhere in the world.
§ Mr. John
It was an argument nut. The hon. Gentleman may think it rubbish, but it was put from the Conservative Benches and I suggest that he takes it up with his hon. Friend rather than with me. I am trying to respond to the debate.
As I was saying, I believe it to be generally accepted that EEC decisions affect people in many parts of the world—certainly, the developing countries would not say that decisions of the EEC leave them unaffected—and herein lies one of the fallacies in the argument.
The second fallacy in the argument relates to those called the vanguard, the people necessarily abroad on business. As I see it, in putting forward that argument, the hon. Member for Mid-Oxon—his hon. Friend the Member for Harrow. East (Mr. Dykes) spoke about it, too—was speaking of a category of people who are involved with the EEC and who know a great deal about the EEC. But one cannot lump all those who live abroad into one category and say that they are the vanguard of Britain abroad or Britain in Europe.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Dykes
The Committee appreciates that the Minister is feeling embarrassed at having to put forward these diversionary arguments, which have nothing to do with the text of the first amendment. I submit that there is no way in which the text of the amendment delimits or narrows the categories of people entitled to vote in the elections. It seeks to draw up the procedures whereby they can register to vote and that must have a delimiting effect, but that is a different matter.
§ Mr. John
The hon. Gentleman is perversely trying to misunderstand me. I was not arguing that there was such a delimitation, but I am saying that the examples given here today related to those people who were forced by the exigencies of their work to work in Europe. I am saying that there is a distinct category of people who choose to work and live abroad and who do so conscious of the effect that will have on their civic rights and obligations. Therefore, it is right in discussing this matter to deal with this category of persons as well as with the situation of those who are forced into difficulties by reason of their jobs.
§ Mr. Adley
Does the Minister recall the quotation that I read from the letter sent to me by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland? Does not exactly the same proposition apply—that he was justifying a high level of postal votes in the Fermanagh constituency for the same reason which the Minister now puts forward—namely, that people have chosen to live and work elsewhere, but are still entitled to vote?
§ Mr. John
The hon. Gentleman must decide whether he believes that Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom. We are now talking about people living outside the United Kingdom within the ambit of present British representation. I was trying to make the point that the people who still live and work abroad may do so in the knowledge that, for their own good and sufficient reasons, they are sacrificing their civic rights and obligations.
I do not follow the argument advanced by the hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) on the subject of taxation. However, I found his argument about the nature of the representation we are providing a good deal more cogent. What 1518 we have done by our decision to elect by a first-past-the-post system in constituencies will not express an opinion about the overall composition of a delegation that goes to the Assembly. It also forces us to choose the man who will represent a particular constituency in that Assembly.
In my view, the nexus between a constituent and his representative, which was urged on my right hon. Friend as being the great advantage of the first-past-the-post system, will be lost if people are claiming to vote in a constituency in which at one time they had an entitlement to vote. They must have an intent to return to this country. I am conscious of the fact that it appeared in the scheme that was put forward.
There is a difficulty to which I shall return because it is an important point. I must point out that the intent to return to Britain is a variable factor. People will often say that they intend to return to the Highlands or Islands of Scotland, and one often sees in those Islands empty crofts, which are a symbol of people living abroad. It is such an indefinite concept that this will produce problems of verification with which I shall deal in due course.
We are saying that, for however long a person has been away from this country, he not only has a connection with this country which is sentimental, but a connection with the constituency, in terms of deciding which man should represent and act for that constituency.
Other arguments were adduced. The hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Skeet) puffs like a disgruntled steam engine, but it has been said many times that the Italians have lost their sense of connection with the constituency in Italy in which they are expected to vote. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to turn that round and to say that that applies to Britons abroad, he is at one with me in this argument.
§ Mrs. Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)
Why does the Minister when referring to representatives of constituencies refer always to men? There are women representatives, too.
§ Mr. John
I beg the hon. Lady's pardon. I am guilty of breaching the legal maxim that man equals woman.
1519 The hon. Member for Christchurch and Lymington said that a regional list system had been put forward. That system was turned down by a majority of this House in order to meet the argument "We in the West Country cannot be linked with another constituency because we have special fishing interests and need to be protected." Devon cannot be linked with Cornwall, because the problems are so dissimilar. Yet hon. Gentlemen who support that argument are now prepared to say that a person who is resident abroad and who may not have been back for many years to the constituency should be able to speak and to vote on the specific problems of the region.
§ Mr. Roper
Will the Minister give the Committee his views about a further subsection which should be included? There is no reference in the amendment, as drafted, to an individual's intention to vote in any other way in this election. Going back to the example of the Irish voter, it would be possible for such a person, in the European elections, to vote in the United Kingdom as well as in Ireland. Does the Minister not agree that there is a gap in the amendment and that there should be a subsection (5) suggesting that he must assure the authorities that in direct elections he will not vote elsewhere?
§ Mr. John
The problem does not involve double voting. There is provision in the Bill. The problem to which my hon. Friend refers relates to verification. Lest the hon. Member for Mid-Oxon mutters "Home Office", let me refer him to paragraph 14 of the memorandum submitted to the Select Committee, in which the Home Office specifically refers to the difficulties of verification which arise. I believe that, if this amendment were passed, the electoral registration officer might find himself in an invidious position. He would not have the ability physically to check in the same way as he would in this country. We would not have the same guarantee of validity in the overseas operation.
That can be got round in two ways. The first is by placing a great burden on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Overseas Posts. I know that the hon. Member for Mid-Oxon would not want that to 1520 happen. The second, as the Select Committee recommended, is to appoint an appropriate official under the law of the host country, verified by the applicant's employers, to do it. It is nowhere made explicit in the amendment, but I presume that some such scheme as that was what the hon. Gentleman had in mind.
However, that would involve the electoral registration officer not only in a judgment of the validity of the applicant but, on some occasions, in a judgment of the validity of the official who has attested the application made by the person concerned.
§ Sir Raymond Gower
Is the Minister really saying that these are valid objections? Is he saying that this country cannot do what is done by other countries, in permitting their nationals abroad to vote? Is he saying that that is beyond our ingenuity?
§ Mr. John
Of course I am not saying that. I regret that my neighbour cannot mentally leap the Aberthaw Brook sufficiently to follow my argument. What I am trying to say is that we should have an awareness of these problems. I am not saying that they cannot be overcome, but we should consider them in rather more detail. Hitherto, it has always been the province of the Speaker's Conference to consider matters such as this, and it is for the Speaker's Conference to consider some of the problems still inherent in this case.
§ Mr. John
The hon. Member mutters "Nineteenth century". In fact, it was during the twentieth century that we adopted the Speaker's Conference in order to get away from nineteenth-century modes of determining electoral practices in this country. I hope that the hon. Member will not drag us back to the nineteenth century by his blindness on this problem.
I turn now to the amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Harrow, East—after having been so politely interrupted. The hon. Member for Harrow, East was gracious enough to say that it included holidaymakers temporarily resident as well as those resident abroad on work. This, too, imports—it may be a desirable thing or an undesirable thing 1521 —a concept which hitherto has not been part of our system. The House must look at the amendment in the light of that fact. The 14 days' notice means that no true validation of applications to vote from abroad will be possible in so short a time as 14 days.
The hon. Member for Bedford based his argument against the main amendment on his constituency experience. In his amendment, he referred to people who have been here for 10 years, or for 10 years out of the last 15 years. He will know that in such cases they would themselves have been entitled to apply for naturalisation and, therefore, to become British nationals. If their connection with the country is now as great as I ant sure it is in many cases, they would have applied for naturalisation. But the hon. Member will know that the Italian Government, in the particular case to which he has referred, is making arrangements about voting in EEC elections. My hon. Friend the Member for Farnworth (Mr. Roper), who mentioned physical return, should be aware that at any rate there is a proposal by the Italian Government that physical return to Italy would not be necessary in such cases.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ Mr. John
The hon. Gentleman will probably find that many of the people concerned will do so. I thought that the argument would be slightly different from ment would be slightly different from that, and that the younger people, the man, wife and child, might be naturalised, but that the aged mother who was perhaps admitted with them might not wish to give up her Italian nationality. However, I do not think that the problem is as great as the hon. Member supposes. That is why, with respect, his amendment is unnecessary.
I should like to recapitulate very briefly, because I am sure that I may be misunderstood in this winding-up speech. That is a traditional feature. It is probably better if I encapsulate what I am saying.
1522 It is not that I have taken a fixed view against the extension of the franchise. Some of my hon. Friends may laugh. They started from a fixed position, like myself, but they have ended in the same position. What I am saying—and this is my fixed position—is that this ought not to be done without proper consideration by a Speaker's Conference, and because that proper consideration has not been given I believe that any major change or any change with a potential implication as major as this one should be discussed. That is why I cannot advise the House to accept the amendment.
§ Mr. Hurd
That was a very sad speech. I thought that the speech of the former Minister of State, Privy Council Office, the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Fowler), on the last occasion, was a sad speech, but its repetition was even more dismal. The argument about Speaker's Conferences is wholly absurd coming from a Minister who has, within the recent recollection of us all, proposed to Parliament a much wider revolution in our affairs in the form of the regional list without any mention of a Speaker's Conference at all. It does not lie in the Minister's mouth to say that we cannot have this relatively minor and narrow change without a Speaker's Conference when he proposes that we should swallow an enormous whale of an electoral system without any mention of a Speaker's Conference.
Having made clear that he will not accept any extension at all, the Minister criticised the amendment for not being wide enough to enfranchise people working all over the world. There is a common sense view that people in the Community have a claim to vote in elections within the Community. That is the common sense view to which, in an attempt to be moderate and helpful, we have pinned ourselves today. It does not lie with the Minister to say that we have not proposed a much wider amendment when he has made clear that he will not accept any extension at all.
The Minister really dredged the barrel with his administrative arguments. Normally he would have deployed them with great force, but he could not do so on this occasion because the scheme originated in his Department. Therefore, he had to pick on a few minor difficulties about verification. Those difficulties exist. However, the whole tone of what the 1523 Minister said is in sad contrast to the tone of the officials who gave evidence on this matter. For example, on the point about verification, the official concerned, in reply to a question, said:I think there is a difficulty for the electoral registration officers, but they normally have to apply their own judgment.That is not brushing aside the difficulty; it is approaching it in the tone of voice of someone who wishes to solve it.
It is the business of Ministers not to drag back their officials but to spur them on. If the impact of the Minister on all Departments is to get them to move more slowly than they otherwise would move. Heaven help us.
§ For these reasons we believe that there is a serious point here and a serious grievance to be redressed. We are very sad that in no way has the Minister gone any way to meet what we had already devised as a half-way position. We hope that the House will not take too much notice of his miserable advice and will support the amendment. We hope that even those right hon. and hon. Members, on both sides of the Committee, who would have liked it to go rather further will support it. It is at least a first step in a reasonable direction.
§ Question put, That the amendment be made:—
§ The Committee divided: Ayes 149, Noes 160.1525
|Division No. 103]||AYES||[6.49 p.m.|
|Adley, Robert||Grant, Anthony (Harrow C)||Morrison, Hon Peter (Chester)|
|Arnold, Tom||Grieve, Percy||Neave, Airey|
|Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne)||Grimond, Rt Hon J.||Nelson, Anthony|
|Atkinson, David (Bournemouth, East)||Grist, Ian||Nott, John|
|Awdry, Daniel||Grylls, Michael||Page, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby)|
|Banks, Robert||Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)||Pardoe, John|
|Beith, A. J.||Hampson, Dr Keith||Parkinson, Cecil|
|Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torbay)||Harrison, Col Sir Harwood (Eye)||Pattie, Geoffrey|
|Bennett, Dr Reginald (Fareham)||Harvie Anderson, Rt Hon Miss||Penhaligon, David|
|Benyon, W.||Haselhurst, Alan||Peyton, Rt Hon John|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Hawkins, Paul||Prentice, Rt Hon Reg|
|Bottomley, Peter||Hicks, Robert||Pym, Rt Hon Francis|
|Boyson, Dr Rhodes (Brent)||Holland, Philip||Rees, Peter (Dover & Deal)|
|Braine, Sir Bernard||Hooson, Emlyn||Renton, Tim (Mid-Sussex)|
|Brocklebank-Fowler. C.||Hordern, Peter||Rhodes, James R.|
|Brooke, Peter||Howell, David (Guildford)||Rifkind, Malcolm|
|Bryan, Sir Paul||Howells, Geraint (Cardigan)||Roberts, Wyn (Conway)|
|Buchanan-Smith, Alick||Hurd, Douglas||Rost, Peter (SE Derbyshire)|
|Butler, Adam (Bosworth)||James, David||Sainsbury, Tim|
|Carlisle, Mark||Johnson Smith, G. (E Grinstead)||Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)|
|Chalker, Mrs Lynda||Jopling, Michael||Shelton, William (Streatham)|
|Channon, Paul||Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith||Shersby, Michael|
|Churchill, W. S.||Kershaw, Anthony||Silvester, Fred|
|Clark, William (Croydon S)||Kimball, Marcus||Sims, Roger|
|Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)||King, Tom (Bridgwater)||Sinclair, Sir George|
|Clegg, Walter||Kitson, Sir Timothy||Speed, Keith|
|Cockroft, John||Knight, Mrs Jill||Spence, John|
|Cooke, Robert (Bristol W)||Knox, David||Spicer, Michael (S Worcester)|
|Cope, John||Langford-Holt, Sir John||Sproat, Iain|
|Costain, A. P.||Lawson, Nigel||Stainton, Keith|
|Craig, Rt Hon W. (Belfast E)||Le Marchant, Spencer||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Crawshaw, Richard||Lester, Jim (Beeston)||Steel, Rt Hon David|
|Crouch, David||Loveridge, John||Steen, Anthony (Wavertree)|
|Davies, Rt Hon J. (Knutsford)||Luce, Richard||Stewart, Rt Hon M. (Fulham)|
|Dean, Paul (N Somerset)||MacFarquhar, Roderick||Stradling Thomas, J.|
|Dodsworth, Geoffrey||MacGregor, John||Tebbit, Norman|
|Dykes, Hugh||MacKay, Andrew (Stechford)||Temple-Morris, Peter|
|Eden, Rt Hon Sir John||Macmillan, Rt Hon M. (Farnham)||Thomas, Rt Hon P. (Hendon S)|
|Elliott, Sir William||McNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury)||Thorpe, Rt Hon Jeremy (N Devon)|
|Emery, Peter||Marshall, Michael (Arundel)||Viggers, Peter|
|Eyre, Reginald||Mates, Michael||Wainwright, Richard (Colne V)|
|Fairgrieve, Russell||Mather, Carol||Walters, Dennis|
|Fisher, Sir Nigel||Maudling, Rt Hon Reginald||Ward, Michael|
|Fookes, Miss Janet||Mawby, Ray||Warren, Kenneth|
|Fowler, Norman (Sutton C'f'd)||Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin||Weatherill, Bernard|
|Gardiner, George (Reigate)||Meyer, Sir Anthony||Williams, Alan Lee (Hornch'ch)|
|Gardner, Edward (S Fylde)||Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove)||Wood, Rt Hon Richard|
|Gilmour, Sir John (East Fife)||Mills, Peter|
|Glyn, Dr Alan||Monro, Hector||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Goodhew, Victor||Morgan, Geraint||Sir George Young and|
|Gower, Sir Raymond (Barry)||Morrison, Charles (Devizes)||Mr. Anthony Berry.|
|Abse, Leo||Ashley, Jack||Atkinson, Norman|
|Allaun, Frank||Ashton, Joe||Bagier, Gordon A. T.|
|Archer, Rt Hon Peter||Atkins, Ronald (Preston N)||Bain, Mrs Margaret|
|Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)||Grant, John (Islington C)||Pendry, Tom|
|Bates Alf||Hamilton, James (Bothwell)||Powell, Rt Hon J. Enoch|
|Bean, R. E.||Harrison, Rt Hon Walter||Price, William (Rugby)|
|Biffen, John||Hooley, Frank||Radice, Giles|
|Blenkinsop, Arthur||Horam, John||Richardson, Miss Jo|
|Boardman, H.||Hughes, Rt Hon C. (Anglesey)||Roberts, Albert (Normanton)|
|Booth, Rt Hon Albert||Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)||Robinson, Geoffrey|
|Bottomley, Rt Hon Arthur||Hughes, Roy (Newport)||Rodgers, George (Chorley)|
|Bradford, Rev Robert||Hunter, Adam||Rooker, J. W.|
|Bray, Dr Jeremy||Hutchison, Michael Clark||Roper, John|
|Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)||Jackson, Colin (Brighouse)||Ross, Rt Hon W. (Kilmarnock)|
|Buchan, Norman||Jay, Rt Hon Douglas||Ross, William (Londonderry)|
|Budgen, Nick||John, Brynmor||Ryman, John|
|Butler, Mrs Joyce (Wood Green)||Johnson, James (Hull West)||Sever, John|
|Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P)||Judd, Frank||Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert|
|Campbell, Ian||Kerr, Russell||Skinner, Dennis|
|Carmichael, Neil||Lamborn, Harry||Smith, John (N Lanarkshire)|
|Carson, John||Lamond, James||Snape, Peter|
|Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol S)||Latham, Arthur (Paddington)||Spearing, Nigel|
|Coleman, Donald||Lee, John||Spriggs, Leslie|
|Conlan, Bernard||Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)||Stallard, A. W.|
|Cook, Robin F. (Edin C)||Lipton, Marcus||Stewart, Rt Hon Donald|
|Cox, Thomas (Tooting)||Litterick, Tom||Stoddart, David|
|Craigen, Jim (Maryhill)||Loyden, Eddie||Stott, Roger|
|Cryer, Bob||Luard, Evan||Surmmerskill, Hon Dr Shirley|
|Cunningham, Dr J. (Whiteh)||Lyons, Edward (Bradford W)||Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)|
|Davies, Bryan (Enfield N)||McCartney, Hugh||Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)|
|Deakins, Eric||McCusker, H.||Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)|
|Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)||McDonald, Dr Oonagh||Thompson, George|
|Dempsey, James||Maclennan, Robert||Tinn, James|
|Doig, Peter||Madden, Max||Tomlinson, John|
|Dormand, J. D.||Mallalieu, J. P. W.||Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)|
|Duffy, A. E. P.||Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)||Walker, Terry (Kingswood)|
|Dunlop, John||Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)||Watkinson, John|
|Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun)||Marten, Neil||Watt, Hamish|
|English, Michael||Mendelson, John||White, James (Pollok)|
|Ennals, Rt Hon David||Millan, Rt Hon Bruce||Whitehead, Phillip|
|Evans, Fred (Caerphilly)||Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)||Whitlock, William|
|Evans, Ioan (Aberdare)||Moate, Roger||Wigley, Dafydd|
|Ewing, Harry (Stirling)||Molloy, William||Williams, Rt Hon Shirley (Hertford)|
|Fernyhough, Rt Hon E.||Molyneaux, James||Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)|
|Fitch, Alan (Wigan)||Noble, Mike||Wiison, William (Coventry SE)|
|Flannery, Martin||Ogden, Eric||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Foot, Rt Hon Michael||Orbach, Maurice||Wise, Mrs Audrey|
|Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend)||Orme, Rt Hon Stanley||Woodall, Alec|
|Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John||Ovenden, John||Woof, Robert|
|Ginsburg, David||Owen, Rt Hon Dr David||Wrigglesworth, Ian|
|Golding, John||Paisley, Rev Ian|
|Gould, Bryan||Palmer, Arthur||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Gourlay, Harry||Park, George||Mr. Joseph Harper and|
|Gow, Ian (Eastbourne)||Parker, John||Mr. Ted Graham.|
|Grant, George (Morpeth)||Parry, Robert|
§ Question accordingly negatived.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Jay
I beg to move Amendment No 195, in page 12, line 8, leave out from 'expenses' to end of line 10 and insert:provided that in no case shall a candidate's election expenses exceed the election expenses permitted to a candidate in elections held under the Representation of the People Acts; and'.This amendment refers to electoral expenses in elections for the EEC Assembly held in the United Kingdom. It is as well to realise that we are, after all, discussing a Bill that controls elections held in the United Kingdom. Nothing that the Bill can do can affect elections for the EEC Assembly held outside the country.
The simple proposition put forward in the amendment is that the same control and the same limitation on a candidate's 1526 electoral expenses should apply in elections for the EEC Assembly as apply in elections in the United Kingdom for the present Parliament.
Under the Representation of the People Acts it is already the fact that the expenses that a candidate is allowed to incur are larger in proportion to the size of the electorate. That would already be provided for under the present Acts as they now operate.
The Committee has, in effect, decided by a majority that in the matter of the electoral register the same rules should apply for those elections conducted within the United Kingdom as for ordinary parliamentary elections for this Parliament. The Committee has, in my view, rightly decided that, and I am arguing that the same principle should apply to the electoral expenses of candidates, that is to 1527 say, that the limitation should be on similar principles to those that apply now.
The need for clear and well-understood restrictions on expenses is all the greater because of the peculiar arrangements which I understand will apply in these elections for the EEC Assembly. I do not think that the Minister will deny that EEC funds are now to be made available to the parties which are conducting the elections for the EEC Assembly. We would like to know how far the full facts can be explained. I suppose that funds will be made available from the EEC budget to the party organisations in the EEC Assembly and then allocated in some way from that central EEC party body to whatever organisation is supporting the same party's candidates in this country.
This is a novelty. I think that many people will look at it rather narrowly to ensure that abuses do not arise under this system. in which not merely are we to have public funds used to finance party campaigns but to have what we can scarcely have had in this country before—funds from overseas used to influence United Kingdom elections. That is a primary reason why some control is necessary.
The whole Committee will probably agree that it would be undesirable for there to be any suggestion that the EEC elections will be conducted in an atmosphere of extravagance or even anything that could be called corruption. It is not wholly fanciful to suggest that public opinion in this country associates extravagance and dubious financial practices with some of the EEC institutions. For that reason, if these elections are to take place and if they are to be seen to be reputable, it is all the more essential that there should be strict control.
Later today, if there is time, we shall deal with the question of the salaries of members of the EEC Assembly, which are also important and in many ways relevant to what we are now discussing. There should be some relation between the salaries received and the expenses paid. Public opinion in the referendum, for instance, and on many occasions recently in British politics, has been worried by the extent to which money apparently emanating from the EEC 1528 through its information or propaganda budget, and even more from the European Movement—whose sources of funds are always rather mysterious—has been used to influence public opinion and British politics.
