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3 Feb 2003 : Column 83—continued

John Robertson: May I ask the hon. Gentleman about the consistency of his party in trying to increase or maintain its number of MEPs, given that he rightly supports a reduction in the number of MPs in this House?

Angus Robertson: I am delighted to confirm that the policy of the Scottish National party is to repatriate all powers that normal countries have to Scotland and to have no Scottish representation in this House whatsoever, in the same way as there is no representation from the Irish Republic in this House.

John Robertson: As the hon. Gentleman is clearly talking about an independent Scotland, perhaps he could tell me how many seats he thinks that he would have for MEPs in the European Union.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. That goes outside the terms of the amendment.

Angus Robertson: I am grateful for that clarification, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because the level of representation in the European Parliament is germane to the amendment. I will hold to your ruling on that.

Adam Price (East Carmarthen and Dinefwr): As regards the other European institutions, Wales and Scotland do not have their own independent representation in terms of voting rights at the Council of Ministers and the European Council, nor do they have permanent representation as part of the UK, which is why representation in the European Parliament is so vital to our two countries.

Angus Robertson: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Scotland does not have a permanent representative in the Council of Ministers, does not nominate a

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Commissioner and does not take part directly in any of the key decision-making bodies of the European Union. That is why we need to ensure that we have fair and equitable representation. In response to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Anniesland (John Robertson), who asked how many MEPs countries with populations of 5 million get, the list is in the annexe to the treaty of Nice. Those countries, which include Denmark, Slovakia and Finland, will be guaranteed 13 MEPs. Scotland currently has eight, and under the Bill will have its representation reduced to six.

Mr. Michael Connarty (Falkirk, East): To return to the consistency of the hon. Gentleman's argument, he is arguing that Scotland should be given representation because it has no direct representation in the Council of Ministers. Is it consistent for him to want the number of Members of this House to be reduced under the changes introduced in the Scotland Act 1998, given that we have a Secretary of State for Scotland doing the job for us in the Cabinet here?

Angus Robertson: I notice that you are shaking your head, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I should be delighted to debate on another occasion the role of the Secretary of State for Scotland, her French lessons and whatever else the hon. Gentleman may wish me to discuss, but I want to get back to the matter at hand—the amendment. [Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I do not want to hear a secondary, sedentary debate going on. We will please deal with this amendment, and this amendment only.

Angus Robertson: I am grateful, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

I should like to conclude by discussing the powers of the European Parliament and why it is important, because of co-decision and its role in budget-making powers, that we have a fair and equitable level of representation. The supervisory powers of the European Parliament and the proposals supported by the UK Government on reforming the European Union show how important it is that one has the maximum amount of representation in the European Parliament. The Bill undermines that right for Scotland and Wales.

7.45 pm

Under plans that the French and German Governments propose and that the United Kingdom Government apparently support, the President of the Commission will be elected by Members of the European Parliament. As somebody who represents a fishing constituency, I stress that it will be inexplicable if Scottish Members of Parliament, from whatever party, vote to decrease Scotland's representation by 25 per cent. That is the effect of the Bill.

Mr. Peter Duncan (Galloway and Upper Nithsdale): Perhaps hon. Members will vote for a fair and equitable reduction in representation throughout the United Kingdom because they accept the legitimacy of being represented as part of the UK. All regions and nations in the UK must accept the pain that will be inflicted to make way for the accession states.

Angus Robertson: I am delighted to hear the attempt at justification by the hon. Member for Galloway and

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Upper Nithsdale (Mr. Duncan). As a Unionist, why does he accept the disproportionate reduction of representation in Scotland and Wales? I shall explain the disproportionate nature of the reduction and perhaps he will have the opportunity later to explain the reasons for his support for that.

The problem is compounded because current representation for Scotland is second class in terms of numbers. Scotland has half the representation of other countries of 5 million people. Denmark, which also has a population of 5 million, has 16 members of the European Parliament whereas Scotland has only eight. In political terms, a Scottish voter is worth only half a Dane. That also applies to Wales, which currently has five Members of the European Parliament, whereas the Republic of Ireland, with a population below 4 million, has 15. In political terms, a Scot is worth only half someone from Denmark, and somebody from Wales has only a third of the political clout of a voter in the Republic of Ireland. That is not remotely justifiable.

