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3 Feb 2003 : Column 106—continued

9.7 pm

Mr. Heath : We have made it clear from the outset that we support the Bill for two reasons. First, we believe passionately in the enlargement of the European Union. Appropriate administrative structures, including the restructuring of the European Parliament in line with the protocols of the treaty of Nice, must be in place if that is to happen. Secondly, we have believed passionately for a long time that Gibraltar should be enfranchised. The Government were extraordinarily remiss in not dealing with the outcome of the Denise Matthews case much earlier in parliamentary proceedings. They dragged their feet far too long about providing representation for the people of Gibraltar in the European Parliament. At last, that is being rectified.

We explored our differences with the Government extensively in Committee—I congratulate all Members who participate in Committee and on Report—and especially their determination to exceed what is required to make the necessary changes to implement the treaty of Nice or the enfranchisement of Gibraltar. Their intention may not have been malign, but it throws up questions about the right of hon. Members to a locus in future proceedings, the extensive powers granted to the Lord Chancellor—an unelected member of the Government—and other matters that were not necessary to achieve the desired outcome.

I have already raised some of those problems, and the Minister has promised to look at them, for which I am grateful. On others, she has suggested that she may be willing to table amendments in another place; again, we look forward to that. It is regrettable that insufficient thought was given earlier to such amendments, and that the Commons—the elected House—therefore lacked an opportunity to debate them properly. However, I look forward to their being introduced in another place.

There is a glaring lacuna in the Bill in the lack of arrangements to consult the people of Gibraltar via the House of Assembly and the political parties there. The hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) has rightly spoken several times about the neocolonial aspects of the Bill. There is an arrogant disregard for the people of Gibraltar in many ways in the terms of the Bill as drafted. I do not accuse the hon. Lady of that, but that is the only way in which the Bill can be read, and assuredly that is the way in which it will be read in Gibraltar. To assume that the Consolidated Fund of Gibraltar can be drawn upon by edict of the Lord Chancellor setting out an order in Westminster is arrogant and should not be acceptable to this Government or any other.

There are some important issues to be discussed in the other place. I hope that we have pointed the way through the views that we have expressed during the passage of the Bill, and likewise the hon. Member for Stone, with whom I agree more often than is convenient for him or me to admit to our parties. I hope that we have gone some way to illuminating some of the Bill's

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deficiencies while maintaining our assertion that it is right that the changes be put into law. I hope that the Bill will receive fair passage in another place and, equally, that it will be amended to take account of the constitutional issues that we have properly raised.

9.11 pm

Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock): I welcome the Bill, first, because I feel moved by each increment in our legislation to facilitate the enlargement of the European Union. When I made my maiden speech in the House 10 years ago, I spoke about the need for Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and other states of central Europe to be brought into the European family through NATO and EU membership. A number of hon. Members spoke about that, but many thought that it was a long way off, and some distinguished people—even members of the present Government—thought it was too hasty and too ambitious, and might offend the Russian Federation and others. I welcome the fact that, by passing the Bill tonight, we are in part facilitating the wonderful enlargement that will take place in a year and a half.

Secondly, I welcome the fact that the redistribution of seats for the European Parliament bears some relation to parity of treatment throughout the United Kingdom. One of the factors that disfigure our democracy is that the electoral arrangements for Westminster, as distinct from the European parliamentary arrangements that we are putting in place tonight, result in some very large geographical constituencies with very small electorates. A hallmark of a parliamentary democracy is that votes count equally. Many other jurisdictions, both in the European Union and around the world, ensure that elected legislators represent the same number of electors. To some extent, the Bill brings us closer to that. I welcome that, and wish that we could replicate it in elections to this place. At present, our democracy is diminished by the fact that we have some very small electorates and some big ones, and disparity between the nations of the United Kingdom.

Thirdly, the European Parliament is very large and will become larger to take account of the increased membership of the EU. Member states should ensure that MEPs keep to the competency of the EU. Over the years since 1979, when direct elections to the European Parliament began, MEPs on all sides have trespassed on matters that are not within the competency of their Parliament. They have often related to matters that are within the jurisdiction of this place.