Mr. Alan Lee Williams (Hornchurch)
My right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) says that the sources of funds of the European Movement are mysterious. Will he indicate in what way he thinks they are mysterious?
§ Mr. Jay
I do not know the sources of its funds. I do not know where they come from or who the subscribers are. I do not know whether they are individuals, or from what parts of the world the sources are available. If my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Williams) has this information I shall be very glad to have it.
§ Mr. Jay
If the accounts of the European Movement cover all the sources of the funds of that movement, I shall be very interested to see them. It would be going rather far on the amendment if we were to pursue the details of the funds of the European Movement. It is clear that the funds of the EEC itself, which has what it calls an information budget of between £5 million and £10 million, have been used for political purposes.
I do not think that the hon. Member for Farnworth (Mr. Roper) will deny that those funds have been used to lavish hospitality on journalists, business men, trade unionists and, no doubt, on representatives of various Parliaments in Western Europe. Very large sums have been spent over the last 10 years in this way. There may be a case for or against that, but if public money is to be used on this sort of scale for political propaganda there is a great need for regulation and scrutiny. This is after all something that has not been done in our system in this country.
§ Mr. Dykes
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that, given these budgetary 1529 disbursements from the European Parliament and EEC funds, the Socialist Group apart from all the promotional efforts that it may make for direct elections in all the member States, is the largest group and includes the British Labour contingent? Presumably it will be making money available to the British Labour Party, and that would presumably include those who oppose the idea of direct elections and the Community as well as others who welcome direct elections in the conventional sense. In that case, does the right hon. Gentleman accept that under his argument a substantial amount of money would be equally available to those who wish to put counter arguments?
§ Mr. Jay
I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is saying that these funds for conducting electoral campaigns will be made available only to those who subscribe to the election manifesto of some Euro-group of Conservatives, Liberals, Socialists or whatever. If that it true—and we should like to know on what terms the funds will be made available—it will arouse even greater anxiety in this country about the conduct of these elections.
However, in addition to that it is desirable at some stage in the discussions to have some idea not merely of how we are to regulate campaign expenses but of what the relationship will be of campaign expenses to the actual salaries or allowances that are paid to the Members of the EEC Assembly.
As I understand it, there is at present no straight salary. I am sure that hon. Members who go to the European Parliament will correct me if I am wrong. I understand that there is an allowance of £50 a day, which is presumably paid on the condition that the Member actually attends the Assembly on that date. One reads reports—perhaps my hon. Friend the Minister can confirm them—that a salary is now proposed of about £25,000 a year for future members of the Assembly. I should like to know whether that is true, whether the facts are known and what sort of an Assembly we are now proposing should be elected.
If the so-called dual mandate is to continue and if Members are to receive that sort of salary and a parliamentary 1530 salary from this House, that is an extraordinary situation which members of the public will not think altogether desirable. They will oppose Members of Parliament trying to do two jobs and earning about £30,000 a year plus allowances. It seems to me even more undesirable that we should have to discuss this Bill without knowing the facts. If the facts are available I should like to hear them tonight.
§ Mr. Thorpe
I am genuinely trying to understand the right hon. Gentleman's argument, but I shall not raise the question of salaries because it does not seem relevant to his amendment. Is he suggesting that there should be a global total of expenses for candidates, that is, a global total as one would expect in an ordinary United Kingdom parliamentary constituency? Or is he saying that there should be a calculation on the same basis as now exists, namely, of so many pence per elector, which for a 500,000 electorate would be 10 times that of a 50,000 electorate? If the right hon. Gentleman wishes to prevent money channelled from foreign sources being used centrally for election expenses for individuals, there is nothing in his amendment to take account of that.
§ Mr. Jay
The present system is that there is a minimum payment plus so much per head of the electorate in the constituency. I think that the sum is 6p per head in an urban constituency and 8p in a rural constituency. My amendment would ensure that the same system would apply, but the actual sum would be much larger, because each candidate would be representing or canvassing a much greater number of voters. That seems reasonable and fair.
The main point behind the amendment is that there should be some sort of regulation which, in the absence of very strong arguments to the contrary, would employ the same principle as applies in General Elections at present. These elections will be taking place within the United Kingdom. We need to bear in mind the factor of public opinion and to make it clear that there will be no extravagance, and that excessive salaries and expenses will not be made available either to candidates or to Members of the Assembly.
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Dykes
I hope that the right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) will not be discomfited or surprised if I say that I found a great deal of what he said quite reasonable. One of the points that worries those who have a range of opinions on the Community, on the European Parliament and on direct elections, and so on, is the question of finances. When I say that I do not mean it in an exaggerated or hysterical sense. I do not accept for one moment the rumours that are swirling about without any authentic source that a huge figure has been established for the salary in the European Parliament by some existing working party or whatever. It has not, as far as I can tell, but I do not want to give the wrong impression by leading hon. Members to think that I am still a Member of the European Parliament. I am not, but my understanding is that no specific proposal has been made or is about to be made in any official way within the European Parliament or anywhere else.
Ideas have been put forward by politicians from other countries where, for all sorts of reasons, not least the differential economic performance over many years, salary levels are higher than they are here.
§ Mr. John Mendelson (Penistone)
Although no final view may have been formed on this matter, is the hon. Member aware that the Members of the German Bundestag are determined that the salaries in question should be at least as high as theirs, and does that not take us into very high figures?
§ Mr. Dykes
That matter does not come strictly within the terms of the amendment, but I shall respond briefly to the point. It is correct that in a series of informal and wholly non-definitive discussions in one of the European Assembly 1532 Committees—it was not a standing Committee of the Parliament—some German politicians said that the salary in the Parliament should be as high as that for the German Parliament. That takes us to the figure of about £25,000, which includes expenses but most of which is salary. The sum could be higher. That is one figure emanating from one source, but it is in no way a final figure. It is misleading for those who use this opportunity to attack direct elections, the European Parliament and the Community to keep harping on this.
I, too, would find it wholly wrong, for all sorts of reasons, for us in this Parliament or those getting involved in European direct elections to think in terms of high salaries.
I was glad that the right hon. Member for Battersea, North reassured the right hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe) about the terms of his amendment, because it is written in a confusing way. It appeared prima facie to me that he had in mind a global total the same as for one national constituency, and that would have been wholly unacceptable and impractical. Even if one employs a rough and ready pragmatic "10 times" principle to embrace a European constituency of 500,000 electors instead of a United Kingdom constituency of, say, 50,000 electors, I wonder whether that basis would be sufficient.
That does not imply that I am in favour of lavish expenses or extravagance. That is always a danger with regard to international bodies and certainly when we are constructing the first set of international elections in the strict sense of the word.
It is important for the Committee to be realistic about the expenses that will be needed by the time direct elections come about. I hope that it is in order to say that I myself drafted New Clause No. 3, referring to the specific expenses that might be devoted to candidates with regard to broadcasting facilities. I concede that it is hardly likely to be considered as a proper, respectable and conventional part of this Bill to consider something along those lines, but I originally drafted the new clause so that the issue could be aired.
I believe that the principle that we have established in this House, whereby domestic broadcasting arrangements are 1533 covered through inter-party committees rather than by any legislative process, must generally have substantial approval from hon. Members. There is no reason why this should not continue for European elections.
In airing the issue we bring to the public, as well as to hon. Members, the whole range of opinion about European elections. I hope that even those hon. Members who are against direct elections will agree that when the time comes a most important informative and educational function will fall on candidates of whatever party.
One of the unique features of these elections must undoubtedly be that when the candidate is on the platform or promoting his or her case—I use that word not in any disagreeable sense—a good slug of time will be taken up in explaining the constitutional, Community and structural arguments as they relate to Europe and European party politics, of whatever grouping.
If that is so, surely the educational function must have adequate resources at its disposal, bearing in mind the large European constituencies that will eventually be drawn up by the Boundary Commission.
The economy of scale will provide a certain capacity to save money, but equally the large size of the operation, and the fact that the campaign may be of six weeks' duration, will call for greater resources. If, under the terms of a later amendment, there are sub-agents as well as a European agent, the sub-operations will also need additional resources. All of them must be carefully controlled and tightly monitored. The public must be reassured that they are wholly legitimate expenses, though none the less substantial.
§ Mr. John Lee (Birmingham, Handsworth)
The hon. Gentleman is realistically accepting that this is a campaign which could well be rather remote from the electors. That means that the kind of door-to-door or street-to-street canvasses that we associate with domestic elections would be impossible. That being so, the kind of expenses associated with the door-to-door distribution of leaflets—one of the major sources of expenditure for a candidate in a domestic election—will not be necessary or pos 1534 sible. Does that not indicate the possibility of reduced expenditure?
§ Mr. Dykes
That is a point of view. Many people contend that the European campaign will involve much less door-to-door canvassing. I wonder whether that is so. I believe that it will depend on how long the campaign will be. I do not think that it ought to be longer than a national campaign of three weeks. It will also depend on how it is organised and operated by energetic candidates, energetic political parties and energetic agents.
If it is possible, as a result of the arrangements, to move around the European constituency faster than one is able to move around the normal pro rata area on a national basis, it would be possible and, indeed, wholly desirable to achieve a lot of door-to-door operations.
At the same time I must concede that a kind of "Americanisation"—I use the word with extreme hesitation—could come into the matter. I am not specifically speculating on how this might eventuate in practical terms, but it would be possible to envisage a situation in which candidates would not be able to move around by motor car because it would be impossible to cover an area the size of 10 national constituencies. In that sense, again, the case for greater resources pro rata, albeit under tight control, can be established. I would have thought that the public would go along with that.
There is a view that the public are not interested in the European Community and will not be interested in these European elections. I believe that they will be interested, provided only that the candidates themselves are energetic and unself-effacing in putting forward positive views with regard to the elections once the legislation has been passed by this House.
In that sense I believe that they will strike a chord in the mind of the public about what this is all about. That will bring home the central arguments and must equally call for proper resources.
I very much agree with the right hon. member for Battersea, North that any money emanating from Europe must be visibly monitored, that the full knowledge of its sources and usages must be available at all times, and that it must 1535 be tightly controlled. This could probably be done along domestic lines, perhaps along the lines of an amendment like this. I am not saying that I approve of the amendment or that I would support it, because I am not sure about the text. I should need to think a lot more about that.
There is another reason why I would argue along the lines of the right hon. Member for Battersea, North—although we disagree about the ends involved. Given the financial control that needs to be constructed for election expenses, the more those expenses are provided through the public service by way of voucher services and services in kind—rather than a cash distribution available for the discretionary use of the political groups—the more I shall personally like it. That sentiment fits in well with the thoughts behind the right hon. Gentleman's amendment.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Mr. John Mendelson
My right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) has moved this amendment in very moderate terms, as is his custom. Nevertheless, I think that we should try to underline the extreme political importance of this debate before we come to any decision.
Any right hon. or hon. Member who has been a member of a Speaker's Conference in the past will know that normally these matters are discussed at such conferences in very great detail. The debates go on for many weeks. I have always regretted, and regarded as archaic, the fact that we do not publish the proceedings of the Speaker's Conference because these would be very instructive for our whole system of politics.
Now that we are entering a larger system of politics—assuming that we pass this Bill—we are always being told that in other EEC countries it is accepted that Britain's major contribution to the wider system will be in the organisation of domestic politics. It would be useful if all information were made available. Very often these problems take more time in the Speaker's Conference than any other subject discussed. The reason is that we are dealing never just with technicalities in election expenses but with the very stuff of politics.
1536 There are new dangers in the EEC elections. I do not want to convey the impression at home and abroad that there is any kind of pettiness in our approach to this problem. I do not worry particularly about the amount of money my colleagues earn at parliamentary assemblies abroad. I hope that my right hon. Friend is not worried about the allowances paid either. Being a member of a parliamentary assembly abroad is a tedious task involving long hours and expensive meals and accommodation. I am not the least bit worried that those who are prepared to do the job should get the proper allowances—indeed, even generous ones. If people are wanted for the job, the rate must be paid.
It would be contradictory if we who are waging a major campaign against having European elections in Britain were to complain about the system of double membership. If we have our way, double membership will continue ad infinitum. We cannot have it both ways.
What worries me is purely and exclusively the political implication of what we are discussing tonight. When a Speaker's Conference discusses expenses it is discussing interests. Parliament is meaningless without discussion of interests. It is not dishonourable that people should represent interests. In fact, Parliament would be just a repetition of the Oxford Debating Society if they did not. Obviously interests must be represented in Parliament if it is to be a real Parliament.
If the interests represented are within the confines of the United Kingdom the way in which these interests play a part in politics is solely within the control of the United Kingdom Government and Parliament. What will happen if we go beyond the arrangements for the United Kingdom and have political groups forming themselves which are, of necessity, representing interests that lie beyond the frontiers of this country? It is not my business to consider the interests of the Bavarians, for example. There are plenty of people there who will look after their interests. I shall confine myself exclusively to the effect of these interests on the United Kingdom people.
If we have international political groupings based on a Community of nine 1537 States we shall have international interests that will form across the borders of the United Kingdom. Perhaps a strong farming interest will be formed. I have an interesting group of farmers in my constituency who press their interests on me from time to time. That is their job. But I believe that they do not represent the interests of the consumer very well; they represent the interests of producers. Inevitably, I find myself often representing two views—theirs because they are my constituents, and those of the consumers. That does not lead to easy or harmonious meetings but somehow we manage.
In this context the final decisions are made. Supposing chemical or farming interests formed across the frontiers. Many of these would be interests with strong capital behind them and they would be providing large sums of money to further their interests—
§ Sir Anthony Meyer (Flint, West)
I have been listening very carefully to the forceful remarks of the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson). However, the points that he is making are not covered effectively by the amendment. The amendment will deal only with restrictions within the United Kingdom and it will have no effect whatever on reducing the scale of international pressure groups or the interests that will make a further call on the European Parliament. If this is so, would it not be better to make the objective of the amendment the ensuring of full disclosure, rather than theoretical restrictions on the interests?
§ Mr. Mendelson
I shall come to the point about disclosure shortly. In many ways this amendment provides for the first time a vehicle for raising all the points that I am introducing into the debate. Although it does not lead to an international consortium, the impact of raising funds on an international level might be used indirectly to influence the elected Members in the United Kingdom. It would mean therefore that if the interests on an international level had strong capital backing and organised themselves they could in many ways and over a period through the media, television and radio decide to influence elections in this country.
1538 What are the elements of control at our disposal? We must consider these before we part with the Bill. It is no good accepting the legislation and then worrying about this matter at a later stage.
On the point about control, the United States, which is a federal country, has been fighting a losing battle on control for many years. That has occurred even within one federation. It is no good being doctrinaire about it, because some difficulties reside in the fact that we shall not have a federation. It would be much easier to deal with this matter if we were setting up a federation.
Of course there are protestations from Ministers and from the Leader of the Opposition that they want nothing to do with confederation. I do not include some of my hon. Friends, who are honourable men. No doubt we have honourable women who take the federal view, though I cannot see one in the Chamber. There is no suggestion that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State at the Home Office takes the federal view.
The sort of hybrid system that we are setting up will, according to the Foreign Secretary's latest speech, which has my full approval, continue for a very long time. We shall be living in this twilight for many years. What is happening to the element of control? We must have from the Government firm proposals for stringent controls of the financing of elections and electoral expenditure and additional apparatus of control before we part with the legislation. That is the significance of the amendment and my right hon. Friend has done the House a service in raising all these matters.
§ Mr. Marten
The hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson) touched on the speech of the Foreign Secretary in Brussels this week about the federal question which is behind the Bill. I agree with what the Foreign Secretary said and I hope to hear the same sort of speech from my Front Bench so that Britain can be united in its opposition to federalism and so that our partners know where they stand with this country whichever Government is in power.
My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) said that candidates in the European elections, if they ever come, would need additional expenses in order 1539 to explain the new constitution with which British voters are not acquainted. I do not believe that to be true. We have been in for five years and I can explain the constitution of the Common Market without incurring any extra expenditure.
However, my hon. Friend was right in one respect. My constituency is a fairly average size with about 75,000 electors and at the last General Election I held 60 public meetings. I had to go round to many villages. Before my hon. Friend on the Front Bench became the Member for Mid-Oxon I had many more villages in my constituency. He pinched a lot of the desirable ones, which is why he is now sitting so happily on the Front Bench.
The Euro-constituencies will have electorates of about 500,000—the size of about seven or eight parliamentary constituencies. If the wretched candidates want to do their job properly, they will have to hold 350 or so public meetings, and I agree that this would be pretty expensive.
This is the last occasion on which we shall be able to exercise control over this issue so I am sure that the Minister will accept the amendment willingly and prevent the need for a Division.
The salary levels of Members of the European Assembly have been discussed and I have been trying to get at the heart of this matter for many months, so far without success. I have learned that the final decision will be taken by the Council of Ministers. That is a relief because we shall be able to exercise the veto on excessive salaries. I know that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition is very much against Members of the Assembly receiving excessive salaries.
We should attack the Council of Ministers for dragging its feet on this issue, as it is on one or two other matters. The Council wants the Bills in the United Kingdom and the other four countries which are dragging their feet even more than we are, on the statute book before the salaries of Members are arranged.
The question of salaries is of great importance, though I admit that it is not relevant to the amendment. I was just touching on it as I was passing. The points raised by the right hon. Member 1540 for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) are much more relevant and I have the answer to one of them.
I asked in December last year how much money from official Community sources was being given to the respective political parties in the United Kingdom for the preparation for direct elections to the European Assembly. A Foreign Office Minister replied:The Assembly made provision in its 1977 budget—I mentioned this subject when we debated that budget—for the distribution of 2 million units of account—about £830,000 in sterling—to the political groups in the European Assembly on the basis of the strength of their representation. The distribution to the parties in each group is for decision within that group. The Assembly's provision in the 1978 budget is for … about £3 million to be distributed on the same basis."—[Official Report, 8th December 1978 Vol. 940, c. 814.]There is a jump from £830,000 to £3 million between 1977 and 1978.
I wanted to know how much of that money had gone, for example, to the Conservative Party and how the party was spending it. I want this money monitored. The Community has no money other than that which it raises by taxation on member States. Part of that money is our taxpayers' money and it is a scandal that we are not able to investigate this matter rather more than we have.
§ Mr. Spearing
Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that the figure was £3 million not for the conduct of the elections, but for education and preparation—what some of us call a softening-up campaign—and that the electoral sums may be considerably greater?
§ Mr. Marten
Exactly. That money was for the preparation of direct elections to a European Assembly.
§ Mr. Marten
That point was raised in our debate on the Comunity budget, but we did not get a satisfactory answer.
1541 What worries me is that the amount has increased from £830,000 to £3 million. If the elections are postponed, as I am sure they will be, until 1979, will there be a transfer from one budget or one chapter to another? Shall we get more money in 1979?
The important point to remember is that unless the Community starts dragging its feet over the entry of Greece, we might as well wait until the Greeks are members and all have our elections at the same time. That would mean a delay of another year, but it would be much more convenient.
§ Mr. Jay
Surely the hon. Gentleman is not suggesting that if the elections are not held in 1978—it is now highly improbable that they will be—the £3 million will be made available to the British political parties to do whatever they like with it? Surely we should know whether they receive the money.
§ Mr. Marten
That is why I tabled the Question. There should be proper monitoring of the Community's proposals. I have a feeling that the money will be spent. Various things are already going at full blast. We all receive, for example, the stuff that pours through the mail from the European Community office in London. We are told the most extraordinary things. We are told to whom grants have been given. The other day a grant of £35,000 was given to the National Coal Board for it to investigate the case of someone who had the end of his finger cut off.
We receive the most extraordinary lists of grants. It is extraordinary that the Community should pay for the National Coal Board to consider such a case. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Oxon must read these lists. Even my hon. Friend, with his well-known love of the Community, must find some parts of the lists extraordinary.
The extravagance already exhibited by the Community office in London is enormous. An article in one of the weekly papers states that the Press is now reaching the state of Euro-boredom through the sheer volume of papers that pours out of the Community. It is inevitable that there will be a cascade at election time. All that could be most unhealthy.
1542 The right hon. Member for Battersea, North has said that the Community has used its funds to take great parties to Brussels to see what is going on. I recall a debate in Committee when we debated a communication from the Community. It was one of the few occasions when that happened. We investigated the budget and we found that the Community was trying to get opinion-formers over to Brussels in their droves. That is going back to the Goebbels technique before the war. That is exactly what Goebbels used to do. Some hon. Members who are grinning are perhaps too young to remember. As a young man I remember seeing the opinion-formers. The great national newspapers—I shall not mention which ones—went over to Berlin. We now have the Common Market doing much the same. In fact, it is using exactly the same technique.
§ Mr. Marten
I am not saying that the Community is Nazi, or anything like that. At any rate, I am not saying that yet. All that I am saying is that the technique that the Community is using is exactly that which it has stolen from the—
§ The First Deputy Chairman (Sir Myer Galpern)
Order. I have allowed a wide discussion, but I think that the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr Marten) fully realises that we are not discussing the techniques of the EEC. We are discussing a straightforward amendment. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman realises that he is well wide of the amendment.
§ The First Deputy Chairman
Order. I think that the hon. Gentleman wanted to tell us something about his youth or childhood.
§ Sir A. Meyer
I shall bring my hon. Friend back into order. My intervention relates to the expenditure allowed to each candidate. As I listened to my hon. Friend, my existing admiration for him knew no bounds. I know of the very firm hold that he has on the affections of his constituents. I am astonished that he contrives to maintain his approach without in any way attempting to influence the opinion of the opinion-formers within his constituency—for example, the editor of the local newspaper and the local schoolteacher, those who are in a position to influence others. Also included must be the leaders of his local party. Does my hon. Friend say that within his constituency he makes no attempt to use the funds provided to him by Parliament to bring round to his point of view the opinion-formers?
§ Mr. Marten
No, I do not do much of that. I am elected without much of that sort of thing. I do not know what taxpayers' money I use, except, perhaps, the free postage.
I am worried about the way in which the Community is spending money now. I am worried that it might do the same thing in the direct elections unless the Committee accepts the amendments.
I have had a long enough chat about these matters, Sir Myer, and I shall sit down.
§ Mr. Spearing
The amendment, which deals with election expenses, is one on which the whole Committee seems to be agreed and is a matter of principle. As far as I can detect, there is no dissent. I take it that whatever may be said by my hon. Friend the Member for Farnworth (Mr. Roper) or by others, especially from the Government Front Bench, unless some major argument is about to be put forward there is agreement that in principle there should be some restriction on the election expenses of candidates for the election period for the EEC Assembly.
