Previous SectionIndexHome Page

10 Dec 2002 : Column 180—continued

Yvette Cooper: I acknowledge the hon. Lady's points. Nevertheless, there are different legislative arrangements in Northern Ireland and Scotland for elections and judicial matters. They mean that the inclusion of Northern Ireland and Scotland would be considerably more complicated and that it would be difficult to prepare the secondary legislation in time for the 2004 elections. If the outcome of selecting an electoral region could be Scotland or Northern Ireland, it would not be possible to begin preparing the secondary legislation until the decision had been made. That would mean waiting for the Electoral Commission to report, and waiting until next September to begin implementing the necessary secondary legislation for Gibraltar to be covered for the 2004 elections.

10 Dec 2002 : Column 181

That would make life considerably more difficult for those who organise the election in Gibraltar because a series of practical changes needs to happen.

The underlying principle for combining Gibraltar with a UK electoral region for European parliamentary elections is that Gibraltar should be treated as if it were as much a part of the region as any other area in it. That means that UK electoral law as it applies to the European Parliament elections must apply as equally as possible throughout the combined region. That is no simple feat because UK electoral law does not currently apply to Gibraltar.

The Bill therefore makes provision for the application of a number of pieces of legislation—the European Parliamentary Elections Act 2002; the Representation of the People Acts; and the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000—and of many of the statutory instruments made under those Acts, modified as necessary. Modification is necessary to ensure that the law makes practical sense in Gibraltar. Specific circumstances such as location and time difference have to be catered for, and we also need to ensure that there is equality and consistency between the arrangements for conducting European Parliament elections in Gibraltar and in the rest of the combined region. We believe that the most appropriate approach is for this law to be modified for the purposes of Gibraltar by orders and regulations, and the Bill includes enabling powers to provide for that.

The Bill therefore addresses the key issues in much in the same way as the European Parliamentary Elections Act 2002 does, leaving the complex detail for regulations. Thus, clause 13 sets out the requirement for Gibraltar to maintain a register of electors for the European Parliament elections, and clauses 14 and 15 cover the franchise and the entitlement to be registered. On the franchise for voters in European parliamentary elections in Gibraltar, we want, as far as possible, to enfranchise those resident in Gibraltar who would be entitled to vote in UK European parliamentary elections if they lived in the UK. Correspondingly, entitlement to be registered on the Gibraltar register is intended to be very similar to that for the UK register, with a slight exception to reflect certain specific conditions, such as the Gibraltar Immigration Control Ordinance.

This legislation is consistent with the United Kingdom's international obligation, and the changes that the Bill is designed to enact are important. They will allow new member states their voice in the European Parliament, and enable the people of Gibraltar to vote for the first time in a European parliamentary election. We believe that the approach set out in the Bill is both appropriate and sound, and that it will support enfranchisement and greater participation in democratic institutions across Europe. I urge all hon. Members to support it.

5.1 pm

Mr. William Cash (Stone): Given the intensely controversial nature of the Gibraltar issue, I have to admit to being somewhat disappointed by the way in which the Minister has introduced the Bill, because, in all fairness, she did not really give us an explanation of what lies behind it. For the most part, she gave a mere recital of its provisions, rather than an explanation of the principles that led to its Second Reading today.

10 Dec 2002 : Column 182

The Bill is like a curate's egg: it is good in parts. However, it must be set against a background of two main issues. The first is the reduction of the number of MEPs for the United Kingdom, the principle and method of which raise some disturbing questions. The second issue is that of Gibraltar. However welcome are the proposals to join Gibraltar with one of our existing electoral regions, they also illustrate the lack of proper consultation—at the level of insult—of the Government and people of Gibraltar.

On the reduction in the number of MEPs for the United Kingdom, the Minister has not yet mentioned the fact that the Bill does not specifically refer to reductions—I refer hon. Members to its long title, and to the relevant clauses—although this is implicit in the legislation implementing the treaty of Nice. The Bill refers merely to the enabling of alterations to the number of Members of the European Parliament. Indeed, the explanatory memorandum to the Bill states:

that famously democratic body—

Of course, the words Xthat famously democratic body" are my own. I merely interpolated them to explain the matter as clearly as I could.

The Conservative party voted against the Nice treaty, and my comments on this Bill are without prejudice to that position. I called for a White Paper during the proceedings on the Bill to implement the Nice treaty, which was supported, on a three-line Whip, by my party. I am glad to say that it was even supported by the Liberal Democrats, on a vote. One of the most alarming features of the Government's position on the Nice treaty—which is now coming to fruition in this Bill—is the wholly mischievous and unwarranted claim, made by a succession of previous Ministers, that, under the treaty, Britain's influence has increased in the European Parliament, not to mention in the Council of Ministers.

