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3 Feb 2003 : Column 109—continued

Mr. Rosindell: I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. Of course, some of us would prefer it if he and the hon. Member for Chorley (Mr. Hoyle) reached the Cabinet. None the less, does he agree that it is insulting to the people of Gibraltar that the name of the region of which it is to be a part will not include its name? Does he agree that it should be included and that Gibraltar should be recognised in terms not only of votes, but of the name of the constituency in which it will be represented?

Andrew Mackinlay: I will not use the term "insulting", but I despair of the arrogance of the people who draft such legislation. Quite apart from courtesy, logic tells us that the title should include Gibraltar's name. Why are people so stubborn? I hope that the situation will be altered in another place. We can be sure that all the candidates—Labour, Conservative, Liberal and others—will be saying, "I think that it is outrageous; Parliament should have made the change." However, apart from the hon. Members who are now exercised about the matter, not many people are clamouring for such change. Such matters represent the way in which history can be rewritten. That is why I get so frustrated when a Labour Government do not reflect or do what is obvious and ultimately inevitable. They will come to make such a change and they will say that it was their idea all along.

There are many lessons to be learned, but I rejoice in the fact that I have got two wins tonight. The first is the extension of the European Union to include these

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wonderful countries that were denied freedom and democracy for so long. For some of them, entry into the European Union will be the conclusion of world war two and will represent the crossing of the final frontier. Secondly, we have had to acknowledge our rights and obligations in respect of the people of Gibraltar, but we need to do more.

9.22 pm

Mr. Hoyle: We all welcome the enfranchisement of the people of Gibraltar and the fact that they have been allowed the vote, which they should have had by right. As my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) said, it is a tragedy that we had to go to the European Court of Human Rights to ensure that they got it. However, that need has now been recognised and we have rectified the situation, so some good is coming out of what is happening. We should be proud of the fact that this House has recognised the rights of the people of Gibraltar.

Hon. Members on both sides of the House have rightly said that we should look to the Minister to pass on to her friends and colleagues in the Government the feeling that now we have given the people of Gibraltar the vote for Europe we should give them the vote for Westminster. We must take that on board.

There are a couple of other issues on which I look to my hon. Friend the Minister. First, I hope that she will say to her colleagues in another place that we should reduce the right of the Governor in giving his views, and that that right should be passed on to the Assembly in Gibraltar so that we can hear the views of all its political parties. I am sure that she will pass that on.

Secondly, as my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock said, the constituency title, whether it is north-west, south-west, Wales or Northern Ireland, should be a proper statement of the geographical area that it includes. [Interruption.] Somebody asks me whether I would include Chorley in the north-west. Although I recognise that Chorley should come first, I also recognise that we are in the north-west, so its inclusion makes sense in terms of that geographical area. However, I could not say that Gibraltar was in the north-west, so it is common sense that the title should inform us of the geographical area that will be enfranchised as part of the European constituency in question. Obviously, if it related to the south-west it would read, "south-western Gibraltar". I hope that the Minister will speak to her colleagues in another place and persuade them to ensure that that is encompassed in the title, because that would right some of the wrongs. Let us not lose sight of the importance of direct elections from Gibraltar to this House in Westminster.

9.25 pm

Mr. Cash: I apologise again for the sound of my voice, Mr. Deputy Speaker; I am afraid that there is nothing much I can do about it. I hope that it will recover now that we have reached the end of the Bill's proceedings in this House.

The Bill was thoroughly and extensively considered in Committee and we have had an interesting debate this afternoon. Conservative Members support the main principles that lie behind the Bill, which is why we did

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not vote against it on Second Reading. We particularly support the entitlement of Gibraltarians to vote in European elections: it is all about democracy.

It is not to the Government's credit, however, that they were pushed and shoved by the Denise Matthews case into agreeing that they would have to legislate. In fact, "agreeing" is the wrong word—they were driven into it. That represents one of the less agreeable aspects of the drafting of the Bill and the relative lack of consultation that accompanied it—hence the amendments that we, and the Liberal Democrats, have tabled. The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) and I found during the Committee's proceedings that we had achieved a certain symmetry, which was not based in any way on advance discussions, but occurred spontaneously on the basis that we share a clear understanding of the thresholds of acceptability that, in many respects, has not been matched by the Government.

The prime question in relation to part 1 concerns the extravagant powers that are thereby taken, which I have covered in detail. They are fundamentally unconstitutional, excessive, unclear and inappropriate. Important as the Bill may be, it does not compare with some of the other European Bills with which I have been associated. That raises an important issue of principle. I still do not understand why the Minister could not accept my earlier amendment. She did not explain that. No doubt, if it is thought fit, the matter can be pursued in another place.

The question of Gibraltar is immensely important. I pay tribute to the Chief Minister of Gibraltar, Mr. Caruana, as would all hon. Members, with the possible exception of some Ministers. He has shown tenacity and punched above his weight—not in a literal sense. It is difficult to conduct such a constitutional battle with Spain breathing down one's neck and the prospect—I do not want to sound cynical—that given the Prime Minister's extremely close relationship with Mr. Aznar, especially in relation to Iraq, he may find it at least tempting to consider what will happen further down the line when the European constitution goes through. I am deeply worried that the redrawing of boundaries and the boundless territorial ambitions of the European Union could unravel some parts of the Bill.

I have always supported enlargement, but there is a world of difference between that and plunging people into an acquis communautaire, which has inherent grave economic and democratic problems. There is a vast democratic deficit in the European Union, and the Bill's construction demonstrates that. Some accession states may regret the fact that they joined under terms that they were blackmailed into accepting. The élite do not believe that that is true, but I think that the people do. If they do not now, they will discover it in due course.

Notwithstanding all that, we have an obligation to facilitate the rule of law. We therefore have no option. However, I say in parenthesis that I hope that the whole European Union will be renegotiated. I oppose the constitution as a matter of principle, unlike the Government, who support it.

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The Government have adopted a colonialist, imperialistic attitude to the Bill, especially to part 2, which applies to Gibraltar. For an unelected Lord Chancellor to take such a line on part 1 smacks of the divine right of kings.

We have an extraordinary conjunction of circumstances. We are keen for the people of Gibraltar to be enfranchised and we will therefore not oppose Third Reading. We have made some severe criticisms, but I hope that we have also been constructive. I thank all members of the Committee and those who participated in today's debate.

9.32 pm

Yvette Cooper: With the leave of the House, I shall reply to the debate. I hope that the tone of Third Reading reflects the broad support for the fundamental principles of the Bill. I believe that all hon. Members should support the accession of states to the European Union, their fair representation in the European Parliament and enfranchising the people of Gibraltar.

My hon. Friends the Members for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) and for Chorley (Mr. Hoyle) raised a series of important issues about the constitutional status of Gibraltar. I pay tribute to their work and their arguments in support of enfranchising the people of Gibraltar in the European parliamentary elections. I appreciate that both my hon. Friends feel passionately about that; they have argued for it for many years. I am glad of their support in introducing the Bill.

My hon. Friends raised several wider issues about Gibraltar's constitutional status that are not within the Bill's scope and purpose. They acknowledged that and I shall therefore resist the temptation to get involved in the broader constitutional debate about Gibraltar's status. They appreciate that it is a complex matter that has much history attached to it.

The hon. Members for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) and for Stone (Mr. Cash) expressed anxieties about the nature of some of the powers in the Bill. They overstated the case for the sake of making political points. They have ignored many of the safeguards that we have set out in some detail, not only in today's debate but in Committee. We have always made it clear that various things needed to be done through secondary legislation, partly because there are details of electoral law—much of it already contained in secondary legislation—that need to be amended.

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