When they are discussing issues with their opposite numbers, the Government should try to ensure that there is some discipline with regard to what is their business and what is ours. There should be a clear division.

My hon. Friend the Minister referred to the fact that part 2 provides for the enfranchisement of the people of Gibraltar in European elections. She kept my attention when she said that she hoped that all hon. Members would support it. For 10 years, I have been going on about this matter, so I take some satisfaction tonight from what has been done. I have not concluded many things in my decade here, but this is perhaps the end of a chapter.

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Soon after Labour came to office I asked my right hon. Friend the then Home Secretary, now Foreign Secretary, whether the Government would enfranchise the people of Gibraltar for European elections. His answer was that it could not and would not be done. The implication, both by him at that time and subsequently in the Foreign Affairs Committee, when we asked members of the Government when they would do it, was not only that it could not and would not be done, but that I was stupid even to suggest it.

There are lessons to be learned about this place and the role of Government—of people sitting on the Treasury Bench. I asked my right hon. Friend in a similar epoch whether he would introduce legislation to allow people ordained in the Roman Catholic ministry to stand for Parliament. His reply, which appeared in Hansard, was "Certainly not". But when the Labour party chose—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman is trying to make various points, but we are now talking about what is in the Bill.

Andrew Mackinlay: If I may have just five seconds to conclude on this point, Mr Deputy Speaker, it is that Ministers do not listen to hon. Members. If they did, they could avoid some of the embarrassment of introducing legislation screaming and kicking.

Lady Hermon: May I say, in fairness to the hon. Gentleman's Government, that one of the best things they did was to bring home the European convention on human rights and make it part and parcel of our domestic law. The people of Gibraltar have been enfranchised in the European Parliament elections by dint of the fact that article 3 of the convention's first protocol guarantees people the choice of legislature—the European Parliament. Therefore, that is a good thing for the hon. Gentleman to commend his Government upon.

Andrew Mackinlay: I should hate anybody who might be hanging on my words to assume that I have anything other than great enthusiasm for sustaining this Labour Government. They have delivered a great deal. The hon. Lady is correct: in particular, they have delivered on this legislation. An elector of Gibraltar took the British Government—I am ashamed to say that it was the Labour Government—screaming and kicking through the courts. All through that period there were people in the Box and the Home Office who were counselling—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman must not refer to people who are not within the Chamber.

Andrew Mackinlay: I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Certainly, the matter was within the competence of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, not of my noble Friend the Lord Chancellor. My right hon. Friend was giving advice and counsel that it could not be done. That was coupled with political considerations advanced by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office as arguments for urging that it must not be done.

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I deeply regret the fact that the British Government had to introduce the Bill because the courts ordered them to do so, rather than their saying, "It is a matter of rights and of enfranchising people." That is a great tragedy.

I do not know whether the electorate, or the Almighty, will allow me to stay here for another decade, but I am calling now for us to have a Member of Parliament for Gibraltar. I shall be told, "It can't be done. Don't be so silly", but some things are irresistible; some things come about. Eventually, the Electoral Commission and the consultative process will put Gibraltar in one of the English or Welsh regions. Political parties and individual candidates will then rewrite history. They will say that there was never a day when they were not championing the case for the enfranchisement of the people of Gibraltar. Whether they come from the left, the right or the centre, whether they are Labour, Conservative or Liberal and whichever region they represent, I hope that they will be able to specify when they said that they believed that the people of Gibraltar should be enfranchised. I also hope that the people of Gibraltar will ask them where they stand on extending the people's franchise to their Parliament, which is this Parliament. That will be the big test.

I hope that the Minister will reflect during her career, which I hope will be very extensive and reach Cabinet level, that there are occasions when those on the Treasury Bench would be much more prudent to listen to Members of Parliament and concede the justified claims—they are justified by any democratic norms or tests—that those who are disfranchised should be enfranchised. If they did so, this place would be much more relevant and we would have much more concord in Parliament and in our party.

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