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European Elections

4. Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): What assessment he has made of the operation of the electoral system in Scotland for European parliamentary elections. [101222]

The Minister of State, Scotland Office (Mr. Brian Wilson): My right hon Friend has made no such assessment. Responsibility for the system for European parliamentary elections lies with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, who is currently undertaking a review of this matter.

Dr. Lewis: Is it not a shame that the Secretary of State has not assessed the implications of the proportional representation list system in European elections for Scotland arising from a recent development in England, namely, the resignation of Pauline Green, the former leader of the party of European socialists and Labour MEPs for London, to take a better paid job only six months after she stood for, and was elected to, the European Parliament under a Labour ticket? Is that not a weakness of the system, in that the electorate will have no chance to punish the Labour party in a by-election? The next candidate will take Buggins' turn and move up into the space vacated by the rather dishonourable tactics of the lady to whom I have referred.

Mr. Wilson: I have no idea why the hon. Gentleman thinks that the resignation of Pauline Green is relevant to Scottish Question Time. [Interruption.] It may be that her mother was Scottish; I do not know. That is the only legitimacy that I can question. We assess or reassess electoral systems not on the basis of individual behaviour,

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but on whether they are right for democracy in this country. That is a much better form of motivation and one that the Tories could not conceivably understand.

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Inverclyde): Speaking as a federalist and a supporter of electoral reform, may I say to my hon. Friend that a new electoral system was well understood by the people of Scotland, and that that was particularly true after the elections to the Scottish Parliament? I look forward to a referendum on proportional representation for this place. Does he agree that the whingeing from Opposition Members plays into the hands of the secessionists and day trippers in the Scottish National party?

Mr. Wilson: As my hon. Friend opened his question with the words, "Speaking as a federalist", a brief reply is appropriate. Speaking as a representative of Her Majesty's Government, I can assure him that there will be no change in the electoral system to the House without a referendum. That is absolutely clear. With regard to the European system, it is worth pointing out, in the interests of balance, that under the first-past-the-post system, the by-election in the north-east of Scotland, which was the last test under that system, attracted a turnout of 20.5 per cent., which suggests that there was not exactly a lather of excitement there, either.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire): Will the Minister admit that 20.5 per cent. is hardly an excuse for abolishing by-elections? Will he tell the Secretary of State, who has been uncharacteristically lugubrious this afternoon, to cheer himself up by going along to his colleague the Home Secretary--[Interruption.] Of course the Secretary of State knows what "lugubrious" means. Will he tell the Home Secretary that no true democrat can conceivably support a system where party comes before candidate, and that in Scotland, at least, people will have no truck with that?

Mr. Wilson: I do not want to intervene in the dialogue between the hon. Gentleman and my right hon. Friend. On the subject of who is lugubrious, it takes one to know one. With reference to the first-past-the-post system and the constituency link, it is extremely important to maintain the link between constituency and Member of Parliament, as happened in Scotland in the case of the constituency- elected MSPs. There must and will be no change in elections to the House without the matter being put to the British people.

EU Rebate

5. Mr. Bill Tynan (Hamilton, South): What representations he has made to the Chancellor of the Exchequer regarding the benefit to Scotland of Britain's rebate from the European Union. [101223]

The Minister of State, Scotland Office (Mr. Brian Wilson): My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer is conscious of the benefit that the UK generally, and Scotland in particular, derive from the

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UK's abatement from the European Union. That is why its maintenance was successfully negotiated at the Berlin European Council in March 1999.

Mr. Tynan: I thank my hon. Friend for that short reply. On the positive aspects of our relationship with Europe, and the fact that Scotland as an exporting nation derives great benefit from it, does he agree that the employment aspects and the number of jobs protected in Scotland through that relationship are extremely important?

Mr. Wilson: My hon. Friend is right. The agreement that has been negotiated on objective 2 by the United Kingdom will benefit large parts of his area. The agreement negotiated by the Prime Minister on the highlands and islands will benefit large parts of Scotland, which need that continuing support. On many fronts, we benefit from the European relationship and the funding. It is worth reminding the House--I see that the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing) is about to stand up. She will remember that, in the European Parliament, the Scottish nationalists voted against the British rebate. In 1999, it is worth £2.8 billion to the UK, which is equivalent to £48 for every person in Scotland. That is what the nationalists voted against, which I suppose is why "nats" is similar to "Santa" in reverse.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray): Leaving aside those points, the Minister and I recognise the complexities involved in the arrangements. When we speak about rebates, can we also speak about contributions, not least those made by Scotland to the European Union through the agricultural industry? Will the Minister confirm that today, Prime Minister Jospin was prepared to accept into the French market grass-fed herds from Scotland, but that that was turned down by Whitehall? Can he advise me, the House and the agriculture industry what were the roles of the Scottish Office and of the Minister responsible for agriculture in the Scottish Parliament? Where does that leave the alliance, and who is fighting for the Scottish farmers?

