Previous SectionIndexHome Page

3 Feb 2003 : Column 86—continued

Mr. Tynan: The hon. Gentleman might have misunderstood the question that I posed earlier. I did not ask whether he believed that an independent Scotland should have more MEPs. Rather, I asked whether he accepted that we are speaking tonight on a United Kingdom basis. On the basis of UK-wide representation in the European Parliament, these

3 Feb 2003 : Column 87

measures are being proposed according to equality throughout the UK, and not on the basis of Scotland as an independent state. That does not exist at present and I do not think that it ever will.

Angus Robertson: I do not want to labour this point. I think that everyone in the Chamber understands that, were Scotland an independent member of the European Union, it would have far more MEPs. I would far rather have that. That issue is not on the table this evening—I agree with the hon. Gentleman on that. What we have instead is this amendment, which will guarantee that Scotland and Wales do not lose out more. Those Members who vote against it would therefore be voting in favour of Scotland having a disproportionate reduction in its level of representation. It would not only be disproportionate; it would be the biggest decrease in representation in the European Parliament anywhere in Europe.

Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion): Surely those in the House who advocate that the present UK constitution protects the role of small nations such as Wales and Scotland must face the fact that the Secretaries of State for Wales and Scotland have failed to protect the position of those countries within the United Kingdom—that is different from the situation in Northern Ireland—and that the situation in Europe as a whole protects the role of small nation states. We need to ensure that the legislation going through the House does the job that the Secretaries of State for Wales and Scotland should have done in the first place.

Angus Robertson: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for pointing that out. That argument has been propounded not only by his good self; it was also propounded by the Labour Government during the 1970s and 1980s, when they argued that it was vital that Scotland and Wales had a level of over-representation. That idea is to be found in the memoirs of the former Taoiseach of Ireland, Garrett Fitzgerald, who pointed out that UK Labour Government Ministers were arguing that Scotland and Wales needed better representation at the time. How things change! Twenty years later, Scottish Labour MPs at Westminster are arguing in favour of Scotland having a disproportionate reduction in representation in the European Parliament.

Mr. Peter Duncan: The hon. Gentleman will recall that the justification for that over-representation in Scotland was the separate legislative programme there. That was the reason for it, and now that that arrangement has gone, we are seeking to remove that disproportionality. He must accept that what we are implementing today is a United Kingdom settlement—the number of MEPs for the United Kingdom—for a regime that is being implemented on the same basis throughout the whole of the UK. He may wish to have an argument about independence, but that is not what we are here for.

Angus Robertson: I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's intervention, but it did not provide much more clarity in terms of the position of the Conservative

3 Feb 2003 : Column 88

party or the Scottish Conservative party on the matter. I referred earlier to an argument put forward by a UK Government about Scotland's representation in Europe, not about a devolved Scotland within the UK. I could argue all evening about why Scotland should have 13 Members of the European Parliament, which is what it would get if it were independent, but the amendment is not about that. It is about guaranteeing current levels of representation. That is second best, but it is better than third class.

Mr. Peter Duncan: The hon. Gentleman has expressed his interest in Scottish Conservative policy. I do not want to deviate from discussing the amendment before us, but, for the record, our only proposal is that the UK settlement be implemented on the same basis throughout the whole of the UK, and that only in that way can it be implemented on a fair and equitable basis throughout this United Kingdom—and long may it remain so.

Angus Robertson: I would be delighted to forward the figures to the hon. Gentleman, because he clearly has not seen them. The reduction in the level of representation throughout the UK is neither fair nor equitable. Scotland's reduction is 25 per cent. The reduction of representation in England is less than that. Compared with other parts of Europe, Scotland's representation is miles worse. That is unacceptable, and I would have thought that someone representing a part of Scotland that is suffering because Scotland's case is not being argued effectively in the European Union would have been better off making the case to Ministers that they should not undermine Scotland's representation in Europe.

8 pm

Adam Price: Is not the basis for our argument that Wales and Scotland are nations within the UK and, as such, enjoy a unique constitutional status in all the structures of UK governance? If Members of other parties do not join us in the Lobby tonight, will it not be another case of the big UK parties failing to stand up for the small UK countries?

Angus Robertson: I am grateful to my hon. Friend.

Mr. Rosindell rose—

Angus Robertson: I shall give way one last time before I finish, and it will be to the hon. Member for Romford (Mr. Rosindell), but I would like to get back to the point that my hon. Friend the Member for East Carmarthen and Dinefwr (Adam Price) has just made with such great force. Curiously, his argument is supported by the Minister, who said in the last debate on the Bill on the Floor of the House that the reason the Bill had been drafted in this way was that

The Government recognise the need for a differentiated approach for the different nations within the United Kingdom. That is why Northern Ireland's position has been guaranteed to remain at three seats, yet that right to fair and equitable representation has not been extended to Scotland and Wales.

3 Feb 2003 : Column 89

I shall be interested to see how the Liberal Democrats will vote on this matter. The Member who leads for them on this, the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome, has made some very sensible suggestions today. In the previous debate, he said that the EU

I shall be interested to see how Scottish and Welsh Liberal Democrat Members of the Westminster Parliament vote tonight. They have the chance to join SNP and Plaid Cymru colleagues to guarantee at least the current level of representation. We have said that that level is inadequate, but at least it is better than the third-class representation to which the Bill will demote Scotland. Unfortunately, there are no Scottish Liberal Democrats here this evening, but I note that the leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats is present. I do not know whether he is in favour of Wales's representation in the European Parliament being reduced by 20 per cent., but we shall find out in the Lobby later on, when I hope that the amendment will be voted on so that MPs from all parties will be able to make their views known.

Mr. Rosindell: Scotland is, of course, a great nation, but does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is not a nation state? If the logic of his argument were to be applied across the whole of Europe, how large would the European Parliament become? Bavaria, Catalonia and a whole range of regions and countries within nations would, of course, expect greater representation. Where would it end?

Angus Robertson: The hon. Gentleman is a doughty campaigner for the rights of self-determination for the people of Gibraltar. I would be the last person to tell anyone anywhere in Europe where they should set the boundaries for their self-determination. That is up to people elsewhere to decide. It is up to the people of Gibraltar to decide how they should be represented, and it is up to people throughout the rest of Europe to decide how they would like to be represented. I would like to ensure that Scotland's representation is not third class, and that it is not demoted by 25 per cent. I look forward to hon. Members being given the chance to vote on this important issue. I mentioned the presence of the Welsh Liberal Democrat Member, so I shall give way to him.

Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire): I am honoured to have been mentioned by the hon. Gentleman, who has made the cogent case that I would expect from a member of a party that clearly wishes to separate itself from the rest of the United Kingdom. An earlier intervention implied that members of Plaid Cymru have the same wish. Does the hon. Gentleman not accept, however, that there are different views? Is there not a case for suggesting that those who do not want

3 Feb 2003 : Column 90

separation may have a collective responsibility to consider the proportionality that we are discussing and, perhaps, the necessary cost of achieving it?

Next Section

IndexHome Page