If those elections occur, will the election expenses be pro rata to the expenses available for our own parliamentary elections, namely, about five times or six times that amount? How do we achieve that? I think that the amendment provides the answer, but it may be that other hon. Members think differently. I believe that it is self-evident, and so far no one 1544 has challenged it. I do not think that anyone will do so.
We must probe a little further the election expenses conventions which have been built up in the United Kingdom and which have been taken too much for granted. My hon. Friend the Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson) rightly drew to our attention the proceedings of the Speaker's Conference. I did not know that a significant proportion of the time of the Conference was spent dealing with that very matter. On reflection, I am not surprised. That fact alone shows how important our discussions and the amendment could become if the elections ever come to pass.
We have lived with our own election expenses and we have grown up into that system. Most of us have fought seats that we have not won before coming to this place. We take almost for granted the structure that we enter. However, if we have elections to the EEC Assembly, the type and form of the elections will be set in a different context. There will not be the familiar context of which we have experience. It may be that the way in which the elections are held will be very different and that some of us may be taken by surprise.
It has been said that a great deal of the money, if not all of it, might come from public sources. If that is correct no one has denied that that is the intention, and we have had confirmation from my hon. Friend the Member for Farnworth in an intervention concerning the £3 million—and if it is implemented, a precedent will be set. That might be claimed to have some indication as to how the country should react to the Houghton Report. There is significance in that respect alone, let alone for anything else.
To some extent we have already had experience of the sort of election that is proposed for the EEC Assembly. I refer to the referendum campaign, in which public money was made available to the contending "parties". It was made available from the United Kingdom Exchequer and not from the EEC. I suspect that the issues in the European elections, if they take place, will not be so dissimilar, although I know that there are differences. There were no specific 1545 candidates, but there was a larger organisation in each area. From that point of view the European elections would not be so dissimilar.
§ Mr. MacFarquhar
I imagine that my hon. Friend will be going on to explain that remark. It would seem that there will be great dissimilarity between the referendum campaign and the direct elections. In the referendum campaign there was a contest, broadly, between those who were in favour of staying in Europe and those who were not. In the direct elections there will be a contest between the different parties and their representatives. Some of the Labour representatives may be in favour of being in the EEC while some may be against the proposition.
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Spearing
I did qualify my remarks. I was about to say that, while there are dissimilarities in that respect, the similarities that I want to draw to the attention of the Committee will be there. They are similarities in respect of information, the media, what is being talked about and what is being produced for the electorate about the EEC. I do not think that anyone would deny that during the period immediately preceding the referendum and during the campaign almost anything that was concerned with Europe, meaning the EEC, was news. In other words, public opinion was heightened by information and stories of all sorts which were not necessarily directly related to the election or to election issues but which were related to our friends in Europe. The Committee will know that I am interested in waterways. At that time, great interest was evinced by certain people who saw me about European waterways. Any European angle was introduced to heighten interest in the campaign.
Because the issues will not be focused on the everyday domestic experiences of the electorate there will be a great element of the sort of thing we had during the EEC referendum at the time of the EEC elections. That is almost inevitable. Therefore, funds devoted to the effective election campaign will often be outside the formal campaign. We have conventions about that with which, by and large, we live. There are accusations about advertising campaigns before 1546 the General Election starts and we have our disagreements about that. I suggest that the equivalent of those disagreements about the pre-election campaign and about what resources are available will be important at the time of the EEC election campaign.
It is true that the amendment may not be able to deal with this difficulty. I do not say that that is a defect of the amendment; it is not. The point is that we do not have the machinery to deal with such a situation. We have done it by conventions, largely limited by the fact that the money for such pre-election propaganda is limited. In the case that I am talking of it is not so limited. We have experience of that fact all the time. There is the continuing information fund of the EEC. This will be greatly intensified during an ejection period.
My hon. Friend the Member for Horn-church (Mr. Williams) is connected with the European Movement and I understand his point of view. What he, perhaps, does not understand about some of us being a little worried over this is that his voluntary movement, with its published accounts and the rest, can fit end-on, service, and be the executive arm of a much larger publicity machine paid for by public funds from the EEC. That is something that we cannot stop even if we wish to.
I suggest that before the election campaign this sort of election machinery and campaigning will be in high gear. The trouble is that it will be running on public money. Almost everything will be oriented towards the EEC, whether we like it or not. Those of us with particular views about that organisation will be placed at a disadvantage because most of the information coming from the EEC will carry a message almost opposite to that which we shall be putting out.
The Committee should take cognisance of that fact. Even if a majority in the Committee is at the moment in favour of the EEC and of getting involved in these elections, that does not mean that the same circumstances will apply in future. Once we are in, and once these conventions and expenditures are settled, it will be difficult for another House of Commons to get to grips with the problem.
1547 The other matter relating to election expenditure that I wish to raise in the context of this important debate—and it will be much more important than the preceding debate—is the question of broadcasting. Again, for the election period, this country has produced certain conventions applying to broadcasting—conventions which broadly work. It is only in the past 15 to 20 years that broadcasting has played a major part in election campaigns. The fact that there has not been great public and parliamentary debate about the conventions not working shows that, generally speaking, they have worked. This is by virtue of the "in kind" contribution that has been mentioned. The channels of television and the radio programmes provide opportunities on an agreed basis for parties and candidates. This is what we have grown into.
I understand, in relation to the EEC, that the BBC is combining with the broadcasting authorities of the other members of the EEC and proposing that there should be half-hour transmissions every day of items culled from all over the EEC, edited by a unit in London and put into the main EEC languages. This programme would be transmitted on tape or by private wire to the countries concerned. The identical matter will be broadcast in the various languages of the EEC. The proposal is that this will be tried out—surprise, surprise—in the period preceding the first elections to the EEC Assembly.
This may be news to hon. Members but it is information that I have confirmed with the BBC. I do not say that it will happen. It is a proposal. There will be no charge on United Kingdom public funds and no charge on the BBC if the proposal goes through. The only additional expense would be for the editing unit in London, because the cost of the source material and of the broadcasting would be absorbed in the existing arrangements of the broadcasting authorities. The additional charge of the editing unit might be carried by a grant, half of which would come from the EEC Commission and half from the EEC Assembly.
I do not say that this proposal will actually materialise. It is only a proposal. Clearly, it will have an effect upon the election campaign. If the material is to 1548 be common, there will be a balance of coverage from all over the EEC. We shall hear what the Danes, the Germans, the French and the Italians are saying. What is being said in Britain will be but one-ninth of the total coverage. If that is so, people will get a view of the election campaign in the EEC which will not reflect the campaign as it would be in the United Kingdom alone. Therefore, the view of what is happening in the parties and in the pan-European political set-up would be entirely different from that which would obtain if we were relying upon United Kingdom coverage of the EEC campaign in the United Kingdom.
It may be that the coverage would be supplemented by United Kingdom coverage of the EEC campaign. No doubt it would be, although that is not binding and certain, because once this unit is set up people will tend to say "That is the EEC's lot, let them get on with it." If that were to happen, people would complain about unfairness, because it might be that those elected to the EEC would have benefited as a result of there being a different type of media coverage in the United Kingdom from that given by, say, the French authorities.
I shall not pursue that point much further, because much of it is speculation. That is the point—we do not know what may eventuate. This has a bearing on election expenses, because so far our system has been based on entirely different suppositions. Those suppositions will cease to operate if these elections get going.
§ Mr. Lee
We are all grateful to my hon. Friend for the information that he has given, alarming as it is. Has he had a chance to reflect upon the possibility that this may circumvent the statutory regulation of independent broadcasting providing for political balance in domestic elections, since the stuff would be predigested and pre-prepared before presentation to this country and would be likely to be slanted one way? That is something for which our concept of political balance does not provide.
§ The First Deputy Chairman
Order. Before the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) replies to that intervention, I would ask him to relate his remarks to the amendment. He was coming to the end of his speech so I 1549 did not want to intervene, but I do not want him to pursue this aspect any further.
§ Mr. Spearing
I shall not do so, Sir Myer, but I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Mr. Lee) that I do not make such an accusation. I think that the material would be fairly edited, but on the basis of pan-European views and not of those of the United Kingdom. The House of Commons must be careful about these matters.
The amendment deals with what is in the control of the House of Commons and what we can reasonably do within our own experience of elections in this country. That is why I support it, and I hope that the Committee will at least accept it in principle. I have been trying to point out what even the amendment cannot do, but I hope that, nevertheless, the Committee will say that even if there are things that the amendment cannot do, it should at least be supported, because it puts the House of Commons in the saddle and gives it the sort of control that every decent and democratic person in the country wants to see.
§ Sir A. Meyer
We must bear in mind that whatever we do today will almost certainly be valid only for the first election to be held to the European Parliament, and that it would be realistic to think in terms of promoting action within that Parliament if we wish to enshrine permanently any safeguards over the amount of money that candidates may spend.
Much to my surprise, I think that if the right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) puts his amendment to a Division, I shall find myself in the Lobby with him. I think it desirable to impose, and publicly to impose, limitations on the amount of money a candidate may spend. I was reassured that the right hon. Gentleman made it plain that he is thinking in terms of a realistic total—that is to say, a total related to the number of electors in each constituency. That being so, my inclination, unless I hear further arguments, will be to support him.
I think that it is understood on both sides of the Committee that the amendment will not deal with what is perhaps the larger problem, the total expen 1550 diture of the central organisations of the parties in the election campaign. It may be that the expenditure of individual candidates will be only an inconsiderable element in deciding the result, but the amendment can do nothing to control the expenditure by the individual parties.
I wish I shared the view of the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) that publication of the course of the campaign in other European countries—news of what is happening in Denmark, Eire and Italy, for example—will have a profound effect on the attitudes of the British electors. I remain rather of the opinion that, unless the election coincides with a General Election, it will take on very much the character of local elections and become the opportunity for people to express their content or discontent with whatever happens to be the ruling party at the time.
I cannot imagine that our people will vote according to what has been said by the leader of the Social Democratic Party in Denmark. I wish that it were so, and I speak as one of the small band of unashamed, unabashed federalists in the House of Commons. I will stand up and be counted on that.
My inclination is to support the amendment, bearing in mind that the safeguards we are erecting are very impermanent, and expressing a regret that so far in the debate no one has thought in terms of the kind of action that will be necessary within the European Parliament, when it is set up, in order to ensure that the elections in future are conducted on the sort of lines that I think most of us would like to see. We do not want to see money speaking too loudly in this or any other election. For these reasons, I suspect that I shall find myself supporting the amendment in the Lobby.
§ Mr. Roper
I will resist the temptation to follow some of the directions which you have already ruled out of order, Sir Myer, but I want to take up one point which is only indirectly connected with the amendment. It has been referred to. This concerns the funds which the Assembly has voted to political parties. The figure which caused shock to my right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) and to the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) was, 1551 I believe, £3 million. But that is £3 million for about 300 million people, or about 1p per head of the population of the EEC. Put in perspective, that seems a not unreasonable amount of money, and it is available to all of the political parties.
Recently, the Labour Party produced an interesting statement—I did not agree with all of it—for submission to the party conference. It dealt with the Common Market. I indicated to the general secretary of the party that I thought it reasonable for him to submit a bill to the Confederation of Socialist Parties of the Community for it to pay the cost of publishing that statement. However, he felt that, in spite of the financial difficulties in which the Labour Party sometimes finds itself, he could probably find other resources rather than accept the money which was available for such purposes.
I do not want to follow immediately what my hon. Friend the Member for Newham. South (Mr. Spearing) said about broadcasting. There are certain problems which I hope that the Home Office and the political parties are considering about broadcasting during the election. I am sorry we do not have the chance to discuss New Clause No. 3, put down by the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) and dealing with the allocation of time. The allocation of time will produce certain problems in an environment that is different from that of a General Election, when, I believe, the time is allocated according to candidates and parties and the existing size of political parties in the House of Commons. This aspect requires consideration.
Like others, I have enormous sympathy for the principle behind Amendment No. 195. It is obviously essential that there should be some effective measure of control over spending by candidates in the election. One of the things that we can claim to be proud of in this country is the effective control that we have had over expenditure in elections in general, and the principles which have stood us in good stead in national elections should be applied where appropriate at the European level as well.
But I have some difficulty in following the detail of what my right hon. Friend 1552 the Member for Battersea, North proposes, and I hope that I shall not take up too much time by first looking at the arithmetic in the light of the Representation of the People Act 1974. The amendment says:… in no case shall a candidate's election expenses exceed the election expenses permitted to a candidate in elections held under the Representation of the People Acts;We operate under the 1974 Act as far as election expenses are concerned. My first thought was of the problem that the Boundary Commissions might have under the amendment in designating what are borough and county constituencies when we get to the question of European constituencies. But I have given it more thought, and now the problem does not seem quite as difficult.
Euro-constituencies will be made up of a number of Westminster constituencies, some of them borough and some county. Those in borough constituencies would be permitted the allowance that is already appropriate for a Westminster borough constituency, and those in county constituencies would be permitted the rate allowed for Westminster county constituencies.
There is a problem of hybridity of an unusual kind. But it is not an impossible problem. The 1974 Act limits our expenses in county constituencies to £1,075 plus an additional 6p for every six entries on the register. The limit for borough elections is £1,075 with an additional 6p for every eight entries on the register.
It would be helpful to look at examples of a typical constituency and a Euroconstituency and see what would be the effect of applying the formula in the amendment. For ease of calculation let us take a county constituency of 60,000 electors. That is a little light compared with some, but not too light. There would be a fixed sum of £1,075 with an additional £600, being the 6p for each six electors. There would be 60,000p which amounts to £600, making the total of £1,675.
Let us scale the matter up to a Euroconstituency which I shall say has an electorate of 600,000. In that case there would be £1,075 plus £6,000 as the proportional share of expenses. That makes a total of £7,075. By doing that exercise we have scaled up the electorate tenfold 1553 but scaled up the limit only fourfold. We have scaled up the electorate from 60,000 to 600,000 but, if my arithmetic is correct, we have scaled up the limit only from £1,675 to £7,075. That is a ratio of four to one compared with a ratio of electors of ten to one.
§ Mr. MacFarquhar
That is the intervention that I wished to make in the original statement by my right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay). Surely he should accept that the base sum should also be scaled up along with the electorate.
§ Mr. Roper
That might be what is intended, but on my reading of the amendment it does not allow for the scaling up of the base sum. It would bind us to the figures in the 1974 Act.
I am not disagreeing with my right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, North on the principle of the amendment. That is absolutely right. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Flint, West (Sir A. Meyer) is not here since he said that he wished to hear the arguments against the amendment. There seems to be some practical reason why this amendment is defective. I hope that the Minister will be able to comment on the problems that have arisen. We may want to consider this matter again at Report stage.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, North will understand the logic of my argument, but I shall have some difficulty in voting for the amendment as it stands. There may be some economies of scale—the hon. Member for Harrow, East referred to some of them—but I do not believe that the economies of scale in going up from 60,000 to 600,000 will be great enough to compensate for the limit on expenses being increased four times rather than 10 times. I hope that the Minister will be able to say something to help the Committee on this matter.
I assume that candidates will be provided with facilities such as free post, which is available to candidates in Westminster elections. Whether that is available or not, there will be the cost of printing which will, if not increase tenfold, increase considerably, particularly as it will be the printed word rather than the individual candidate on the knocker that will be used to communicate ideas. 1554 There will also be increases in the cost of meetings, travel and polling day organisation.
These elections will be of great importance. It will be important that candidates have sufficient—although not lavish—resources to involve and inform their electors.
§ Mr. Madden
Does my hon. Friend the Member for Farnworth (Mr. Roper) envisage that candidates will publish their own election manifestos or merely distribute manifestos which have been prepared by the party organisations within the European Assembly?
§ Mr. Roper
I think that different parties and different candidates will do different things. We shall have to see what candidates and parties do when we are nearer the election. I shall respond more seriously to the question. I should imagine that in many cases the situation would resemble that in our county council elections. Part of the manifesto will be common to all candidates of that party, part will be common to candidates of that party in this country and a third component will contain the candidate's own point of view. I should not be surprised if something like that happened.
I hope that when my right hon. Friend replies he will look closely at the terms of his amendment, particularly in the light of Section 1 of the Representation of the People Act 1974. The House does not believe that his intention is considerably to reduce the per capita funds that are available for each candidate.
§ Mr. MacFarquhar
I return briefly to the essence of the amendment. It is designed to preserve what everyone considers to be an essential aspect of the British electoral system—tight control of funds. At present they are relatively modest, to the extent that when Americans come here and ask us what we spend on elections they do not believe us. I am sure that no one objects to the basic proposition in the amendment.
As I said in an intervention a few moments ago, I should like my right hon. Friend to explain whether, in the context of his proposal, he expects that the base sum would be multiplied in relation to the number of constituencies. I think that that would deal with the matter 1555 raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Farnworth (Mr. Roper).
Before we hear the replies from the Government Front Bench and front my right hon. Friend, it is essential to grasp, especially in the light of the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing), just what these election expenses are for. As I say, I believe that the aim has been to keep expenses reasonably small in the British context, but the other essential, and the reason why we control them so tightly, is the wish to maintain a fair balance in party expenditure.
I feel that my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South has failed to grasp those essentials. If I may say so, he seems to be fighting not the European elections in prospect but the referendum campaign in retrospect. If I read it aright, the aim of my right hon. Friend's amendment is to achieve a balance between the parties fighting the European elections.
In this country those parties will be the Conservative Party, the Liberal Party, the Labour Party, one or two other parties and, perhaps, several independents. The aim of the amendment, surely, must be to keep expenses fair as among those various parties or groupings.
Looking at the amendment in that light, I suggest that it is irrelevant to consider what my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South said with reference to massive expenditure on BBC organised programmes about what is happening in Denmark and elsewhere, or even massive expenditure on publicity about what is happening in the EEC in general. We are not fighting the referendum campaign, and there is no reason to suppose that the material which came out of Brussels—if that were its source—in the massive quantities feared by my hon. Friend would be pro-Conservative, which he and I would regret, or pro-Labour, which we might welcome but which would not, in fact, be in consonance with the fairness to which we both aspire.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Spearing
On the face of it, the point that my hon. Friend makes is valid, and I did not deal with it as I went 1556 along, but what really concerned me was that a great deal of the material would, perhaps quite openly, be pro-federalist, and that is another issue. I do not believe that any party in this country is yet pro-federalist.
§ Mr. MacFarquhar
If that is my hon. Friend's objection, I think that it is a chimera. He knows my position on that issue. He knows that I and some members of my party, as well as others who feel as I do, are very much in a minority on this issue. Moreover, the idea that the EEC will be allowed by President Giscard d'Estaing, our Prime Minister and others to produce during the election campaign material that preached federalism is utterly unlikely.
Furthermore, that has nothing to do with the election campaign. I repeat that the election campaign will be conducted between Conservative and Labour candidates fighting the European elections. Federalism will not be an issue. Indeed, I suspect that most candidates of all parties will be anti-federalist.
§ Mr. Budgen
The hon. Gentleman says that federalism will not be an issue. Is it not possible, at least in this country, that the European elections will split the great parties? It may well be that candidates will not be divided upon present party lines as in the House of Commons but that the division will be between those who are pro-federalism and those who adopt a more Gaullist solution, in which case the prospect of influence by the media from Europe could be extremely important.
§ Mr. MacFarquhar
That may well be an issue in the future when the federalist papers for Europe are written, but I do not believe that it will be an issue in the forthcoming elections. I certainly hope that it will not, because, as a federalist, I should expect all the material emanating from Brussels, controlled by a Council of Ministers virtually all of whom are anti-federalist, to be totally opposed to my point of view.
People will not fight these elections on the basis of federalism or anti-federalism. The hon. Gentleman knows that. No one will vote for a candidate because he says he is a federalist, or, at least, very few will. They will vote for a candidate 1557 in certain areas because he is a Labour candidate and they know what Labour candidates and Labour Members of Par-liament stand for.
§ Mr. Jay
If I understand my own amendment correctly, what it does is attempt to achieve fairness not between parties but between candidates. I suggest that we conduct the debate on the assumption that if a candidate wishes to stand as a federalist or an anti-federalist, Conservative or Labour, or as a pro-Marketeer or an anti-Marketeer, it will be possible for him to do so. Therefore, the considerations which my hon. Friend is advancing have some relevance, and we must not assume that there will be only Conservative and Labour candidates.
§ Mr. MacFarquhar
I did not assume that. Indeed, if my right hon. Friend looks at Hansard tomorrow he will see that I referred to other parties and other groupings. But if he now puts forward the chimera of a federalist candidate running in his area of London and, because he is a federalist candidate, massive funds suddenly swelling his coffers uncontrolled by the amendment. I must say that that is an utterly unlikely event.
§ Mr. MacFarquhar
I hear my right hon. Friend agree that that is so. I do not wish to prolong this debate, but I thought it worth while to make the distinction which exists between a General Election campaign with party candidates, political manifestos and all the rest of it, and a referendum campaign which is pro or anti-Europe. It is not the same thing.
§ Mr. David Howell (Guildford)
The hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson) was right to remind us that election expenses are at the heart of politics. This is not a mere technical matter. We are dealing with what traditionally was the stuff of politics. This is right, and this debate has shown a serious and sensitive approach to that issue and reflected the hon. Gentleman's accurate perspective.
It is true that over the years, through a long series of enactments, the expenses of candidates have been curbed by various legislation. The days of Eatanswill and of firkins of beer being trailed round Guildford High Street are, I am 1558 afraid, all past. We now have the expenditure of our national elections emerging in a different form through the national party organisations—which is sometimes a formidable task—and in a variety of ways in advertising on national television, in national literature and in propaganda of various kinds. That is the way the system works in our own elections.
In the forthcoming European Assembly elections there will be parties, but some of the parties may have titles or names that are not normally associated with our national elements. Some may stand on platforms that have nothing to do with Europe, or with its shape and size. There may be National Front candidates and Socialist Workers' Party candidates. We do not know. It is hard to say. In all cases expenditure will be made by the national party organisations.