Adam Price: Does my hon. Friend agree that the other stateless nations of the European Union are currently in a stronger position than Wales and Scotland? The number of Members of the European Parliament in Spain will be reduced, but the autonomous regions have the additional safeguard of co-decision on a united Spanish position at the Council of Ministers. Scotland and Wales do not have that.

Angus Robertson: I draw special attention to the regions in Germany and Austria. They play a strong role in the decision making of their federal governments. That does not happen in the UK. Such decision making is guarded by secrecy and confidentiality under the concordats between the UK Government and the devolved Administrations. Different Governments and different parties in the House argue that the European Union should be more transparent, democratic, accountable and should offer greater subsidiarity—the Scottish National party and Plaid Cymru support that—but they are happy to maintain secrecy and a lack of transparency for representation within the UK for the European Union.

Mr. George Osborne: The hon. Gentleman claims that under the Bill, a Scottish voter will be worth half a Danish voter. If we accepted the amendment, how would a Scottish voter stand in relation to an English voter?

Angus Robertson: Representation within England is for the people of England to decide. I represent a Scottish constituency and my mandate is therefore to ensure fair and equitable representation for Scotland. The hon. Gentleman makes a strong case for the best possible representation for England and I wholeheartedly support that. However, I will not accede to a measure that will undermine Scotland's already second-rate status in the European Union and condemn it to third-rate representation.

The Bill and the House of Commons explanatory note show how much representation Scotland and Wales will have in future. Page 14 of the research paper explains the position under the 72-seat scenario. That will be the UK's total number of seats after enlargement,

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which the SNP and Plaid Cymru support. We welcome other small and medium-sized independent countries in the European continent taking their rightful place in the European Union, with all the attendant rights and obligations. However, the research paper explains that Scotland's representation will be reduced from eight to six, and Wales's representation will decrease from five to four. One does not need an "O" grade in arithmetic to calculate that Scotland's reduction from eight to six Members of the European Parliament is a decrease of 25 per cent. The amendment would prevent that.

Wales will experience a 20 per cent. drop in representation in the European Union. I challenge hon. Members in other parties to name one other part of the European Union whose representation will decrease by more. They cannot. Scotland is the nation that will experience the biggest single drop in representation under the changes.

Mr. Bill Tynan (Hamilton, South): The hon. Gentleman makes clear Scotland's position if it were separate, not as if it is part of the UK. The UK is represented in the European Parliament, and the Bill provides for equal numbers for the seats in the UK. It would apply to Scotland in the same way as the SNP's agreement on the boundary changes in Scotland would apply to a UK Parliament.

Angus Robertson: I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman has not had time to examine the detailed figures that explain the changes. The reduction from eight to six seats is a reduction of 25 per cent. in representation for Scotland. Spain is next on the list, with a 22 per cent. reduction; Ireland follows with 20 per cent., and Wales also has a 20 per cent. reduction. We have to compare and contrast. The hon. Gentleman was right to say that if Scotland were independent it would have more representatives. Independence in Europe would be the best answer.

Let us consider Luxembourg, which has only 448,000 inhabitants—the same population as Edinburgh, Scotland's capital. Luxembourg is set to have six Members of the European Parliament. Changes in the EU that involve member states also involve guarantees. Degressive proportionality means the smaller the member state, the greater the over-representation. The smallest are therefore looked after best. Scotland is by no means one of the smallest member states. However, a country with a population that is smaller than that of Edinburgh will have the same representation as Scotland.

I therefore stress to the hon. Member for Hamilton, South (Mr. Tynan) that I agree that independence in Europe would give Scotland the best deal. I am glad that a Labour Member of Parliament has pointed that out this evening. However, maintaining the second-class representation is much better than the third-class representation for which the Bill provides.

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