Mr. Wilson: I note that the hon. Lady sensibly avoided the fact that the nationalists voted against the subject of the question, which is the British rebate. In other words, they voted against £48 for every person in Scotland, which does not serve the people of Scotland very well--including, incidentally, the agricultural community.

As for Prime Minister Jospin's comments today, let me make it absolutely clear that there is no substance in the claim about the tripartite discussions involving the French, the United Kingdom and the European Commission. Even if such an offer had been made, it would not have been the proper basis on which to proceed.

Even the nationalists, who thrive on division, should think very carefully before backing this. All along, the French have been anxious to drive a wedge into British policy and to achieve an outcome based on a herd-by-herd policy, rather than accepting the European Union's legislative position that all United Kingdom beef that meets the date-based export scheme criteria is safe. In accepting the attempt by the French to divide and rule--

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not in formal negotiations, but in briefing--the hon. Lady is working not only against the interests of many British farmers, but against those of some Scottish farmers.

Several hon. Members rose--

Madam Speaker: Order. The House will have noted that we have got through only four questions in nearly half an hour.


The Advocate-General was asked--

European Convention on Human Rights

25. Mr. David Stewart (Inverness, East, Nairn and Lochaber): When she last met the Lord Advocate and the Solicitor-General for Scotland to discuss the implementation in Scotland of the European convention on human rights. [101243]

27. Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): What discussions she has had with the Law Officers in Scotland on implementation of the European convention on human rights in Scotland. [101245]

The Advocate-General for Scotland (Dr. Lynda Clark): I meet the Lord Advocate and the Solicitor- General regularly to discuss matters of mutual interest.

Mr. Stewart: I thank my hon. and learned Friend for her reply, and welcome her to her post. What views has she had from court about the implementation of the European convention on human rights, and what is her view of the Fort William case, which has been given a ruling under the convention in regard to limits for legal aid?

The Advocate-General for Scotland: I thank my hon. Friend for his introductory remarks.

The main issues that have been raised relate to criminal proceedings and alleged breaches of article 6 of the convention. That article relates to the right to a fair trial. The issues involved concern delay in proceedings, access of the accused to a solicitor, legal aid, temporary sheriffs and self-incrimination in road traffic cases. In regard to civil proceedings, there have been challenges to provisions of the Mental Health (Public Safety and Appeals) (Scotland) Act 1999.

I understand that there has been a Crown appeal in relation to the Fort William case, but in the circumstances the case is sub judice and it would not be appropriate for me to comment further.

Mr. Dalyell: How is the early introduction of the convention working?

The Advocate-General for Scotland: It is working very well. The Government were elected to modernise the British constitution, and giving further effect to the convention and providing domestic remedies is an important part of that. As my hon. Friend will know, the Human Rights Act 1998 will come into effect throughout

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the United Kingdom next year and, under the Scotland Act 1998, the convention already applies to the Scottish Parliament and to the Executive. That is an integral part of the devolution settlement. It gives the individual the right to challenge in court, by raising a devolution issue, matters that allegedly contravene convention rights. That is good for both individual liberty and democratic government, and the people of Scotland are the first to benefit.

Mr. Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife): As the Advocate-General knows, I hold her in high and affectionate regard, and I hope that she will not take my question amiss.

Using the example that she has just given us, can the Advocate-General tell us exactly what her job is?

The Advocate-General for Scotland: I was unaware of the affectionate regard, but I am delighted to hear of it.

If the right hon. and learned Gentleman had read the Scotland Act 1998, he would have at least a clue to my duties. Under the Act, I have certain statutory duties, including the ability to refer Scottish Parliament legislation to the Privy Council in certain circumstances. I have certain interests relating to devolution issues, to which I referred earlier, and I have also inherited the opinion work of the Lord Advocate. In my role as a United Kingdom Law Officer, I advise the UK Government and Departments about devolved and reserved Scottish matters. I also advise on more general matters such as human rights and European law. I attend several Cabinet Committees--five at the last count. Is that reply sufficient for the right hon. and learned Gentleman? [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker: Order. The hon. and learned Lady was asked a question. Let her answer.

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