Mr. Redwood: Did my hon. Friend notice that when I asked the Minister a perfectly good question, which she was quite unable to answer, she made an entirely false allegation about me changing my view on a crucial subject, which was not implied by what I said? Clearly, she had no chance whatever of answering the point on the Government's complete lack of influence with their European partners on any of those matters.

Mr. Cash: I am bound to concur with my right hon. Friend. Indeed, on the realities of influence, one has only to look, for example, at what has been going on in the defence field over the past few days to realise just how little influence the United Kingdom is able to exercise in relation to European matters. That will continue.

As I pointed out in an intervention, under the Nice treaty, Britain's share of Members of the European Parliament is to crash down from 87 out of 626 from 15 member states, which is equivalent to 13.9 per cent. of the votes, to 74 out of 732. That is a paltry 10.1 per cent., taking into account all the applicants and, barring accidents and democratic decisions if those are made in referendums, the anticipated new total of 27 member states.

10 Dec 2002 : Column 183

Mr. Stephen McCabe (Birmingham, Hall Green): The hon. Gentleman told us that he is in favour of expansion, but is he suggesting that he favours expansion with a bigger and more costly Parliament with more and more Members?

Mr. Cash: No, I am not. I am saying, very simply, that there is an extremely strong case for maintaining our number of seats and that the European enlargement process, irrespective of whether it takes place, is not a reason in itself for such a reduction. Indeed, as I shall explain, the Government's official position in March 2000 was that there should not be more than 700 Members. They were explicit about that, but, of course, they gave way over an increase to 732.

There are also, I may say, uncertainties about the extent to which the enlargement will take place. Irrespective of whether one is in favour of it, the reality is that we cannot be certain of how many Members of the new Parliament there could or should be. One has only to read today's newspapers to see, for example, that there are serious political and constitutional difficulties with regard to the Polish position.

Simon Hughes: I am honestly very confused about the hon. Gentleman's position. If he does not oppose enlargement—he said that he is a supporter of it—there are only two options: either have a bigger European Parliament with more Members, although I have always heard him and his colleagues argue for smaller European institutions rather than bigger ones, or reduce the relative proportion for each existing member state. There is no other way forward. If, for example, Poland does not join, the numbers would not increase by as much and we would not lose as many Members relatively. I need to know which of the two views he supports—a bigger Parliament with the same number of British Members and more Members in total or a smaller Parliament, in which case we would have to take a smaller share.

Mr. Cash: I am simply making the point, which I shall repeat, that there are grave uncertainties as to how the proposals will operate in practice. Originally, the Government said that they wanted everything to be done in one fell swoop and that they were against the two-stage operation that we now have. I am afraid that I attribute a lot of the difficulties that arise in relation not only to the Bill, but to the whole enlargement process to the fact that the Government have failed to acknowledge the realities of the position and the uncertainties that go with it.

I shall proceed by repeating another point that I made earlier: the Government said in March 2000 that the ceiling should be 700 MEPs, which they of course failed to insist on. They were also originally opposed to a two-stage transition to a lower limit for the number of MEPs, on which they again failed to deliver, particularly given the new powers of co-decision in the European Parliament and the increasing centre of gravity that is Berlin, which causes a further marginalisation of British influence.

As I pointed out in the pamphlet that I wrote in July 2001, which even the then Minister for Europe described in flattering terms in a letter to me, that represents a fundamental geopolitical shift in the balance of power

10 Dec 2002 : Column 184

and the tectonic plates of Europe. The policy of gradual emasculation of British influence and democracy cannot hide the true long-term nature of the new and harsh political landscape that is being engineered.

The decrease in British influence in the European Parliament is inversely proportional to the increase in the power of that Parliament at the expense of national Parliaments. That is made plain by many of the proposals that are now flooding the convention on Europe.

In its report this year, the European Scrutiny Committee called for a return to the Xfirst past the post" election system. I mentioned that in an earlier intervention. It reflects concern about the degree of centralised power for the party leaderships in the member states which goes with the rations of party lists, and also the disconnection with constituencies, a tendency to political corruption and a decline in deep-rooted democratic representation.

Under clauses 2 and 4, the Lord Chancellor effectively becomes king. I would describe clause 4 in particular as XCardinal Wolsey's revenge", because it goes even further than the Henry VIII clauses to which we have taken exception for many years. It goes beyond giving Ministers power to amend or repeal enactments of primary legislation by order. Although this would be subject to affirmative resolution, in the real world the Lord Chancellor would have a greatly enhanced power to reduce the number of MEPs in conformity with European Community law—as it is expressed in the Bill—not only now but in future. The Bill does not specify what changes would be made, and under what European Community laws they would be made.

Next Section

IndexHome Page