In addition, we should not forget that every party that puts up candidates will qualify for certain expenditures at the cost of the Community or the British taxpayer. We are not yet clear where these funds will come from. If there is to be free passage, and if it is to be on the scale of parliamentary elections as at present, it is estimated to be worth £4,500 per candidate per Westminster seat. Therefore, we are talking of a minimum of £30,000, free passage for every candidate who puts up in one of the new European Assembly seats. On top there will be broadcasting time available for those parties that field a sufficient number of candidates to qualify. We shall need to examine closely how that will work and what parties will be entitled to air time on the broadcasting and television channels.
Let us not disguise from ourselves the fact that substantial benefits will be available in terms of free publicity to any candidates who put up in these elections. This raises the question, with which we shall be dealing in later amendments, about the hurdles that candidates will face before they put up for these elections.
These are important matters, and the debate has swirled round them. You, Mr. Murton, have kindly let that happen—or should I say that the Chair has let that happen? But those matters are not in the amendment and the amendment is not really about those matters. The amendment is about the expenses of candidates, 1559 and I should like some more illumination on that topic. As the hon. Member for Farnworth (Mr. Roper) reminded us, these expenses are now governed by the Representation of the People Act 1974, which lays down very carefully for parliamentary candidates the limits to which they may spend.
Therefore, I think that we are all agreed that there must be a limit. The Government's original Green Paper on direct elections said that there should be a limit on candidates' expenses, as did the Select Committee. I certainly agree that it makes sense to have some kind of limit.
In due course the Government will be required to bring forward regulations which we shall be able to debate under the affirmative resolution procedure, because by then, we hope, the Government will have tabled on Report the amendments that they have promised in order to enable us to do that. We shall then be able to debate precisely what proposals the Government put forward on the question of the limit. But before that time comes, it is very valuable and useful that we have had this opportunity to air our views on the whole subject.
I come to the intentions behind the amendment. Like other hon. Members, I am not entirely clear what the right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) had in mind. If it was that we should multiply up the provisions for Westminster seats, the arithmetic through which the hon. Member for Farnworth went would be roughly right. I have some similar calculations on paper.
If we are talking about a constituency of 500,000 electors, that is, seven or eight times the size of a Westminster constituency, if we multiply up the existing provisions, what do we get? We get seven or eight times £1,075, which is the amount provided in every county constituency for a candidate, plus the rate provided for every Westminster constituency, again multiplied up. That rate for a county constituency is exactly 1p per elector. In a borough constituency it is slightly less than 1p per elector.
Doing one's sums, one finds that all this comes to between £12,000 and £14,000—depending on whether there are seven Westminster constituencies or eight West 1560 minster constituencies in the new European seat.
Was it the intention of the right hon. Gentleman to argue that that was the sort of sum that he had in mind for each candidate as the maximum for his expenses for the European Assembly elections? I do not know. If it was, by the standards of 1974, when the Act was passed, possibly it is a reasonable figure. I do not know. It is very hard to tell how the elections will be fought. By the standards of 1978, however, it is not a reasonable figure, because since the Act has been on the statute book prices have risen—I imagine that that includes the prices and expenses involved in campaigning—by, at present, 85.3 per cent. By the time we get to the European elections, in 1979, I have no doubt that there will have been a 100 per cent. increase on the prices of 1974.
§ Mr. Howell
That is a valid point. I do not know whether the Minister would want to comment on that matter now. Certainly the 1974 increases, which upgraded the 1969 figures, are themselves now hopelessly out of date. Therefore, if one follows through the principle of the right hon. Gentleman's intention, as I understand it, and adjusts for inflation, one finds that one is talking of a sum between £20,000 and £25,000 per candidate as the limit on expenses. That is if I have what the right hon. Gentleman intended aright.
I sum up by saying that I agree with the proposition that we have developed over the years that the expenses of a candidate should be restrained. There should be a limit, as the Green Paper and the Select Committee recommended. I also agree with the idea of a formula related to the number of electors. That does not take me on to saying that I would support the amendment, for the obvious reason that if we were to put the amendment into the Bill, we would freeze expenses at the 1974 level.
That is why I counsel my hon. Friend the Member for Flint, West (Sir A. Meyer) not to support an amendment 1561 that would freeze expenses under the Representation of the People Act 1974, which would mean at the 1974 level. That would be a mistake. Nevertheless, it is right that there should be a limit and that we should devise a formula. We should now need to hear from the Government whether they see things in this way, and how influenced they will be in their judgment by the question where the money comes from.
We should like to know a good deal more about that, and about the point that discussions have reached on the sources of money, from the Community or from the British taxpayer. Do the Government also accept that this is the right kind of formula? Will they therefore be putting forward regulations which we can debate under the affirmative resolution procedure, when the necessary amendment has been made by the Government on Report, as promised, to enable the House to reflect the view, which on the whole has been expressed in this Committee with some unanimity today, that there should be a limit and that there should be some kind of formula?
§ The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Dr. Shirley Summerskill)
The amendment in the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) has received a general welcome in the debate, in terms of the principle behind it. I was hesitant to criticise the amendment for not being totally clear in its meaning, because my right hon. Friend is a Fellow of All Souls, but during the debate many hon. Members have made that criticism; therefore I hope that he can now accept that the amendment does not perfectly express what he felt. Perhaps after hearing the comments on it he will agree with that criticism.
I welcome the opportunity to discuss the question of candidates' expenses. As my hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. MacFarquhar) said, it is most important that no candidate or party should secure an unfair advantage over another by virtue of money that can be spent, and that there should be no suspicion of any unfairness in the control over candidates' expenditure. It is quite right that the House should have assurances on this important matter.
1562 As hon. Members will know, the limits on parliamentary election expenses are set out in Section 64(2) of the Representation of the People Act 1949, which is amended from time to time to allow for inflation. Expense limits were last increased in February 1974 by the Representation of the People Act 1974, and there is no power to vary the permissible amount of expenses by order or any other method. Primary legislation is needed on each occasion. The Act can, of course, be applied in regulations to other, non-parliamentary, elections.
Under the present expenses limits £1,075 is allowed for each constituency together with an additional 6p for every six entries in the register of electors in a county constituency, or 6p for every eight entries in a borough constituency. Clearly, inflation has reduced the real value of these allowances and the Government will need to consider introducing legislation at an appropriate time for the General Election.
Paragraph 2(3)(a) of Schedule 1 to the Bill says that the Secretary of State may make regulations in connection with the conduct of Assembly elections, including limitations on candidates' expenses. Paragraph 2(4) goes on to say that these regulations may apply, modified as necessary, any provision of the Representation of the People Acts or any other enactment relating to parliamentary or local government elections.
I assure the House that it is our intention to base the limits on candidates' expenses, which will be set out in the regulations which we shall draw up on the limits for parliamentary candidates.
The precise format of this depends on the timing of the elections. If they were to be held now I doubt whether it would be sufficient simply to apply the limits that were set out for the 1974 elections. It would be necessary to apply them with some increases, so as to set a reasonable level of expenses for candidates. But if they are held very soon after a General Election they could be based on the amounts that had been determined for the General Election without modification.
§ Mr. Roper
I tried to develop in what I said earlier the thesis that they are made up of two parts. There is a fixed 1563 part, which is £1,075 for one Westminster constituency, and a part which varies according to the size of the electorate. The second part is quite clear as far as the European constituency is concerned.
The Committee would appreciate information from the Minister on what she envisages the fixed part would be. Does she think that it would be the £1,075 for the whole of the European constituency or that the figure would also be multiplied according to the number of Westminster constituencies in the European constituency?
§ Dr. Summerskill
My hon. Friend the Member for Farnworth (Mr. Roper) has posed the question which will have to be decided between now and the laying down of the regulations and which will have to be decided by Parliament when the regulations come before the House of Commons. We intend that there should be consultation with the political parties in advance from now on until the regulations come before the House of Commons so that we arrive at an appropriate formula. This was laid down in the White Paper.
There are several ways of approaching the question. For example, one way of proceeding would be to calculate separately the expense limits for each parliamentary constituency comprised in one Assembly constituency, or the total could be calculated treating the Assembly constituency as a single unit. This could produce a much lower figure.
One of the purposes of the debate was to find out from hon. Members what their views were on the matter, and several hon. Members have dealt with this. As I have said, we shall continue to have consultations to see what is the best way in which the expense limits can be set out in the regulations that will be laid before the House of Commons.
It is our intention to amend the Bill on Report so that an affirmative resolution of both Houses of Parliament is required to approve the regulations. I should make it clear that the limits that will be proposed will be the maximum that individual candidates may spend or that may be spent on individual candidates. Fears have been expressed about moneys being provided from elsewhere, but those are not relevant, providing that 1564 the provision that I have just given is adhered to, that is, that the limits are those which now pertain in a parliamentary election. In fact, the rules and regulations will be very similar to the existing ones in a parliamentary election.
Fears have also been expressed about expenditure of money from outside sources. Nobody except the agent can incur expenditure on behalf of the individual candidate in his name. The regulations will be very similar to, or the same as, the ones that apply at the moment in a parliamentary election.
Regulations under the Bill will be drawn up to apply the provisions of the Representation of the People Acts to control broadcasting during the election period about five weeks before polling day. These restrictions will relate mainly to programmes in which candidates take part. Similarly, there will be regulations concerning leaflets aimed at the support of particular candidates. Party political broadcasts will presumably be covered by arrangements similar to those that exist in elections at the moment, that is, arrangements between the parties and the BBC and the IBA.
I think that I have shown that the principle behind my right hon. Friend's amendment is acceptable, but the wording is slightly unclear and does not state on what basis the calculation of the maximum is made.
§ Mr. David Howell
Will the hon. Lady say a word about the free postal delivery provision and whether the funds for it will come from the Community or the British taxpayer? Does she accept that it is in the slight lack of clarity that we have asserted exists in the amendment that a great deal of this debate lies, because, as she said, there is a considerable difference between a calculation for a whole constituency for one candidate having just £1,075, and the calculation for a European constituency which multiplies up the expenses for each separate constituency? That is a very important issue on which, while there may be an agreement on the principle of there being a formula, there is no agreement as between the lower figure and the higher. I urge that we should consider the higher figure.
§ Dr. Summerskill
One of the purposes of the debate was to find out the Committee's views on expenses. Several hon. Members expressed a view on limits and went into some detail. We shall be consulting the political parties.
As for postage, the White Paper says that the Government will propose that there should be a free postal delivery for candidates of election addresses on the same basis as for parliamentary elections, so I hope that my right hon. Friend will accept the undertaking that I have given about the regulations which have been drawn up and will feel able to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Mr. Jay
I do not dispute my hon. Friend's judgment that my amendment is not technically perfect. That is a common misfortune among all Back Benchers. If I understand my hon. Friend aright, she accepts the principle that each candidate's expenditure must be limited and that the same limit will apply to all candidates. Secondly, she said that she will introduce an amendment on Report to ensure that the regulations which finally lay this down are subject to affirmative resolution in the House. They will not be amendable, but they will at least be subject to affirmative resolution.
I ask her, however, for an assurance that the formula she accepts will at least coincide with the figure which will be available for the candidate's expenses for these elections and will, whatever the exact numbers, bear some rational relationship to the figure which will be used for ordinary parliamentary elections in this country, allowing for the different sizes of the constituencies.
I think that ordinary people will want to know that the same principle is being applied and that, allowing for the different size of the constituencies, the figure will be similar if not identical. If my hon. Friend will give me that assurance, I do not think it will be necessary to press the amendment.
§ Dr. Summerskill
I feel that I can certainly give my right hon. Friend that assurance. As I said, the limits on candidates' expenses will be based on the limits for parliamentary candidates.
§ Mr. Roper
I wish to put a further point to the Minister, because this appears 1566 to be the last opportunity the House will have to debate the detail of this matter. The regulations will come to the House, but in an affirmative order that we shall be unable to amend. We must therefore give my hon. Friend some indication now as to our thinking on the alternative schemes that she outlined—the aggregate of the expenses maximum for each Westminster constituency, or taking one amount as a base and scaling it up to the whole constituency.
I gather from the intervention by the hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell) that on balance he prefers using the individual Westminster constituency limits and aggregating them for the European constituency. To some extent, my right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) seemed to give the same general proposition his assent. I am not absolutely convinced yet that we need to make a clear choice between these two extremes.
It seems to me that there are certain economies of scale in a European election as compared with a Westminster election. My hon. Friend should again look very carefully at this matter before she goes to the maximum figures which, as the hon. Member for Guildford said, if it were to be scaled up for inflation as well, would produce a figure of between £25,000 and £30,000 per candidate in a constituency.
We should look very carefully before we find appearing a figure of about £20,000-plus per candidate. We need to do so to protect what has been a tradition in this country—that election expenses are kept down to reasonable levels. In spite of what has been said, I believe that we should look very carefully at the economies of scale before accepting automatically the principle of aggregation.
Even though there will be no chance for the House to amend this provision before the regulations are finally laid, I hope that those regulations will be made available in draft form so that the House will have an opportunity of commenting upon them to the Home Office.
§ Mr. Spearing
The Committee is drawing to a fairly precise conclusion on a wide-ranging debate. That is in the best tradition of the Committee, and we have 1567 my hon. Friend the Minister to thank for that.
My hon. Friend might well wish to lay other regulations concerning the conduct of the elections. There is a later amendment about whether they will be draft or final regulations. Can she tell the Committee whether she intends to table regulations concerning the obligation on candidates and agents to return their accounts in respect of these elections? If she is not going to do so, can she say why? That is part of the procedure concerning limits which is, of course, traditionally related to this issue. There may well be other regulations that my hon. Friend wishes to table in due course. I do not think they are covered in full detail in the Bill. Will my hon. Friend, either now or on Report, give an indication of the sort of things that we might expect?
As was mentioned earlier, this is the last opportunity that the Committee may have to discuss matters which, in the event of any trouble or dispute, could be of great and crucial importance.
§ Dr. Summerskill
I can assure my hon. Friend that accounts will have to be produced in exactly the same way as they are produced in parliamentary elections. Regulations will be laid to that effect.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Mr. David Rowell
I beg to move Amendment No. 186, in page 12, line 10, at end insert—'(3A) Notwithstanding the provisions of subparagraph (3) above, the Secretary of State shall in any such regulations provide that in any provision relating to the subscription of the nomination paper every nomination paper shall be subscribed by two electors as proposer and seconder, and by ninety-eight other electors as assenting to the nominaton, and not more than twenty of those so subscribing may be registered as electors in any one partliamentary constituency wholly or party comprised in the Assembly constituency for which the nomination is made.'
§ The Chairman (Mr. Oscar Murton)
With this we may take the following amendments:
No. 185, in. page 12, line 10, at end insert—'(3A) Notwithstanding the provisions of subparagraph (3) above, the Secretary of State 1568 shall in any such regulations provide that in any provision relating to the timetable of proceedings at the election polling shall take place between the hours of 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. on the day of the election.'No. 187, in page 12, line 10, at end insert—'(3A) Notwithstanding the provisions of subparagraph (3) above, the Secretary of State shall in any such regulations provide that in any provision relating to the deposit a person shall not be validly nominated unless the sum of £1,500 is deposited by him or on his behalf with the returning officer at the place and during the time for delivery of nomination papers.'No. 188, in page 12, line 10, at end insert—'(3A) Notwithstanding the provisions of subparagraph (3) above, the Secretary of State shall in any such regulations provide that in any provision relating to the election agent an election agent of a candidate may appoint one deputy agent to act within each parliamentary constituency wholly or partly comprised in the Assembly constituency for which the candidate is nominated.'
§ Mr. Howell
I should like to put some points before the Committee with regard to Amendments Nos. 186 and 187, which have a common aim, before referring to Amendments Nos. 185 and 188.
Again we are dealing with matters which at first glance may look technical but which raise extremely important issues concerning not merely the conduct of elections generally in this country but the way in which this particular election will turn out.
The broad aims of Amendments Nos. 186 and 187 are, of course, to deter frivolous candidates. Mention was made earlier that candidates who stand in the European Assembly elections will get considerable free publicity. From the Minister's reply we do not know how the free postage provisions will work out exactly, but she said that the free postage would probably be on the same basis as for Westminster parliamentary elections.
If that is so, assuming that there are seven Westminster seats for one European Assembly seat, it gives each candidate the facility of £31,500 worth of free postage straight away. If there were a party that fielded candidates in all 78 constituencies in Britain—as I am sure there will be—that party would have available over £2 million worth of free postal expenditure to use in sending out its addresses to electors.
1569 It is important to make provisions to ensure that we do not discourage candidates from standing in the election. On the other hand, all those who are frivolous and simply seeking free postage should not be presented with such an obvious bargain if they are just rushing into the election without serious intent. The prizes are very big and the proposals in the amendment are designed to ensure that there are real disincentives to grabbing these prizes.
In Amendment No. 186 we propose a procedure for nomination that is designed to provide some hurdle for the would-be candidate. The Select Committee proposed another procedure which would require the candidate to secure the signatures of at least 10 electors from each Westminster constituency contained within the European Assembly constituency, in addition to the signatures of the proposer and seconder. Either this amendment or the proposal of the Select Committee would provide a sensible means of discouraging frivolous candidates. We should like to hear the Minister's views on both these proposals and we should like an indication of which one she would be prepared to adopt.
We are faced from now on merely with affirmative resolution debates on proposals which cannot be amended. Therefore we require very firm assurances from the Minister. It is not enough to say that there will be discussions and that something will be brought forward. By that time it will be too late and we shall not be able to amend it.
The same applies to Amendment No. 187, which is concerned with the size of the deposit. We have debated frequently whether the deposit of £150 required for the Westminster election is still realistic. That has been the deposit since 1918 and it is clearly wildly out of line with the intentions originally behind a deposit of that size. It would have to be very much larger. Does the Minister intend the calculation of the deposit to be simply a multiplication of £150 for each of the Westminster seats, or is it her intention to choose a figure in line with present-day values and make it higher still?
If the Government chose to multiply by £150, this would amount to £1,200 for an eight-seat constituency. We have suggested a figure of £1,500, which is 1570 very much on the modest side. There have been proposals from various groups and organisations for very much higher figures and we shall want a clear assurance from the Minister that the Government's proposal would include a figure of at least the size that we suggest. Nothing less would be sufficient hurdle or deterrent for frivolous, publicity-seeking candidates.
§ Mr. Thorpe
This matter was given considerable thought by the Select Committee of which I was a member. Will the hon. Gentleman consider the following point on which we should welcome his view? If we assume that a candidate will lose his deposit if he does not poll 121 per cent. of the total vote, that would mean that in an electorate of 500,000, he could poll 62,000 votes, which is a not inconsiderable number, and lose his deposit. In an electorate of 750,000, he could poll more than 90,000 votes and still lose his deposit. Surely that would be regrettable?
§ Mr. Howell
The right hon. Gentleman is correct. The Select Committee looked at this matter and recommended in its Third Report that the deposit should be calculated on the basis of £150 for each parliamentary constituency in the larger constituency. As I said earlier, that is on the modest side. The Committee recommended that, as in our national elections, the deposit should be forfeited if a candidate failed to obtain 12½ per cent. of the votes cast. However, I take the right hon. Gentleman's point. In these large constituencies a deposit could be lost even with a very large vote and we might be right to set a lower percentage. That is a matter that we need to consider. The real deterrent must lie in making the deposit a sensible sum and in making nomination procedures that require a serious candidacy and a serious effort by serious organisations that put forward candidates.
§ Mr. Howell
Obviously, we must strike a balance. I said earlier that it would be absurd and outside the spirit of the elections to do what the hon. Gentleman suggests. However, at the other extreme, 1571 I am sure he will agree that the elections could become dangerously downgraded if every sort of publicity-seeking candidate could plunge in immediately and be entitled to a substantial amount of free postage and other publicity.
Figures of the size that I am suggesting represent a fair balance. Lower figures might pave the way for a bargain in free publicity. A small investment could bring a large return for those who had no serious intent but were anxious to get their faces on television, their cause in the newspapers and other free publicity. I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman's interpretation of what I am saying.
The other amendments deal with polling hours and the appointment of deputy agents. Polling hours are a non-controversial matter. A 10 p.m. close has been tried in our national elections. One gets varying views on this, but most of the views that I have received indicate that the last hour gains us nothing.
§ Mr. Howell
I am speaking about fair elections that are well organised, politicians and this House. That is the "us" to whom I refer. I was not trying to speak in party terms. If the right hon. Gentleman has had different advice from his party officials, I am sure that he will pass it on to us. I understood that all political parties held the view that the arguments in favour of an extension of polling hours to 10 p.m. were not as valid as was claimed by those who first put forward the idea. In particular, it was argued that it would avoid the 8.45 p.m. rush for a 9 o'clock closing of the poll and that everything would be a little easier at the end of the day. However, I understand that not very much difference has been found.
Members of Parliament and the advisers in their political parties—indeed, in all political parties—can use only their best endeavours and offer their best advice on the basis of their past experience. The impression of the Conservative Party is that matters would not be much assisted and, indeed, would be more difficult for those who have to manage and organise the elections and their administration. 1572 That is why we have tabled the amendment.
I think that the tone that I have used is enough to indicate that this is not an issue for which we would fight in the last ditch. It is a proposal that I hope will receive the support of the Committee. If it does, I hope that the Minister will take full account of it. If it does not, we shall see how the debate turns out—
§ Mr. Marten
I am in search of information. Does my hon. Friend know the practice in the other countries of the Common Market?
§ Mr. Howell
Yes. I think that I can tell my hon. Friend. Italy is the only other country where the polls stay open as late as 10 o'clock at night. In almost all other countries the closing time is earlier. I believe that in Belgium one has to vote before 1 o'clock. Britain has one of the longest opening spans in the Community. I believe that in Italy the polls stay open between 6 o'clock in the morning and 10 o'clock at night. Their hours are a little longer than ours.
§ Mr. Howell
Perhaps not in some cases. There is a variety of practice and I do not feel strongly about it either way. My hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) is right to remind me to remind the Committee that polling times in this country are longer than in other countries in the rest of the Community with the exception of Italy.
Amendment No. 188 deals with the appointment of deputy agents for each parliamentary constituency. I must confess that in a sense the amendment is speculative. We do not yet know how the Minister proposes that the count shall be organised under the first-past-the-post system. There is an indication in the Bill of how the count would have been organised under the regional list system.
1573 If it is to be the first-past-the-post system, we want to know how the count will be organised. If it is to be broken down on the basis of the Westminster constituencies within the overall European constituency, it is important that there should be deputy agents for each parliamentary constituency. If it is a question of verification at local level before central counting, to which the Select Committee refers, it may be that the need for deputy agents is less, although some assistance to the agent managing the campaign for the candidate would be useful.
