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10 Dec 2002 : Column 215—continued

Mr. Heath: That would be an excellent argument if the only question to be considered was the number of MEPs. I suspect that there may be other considerations.

Adam Price: Matters for another day, perhaps.

It is reasonable to discuss how the UK seats are to be allocated. The UK is, after all, a multinational state or polity. The EU gives due regard to how minority nations and provinces are given adequate representation; we need to enshrine the same principle in the Bill. Unfortunately, clause 2(4)(b) requires the Electoral Commission to ensure that

That cannot be right. If we are creating separate regions for the nations and the Province, surely we need a different level of representation. I am a great supporter of English regionalism, but our history of political and cultural difference requires commensurate representation.

Tony Cunningham: Where exactly is the hon. Gentleman drawing the line? He talks about provinces. Would he give the Catalans, the Basques and the Bavarians greater representation, or is he talking only about nation states?

Adam Price: I am a great believer in self-determination, but I will not preach to the Spanish on how they should arrange their internal affairs. There is a discussion going on about whether, alongside the process of external enlargement, bringing in the nations of eastern Europe, we should have a process of internal enlargement, giving greater representation to the stateless or submerged nations of western Europe. We would advocate that, but I was making a slightly different point.

Clearly, if Wales was a member of the European Union in its own right, we would automatically have a right to greater representation. My point is about being sensitive to the political and cultural diversity of these islands when we allocate seats within the United Kingdom.

Tony Cunningham: Is the hon. Gentleman advocating that we take seats away from other parts of the United Kingdom or Spain, for example? How many MEPs would there be under the system that he favours?

Adam Price: My position is absolutely clear. I accept that, with enlargement, we have to reduce the number of

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seats for the United Kingdom, but I do not understand why Wales and Scotland should be disproportionately affected. Depending on one's reading of the Bill, it seems that Northern Ireland is protected and cannot go below the floor of three seats, and we would want the same to apply to us, although we accept that there must be some reduction.

If we are serious about maintaining the political integrity of this multinational state, there must be a certain amount of over-representation for the small nations, as otherwise they will feel dwarfed, whether in the European Union or the UK context.

The hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson) made the point that we have a more diverse party system in the smaller nations of the UK. In Wales, we have a fully fledged four-party system; in Scotland, we have a six-party system; and if my memory serves me correctly, there are 12 parties represented in Northern Ireland.

Lady Hermon: At least.

Adam Price: At least 12, and possibly growing by the day.

In that situation, we need to retain the existing level of representation.

Mr. Davidson: Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the individual nations of the United Kingdom are not in themselves homogeneous? In Scotland, there are substantial regional differences that are in danger of being submerged by its being a single political unit. Is not that an argument for breaking up Scotland into a smaller number of first-past-the-post constituencies for elections to the European Parliament?

Adam Price: The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point, but—

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. I have already ruled that the Bill does not cover the method of election.

Adam Price: It is bizarre that Gibraltar may be included in Wales but not in Scotland and Northern Ireland. The only reason that I can come up with is that Wales has a secondary legislative form of devolution. It seems that Gibraltar could be imposed on Wales but not on the other two parts of the UK. In fact, there will be plenty of difficulty imposing a settlement on the Gibraltarians, let alone imposing the Gibraltarians and the settlement on the people of Wales, even with the well-honed diplomatic skills of the former Minister for Europe, now Welsh Secretary.

We want to achieve representation for all parts of the United Kingdom, and we will certainly oppose any proposal that would result in less of a voice for what are already under-represented, stateless nations. We need a voice in the European institutions, and that is why we are against the Government's proposals.

7.25 pm

Mr. Cash: We have had an interesting, wide-ranging debate. The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) made a thoughtful contribution, and we look forward to the amendments that will be tabled in Committee. We shall have to see to what extent we can

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find common ground with the Liberal Democrats, as there are some difficulties between us in relation to their overall position on Gibraltar. On other matters, however, and especially in relation to the overarching powers to be given to the Lord Chancellor and the Electoral Commission, we may well reach an understanding,

The hon. Member for Chorley (Mr. Hoyle) made an extremely sensible speech. He is a member of Labour's sensible tendency. He was right to say that a logical extension of the right to European Parliamentary representation is that there should be representation for the people of Gibraltar in this House—not a point on which there is any settled policy, but one that holds great attractions in principle. My hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Mr. Rosindell) powerfully endorsed that point.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Ruffley) gave us an extremely helpful history of the progress of the Bill with respect to Gibraltar, of which only those of us who had read the excellent Library research material would have been aware. He also emphasised the question of justifiable unilateral action—an issue to which we will no doubt return, not least when we debate human rights. Such points will arise when we discuss subsequent enactments, the European constitution and other matters, as we proceed towards further and deeper European integration, and resistance to it.

My hon. Friend the Member for Poole (Mr. Syms) dealt adroitly with the question of boundary procedures. I was greatly taken with his emphasis on the political consequences for electoral law.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk (Mr. Bacon) talked about proportional representation. He was right to raise his concerns about the powers of the Lord Chancellor and the Electoral Commission and the implications for human rights.

The hon. Member for East Carmarthen and Dinefwr (Adam Price) made some interesting points about the case for the so-called stateless nations. I am not sure how we might define that in any amendments that may be tabled in Committee, but we shall wait with interest to see whether those issues are pursued at that point.

I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say in reply to the points that were made. Very important questions arise, and so far, she has given us no more than a sketch of the Bill's content as set out in the explanatory notes. Perhaps she will now explain what really lies behind the increased and rather engrossed powers granted to the Lord Chancellor, which, as she will have gathered, the House is extremely uneasy about. There is also unease about the question of Gibraltar and the lack of consultation with its Government. I look forward to hearing that much more detailed consultation will take place not only with the Chief Minister, but with the wider population.

7.30 pm

Yvette Cooper: We have had a very good debate on both aspects of the Bill: the reduction in the number of MEPs to accommodate EU enlargement, and the enfranchisement of Gibraltar. Most Members seemed broadly to support the basic principles behind the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hall

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Green (Mr. McCabe) set out clearly the case for reducing the number of MEPs as part of the expansion. The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) raised specific points relating to closed lists—I responded to them at the beginning of the debate—and set out his party's support for the principles behind the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Hoyle) gave his strong support for the people of Gibraltar. I know that he and my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale (Geraldine Smith) have visited Gibraltar, and that they have been very active in supporting its people.

The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Ruffley) talked in detail about issues relating to unilateral action. The hon. Member for Poole (Mr. Syms) asked about consulting the Electoral Commission, and the hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. Bacon) asked about consultation of Gibraltar, and about the Matthews judgment, about which I shall say more in a moment. The hon. Member for Romford (Mr. Rosindell) and my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale called for representation for Gibraltar in this House, and the hon. Member for East Carmarthen and Dinefwr (Adam Price) discussed representation in the European Parliament of Wales in particular.

I shall try to respond as briefly as I can to the various questions raised by hon. Members. Concerns were expressed about the number of powers in secondary legislation, but I should make it clear that they are very constrained. We are talking about two kinds of powers. Those relating to the reduction of the number of MEPs, which are included in first part of the Bill, are clearly constrained by the treaty of Nice. Reference is made to the reduction in numbers according to the treaty, and to the implementation of the Electoral Commission's recommendations on the allocation of MEPs across the country. It is right that we provide for the Electoral Commission's ability to make recommendations in that way; that is the fairest way to achieve proper distribution of MEPs across the country.

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