Our attachment to the amendment depends very much on the information that the Minister can give about how the Government intend these matters to be organised. Again, I ask for information now rather than for assurances that all will come forward subject to an affirmative resolution, by which stage it will be too late for amendments to be made.
§ Mr. Madden
The hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell) does not seem to be approaching these elections with any great sense of zest or enthusiasm. His comments about the rush to the polls in the last hour did not seem to coincide with the tone of his earlier remarks. I am sure that these elections, if they ever occur, will not be noted for the rush to the polls in the last hour. I was surprised that the hon. Member did not suggest, with a view to adding a little enthusiasm to the whole thing and making the voting process a more pleasant prospect for the people of this country, that we should have a holiday at the time of the elections.
I wish to ask the Minister to consider a matter not wholly unconnected with the suggestions made in the amendment. It concerns a problem that we have seen in recent General Elections, whereby rich individuals seek to contest several constituencies. Often they are not seen in any constituency, but the fact that they are candidates creates problems under the terms of the Representation of the People Act. This is because any events which are organised—for example, television debates—cannot take place unless all of the candidates in a constituency are present. I understand that if one candidate is not present the tele 1574 vision authorities are bound not to proceed with the programme.
The participation in elections of individuals who seek to contest a large number of constituencies causes difficulties and is a denial of democracy for many people. Are the Government considering introducing regulations whereby a candidate contesting one Euro-constituency, to use that rather unattractive term, will not be able to contest simultaneously another such constituency? If people are to be free to become candidates in a number of different constituencies I assume that we shall encounter the same problems as we encountered in recent General Elections.
I would have thought that we would not seek to prevent anyone who wished to be considered in these elections from taking part in them. The annual salary and tax-free expenses that are being rumoured make me fear that the number of candidates will outnumber the electorate. We should attempt to make certain that there are no insuperable barriers for genuinely independent candidates offering themselves in the elections. We must consider carefully the size of the deposit that will be required. If it is too high it will deter such genuinely independent candidates, particularly as there will be the possibility of their losing that sum if they do not secure a sufficient number of the votes cast. It is important that the maximum number of candidates put themselves forward.
I ask the Minister to consider the first point that I have put forward because in the recent past we have seen how candidates contesting a number of constituencies can frustrate election campaigns elsewhere.
Mr. Alan Lee Williams
I am not sure that I agree with the implications of the opening remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Madden), when he said that the election might be a monumental bore. A great deal depends on the quality of the candidates, which is why I regard Amendment No. 186 as so important. But I agree with him about the amount of money proposed in Amendment No. 187.
There is genuine danger that if one makes the sum very high, one will not necessarily discourage frivolous wealthy candidates. My theory is that some of 1575 the more colourful characters who present themselves at Westminster by-elections are the sort of people who have money behind them. Sometimes they are attractive people, sometimes less attractive, but, generally speaking, they have money behind them. I fear that if we pitched the deposit at the high figure mentioned in Amendment No. 187 we should weight the scales unduly in their favour. I know that that is not the intention of the hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell), as he made clear in an intervention during the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby.
I would not be in favour of over-weighting this factor in favour of the big political parties. Many individual candidates and smaller parties would find it extremely difficult if we went for the figure mentioned by the hon. Member for Guildford. I think that the whole Committee is in favour of trying to deter frivolous candidates, but it would be unfortunate if we succeeded only in deterring the less wealthy and favouring the more wealthy frivolous candidates.
§ Sir A. Meyer
I think that the figure proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell) is just about right. It is difficult to be sure that one is not going to deter the genuine independent, but simply to multiply the existing level of deposit by the number of constituencies is a realistic approach. It does not seem to me to present an insuperable barrier to any serious candidate. I find myself in agreement with the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Madden) in his suggestion that it would be desirable substantially to lower the figure at which the deposit is lost. I am unashamedly an electoral reformer and very keen on the additional-Member system.
In all these schemes of electoral reform there is a threshold figure. I am not aware of any proposal for a threshold as high as 12½ per cent. The usual figure is about 5 per cent. If we are talking about constituencies as large as those for the European Parliament, 5 per cent. is a reasonable figure, and that, coupled with a realistic deposit, would provide a sufficient deterrent against the purely frivolous or publicity seeking candidate. Unfortunately, there is no amendment on the figure required to save one's deposit—perhaps one will be put forward at a 1576 later stage. In default of such an amendment, I support the case put by my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford.
§ Mr. Roper
We have been reminded by my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson) that these are often matters which would be considered by a Speaker's Conference. Certainly, election expenses would be. One of the difficulties is that we are not having proper opportunity to consider in detail these important matters of election law.
We are also venturing into something new, and I am therefore cautious about making drastic changes in systems that we know. That is my view of Amendment No. 185. It may be that there are rural areas in the country where everyone has gone to bed by 9 o'clock and no one bothers to vote between then and 10 o'clock, but in my constituency a significant number of the electorate record their votes between 9 o'clock and 10 o'clock.
I have heard no suggestion that the option of the final hour in Westminster elections should be removed, although some such suggestions might have been made. In areas where people have to travel considerable distances from work, where they may work overtime until 6 o'clock or 7 o'clock, they have an evening meal and do not vote until after 9 o'clock. Unless my hon. Friend can reassure me that there is a general wish for the final hour to be removed I am reluctant to support such a proposal. If no such assurance is given, I shall resist the proposal to remove the final hour. I was pleased to hear that the hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell) is not prepared to die in the last ditch for this amendment.
I turn to the linked amendments—Amendments Nos. 186 and 187. Amendment No. 187 deals with deposits and Amendment No. 186 deals with nomination papers. Again, we have to be careful not to set figures that are too high. If we had chosen the regional list system, the figure of 50 nominations in Schedule 4 would have applied. The Select Committee would have struck a figure of 70 or 80. I think that it should be higher than the present figure but lower than 100. One knows the problems of gathering 1577 the various interests. It would be a substantial organisational job to collect 100 signatures, particularly if one had to ensure that they were representative of the area. Fifty signatures may be closer to what is appropriate rather than the 100 in the amendment. But I assure the hon. Member for Guildford that I shall not die in the last ditch for that view.
I turn to the more important question of the deposit. It would be a mistake if it varied according to the number of Westminster constituencies in the European constituencies. In some parts of the country where eight or nine constituencies were grouped together the sum would be nine times £150. Somewhere else, where there were only six Westminster constituencies, it would be only six times £150. That would be bad. The Irish Parliament has put the sum of £1,500 into its legislation, so there is some precedent for that sum.
In their proposals for the regional list system the Government favoured £500. I think that the correct figure is somewhere in between—about £1,000, although we might go slightly higher than that.
As I tried to point out in an intervention during the hon. Member for Guildford's speech, we have a certain responsibility to ensure that we are not seen to be setting up the elections in such a way that only those who are members of the large parties are able to stand as candidates. If it were thought that we were fixing the figure at too high a level people might claim that we were carving it up between the two large parties.
Although we must guard against irresponsible or frivolous candidates in these elections, we must remember, as has been said, that there will be a new election structure and there may well be people who want to stand apart from the pattern of our traditional parties, or who may want to stand because they are faster Europeans or slower Europeans than the majority of their party. We should therefore, be careful before we set a figure which is a significant deterrent to individuals who are quite serious in wanting to contest the election.
I feel that the problem of the candidate who is seeking publicity—although I recognise that it arises sometimes—will be rather less in a General Election 1578 than in a by-election. In a General Election, when there are about 80 campaigns going on in different parts of the country, the individual is unlikely to seek as much national coverage as a candidate will in seeking publicity in a by-election. Therefore, we should not make too much of that argument in setting the figure at this particularly high level.
However, I very much agree with what has been said by the hon. Member for Flint, West (Sir A. Meyer) and my hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Madden) to the effect that, if we make a significant increase, we should trade this off against a reduction in the threshold that we should expect a candidate to reach in order to have his deposit returned.
Whether one would want to go quite as low as the suggested 5 per cent. or to a figure closer to 8 per cent. as more reasonable is something which one would wish to consider. However, as has already been said, this is probably the last time that the House of Commons will have a chance to give these matters detailed study, and on this matter we look forward to hearing the Minister give us the Government's thinking. I hope that we shall be told whether they have considered the possibility of a lower percentage to be achieved before a candidate loses his deposit.
Finally, I come to Amendment No. 188. I confess that I was somewhat mystified about the new animal that the hon. Member for Guildford wished to bring in here. Under our present parliamentary election rules there is power to appoint sub-agents, and I was not altogether clear what additional powers he wanted a deputy agent to have in a Westminster constituency which could not be achieved by appointing, under the normal parliamentary election rules—assuming that they are to be applied to the European election—a sub-agent for each of the Westminster constituencies making up the European constituency.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will explain the precise role of the deputy agent as distinct from a sub-agent, especially in the counties.
§ Mr. MacFarquhar
I do not wish to detain the Committee but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Farnworth (Mr. 1579 Roper) has just reminded us, this is probably the last occasion when each of us can put a nut or bolt before our Front Bench for consideration.
I differ somewhat from my hon. Friend the Member for Farnworth on one matter. Obviously, in this new type of election one does not wish totally to prevent new parties or new types of candidate from coming forward—that is perfectly fair—but we have to link that to our earlier consideration on the subject of election expenses.
I think that it was my hon. Friend the Member for Farnworth himself who said that the Government should not too readily think simply in terms of aggregation up to 10 times one constituency for the overall permitted limit for election expenses. That would be a considerable sum—I think that my hon. Friend estimated it at about £25,000—and it would put into the mind of the electorate the idea that we were wasting a lot of money on the election, even though one could argue that there were only 81 constituencies.
On the other hand, if we put the deposit too low and we allow in too many non-serious candidates, each with an ability to make use of the free post, which in a Euro-constituency will be very valuable and expensive, as the literature comes thudding through the door, and, in some cases, as we find in by-elections, perhaps, rather more than in General Elections, there are some pretty bizarre candidates, there may well be quite a ground swell of resentment that our election legislation was so framed that it was possible for all sorts of candidates to put themselves forward without too much worry about losing a great sum of money in these vast constituences but able to propagate their views at the taxpayers' expense.
I would not go so far as the hon. Member for Farnworth (Mr. Roper), but I am more inclined to believe that the Government should look sympathetically at the upper figure suggested by the Opposition Front Bench, although perhaps not going quite as far as that.
§ Mr. Lee
I did not intend to intervene, but I wish to say a few words following the remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. MacFarquhar). Let me say at the outset that I have no 1580 intention of voting in this so-called election because I refuse to recognise any such body as having any authority whatever.
Is not the best way to guard against what are called frivolous candidates—although we are always careful not to define what we mean—to increase the number of persons required to nominate or be supporters on the ballot paper and not to demand too high a level of deposit? If anybody is sufficiently reckless enough, for whatever reason, to put himself forward, it should be for the electors to decide whether they will treat such a candidate as frivolous.
I do not think there has been any question this century of a candidate receiving no votes whatever. There was one candidate who received short of two figures. There was a by-election in Islington where somebody received 32 votes. It is for the electors to decide.
§ Mr. Lee
Speaking as one who is not an admirer of that gentleman, I am so glad that he has only 30 fans. I am obliged for that information. Therefore, even skittish or faddish candidates attract some kind of support. We take something on ourselves if we say that such-and-such a candidate is a frivolous candidate. That may be so, but it is very difficult to be objective. A number of people whom we would all regard as dreadful candidates politically have stood. There was even a Mebyon Kernow candidate—a Cornish nationalist—who stood at Camborne, Falmouth and received over 800 votes, which is not quite a derisory figure. That is an indication that, however way out or eccentric a person may be, he appears to aggregate together a measure of support. Therefore, in so far as this Bill is of any relevance I shall do with the ballot paper in this instance what I did with the voting paper at the Parliamentary Labour Party meeting the other day: I shall tear it up and refuse to have anything to do with it.
The way to handle this matter is to put it to a proper democratic test involving a person's acceptability. If the candidate is made to do a great deal of work 1581 rushing round trying to find a great number of nominators, and cannot find them, that is his bad luck and he cannot stand.
§ 9.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Kenneth Clarke
I wish to emphasise that we are discussing amendments to a schedule that gives the Government wide regulation-making powers. The Bill as it stands provides for the nuts and bolts of the elections all to be determined by regulations laid by the Government Department. It has been said and will be asserted again that the regulations that will be produced will be produced in line with all the precedents to which we are accustomed for ordinary General Elections. Nevertheless, the European elections are rather an important innovation.
The House of Commons obviously contains Members who regard themselves as experts on the conduct of elections, if on nothing else. I should think that it would be possible to draft a Bill that at least trusted the House of Commons to be able to give its opinion on these nuts and bolts issues, and not to leave it all to these wide regulation-making powers.
I shall not trespass on the subject matter of the next amendment, but it seems to me that the House of Commons is entitled to more than one and a half hours in which to discuss the entire detailed regulations on the conduct of an election, when they are finally decided. Again, it seems quite unnecessary to reserve power to the Home Office, or whatever the responsible Department is, and to refuse to allow the House of Commons to have the final say on quite important details of election procedure.
These amendments give us the opportunity to discuss one or two nuts and bolts issues. Amendment No. 185 deals with the actual times between which an election shall be held. Personally, I very much support that amendment in saying that the timing of polling in any European elections should be between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. The additional hour which is nowadays accorded to General Elections has been a matter of some controversy. Most of us here have fought a varying number of General Elections. Certainly my experience in the elections that I have fought has been that the additional hour 1582 9 p.m. is, on the whole, a considerable waste of time and public money. The number of people who vote in that time who could not vote before 9 p.m. is not very significant.
It has been an interesting experiment. I do not know whether the Department holds any figures to show the proportion of the electorate who vote after 9 p.m. All I can say is that in my experience what happens is that the whole tempo of the campaign shuts down after 9 p.m. If a well-organised committee room is being conducted, all those supporters of a political party who might be induced to vote on the day have been turned out by 9 p.m. or have refused point blank to turn out at all, and it tends to be a very stray section of the population who drift in after 9 p.m.
If we are to hold more elections for devolved Assemblies in Scotland and Wales, for all our local authorities, for the House of Commons and for the European Parliament as well, it is important that we keep in mind the question of public expenditure. It seems to me that the whole process is unnecessarily prolonged for an hour when by 9 p.m. the time has been reached when all those who want to vote have voted and the candidates and their helpers are becoming quite desperate and are biting their finger nails about precisely where they have got to. All those working in the election are bored to death with the process of manning a committee room when fewer and fewer people are coming through the door. Then the time has come for the police and everyone on duty to be allowed to bring in the boxes and to bring the proceedings to an end.
I hope that the Minister will accept Amendment No. 185. I hope that he will express an opinion and will not simply say "Leave it to the wisdom of the Home Office, because in due course wise regulations will be produced which will cover this matter."
§ Sir A. Meyer
There was one very valid argument against extending the poll to 10 p.m. That was that it made it virtually impossible in a large number of constituencies to count the votes on the same night. With the size of the constituencies about which we are now talking, I rather assumed that there would be no question of counting on the same night, so I 1583 suppose that in all honesty one must set that argument against the other.
§ Mr. Clarke
The Minister appears to be expressing strong views, which no doubt he will wish to give to us in due course. My personal preference has always been for counting the same night. That is purely from a personal and selfish point of view. As a candidate, I would much rather know how things have gone and not, through the night, have to sit and watch a television set giving the results in everyone else's constituency while I wait for my own result. The Minister of State has apparently such strong views that he is anxious to intervene.
§ Mr. John
The only view I was expressing strongly was in response to the statement that it was impossible in a constituency with a large electorate for the counting to take place the same night. My hon. Friend the Member for Bebington and Ellesmere Port (Mr. Bates) has 90,000 electors and the votes are counted the same night.
§ Mr. Clarke
Perhaps from the electorate's point of view. It is not impossible, but we reach a stage where the whole process is being conducted at a very late hour. Obviously, I do not think that anyone will want to conduct an election in such a way as to deprive any elector of a vote which he could not otherwise cast, but in my constituency I have never had the feeling that any electors were being deprived when the polls closed at 9 p.m. I have the feeling, as has been said, that the counting is either protracted into the night or put off until the following morning. Certainly the whole process is turned into a late night and a delayed event because of the extra hour.
§ Mr. Hurd
As to counting the same night, I do not think that this will arise in the European elections. If our votes were counted the same night, our results would be known on Friday, before some of our European partners had gone to the polls on Sunday. I understand that the idea is that the counting should start throughout the Community after the polls have closed on Sunday night; therefore 1584 my hon. Friend's nail biting will be somewhat protracted.
§ Mr. Clarke
I have never previously heard that suggestion. If that is seriously the case, I would have great reservations about it. My hon. Friend will know that the process in America at the moment involves the polls being closed on the East Coast and the early results being declared while voting is still taking place on the West Coast of America. No one has ever asserted that that is somehow an improper and unconstitutional procedure.
If my hon. Friend's understanding of the time factor is right, it seems that he is holding up the possibility that the voting in the United Kingdom, and the results being declared in the United Kingdom on the Friday, might influence the casting of votes in continental Europe on the Sunday. I would see nothing wrong with that. I can see no point whatever in having ballot boxes locked up solely for the sake of not prejudicing Continental elections. I hope that the elections would be conducted on European party political lines so that our votes here might bear some relevance to European issues. They might well, therefore, be relevant to the elections in Europe. If the consequence is that the views of British electors will have some opportunity of influencing the votes cast in Germany or Italy, I can see nothing wrong with that and would be in favour of it. It had not crossed my mind before that it was seriously suggested that all our ballot boxes should be locked away until the Italian poll was completed.
§ Mr. Roper
I understood that the only basis on which we were able to have elections on a Thursday and were not obliged to have them on some day such as Sunday, to get some degree of Community harmonisation, was that it was agreed that the ballot boxes would not be opened until everyone throughout the Community had voted. I am rather alarmed that at this late stage of the operation the hon. Gentleman—who I thought up till now had been a fairly committed enthusiast for these elections—is considering changing his support for the whole concept of direct elections because he might have to wait two days in agony until he knew the results.
§ Mr. Clarke
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman knows me well enough to 1585 know that my basic position on the Bill will not be changed by last-minute discoveries about the date of polling. It has been my belief throughout that the view that we should not hold elections for the European Parliament until there was complete agreement throughout the Nine on systems of election, methods of voting, and so on, was fallacious. I have always agreed with the view that until each nation State could conduct its own elections in the way it thought best, we should have no elections at all. That has always been my view.
I have supported the idea that we should have a completely different election system certainly the first time round and probably for a few times afterwards for each of the member States. I also support the view that we should have a different polling day according to the customs of the individual nation States the first time round.
It is a new discussion to me in which in some way it is suggested that our votes should be cast on a different day of the week but not counted until some later date in case some voter in the Mezzogiorno should read, gripped by the morning papers, the result of the vote in Warrington, suddenly change his mind and abandon Euro-Communism and change to Christian Democracy, having been influenced by opinion in Lancashire.
We ought to conduct our elections in as efficient a manner as possible. That involves the polling booths opening at 7 o'clock in the morning and closing at 9 o'clock at night and allowing the count to take place thereafter so that in the small hours of the morning the candidates and their supporters should have a result declared without unnecessary delay and expense.
Having learned a lot about the times of polling and the counting of votes, I now turn to the question of the deposit to be asked of candidates. I do not see why the House of Commons should not declare an opinion on what is an entirely political matter. It should not be left to the Home Office to draft suitable regulations. It is a matter on which the House of Commons should give an opinion.
The sum of £1,500 is proposed in Amendment No. 187. I think that is reasonable. I accept the points made by 1586 the hon. Member for Handsworth that nobody wants to deter a candidate who wishes to put himself before the electorate. In an ideal world we would allow the Sunshine Party, the Malcolm Muggeridge Fan Club and even a group of people in favour of a particular route for a by-pass round the village, to stand in any election. Unfortunately, such is the state of modern democracy and its expense that I personally think that the level of deposits for parliamentary elections is now too low and that we are not only encouraging frivolous candidates but allowing frivolous candidates to cause quite unnecessary trouble, delay and expense by putting themselves up for election.
As one of my hon. Friends has said, the ability to stand for an election in this country now enables one to have a free post circulation to every elector. I understand, that the free post facility will be provided for European elections in the regulations which will be made. If we envisage something of the size of the Euro-constituencies, a free circulation of an election address is quite a substantial piece of publicity material being provided at public expense to a large number of electors. It will attract a lot of people who are not remotely interested in being elected to the European Parliament, who realise that they have no reasonable prospect of being so elected, but happen to want to use the opportunity of this free distribution of mail and publicity material to propound a particular point of view, however eccentric.
There is, as we all know from parliamentary by-elections, no limit to the eccentricity of candidates who are prepared to be put forward. We have reached the stage at which a prize should be given to the candidate who succeeds in getting the lowest number of votes in a parliamentary election. All experience has shown that anybody who stands on a campaign of "Don't vote for me. I am mad", will not find it possible to get fewer than about 30 votes in any parliamentary by-election.
There are enough members of the electorate who so despise the electoral system, or who are so short-sighted that they will vote for anybody. There are enough of them who have such poor memories that they will fail to recall the name of 1587 the candidate representing the party of their choice and will vote for some other name when they go into the voting booth. In parliamentary elections there are a limited number of these, but they are annoying enough. At parliamentary by-elections they are becoming irritating and costly, and it is not being antidemocratic or unreasonable to suggest that in Euro-elections they will prove a positive distraction. Such elections will attract cranks, publicity seekers and certainly those who just want the free circulation of literature for the requisite time.
§ 10 p.m.
§ Mr. Lee
But, accepting that point, is there not likely to be as effective a deterrent if the candidate who stands on the proposition that the moon is made of green cheese is required to secure 200 nominators? Surely the sheer slog of getting 200 people to nominate him on that peculiar supposition is likely to present just as many difficulties as getting together a certain sum of money.
§ Mr. Clarke
In an ideal world with a politically sophisticated, honest and frank electorate I would agree with the hon. Member. But he knows as well as I do from the number of petitions and round robins and so on that he receives that it must be possible to persuade 200 people to sign anything if one is persistent enough in going round and collecting signatures. The plain fact about collecting signatures for petitions is that as long as someone actually presents himself at a door and makes it clear that he will not go away without arguing some ridiculous case ad nauseam until a signature is put on the paper, that is all that suffices to get a petition together.
In saying that, I do not disparage some of the worthy petitions we receive. But it is not just the occasional appearance of the names of Queen Victoria and Wellington and other unlikely characters on a petition that gives the game away. One finds that one is presented with a petition demonstrating massive public support for some opinion. When, rarely, I have been led to respond by individual letters to some of the signatories for their having taken the trouble to inform me of their views, I have received in reply letters expressing amazement that they had associated themselves with the 1588 petition on the case I was so carefully trying to argue.
At the moment electors have to nominate some of the extremely unlikely candidates who put up for by-elections, and it is clearly possible to obtain nominations of candidature from people who have not the slightest intention of voting for that candidate when he stands. People will sign nomination papers out of generosity and out of concern for the democratic process, but the time has come for them to feel concern for the expenditure that they are allowing the crank individual to incur and also for the confusion they are permitting to be caused to the electorate. In a situation in Euro-elections in this country where there are likely to be up to 10 candidates appearing on the ballot paper, of whom only two or three are serious candidates, positive harm will probably be done to the results of the poll.
§ Sir A. Meyer
I am suspicious of the calculations I make on the back of envelopes, but I estimate that the cost of free post in a constituency of half a million people would be about £30,000. The candidate who is maintaining that the moon is made of green cheese could easily induce a hundred or so people, for the price of a whole Stilton each, to sign his nomination paper and still come out with a clear profit in terms of the free publicity for his views.
§ Mr. Clarke
I have never heard of anyone having to bribe the electorate to sign nomination papers, but no doubt the Minister will tell us that the regulations will provide protection against such an eventuality. The figure of £30,000 does not surprise me. These are substantial sums and one has to strike a balance between, on the one hand, allowing anyone with a serious prospect of election and a serious interest in being elected to stand and, on the other hand, the substantial expenditure and confusion caused to the electorate. The sum of £1,500 may sound substantial, but I shall be interested to know how it compares with the up-dated figure, taking account of inflation, of the £150 that was originally introduced. I suspect that that new figure would be much greater than £1,500. I see the Minister of State shaking his head. Allowing for inflation, I should be surprised if the equivalent to the figure 1589 of £150—first established in 1918—was not now greatly in excess of £1,500.
Of course, it is all right to err on the side of reducing financial disqualifications with regard to standing at elections. But nowadays vast public expenditure is involved, so I would have thought that £1,500 was absolutely reasonable. One still runs the risk that some pop star—as happened in the past in Huyton on one occasion—might decide that £1,500 was small payment in order to send around an election manifesto consisting of a picture of himself and his group and a plug for his latest record.
Possibly the Minister will be able to reassure us that the regulations will take account of that. But I doubt it. I do not see any prospect whatever of providing restrictions on the material, however scurrilous or commercial, which one can put in an election address. It is therefore more than sensible to make sure that at least a substantial payment has to be put at risk by way of deposit. I would have thought that £1,500 was right.
I would personally envisage a figure of £1,500 without making an adjustment in the level of the votes to be cast in order to safeguard that deposit. We are not making some comparison with the minimum which most Parliaments that have PR systems set as the minimum national vote for the election of representatives to their national Parliaments. We are setting a minimum vote that has to be cast for a candidate in a new constituency in order, as it were, to demonstrate that his candidature was justified and that he was standing with some reasonable possibility either of winning the seat or of putting forward a serious political point of view. I believe that 12½ per cent. is an eminently reasonable figure.
We are in danger in this country of steadily multiplying the number of political parties that we have, even before we move towards any of the electoral reforms which some hon. Members would like to see. Any candidate who could not get one in eight of the electorate to support him could not say that his candidature did not cause some unnecessary expense, difficulty and complication in that constituency.
1590 I would have thought that 12½ per cent. remained a reasonable hurdle. Otherwise, the SNP, Welsh nationalists and the Irish parties might seek to put up candidates in the European constituencies of England in order to try to appeal to the expatriate votes of people from those parts of the United Kingdom.
I believe that we have enough political parties in this House already. I do not think that this new form of election should be a way of encouraging the growth of more political parties. I therefore believe that 12½ per cent. and £1,500 is about the right balance, and I hope that the Minister will concede that.
§ Mr. Marten
I enjoyed the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke). It was lighthearted and interesting, but underlying it were many serious points. First, he said—I totally agree with him—that he regretted the shortage of time devoted to this item in the Bill. I. too, regret it very much indeed, because it is an important part of the Bill. However, until I have done my research I shall not know how my hon. Friend voted during the debate on the guillotine. I voted against the guillotine.
After all the screaming about Britain dragging her feet, getting on with the Bill, and so on, I do not see many hon. Members present who supported the Bill. Talking of screaming brings me to the question of deposits. In the constituency next to mine—Stratford-on-Avon—it so hapened that in a by-election one of the candidates was a gentleman called Screaming Lord Sutch. He was a pop star. I do not know quite how "pop" he was or is, but he stood, and he put his posters all over my constituency because he did not really know where the boundaries were.
§ Dr. Alan Glyn (Windsor and Maidenhead)
He did exactly the same in my old constituency, but he did not get many votes.
§ Mr. Marten
He may not have got many votes, but he got a lot of publicity. Personally, I had never heard of him at the time and have not heard of him since. However, he was graded as a pop star by the BBC, or whoever grades these people.
1591 The number of candidates likely to stand in these elections is another matter. Clearly the three major parties will put up candidates in most constituencies. Let us take the position of the Conservative Party. When a candidate comes forward to seek adoption for a Euro-constituency it is likely that he will be one of several. He will be asked whether, if elected, he will stand up for British interests or will place Europeanism and Communityism before Britain.
§ Mr. Marten
No, it is impossible to do both, as many people have found to their cost.
If a candidate facing a selection committee says that he is a federalist who believes in a federal Europe, clearly other Conservatives will stand against him as anti-federalists. The whole argument about the Bill is whether Europe is a federalist State or a confederation of nation States. Therefore, it is likely that there will be two Conservatives in each constituency—one a federalist and one a non-federalist.
The same will happen in the Labour Party, where there are committed federalists, though not as many as in the Conservative Party. I do not know what the Liberals will do. Probably they will have three different types of candidate. Therefore, before one starts on the Screaming Lord Sutches of this world one is faced with five or six candidates from the three major political parties.
§ Mr. Budgen
Will my hon. Friend comment on the possibility that for the European elections the whole basis of political parties as formed in this House will wither away, and it may well end as a divide between the federalists and the non-federalists?
§ Mr. Marten
Yes, I believe that very much. This has been a continuing trend since 1971. A tremendous cross-party alliance has built up, starting in 1971 and going through the referendum. It is still there, and it is a developing political structure in this country.
§ Mr. George Gardiner (Reigate)
On that basis should my hon. Friend not have been opposed in the last General Election by a Conservative who was pro-European?
§ Mr. Marten
No, because a General Election is about so many different issues. If my hon. Friends do not know that, they must have fought extraordinary election campaigns. Perhaps they were blinded and their elections were just about Europe.
The election to the European Parliament will be about the development of Europe alone. It will not take account of matters like industrial relations in Britain. It will come down to the one thing—will Europe succeed, and will it go ahead as a federal State?
With the free postage the electorate will be inundated with Euro-bumf After that, Euro-boredom will set in. This election will bring it about and there will be a very small turn-out.
§ 10.15 p.m.
§ Mr. George Gardiner
I am moved to make a few observations on the amendments, particularly by recent speeches such as that of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Mr. Lee). I found his speech fascinating in a number of respects, not least because of his revelation, at least to me, that even after the Bill has become law, he will still refuse to recognise the legitimacy of the elections and will go to the extent of refusing to cast a vote in them.
We have all had experience of knocking on doors during election campaigns, asking the elector whether we can count on his support and receiving in reply a frosty gaze and the words "We don't vote". When one inquires further, more often than not the reply is "God will decide". I am touched to learn that the hon. Member for Handsworth is placing all his trust in the Almighty to monitor and check the activities of the European Commission rather than in his elected representative.
However, I take the hon. Gentleman's point that if we are to erect hurdles to discourage fringe or frivolous candidates, it is better to require a large number of signatures on a nomination paper than to put all our reliance upon a high deposit. I do not accept the arguments of my hon. Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke.) It is important that such candidates should be compelled to do a considerable amount of work before their nomination papers go in. For that reason, particularly, I am glad that this batch of amendments hangs on Amendment No. 186.
I commend Amendment No. 186 because, apart from specifying that there must be 100 names on every nomination paper, it also specifies that there should be a certain spread of the nominations throughout one of the new Euro-constituencies. It provides that no more than 20 of the nominees must be registered as electors in any one parliamentary constituency within the larger constituency. It is important that we should do what we can to ensure that candidates do not come forward with a power base that is narrowly and geographically defined within the new Euro-seats. The amendment is one way of securing that.
1594 The requirement that nominees must come from a fairly widely spread geographical area presents a hurdle to the sort of candidates that have been mentioned in the debate. From personal experience, I have slightly mixed views about such candidates. I have been opposed by the same independent candidate in both the General Elections in which I have stood. Far from being frivolous, he is one of the most serious candidates that I have met and his personality is most endearing. He has, of course, lost his deposit on every occasion, but he said in his last letter to me that he had nearly saved the money that he had no doubt he would forfeit again. I would weep some tears if he disappeared from the scene at the next election. A touch of individualism of that sort is no bad thing in our democratic process. For that reason I shall feel a little torn if I am ever asked to vote on what for other logical reasons I would support—namely, the proposition that the deposit for a candidate in parliamentary elections should be increased.
We need to ask ourselves seriously whether such individualistic, and perhaps by some tests eccentric, candidates should be encouraged in the sort of election of which we are speaking, involving about 500,000 voters in each Euro-constituency and involving the large sums that have been referred to, especially for the free election post.
Of the amendments before us I prefer the formula that is put forward in No. 186, which requires a large number of nominations and a broad spread of them through the Euro-constituency rather than putting total reliance upon the greatly increased deposit, for much the same reasons as were advanced by the hon. Member for Handsworth.
I have a word to say about Amendment No. 185, which seeks to lop the ridiculous extra hour from our voting day. I accept the arguments that have been advanced that the far shorter voting days in a number of European countries relate to the fact that their polling takes place on a Sunday. I should never go so far as to suggest that our voting hours should be those that apply, for example, in West Germany and in France, where 1595 I think the polling booths open from 8 o'clock in the morning and close at 6 o'clock in the evening.
A few years ago we decided as an experiment to add an hour to the length of the polling day. I have yet to meet any party worker in any party who thinks that the extra hour has served any useful purpose. It involves longer hours of work for the polling station officers and the police, not to mention the active party workers. Where a count immediately follows the close of poll, it means that all the counters involved start work later than would otherwise have been the case. I am sure that the time is not far removed when for our parliamentary elections we shall bring the close of poll back to 9 o'clock. I see no reason for our not starting that good habit in the Bill. We can wait for our parliamentary elections to be brought into line at a later date.
§ Mr. Gardiner
I am interested to hear the shout of "No". I have not heard much justification in the debate for the final hour. No one has yet advanced the argument that the number voting is increased as a result of having an extra hour available. My experience is to the contrary. We should have no lower turn out by ending polling at an hour that is more convenient to us all. I support Amendment No. 185, but find it somewhat unfortunate that it has been argued with the other amendments, which are designed to guard against the fringe or frivolous candidate.
I hope that the Minister will consider seriously the argument advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell) in support of Amendment No. 186, and on this occasion at least will make a concession to feeling in the Committee.
§ Mr. Budgen
I take up one or two of the points advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke). He suggested that a deposit should be lost if an individual candidate obtained less than 12½ per cent. of the vote. He rightly said that in his opinion it was important to keep out the self-seeking person who had no interest in politics, people such as Screaming Lord Sutch, the pop singer, who merely wanted some 1596 free publicity. I agree with him entirely about that. My hon. Friend went a little further and spoke about the one-issue fringe party. Here I disagree with him.
While it may be that an SNP candidate, a Socialist Worker candidate or a National Front candidate may not have very much to say about the broad spectrum of issues likely to be considered, none the less he has something to say about an issue. It is important that this vehicle of protest should not be made too difficult to use in our democracy. I hope that the Home Office will not take too much notice of my hon. Friend's suggestion of 12½ per cent.
The protest vote is an important part of our democracy. It is a useful way of assessing public opinion on individual issues. It should not be made too expensive for individual citizens to express a point of view on a single issue. It is difficult to know exactly where the line should be drawn, but I contend that 12½ per cent. is drawing the line at too high a point. I would draw it somewhere between 5 per cent. and 10 per cent. It is a matter of judgment, but I believe that to say that it should be 12½ per cent. with the specific intention of keeping out the protest vote is a dangerous way of stifling a useful vehicle of protest.
§ Dr. Summerskill
We have been discussing four amendments, concerning the number of subscribers, the hours of polling, deposits and deputy agents. The discussion has shown the differences of view that exist in the Committee on these issues. This has been a valuable debate because these four subjects will now be included in the regulations which will be debated in both Houses when they are presented. There has been some criticism that the Government are not presenting definite views at the end of the debate. If the Government present a fait accompli they are accused of not seeking the views of the Committee. If we set out to seek the views of the Committee, we are asked for firm assurances, as we were by the hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell).
The variety of views means that we shall have to consider what is the best thing to do and how to get it right. That is the purpose of having regulations. Regulations were criticised by the hon. Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), who 1597 preferred substantive legislation. There are always criticisms of regulations on that basis. The regulations will be based on the Representation of the People legislation. To give some idea of the magnitude of the Bill that would be needed if we did not have regulations, I can tell hon. Members that the Representation of the People Act 1949 is a major piece of electoral legislation with 176 sections and nine schedules. Well over 100 of the sections are relevant to Assembly elections, together with the election rules in the Second Schedule. The vast majority of them represent widely accepted features of our traditional electoral system. There are clearly different views on the subject we have been debating. We shall have to consult the political parties and consider the views of hon. Members.
§ Mr. Kenneth Clarke
I accept that it would be absurd to bring before the House of Commons a full set of regulations for a decision on every item. By the amendments that have been tabled, the Committee has clearly accepted as major matters such things as the hours of opening of polls and the amount of the deposit. Why could the Government not meet that concern by tabling their own preferred conclusion on those matters and allowing the Committee to vote? Why should the decisions on hours of opening of polls and the level of deposits not be taken by the 635 hon. Members in the House? Why rely on the Home Office to assure us that it will listen carefully to our representations and then produce its preferred solution?
§ 10.30 p.m.
§ Dr. Summerskill
Surely it is more democratic and reasonable to have this debate before regulations come before the House on which the House can then vote, rather than present the House with the Government's decision on what should be done before they have listened to the debate.
On Amendment No. 186, I listened with interest to the arguments of the hon. Member for Guildford in favour of setting a fairly large figure for the number of subscribers to each nomination. Naturally, the Committee is concerned to deter frivolous candidates whilst not inhibiting genuine ones, particularly independent candidates, as my hon. Friend 1598 the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Madden) said, who need not necessarily be frivolous because they are independent.
In the context of parliamentary elections this will be considered by the Speaker's Conference, but we have to consider it in connection with the Assembly elections. The Select Committee recommended that nominations should be accompanied by the signatures of 10 Assembly electors for each parliamentary constituency within the Assembly constituency. This would mean that in a constituency formed out of five Westminster seats, 50 subscribers would be required for a constituency formed out of 10 seats, there would need to be 100 subscribers. That is the number proposed in the amendment. The Select Committee recommended what would, in fact, become a variable, whereas at least the hon. Member for Guildford proposes a fixed number.
The Government's view, as explained in the White Paper, was that the number of nominations required for Assembly elections should be greater than that required for a parliamentary election, but the Government did not consider that the increase should be in proportion. We felt that the figure should be fixed rather than vary from one constituency to another and proposed that it should be fixed at 50. But, in the light of what has been said, we shall be considering the arguments in favour of 100, although I must add that the hon. Gentleman's suggestion of 100 was not very strongly supported on either side of the Committee. Indeed, some hon. Members positively disagreed with it.
I think the hon. Gentleman will agree that the more people who are sponsoring a candidate, the more chance there is of an election being ruled out on technicalities and being declared null and void. That is one criticism of the figure.
The amendment also places an upper limit on those subscribing from one part of the Assembly constituency. I recognise the hon. Gentleman's aim in wanting a candidate to show that he has support throughout the Assembly constituency. I am, however, doubtful whether 20 persons in a constituency of about 500,000 is the sort of support which justifies the intention behind the amendment, because, presumably, it would not be all that difficult 1599 to find 20 such people. However, this, too, will be looked at in consultation with the parliamentary parties.
Amendment No. 187 would have the effect of requiring the Home Secretary to make a provision, in the regulations which he is empowered to make about the conduct of Assembly elections, to fix the level of the candidate's deposit at £1,500. The issue of the deposit and the level at which it should be set raised several questions in the debate. Indeed, there has been a good deal of debate during the past year whether some increase in the £150 parliamentary deposits, fixed as long ago as 1918, should be made. If we look at it in simple economic terms, £150 in 1918 is worth about £1,250 now. That in itself is a justification for a significant increase. It is suggested that it is now too easy for small parties or independent candidates to stand and take advantage of the free publicity and free postal arrangements to which a candidate is entitled.
The White Paper on direct elections refers to the problem at all elections of how to deter frivolous candidates without inhibiting genuine candidates. There are other ways of doing this without increasing the deposit, but the deposit method seems to be one of the ways that hon. Members think important.
These are proposals which, in the Westminster context, require the type of careful consideration that one obtains from the Speaker's Conference. When arriving at a view about the level of deposit for Assembly elections, we must be careful not to do anything which might prejudice consideration of these issues in relation to Westminster elections.
The Select Committee recommended that the deposit should be set at £150 for each parliamentary constituency contained in an Assembly constituency. This would mean that for an Assembly constituency containing five parliamentary constituencies the deposit would be £750, but for one containing 10 parliamentary constituencies it would be £1,500. That is the figure contained in the amendment.
Although no decision has been taken by the Government on the size of the deposit, we have taken the view so far that it would be preferable to have a fixed deposit, irrespective of the size of the 1600 Assembly constituency. We also thought that a lower deposit was appropriate. The sum of £500 was in the White Paper. One of the objections to a larger deposit, such as the one proposed, is that practical difficulties might accrue for the smaller parties which cannot guarantee to save their deposits when fighting a series of elections and having to find substantial deposits. Nationwide, almost £120,000 is involved for each party if the proposal is accepted.
§ Mr. David Howell
Can the Minister confirm what she said in an earlier debate—that for each candidate, £40,000 worth of free postage will be available?
§ Mr. Howell
I am drawing the Minister's attention to the obvious comparison between the modest deposit that might be at risk and the free postage. The two are miles apart.
§ Dr. Summerskill
The hon. Member favours a large deposit but there are other arguments for a small deposit, particularly for the smaller parties and independent candidates. One does not wish these elections to be the monopoly of the large, rich parties.
I turn to the question of polling hours. The Bill provides that the Secretary of State may make provision for them in regulations.
§ Mr. Kenneth Clarke
Before the Minister moves on, can she indicate the level at which a deposit will be lost? It is relevant to the amount of money that has to be put up to have some indication of the Government's view of what size of vote will be required to retain a deposit.
§ Dr. Summerskill
Many hon. Members have raised the issue of the lost deposit and we have listened carefully. Naturally, their views will be taken into account in conjunction with the regulation on the deposit.
§ Mr. Kenneth Clarke
With the greatest respect, I cannot believe that the Government have not formed a provisional view about the level at which the deposit is saved. If the hon. Lady insists that all will be done by regulation, at least she should give some idea about that so that representations can be made.
§ Dr. Summerskill
Although the hon. Gentleman will not believe it, the Government do in fact consider the views of the Committee and of the House. I think that there would be some objection if I said simply that this is what we have decided to do and this is what we shall do, regardless of what has been said this evening. I repeat that the question of the loss of deposit is related to the amount of the deposit in the first instance.
I return to the question of hours of polling. I hope that hon. Members will acknowledge that this also is a matter which regulations can cover in detail when they are produced. We have heard various suggestions about whether earlier or later closing hours affect the total poll, although no statistics have been produced.
The hours of poll for parliamentary elections are fixed by paragraph 1 of Schedule 2 to the Representation of the People Act 1949 as being between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. For local elections the hours are between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. These are fixed by a separate schedule to the Local Elections (Principal Areas) Rules.
The hours of poll have changed from time to time for both parliamentary and local elections, and, clearly, the hours must reflect the needs of the electors and must be conducive to the efficient organisation of the election.
In the White Paper the Government said that they had accepted the Select Committee's recommendation that, in general, normal United Kingdom parliamentary electoral law should apply to the conduct of Assembly elections. This suggests that the hours of poll should be fixed from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. rather than be changed to 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. I must add that I did not hear any overwhelming or even strong argument in the debate in favour of an earlier closing, and there were some very strong views expressed against earlier closing. However, as I say, we shall look again at the matter.
§ Mr. Roper
There was reference to the time of counting and the question of the size of constituency, as well as reference to European agreement. Is it not certain, given the much greater geographical area to be covered in European election constituencies and the enormous distances over which ballot boxes will have to be transported, that, whether we 1602 close at 9 o'clock, 10 o'clock or even 8 o'clock, it will be virtually impossible to have the count on the same night?
§ Dr. Summerskill
Yes, I confirm what has been said, that we cannot count the votes until all the European countries have voted, which would be on the Monday. Article 9(2) of the annexed Act to the decision of the Council of Ministers of 20th September 1976 prohibits counting until after polling ceases in all countries.
I come now to the relationship between the count and the deputy agent. It is intended to make provision in the regulations for verification of the ballot papers locally by district or constituency, as appropriate, and then to count them in one central place for each Assembly constituency. The regulations will provide for representatives of the candidates to be present at the verification and at the count. These need not necessarily be sub-agents as defined in the Representation of the People Act.
§ Mr. Kenneth Clarke
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way again and I apologise for the interruptions, but arising out of what she has just said, confirming that the count will take place on the Monday, what is to happen to the ballot boxes between Thursday and Monday? Is there to be—presumably, there is—a police guard mounted on the ballot boxes between Thursday and Monday to make sure that there is no interference? If that is right, can the hon. Lady explain why our Ministers agreed to this rather preposterous arrangement when the Council of Ministers agreed on the common counting date?
§ 10.45 p.m.
§ Dr. Summerskill
It would be more preposterous if they were not sealed and guarded.
In parliamentary elections for a county constituency an election agent for a candidate may appoint a deputy election agent for each part of the constituency. Section 56 of the Representation of the People Act 1949, as amended, provides that only one deputy election agent may be appointed for each part of the constituency, but contains no restriction on the parts into which a constituency may be divided. A similar scheme might be 1603 appropriate for Assembly elections whereby the total number of deputy election agents is left to the discretion of the election agent, provided there is not more than one deputy for each part of the Assembly constituency. Election agents might well wish to divide the Assembly constituency into its constituent parliamentary constituencies and appoint a deputy agent for each, as is suggested in the amendment. Clearly that is something which can and will be discussed with the political parties.
In conclusion, I would assure the Committee that all these amendments and the debate on them will be carefully considered before the Government draw up regulations on these points. Every effort will be made to find the best and the right way in which to incorporate the views of the House into the regulations.
§ Mr. David Howell
I am sorry if I seemed to the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Madden) to lack enthusiasm in moving the amendment. I think that the cause is that I have yet to have my supper rather than I lack enthusiasm for direct elections. My enthusiasm for direct elections and for the Bill remains undiminished. I have made no secret of my view nor of the views of many of my right hon. and hon. Friends. We support the aims of the Bill and want direct elections to take place.
I shall deal with the four amendments, beginning with the rather less contentious, although all have generated divided views. On the question of polling hours, I said at the beginning that it was not a matter to which we gave the highest priority. My experience is like that of my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr. Gardiner), that the last hour adds a burden to the administrators and to those trying to organise the election at the end of their day, without much increasing the opportunity to vote. Statisstically, the evidence seems to give no indication that the number voting has increased with the extra hour. However, I said at the beginning that our view was not held strongly and I accept what emerged from the debate—as has the Minister—that there are divided views on the matter.
On Amendment No. 188, I note what the hon. Lady says about deputy agents, 1604 that regulations will provide for the possible appointment of deputy agents so that local verification procedures can be attended by those deputy agents. I also note the hon. Lady's view that there will be a central count. If that is the case and regulations will provide for deputy agents to look at the count, we are glad to hear it.
I come to the amendments designed to deter what we refer to as frivolous candidates. As has been said, it is not easy to describe frivolous candidates, but, like the elephant, we all know them when we see them. On this matter the attitude of the Government varies slightly on the two amendments, and so, therefore, does my response.
On the first, concerning the number of signatures on a nomination paper, I think the principle is accepted that there should be a large and well-spread number of names on the nomination paper. The hon. Lady mentioned the figure of 50 and said that in view of the debate she would look at it again—implying that 50 would be the minimum and that perhaps regulations would be brought forward with a larger number. If that is the hon. Lady's view, and if I have that right, I think that my hon. Friends and I would accept that the Government are moving in the right direction on the matter. If I have not interpreted correctly what the hon. Lady said, perhaps she would intervene and say so. My impression is that she has put 50 as the minimum figure that might be in the regulations and that the Government will consider a larger number in the light of comments made in this debate.
§ Mr. Howell
I come to the question of the deposit. One's judgment on this is connected with views about the proportion of votes required to avoid the loss of the deposit. I still feel very strongly that the Government are not facing reality in this area.
We are discussing this matter against a background figure of £150 for the parliamentary constituency that was fixed 60 years ago. Although my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate said that he would not wish to see that sum increased, the fact is that over the years the arguments for that figure must have been 1605 destroyed, pulverised, by the rate of inflation. Any intentions that our forebears had a fixing the figure at £150 must have been totally destroyed by the onward march on inflation. A figure of 10 times that amount would probably maintain the real value as intended in 1918.
That is just for the parliamentary constituency. If we then start thinking about seven parliamentary constituencies put together, it seems absolutely inevitable that a figure very much bigger than the £150 and the £500 mentioned by the hon. Lady must be right.
One recognises the vital importance of allowing the eccentric candidate and the protest vote candidate to stand. That is absolutely right. But the basic economics of this from the point of view of the taxpayer or Community funds—we are not quite sure which—are also very relevant. Free publicity to the tune of between £30,000 and £40,000 will be available through free postage to any candidate who can raise the deposit, collect the nomination papers, get the signatures of the electors and then stand. That is a very serious impost on the funds that will finance this free postage. We are not yet clear about where those funds will come from.
The Government must look at this matter again very closely and compare in their minds their figure of £500, which is the ante that they are requiring a candidate to put up, with the figure of £30,000 or £40,000 in free postage to which the candidate will become entitled. It does not make sense to put aside that consideration and fix one's mind solely on the question of the sum that would or would not deter the eccentric candidate in a small party.
§ Mr. Roper
The hon. Member mentioned uncertainty as to whether the funding of the free post or other expenses would come from Brussels or British funds. However, given that the elections are to take place throughout the Community and that if it is to come out of Community funds it must be collected from member States, and assuming that every member State will pay up pro rata, in terms of accounting it does not matter whether the funds come through Brussels or from the British taxpayer.
§ Mr. Howell
These are all matters on which in due course—perhaps the 1606 "course" should have been this evening—the House of Commons deserves a little more elucidation. We are talking about the cost of postage. That is where the figure I am quoting arises. I do not have the precise facts to enable me to state whether the cost of postage is the same in Holland as it is in Britain, or that the cost of postage in Italy is the same as that in France. I do not know. Perhaps it is less in other countries; perhaps it is more. Certainly in Britain the cost keeps rising. These are matters to which the Government will have to give second thoughts. I do not think they have thought it through, and I do not think that the figure of £500 mentioned by the Under-Secretary is at all realistic.
The Government's answer to all these points is that they will be very carefully considered, that there will be consultations between the parties, and that after that the matter will be put to the House. But by then it will be beyond discussion and we shall merely be able to vote it down or vote it up. That will be our only choice. That leaves me, as it leaves some of my hon. Friends, feeling extremely uneasy.
§ Mr. Spearing
I think that it is a right description of the Bill as it now stands. There is another amendment which the hon. Gentleman may wish to support. If a draft of such regulations were to be laid, would it not in effect be possible to have two attempts at regulations?
§ Mr. Howell
The hon. Gentleman anticipates me. I was going on to say that there is an amendment ahead of us on the Order Paper which would put a rather different light on this process. It is fine to have consultations between the parties, although individual candidates and protest candidates will not have any part in the consultations in which the great parties will be involved. But those consultations will be better than nothing. I do not want the hon. Lady to get out of order by indicating anything that she is intending to say later. She said that the Government would take account of hon. Members views, but will hon. Members be able to take account of the Government's views?
§ Mr. Howell
I realise the Minister of State's difficulty about being any more specific on this amendment about a matter which will clearly be discussed in very great detail on the next amendment, but I take heart from what he said. It seems to me that a chance is opening out for hon. Members to take account, in a constructive way, of the Government's views before they are served up ready cooked for approval or disapproval under the affirmative resolution procedure.
In the light of that, and in the light of what the hon. Lady has said about Amendments Nos. 186, 185 and 188, I reserve our position on Amendment No. 187. We shall listen very carefully to what the Minister of State has to say in the next debate. In the meantime, I end by urging Ministers to reconsider their view about the £500 deposit, which I believe is too low, even to meet the point about the small parties and the individual eccentric candidate, in relation to the enormous benefits that will flow in free publicity. If Ministers will bear that in mind, we shall listen to the next debate and we shall hope to be able to feel confident of the chance to return to these matters and discuss them.
§ Mr. Robert Rhodes James (Cambridge)
I support the argument concerning the candidate who has a particular point of view and a particular cause which some might describe as frivolous and others as independent. In my own by-election there was a candidate who stood for the self-employed. He was not very successful but he caused all the other candidates to think furiously about the subject, and his contribution was significant.
If the Committee is to consider very carefully the implications of what it is doing in the Bill, it must also consider the implications for elections to this House. I should regret very deeply a situation in which ordinary people, poor people, were denied the opportunity to stand for membership of this House, however cranky, frivolous and independent their views. When Mr. Keir Hardie first stood for Parliament he was regarded as frivolous, independent and cranky. I consider that a situation in which the large parties and the large groups had the priority of nominating candidates for this House would be very regrettable.
§ Amendment negatived.1608
§ 11.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Gould
I beg to move Amendment No. 194, in page 12, line 29, leave out from "instrument" to end of line 31 and insertshall not be made under this paragraph unless a draft of the instrument has been approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament".I intend to do so briefly since my hon. Friend the Minister of State has indicated in earlier debates today that he proposes to introduce an amendment on Report which would in effect serve the purpose of my amendment. I understand that what he intends is that the regulations made under paragraph 2 should be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure. If he cares to confirm that assurance I shall be very glad to accept it.
There is one further point which requires dealing with. In the ordinary course of events these regulations would be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure, would be published, debated and voted upon, but would not be subject to amendment. Therefore, while the House will properly have the opportunity to express a view on the issues raised by the regulations—and they are clearly important issues—the Committee will not have the opportunity to make any representations to the Government as to what regulations should contain. I hope, therefore, that in replying to the debate my hon. Friend the Minister of State will comment on that and offer assurances which will meet the proper concern expressed in the Committee.
§ Mr. Roper
I wish briefly to support my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. Gould) and to stress the point he made about the need for the House to have some opportunity to study these matters and make representations, perhaps in a preliminary debate before the order is laid for approval by affirmative resolution.
We have heard several times this evening that normally a Speaker's Conference would be set up to consider matters such as these before any decisions of this importance were taken in terms of a national election. Therefore, I hope that we shall find a way of ensuring that the House will be able to make its representations to the Minister before he tables them in their final form for decision by the House.
§ Mr. John
I realise that underlying the debate, apart from the points of detail and the actual figures on deposits and so on, has been the form of resolution for consideration of the regulations which are laid down in the Bill, the question of how we consider them, and whether hon. Members have an opportunity to consider what lessons the Government have drawn from the debates this evening.
On the first aspect, the Government have been impressed on this and previous occasions with the representations that have been made, and the comments on the procedure to be adopted, and I am able to say that they accept that it should be done by affirmative resolution procedure rather than by the negative procedure. Unfortunately, the amendment is technically defective. I undertake on behalf of the Government to put a correct one down for Report stage, and I hope that will be of benefit to hon. Members.
The second point that has arisen during the course of the evening is simply what happens when we have the regulations before us. Clearly, even under the affirmative procedure we shall have a take-it-or-leave-it situation in which hon. Members will have to judge the regulations as a whole and either accept or reject them.
If they were to be rejected, a further draft would be brought before the House, and in that sense there would be a sanction. But I do not think that that would be a proper way of proceeding. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) is not here, because it seems that we are in grave danger in this Committee of not being able to make up our minds whether the Government are ignoring the wishes of the Committee or are accepting them. Either way we seem to be criticised. We have had a valuable debate and I have listened to the views of hon. Members on issues on which, if no one else thinks we are experts, we think we are experts—that is, in matters of deposits and so on.
I undertake to find a way of having the draft regulations considered by hon. Members before they are laid before the House on a take-it-or-leave-it basis. One way of doing that would be in the form of a White Paper. Many Members will recollect that that was done with regard 1610 to the rules for the referendum on the EEC. Even if there were no debate on the subject, hon. Members would be able to look at the regulations and make representations to us.
As hon. Members will understand, I am in some difficulty because I cannot commit Government time. It is not within my province to do so. However, I shall certainly consider the best way of doing this. As I have said, one way would be in the form of a White Paper. I undertake that the discussions and consideration of hon. Members will have a meaning. They will not be a charade. I shall try to ensure in the best way possible that hon. Members have the opportunity of considering the regulations in draft form.
§ Mr. Hurd
I think it is the wish of the Committee for me to thank the Minister for having advanced quite considerably in two respects. First, he has accepted the principle of the affirmative resolution procedure. In addition, he will ensure that the Government's proposals are put forward in a form which can be considered by hon. Members before they actually consider the regulations themselves.
I am sure the Minister recognises the difficulty we are in. We are in an un-usual situation. For understandable reasons Ministers are not showing very much of their hand. By the time we get to the final form of the regulations it will be too late—it is now too early—to make representations that will affect the Government's conclusion. We shall then simply have the choice of either accepting or rejecting the regulations.
The Conservative Opposition would like to reserve their position until we see the nature of the White Paper. That might be the least troublesome and most fruitful way of giving the Government the opportunity of considering the views of hon. Members before getting to the final question whether we approve or disapprove the regulations.
We are grateful to the Minister for responding in this way. In doing so I believe that he has done a service to the proper consideration of this matter.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Dr. Phipps
I beg to move Amendment No. 196, in page 13, leave out lines 39 to 41 and insert—(a) he is not a member of either House of Parliament".
§ The First Deputy Chairman (Sir Myer Galpern)
With this we may take Amendment No. 86, in page 13, line 42, after "Ordinary", insert "or—(c) he is a Member of the House of Commons".
§ Dr. Phipps
One of the most considerable criticisms that can be made of the guillotine procedure is that the only opportunity we have to discuss in any detail the relationship between Members of this House and Members of the European Parliament should commence at nearly 11.10 p.m. when the debate is due to finish at midnight. That is unfortunate, because the most contentious element that I personally see developing is the relationship between the two sets of MPs.
I speak as a convinced pro-European who wishes to see the European Parliament a success and who believes that if the relationship between the two Houses of Parliament is not properly debated and organised therein lies one of the strongest bones of contention and one of the impediments with regard to the workings of the European Parliament
Hon. Members will know that I have recently written an article in the Socialist Commentary in which I discussed at some length the necessity for considering the dual mandate, and I am glad that we have a limited opportunity to discuss it tonight.
An obvious difficulty arising from the amendment is that a Member of the European Parliament has to be a Member of this House or another place. That might be a possible proposition for the first elections to the European Parliament in that it would mean that the only people who could stand as candidates would be those who were Members of this House or another place. That would not necessarily be able to be continued after the first General Election subsequent to the first election to the European Parlia 1612 ment. It would be possible for Members of this House who become European Members to be defeated at a General Election, and then they would automatically cease to be Members of the European Parliament. Then we would have to hold by-elections for positions that could be undertaken only by Members of this House and another place.
§ Mr. Roper
Perhaps it would help the complicated procedure for preventing frivolous candidates if by definition the only people who could be candidates for Europe were those who were already Members of this House or another place. Clearly, there would be no ludicrous or frivolous candidates standing. But what would happen in a situation after the first British General Election if all the European Members were defeated in their Westminster constituencies because their constituents felt that they were neglecting their duties, and none of the new Westminster Members was prepared to volunteer as a candidate in the ensuing European elections?
§ Dr. Phipps
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for putting a point that I was about to develop.
Clearly, the difficulty raised by having a system which allows only United Kingdom Members of Parliament and Members of another place to offer to be candidates is that this would not be generally accepted in the electorate at large. Nor would it be accepted by the many people who might wish to stand as candidates for Europe. I can see very considerable resistance to having only Members of this House and another place.
Nevertheless, it is extremely important that in the initial period of the European Parliament some kind of dual mandate and responsibility to this House is maintained by the European Members. If such contact is not maintained we shall inevitably and rapidly reach a situation in which we are at loggerheads with the European Parliament.
Accepting the necessity for some kind of connection between the two Houses, I must also accept the point already made that it would not be acceptable to the electorate for membership of the European Parliament to be restricted to Members of this House and another place.
§ Mr. Ian Wrigglesworth (Thornaby)
Does my hon. Friend know anywhere else in the world where similar arrangements exist between two assemblies of this kind? Does he know any other example of a dual mandate like this?
§ 11.15 p.m.
§ Dr. Phipps
I understand that there is the possibility of a dual mandate in certain federal systems and, within the United Kingdom, hon. Members can also be members of district councils. That is a similar system. However, I know of no country where such a system is mandatory.
In the initial years it will be important for some sort of dual mandate to be observed, and this could be done on the basis of restricting membership of the European Parliament to Members of this House and another place. We have to consider a system that will, if not make European Members responsible to our Parliament, at least give them access to it and, more important, give hon. Members access to them.
It has been suggested by some hon. Members that this might be done by making European Members automatic members of the House of Lords for the duration of their tenure of office in the European Parliament. That is a simple device.
§ Mr. Budgen
if that is the hon. Gentlemen's preferred solution, can he explain what element of sanctions would exist in that procedure?
§ Dr. Phipps
It is not my preferred solution. I merely put it forward as a solution which has been suggested. I think that it would be unsatisfactory, particularly for hon. Members. I have considered the problem at some length and I think the best solution would be that for an interim period—not less than five years or more than 10 years—there should be a non-voting dual mandate for Members of the European Parliament who are not already Members of this House. I can see the difficulties. Hon. Members may say that such a system has not been tried before, but I cannot see that it is impossible to allow European Members to speak here.
§ Dr. Phipps
The answer to that question is not so much in order that they 1614 may hear us as that we should be able to get at them.
§ Mr. Channon
What would happen if the European Member was already a Member of the House of Lords? Would he be allowed to sit in both places?
§ Dr. Phipps
The European Parliament is already making ordinary citizens of Members of another place. Particularly at a time when we are beginning to look at another place with a view to closing it or altering its nature, it would not be a mammoth step to allow Members of that place who are also Members of the European Parliament to come into this House.
§ Mr. Budgen
If that is the hon. Gentlemen's preferred solution, what sanctions could there be against Members who cannot vote and who cannot be kicked out until their five-year term has expired?
§ Dr. Phipps
The question of sanctions is a wider one to which I hope hon. Members will address themselves, but it is not one which I shall take up, because I do not wish to see sanctions imposed on European Members.
I am seeking a middle way that will allow this House to have some two-way contact with European Members. I am not prepared to contemplate sanctions being imposed, but I am prepared for other hon. Members to devise methods whereby we can control European Members. I accept that if such measures were mooted they would be defeated in the House of Commons, but I am prepared to see hon. Members produce arguments in favour of them.
It is my view that for the short period that is involved it will be valuable for both the European Parliament and this place to grow accustomed to one another—for instance, to the powers that each will hold. The only route open to us that I can see that will allow that sort of contact is that which I have proposed. It is not merely a matter of the European Parliament having access to us but of our having access to it. I have thought long and hard of systems that might be employed to give it and us that advantage, and at the moment that is the best that I can envisage. If other hon. Members have better suggestions, I am prepared to adopt them.
1615 I do not believe that a dual mandate that restricts itself entirely to Members of the House of Commons will find any sort of acceptance generally. However, I believe that some form of dual mandate is desirable. I hope that the Government will be prepared to consider the method that I have adopted.
§ Mr. Dykes
I do not know whether I am being unfair if I suggest that the hon. Member for Dudley, West (Dr. Phipps) caused tremendous confusion. The hon. Gentleman did so in my mind, and perhaps he did in the minds of others.
I know that the hon. Gentleman was not one of the original signatories to the amendment. I understand that he reached the amendment somewhat later than the other signatories. I also understand that he was anxious to be the original promoter of the amendment. However, he missed that chance. It may be that that happened as he was exercising the dual mandate of representing Dudley and being a Member of this place. It may be that he did not have time clearly to think out what he meant and had in mind, and that he was inflicting on the Committee his thought processes as he went along, perhaps not coming to a good conclusion.
I am not wishing to be unfair. I should like to praise the hon. Gentleman for having been honest enough to say that we are dealing with a difficult problem. It is confusing, and it is all too glib to suggest that we can come to a quick conclusion.
§ Mr. Marten
I think that my hon. Friend implied that the hon. Member for Dudley, West (Dr. Phipps) was thinking aloud and developing his thoughts as he went along. However, he was developing what he had written in the Socialist Commentary. Apparently that is how the article goes—merely thinking aloud.
§ Mr. Dykes
I assume that my hon. Friend is correct. Of course, it is dangerous and risky to write anything for the Socialist Commentary. Undoubtedly one is nervous about doing so.
It appears that the hon. Gentleman has come to a dangerous conclusion. I say that with great hesitation and diffidence. It might be that both amendments should not be considered for more than a certain time. Both of them, although they 1616 go in opposite directions, cannot be entertained as serious propositions by the Committee.
§ Mr. Dykes
For a number of reasons the Committee could realistically come to a decision one way or the other. It is possible and realistic—I hope that this will happen when the elections come—to have a voluntary dual mandate, or in most cases not to have it subject to any sensible overlapping arrangement that may apply to Members of this place who wish eventually to leave and stand as candidates in European elections and hope to win a seat.
§ Dr. Phipps
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the difficulties about a voluntary dual mandate are almost insuperable as both mandates would involve voting in two places at once? I find it difficult to see how someone can be a Member of the European Parliament, which may be subject to three-line Whips, and a Member of the House of Commons, which may also apply a three-line Whip. It was for those reasons that I came to favour the non-voting membership.
§ Mr. Dykes
Perhaps the hon. Member and I can agree on this. If we view the isolated case of someone exercising a dual mandate for more than a short-term overlap period, it might look rather esoteric relative to the generality of Members of the European Parliament after the first set of elections. Perhaps we would go along with that, but not with a wild degree of enthusiasm. It would be one of the variations in the different categories of Members. They, as individuals, irrespective of party, would undoubtedly help the private links which the hon. Member had in mind. I agree that these links are important. Other than that case there should be nothing. Any decision of the House of Commons to go beyond that by way of regulations 1617 or rules would be a great mistake. Any attempt to ensure that there was a compulsory dual mandate would be a gross intrusion on the privileges and rights of the House although it would seem, prima facie, to be to the advantage of the House.
Similarly, any attempt to appoint European Members would be an intrusion into the future privileges, yet to be determined, of the European Assembly. I refer to privileges here in the sense of powers. Such an attempt would be wholly undesirable. It would be wrong to relate that to a compulsory value judgment about how the European Parliament will develop in that sense qua individual Members.
That is not to say that it would not be desirable and welcome to have a Select Committee of the House of Commons considering European legislation and other EEC matters and, subject to the definition of the privileges of the European Parliament, requesting European Parliament Members to come before it to give evidence. To complete the total picture on this issue of contracts, there would be party groupings whereby Labour, Conservative and Liberal Members of the European Parliament—the Liberals have not been much in evidence tonight—could report back to their colleagues. I think that the Committee would regret going further.
§ Mr. Wrigglesworth
Like the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) I believe that this is an important subject. The Committee should be grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, West (Dr. Phipps) for giving us the opportunity of debating the matter. A great deal of discussion has taken place about the dual mandate and the conflicts which may arise and the links which may exist when the European Assembly comes into being. I was interested to hear the comments of the hon. Member for Harrow, East, who has experience of the European Parliament and had a dual mandate, in a way. He illustrated, in the existing situation, the sort of weaknesses which would arise from the dual mandate and gave some of the reasons which I would put forward for opposing the amendment.
1618 11.30 p.m.
It is impossible for a Member of the House of Commons who is also a Member of the European Assembly adequately to discharge his responsibilities to his constituents and to the Assembly. My right hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. Stewart) and other hon. Members who have been here for much longer than I have will confirm that the burden of work upon hon. Members to-day is much greater than it was some years ago. My right hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bottomley)—my neighbour on Teesside—has told me of the burden and the correspondence he had when he first entered the House in 1945 and of the changes that have taken place since then. Committee work and work in the Chamber, coupled with the growth of surgeries and one's constituents' desires to have matters pursued with Ministers or with other bodies, now impose a much greater burden on Members.
It is now proposed that, on top of all that, responsibilities should be assumed for a Community of nine nations stretching from Naples to John o'Groats. It will be a question of responsibility not only to one's constituency but to the whole of Europe. The problems involved in flying from a United Kingdom constituency to Brussels, Luxembourg and Strasbourg will impose enormous strains on the Members involved. On those grounds alone the burden will be too great for any Member to bear, except where a Member of this House might want to go to the European Assembly, whilst at the same time serving out his term here.
§ Mr. Roper
My hon. Friend has described the growing burden on Members of this House. Is it not likely that a directly elected European Parliament will be, if anything, busier than the European Assembly is at present, and is it not likely that that will make it even more difficult to combine the two tasks?
§ Mr. Wrigglesworth
I intended to come to that point. At present there is a very unreal situation. I have sympathy for Members serving in the European Parliament. It is difficult for them to define what their constituency is. They do not have a constituency. They are selected 1619 in a rather peculiar way by both sides of the House. They go off to the Assembly by appointment. The electorate has no contact with its Member. There is no constituency for the Members of the Assembly. Although they do a very good job in the European Parliament, the Members have no direct contact with constituents in the way in which Members of Parliament have and, indeed, as in the future Members of the European Assembly will have.
I can speak only for my own area, but I assume that the same will apply to other areas. In future a Member of the Assembly from our area will have contact with his constituents through Tyne Tees Television, Radio Tees, Radio Metro and all the other media in the area, but that contact is not there at present. Such contact in the region will inevitably impose extra burdens on the Member and lead to an increased interest in his activities in the Assembly.
§ Dr. Phipps
Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the most important things in the early stages is the contact between this House and the European Parliament. How does he propose to overcome that problem?
§ Mr. Wrigglesworth
In replying to my hon. Friend's point, let me draw an analogy with the situation that many of us in this Chamber know well—the relationship between Members of this House and members of county councils and district councils in our areas. Some of the difficulties and problems referred to by my hon. Friend can be overcome. We all know that sometimes we have excellent relationships with our local councillors. But sometimes relationships are strained and rather difficult.
It depends upon the issue. Each body and each member of that body is trying to serve the best interests of the people represented. Difficulties can arise on an individual issue, but overall members of county councils and district councils and Members of this House are able to cooperate in serving what they consider to be the best interests of their electorates in the best way they can.
There are conflicts, but the roles of the members of the different bodies are clearly defined. They have different responsibilities, and I see no reason why 1620 the sort of creative, democratic, argumentative relationship that exists in this House cannot give rise to the same sort of benefit in the European perspective.
Some of us will also have experience of the problems that exist with a dual mandate in local councils. Some of my hon. Friends and some hon. Members on the Opposition Benches have colleagues and friends in their local parties who are both district councillors and county councillors. I have observed that on occasions this can give rise to some difficulties. Where do such Members' loyalties lie? At times they are not sure whether they lie with the district council or with the county council. I have seen occasions when councillors have had to abstain on issues when sitting in a county council because those issues conflict with issues that have arisen in their district council.
This dual mandate can give rise to the most awful conflicts for the Member concerned, and can cause awful confusion among the electorate, which does not know exactly what the Members' role is. I feel—this is why I oppose my hon. Friend's amendment—that it is better that the two functions should be kept quite distinct and should not be confused in the way that they would be under the proposal in the amendment.
§ Dr. Phipps
I accept what my hon. Friend says about the conflict as it exists between this House and members of local authorities, but there is a spirit of co-operation as well. This is something that has grown up over a long period. Does my hon. Friend not agree with my suggestion that in the initial stages there are good reasons for a dual mandate in order that things should get off to a good start rather than that we should have a situation in which the two bodies are fighting to estabilsh their positions?
§ The First Deputy Chairman
Order. The hon. Member for Thornaby (Mr. Wrigglesworth) already has enough material to keep him going till midnight.
§ Mr. Wrigglesworth
I have only just begun to explore some of the areas of conflict and co-operation, and to refer to some of the analogies that we can draw in respect of the dual mandate as proposed in the amendment. But what I do not understand about my hon. Friend's intervention is why it is necessary for a Member to be in both this House and in 1621 the Assembly for the sort of co-operation that he refers to in fact to take place. I can co-operate, as I am sure he and other hon. Members can, with members of my county council and of my district council on a friendly and productive basis without being a member of both bodies. Indeed, such a dual role would lead to great confusion and conflicting responsibility.
In my area I can co-operate with my county councillors and district councillors. I have as much access to them as they have to me. Many of them come down here regularly for meetings with me and my colleagues from Teesside. We have the most harmonious relationship without our being members of more than one body.
Therefore, I do not thing that it is necessary in the future to have people in this House in the Assembly in order to get the sort of co-operation my hon. Friend seeks. What we want is clearly defined roles for the Members of each assembly. I thing we have to accept that inevitably at times conflict will occurr. That is part of the democratic process, and it will have to be resolved by democratic means.
We shall have to see how the parties develop their programmes during the election, and then, going on into the second election, we shall have had the opporttunity to experiment in the way suggested by my hon. Friend and we shall have seen what conflicts arise. Then we certainly the Labour Party—can come forward with proposals for the second election—I look forward to that—and can include in our manifesto any which are neeeded to overcome points of conflict between this Parliament and the European Assembly.
The hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) referred to the Scrutiny Committee, of which I have the honour to be a member. I want to say a word about the role of that body. It has a very difficult job, and I do not think that it will help the relationship between—
§ The First Deputy Chairman
Order. I do not remember the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) saying anything on this amendment about the Select Committee, and it is not in order to do so. We are on the question of disqualification, not of Select Committees.
§ Mr. Wrigglesworth
I apologise, Sir Myer. When you intervened, I was about to come off that subject and go on to say something about how the relationship between this House and the Assembly might be affected by the work of the Scrutiny Committee in future unless we are very cautious about the role it perceives for itself.
I think that if the Scrutiny Committee attempts to do the job of the European Assembly from this House it inevitably will give rise to conflict. There is a whole range of activities which will be the legitimate interest of Members of the Assembly, and I thing that the Scrutiny Committee of this House going through and taking an interest in a whole range of instruments and documents which, frankly, in other circumstances the House would not waste time on, would give rise to the most profound irritation and therefore conflict with the Assembly, and that might do enormous damage to the relationship between the House and the Assembly.
§ Mr. Dykes
As you implied, Sir Myer, the hon. Gentleman has misrepresented what I said. I was thinking not of the existing Scrutiny Committee but of a future Select Committee considering European instruments and legislation, and receiving European Members to give evidence and discuss European matters with it. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will agree that, contrary to what he was implying, a large number of people keen on the Community and direct elections would hope that the role of the House of Commons in also scrutinising, in a wider sense than the existing scrutiny arrangements, would persist in the future, and that this House would take a major interest in European legislation even if it did not have the central legislative function.
§ 11.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Wrigglesworth
That is a most helpful clarification of what the hon. Member was saying. I accept what he proposes. I can envisage members of the Assembly coming to a committee of that type and being most helpful. That would result in close co-operation and a better understanding of the problems so that we could work together in the interests of the country. I accept the hon. Member's point.
1623 It would be wrong to press the amendment because, instead of leading to the close co-operation that my hon. Friend envisages, it could lead to even greater conflict. That is one of the drawbacks to which hon. Members have referred.
I see no reason why there should not be close co-operation and discussion between the two assemblies but I do not believe that a dual mandate is necessary. I hope that the amendement will be opposed.
§ Mr. Channon
I suspect that the Committee would like short speeches, so I shall detain it only briefly, perhaps not quite as long as the hon. Member for Thornaby (Mr. Wrigglesworth).
This is an extremely important topic which will be of continuing interest to hon. Members, whatever they think about the Bill or about a directly elected European Assembly. By an unlucky chance, some of us have not read the Socialist Commentary and are not subscribers to it. I am sure that it is too expensive, so perhaps the hon. Member for Dudley, West (Dr. Phipps) will send it to us.
Anyone who has examined seriously the idea that there should be a compulsory dual mandate whereby one must be a Member of the House of Commons to be eligible to be elected to the European Parliament must think that it is a preposterous idea. There will be 81 Members of the European Parliament. I presume that there will be candidates in all those constituencies. If there were two candidates for each European constituency, 162 Members of the House of Commons would be involved—unless it is seriously suggested that Members of the House of Lords should be eligible. One or two hon. Members who support the amendment are not noticeable in their support for the House of Lords. Is it suggested that all the candidates should come from the House of Commons? The idea is ridiculous.
That does not mean that there is not a serious point about the relationship between Members of the Assembly of Members of the House of Commons. I cannot agree with the suggestion that Members of the Assembly should be non-voting Members here. That is not appropriate.
My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) spoke of a per 1624 manent Select Committee on which Members of the House of Commons and Members of the Assembly could meet and discuss matters of common interest. That is a valuable idea. We must experiment as we go on, because no one has come up with a satisfactory solution today.
I was not clear what my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen) meant when he spoke of sanctions available to the House of Commons against Members of the European Parliament who transgressed in some way. Surely, the sanction against anyone who transgresses is the sanction to which we are all subject—that is, dismissal by the electors in due course at a General Election.
§ Mr. Channon
Yes, there is. The sanction against us, if the electors do not like what we do, is dismissal at a General Election, and, presumably, the sanction of dismissal at an election would apply also to Members of the European Parliament.
I shall not detain the Committee much longer. In my view, the idea of a dual mandate is, frankly, not workable. I cannot believe that anyone who gives it much thought can imagine that it is seriously possible that the 81 elected Members to the new Parliament and all the candidates should be Members of the House of Commons. It would make a mockery of this place and a mockery of the new directly elected European Parliament.
§ Mr. John Mendelson
I know that the hon. Gentleman is serious about this. If he so categorically turns down in principle the idea enshrined in the amendment, must he not admit that it will be impossible to maintain any significant contact between the new European directly elected Parliament and the House of Commons?
§ Mr. Channon
This is a difficult matter. I agree that hon. Members have put their finger on an important question to which no one has found a satisfactory answer. I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East has put up the best idea so far, though I cannot regard that as particularly satisfactory. As I 1625 say, no one knows the answer yet. We shall have to experiment as time goes on. But I should start with my hon. Friend's suggestion.
I do not think that even the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson), who at one stage, I think, was keen on the dual mandate, can seriously imagine that a compulsory dual mandate would work. I see his name against Amendment No. 196, but I should be surprised to hear him advance arguments which could intellectually sustain a demonstration of how it would work. I hope, therefore, that the Committee will reject the amendment if it is put to a vote.
§ Mr. MacFarquhar
it is no secret that my right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay), whose name heads the list against Amendment No. 196, and the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) often see eye to eye on the subject of Europe. That is why I thought it regrettable that both were absent from the Chamber earlier and that neither seemed anxious to move the two amendments in their names. I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, West (Dr. Phipps) deserves a vote of thanks for moving Amendment No. 196.
§ Mr. Marten
If one does not move an amendment, one can bring it back again or seek to bring it up on Report. I regard the later amendment on salaries as far more important.
§ Mr. MacFarquhar
—whose views on this matter I approach more closely than I do those of my right hon. Friend, deserves a vote of thanks for having put his amendment down.
If we were to reserve the job as Member of the European Parliament only to Members of the House of Commons, the question of salaries, to which the hon. Member for Banbury is anxious to come, would certainly be an overwhelming consideration in the public mind. Plainly it would look like "jobs for the boys", with Members of Parliament not only reserving to themselves the salary, which perhaps, by the standard of many people, 1626 is very reasonable, but also assigning to at least 81 of their number the much greater salary of a Member of the European Parliament. On those grounds alone, therefore, there would be an immense credibility gap if we not only tried to exclude people outside the House who wished to stand but reserved everything to Members of Parliament.
Clearly, there is a problem here. The hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon) attempted to grapple with it, and my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, West addressed himself to it, too. I thought it unfair to suggest that my hon. Friend was thinking aloud. It is difficult to reach a solution, and we have to recognise that, as in the case of county councils and Members of Parliament, there will be relatively little contact.
If we are realistic and we put aside for the moment the pious hopes that both pro-Europeans and anti-Europeans express on these occasions, we see that Members of the House of Commons and of the European Assembly will be far too busy to pay any great attention to the work of the other House.
Directly elected members of the European Assembly will be wanting to prove themselves, to find out exactly what the job entails and to justify—[Laughter.] My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) laughs because he does not want to see a directly elected Assembly at all. I see no reason why it should seem strange that the many people elected to the Assembly who have never been to the Assembly before and are not even Members of Parliament—because this amendment will not be passed—should take time to find their feet. Once they find their feet, they will want to prove themselves to the electorate. They will want to do a good job. There will be a danger, or perhaps a tendency, that constituents of Westminster and European constituencies will regard a European MP as the more important of the two. In fact he will not be, because his powers will be very limited.
§ Mr. Spearing
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. Does he not agree that the problem to which he has drawn attention is a problem inherent in approval of direct elections? As a federalist, does he agree with Lord Thomson, the former Commissioner, 1627 when he wrote in Lloyds Bank Review last summer that from the moment of election directly elected Assemblymen would be deadly rivals of Members of the House of Commons?
§ Mr. MacFarquhar
My hon. Friend has far more catholic reading tastes than some Conservatives who read Socialist Commentary. The noble Lord's adjective was somewhat extreme, but I have used much the same adjective in this House and my hon. Friend has probably heard me do so. There is no question but that there will be rivalry, and we must face and admit it. For people to express pious hopes to the Select Committee that by having people put in the House of Lords we shall get rid of that rivalry is to deceive themselves or to attempt to deceive others.
The way to proceed is not to suggest a committee in which Members of the House of Commons and of the Assembly will sit but rather to think on lines which prevail already with the party machines of the two main parties and elected representatives at various levels. It is the party machines that bring together Members of Parliament, county councillors, district councillors and even parish councillors when they are elected on party
§ labels. It will be even more imperative for party machines to bring together members of the European Assembly and all other directly elected representatives in this country.
§ To return to a subject about which my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South and I were arguing earlier, that is why I think that the elections will be fought by parties and not by pro- and anti-Europeans. It will be the party mettle that will be tested in an attempt to mould out of the new representatives an integral part of the new party structure. The Labour Party has as good a chance—or, perhaps, a better chance—to do that as has the Conservative Party.
§ It being Midnight, The CHAIRMAN proceeded, pursuant to Order [26th January], to put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ The CHAIRMAN then proceeded to put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at Midnight.
§ Question put, That this schedule be the First Schedule to the Bill:
§ The Committee divided: Ayes 86, Noes 38.1629
|Division No. 104]||AYES||[12 midnight|
|Archer, Rt Hon Peter||Hamilton, James (Bothwell)||Rhodes, James R.|
|Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne)||Harrison, Rt Hon Walter||Roper, John|
|Bagier, Gordon A. T.||Hooley, Frank||Ryman, John|
|Bates, Alf||Horam, John||Sandelson, Neville|
|Blenkinsop, Arthur||Howell, David (Guildford)||Sever, John|
|Booth, Rt Hon Albert||Hunter, Adam||Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)|
|Bray, Dr Jeremy||John, Brynmor||Smith, John (N Lanarkshire)|
|Brooke, Peter||Johnson, James (Hull West)||Snape, Peter|
|Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)||Jones, Barry (East Flint)||Stallard, A. W.|
|Campbell, Ian||Judd, Frank||Stewart, Rt Hon M. (Fulham)|
|Channon, Paul||Lambie, David||Stott, Roger|
|Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol S)||Lester, Jim (Beeston)||Stradling Thomas, J.|
|Conlan, Bernard||Luard, Evan||Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley|
|Cox, Thomas (Tooting)||McCartney, Hugh||Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)|
|Crawshaw, Richard||MacFarquhar, Roderick||Tinn, James|
|Cunningham, Dr J. (Whiteh)||MacGregor, John||Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)|
|Dempsey, James||Mallalieu, J. P. W.||Walker, Rt Hon P. (Worcester)|
|Dormand, J. D.||Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)||Walker, Terry (Kingswood)|
|Dykes, Hugh||Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)||Watkinson, John|
|English, Michael||Mather, Carol||Weatherill, Bernard|
|Ennals, Rt Hon David||Millan, Rt Hon Bruce||Whitlock, William|
|Eyre, Reginald||Newton, Tony||Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)|
|Faulds, Andrew||Noble, Mike||Woodall, Alec|
|Foot, Rt Hon Michael||Oakes, Gordon||Woof, Robert|
|Ford, Ben||Owen, Rt Hon Dr David||Wrigglesworth, Ian|
|Gilbert, Dr John||Palmer, Arthur|
|Glyn, Dr Alan||Parry, Robert||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Golding, John||Penhallgon, David||Mr. Joseph Harper and|
|Graham, Ted||Phipps, Dr Colin||Mr. Donald Coleman|
|Grant, John (Islington C)||Price, William (Rugby)|
|Biffen, John||Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P)||Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)|
|Bradford, Rev Robert||Carson, John||Dunlop, John|
|Budgen, Nick||Cook, Robin F. (Edin C)||Evans, Gwynfor (Carmarthen)|
|Fernyhough, Rt Hon E.||Marten, Neil||Spearing, Nigel|
|Flannery, Martin||Mendelson, John||Stoddart, David|
|Gould, Bryan||Molyneaux, James||Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)|
|Henderson, Douglas||Paisley, Rev Ian||Wigley, Dafydd|
|Jay, Rt Hon Douglas||Pendry, Tom||Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)|
|Lamond, James||Powell, Rt Hon J. Enoch||Wilson. Gordon (Dundee E)|
|Latham, Arthur (Paddington)||Richardson, Miss Jo||Wise, Mrs Audrey|
|Lee, John||Robinson, Geoffrey|
|Loyden, Eddie||Rodgers, George (Chorley)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|McCusker, H.||Ross, William (Londonderry)||Mr. Roger Moate and|
|Madden, Max||Skinner, Dennis||Mr. John Ellis|
§ Question accordingly agreed to.
§ Schedule 1 agreed to.
§ Schedule 2 agreed to.
§ Clauses 12 and 13 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
|Division No. 105]||AYES||[12.12 a.m.|
|Archer, Rt Hon Peter||Golding, John||Penhaligon, David|
|Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne)||Graham, Ted||Phipps, Dr Colin|
|Bagier, Gordon A. T.||Grant, John (Islington C)||Price, William (Rugby)|
|Bates, Alf||Harrison, Rt Hon Walter||Rhodes James, R.|
|Blenkinsop, Arthur||Hooley, Frank||Roper, John|
|Booth, Rt Hon Albert||Horam, John||Ryman, John|
|Bray, Dr Jeremy||Howell, David (Guildford)||Sandelson, Neville|
|Brooke, Peter||Hunter, Adam||Sever, John|
|Brown, Hugh D (Provan)||Hurd, Douglas||Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)|
|Campbell, Ian||John, Brynmor||Smith, John (N Lanarkshire)|
|Channon, Paul||Johnson, James (Hull West)||Snape, Peter|
|Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol S)||Jones, Barry (East Flint)||Stallard, A. W.|
|Coleman, Donald||Judd, Frank||Stewart, Rt Hon M. (Fulham)|
|Conian, Bernard||Lambie, David||Stott, Roger|
|Cope, John||Lester, Jim (Beeston)||Stradling Thomas, J.|
|Cox, Thomas (Tooting)||Luard, Evan||Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley|
|Craigen, Jim (Maryhill)||McCartney, Hugh||Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)|
|Crawshaw, Richard||MacFarquhar, Roderick||Tinn, James|
|Cunningham, Dr J. (Whiteh)||MacGregor, John||Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)|
|Dempsey, James||Mallalieu, J. P. W.||Walker, Terry (Kingswood)|
|Dormand, J. D.||Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)||Watkinson, John|
|Dykes, Hugh||Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)||Weatherill, Bernard|
|English, Michael||Mather, Carol||Whillock, William|
|Ennals, Rt Hon David||Millan, Rt Hon Bruce||Woodall, Alec|
|Eyre, Reginald||Newton, Tony||Wrigglesworth, Ian|
|Faulds, Andrew||Oakes, Gordon|
|Foot, Rt Hon Michael||Owen, Rt Hon Dr David||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John||Palmer, Arthur||Mr. James Hamilton and|
|Glyn, Dr Alan||Parry, Robert||Mr. Joseph Harper|
|Biffen, John||Latham, Arthur (Paddington)||Ross, William (Londonderry)|
|Bradford, Rev Robert||Lee, John||Skinner, Dennis|
|Budgen, Nick||Loyden, Eddie||Spearing, Nigel|
|Carson, John||McCusker, H.||Stoddart, David|
|Cook, Robin F. (Edin C)||Madden, Max||Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)|
|Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)||Marten, Neil||Wigley, Dafydd|
|Dunlop, John||Mendelson, John||Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)|
|Evans, Gwynfor (Carmarthen)||Molyneaux, James||Wilson, Gordon (Dundee E)|
|Fernyhough, Rt Hon E.||Paisley, Rev Ian||Wise, Mrs Audrey|
|Flannery, Martin||Pendry, Tom||Woof, Robert|
|Gould, Bryan||Powell, Rt Hon J. Enoch|
|Henderson, Douglas||Richardson, Miss Jo||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Jay, Rt Hon Douglas||Robinson, Geoffrey||Mr. John Ellis and|
|Lamond, James||Rodgers, George (Chorley)||Mr. Roger Moate|
§ Question accordingly agreed to.
§ Clause 14 ordered to stand part of the Bill.