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Standing Committee A
Thursday 16 January 2003
[Mr. Frank Cook in the Chair]
European Parliamentary election regulations
Mr. William Cash (Stone): I beg to move amendment No. 65, in
The clause prescribes the arrangements for European parliamentary election regulations. The amendment would insert the provisions into proposed new subsection (4A), and raises issues to which I have already had cause to refer. It is analogous to the regulation-making powers and other such provisions in clause 16. Proposed new subsection (4A) inserts the power to make regulations into the European Parliamentary Elections Act 2002. It states:
''Without prejudice to the generality of the power under which they are made, regulations under this Act may:
(a) make different provision for different electoral regions and, in particular, for the part of the combined region which is in England and Wales and for Gibraltar;
(b) confer jurisdiction relating to any matter connected with the election of MEPs in the combined region on any court in the United Kingdom''.
It thus confers jurisdiction in relation to the United Kingdom, but it continues:
''(c) exclude any such matter from the jurisdiction of any court in Gibraltar''.
It goes without saying that the Gibraltarians will not be remotely pleased about that. We return to the old colonial, imperialistic attitude, which I find astonishing. I maintain the hope that, in the final stages of the Bill, we will have a proper explanation of why the Government treat the Gibraltarians in this fashion.
We must also bear in mind that the Gibraltarians were not shown a copy of the Bill before it was published. Courts in Gibraltar deal daily with all sorts of matters that relate to the Bill, yet they are regarded as inadequate, even suspect, if one takes an extreme view, and incapable of dealing with matters of this sort.
Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) rose—
Mr. Cash: I find that the discussions between the two of us sometimes elucidate—
The Chairman: Order. Discussions should be through the Chair.
Mr. Heath: I am grateful to the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash). I hoped that he was not straying into the context of the next group, where I had hoped to say something on the court in Gibraltar.
The Chairman: Order. The hon. Gentleman can rely on the Chair to protect his interests.
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Mr. Heath: I am most grateful.
Mr. Cash: Amendment No. 65 is intended to ensure the right kind of calibration in the drafting.
The Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department (Yvette Cooper): I shall confine my remarks to amendment No. 65 and will make some important points on the courts on the next group of amendments. The amendment attempts to limit the use that can be made of the regulations under the European Parliamentary Elections Act 2002 to matters connected with the establishment of the combined region. Clause 21 amends the regulation-making powers in the Act, which apply the detail of electoral law to the European parliamentary elections. As variations will be made to take account of the inclusion of Gibraltar in the elections in the future, the regulation-making power under the Act needs to cater for that.
The amendment is unnecessary because what it seeks is already achieved by the clause and the way in which it will be interpreted. Because clause 21 is inserted by the Bill into the European Parliamentary Elections Act, it is clear that its purpose is to give effect to the Bill's purposes—to establish a combined region for European parliamentary elections to be held as far as possible under the same rules as presently apply in the UK.
Furthermore, section 7 of the 2002 Act—the regulation-making power in question—is already limited in scope; for example, it could not be used to change the voting system. The clause is already circumscribed in the way that the amendment seeks. It could be interpreted only in the Bill's context and could not be used to give wider powers. I therefore ask the hon. Member for Stone to withdraw his amendment.
Before I sit down I want to clarify a point he made. He said that the Government of Gibraltar were not shown a copy of the draft Bill before it was published. They were indeed shown a copy before it was published as soon as a complete readable version was available and they also had previous discussions with officials setting out the Bill's approach.
Mr. Cash: I am happy to withdraw the amendment. On the last point, we have already made the point that there was inadequate discussion. That matter will no doubt rumble on. The question of the point at which Bills are seen is highly relevant. The Minister said that the Bill was seen was in readable form, but the question is whether it was in comprehensible form, which is a different point. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Mr. Cash: I beg to move amendment No. 66, in
clause 21, page 10, line 41, after 'Kingdom', insert 'and Gibraltar'.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Amendment No.8, in
clause 21, page 10, line 41, leave out from 'Kingdom' to end of line 43.
Amendment No.67, in
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clause 21, page 10, line 42, leave out paragraph (c).
Mr. Cash: I apologise for having traversed this matter in our previous debate. I accidentally picked up my notes on the points that we will discuss now. I do not think that I need to repeat what I said, other than to say that I find one provision astonishing. It is suggested that jurisdiction would be conferred on a court in the United Kingdom in respect of the matters under which regulations could be made
''relating to any matter connected with the election of MEPs''.
That requires explanation in itself. I am not sure what jurisdiction one would expect to be conferred, but the Minister will no doubt elucidate. However, if it is going to be conferred on a court in the United Kingdom, it should also be conferred on a court in Gibraltar, as my amendment No. 66 says. To make the situation dramatically worse, the idea that any such matter should be excluded from the jurisdiction of any court in Gibraltar must be construed as insulting on any understanding of the situation. It is absurd and unbelievable that courts that handle matters daily are deemed to be incompetent or presumed suspect in adjudicating on matters that could arise under the regulations. I will be interested to hear the views of the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath), because I think that the situation is appalling.
Mr. Heath: I, too, have an amendment in the group—amendment No. 8. I must confess that although my amendment is along the same lines as that of the hon. Member for Stone, it does not include the words ''and Gibraltar'', which should be added. My amendment alone would be silent on the jurisdiction of the court of Gibraltar, so between us we have a viable amendment.
It seems extraordinary that the court of Gibraltar is excluded. I suspect that it is not because the Minister feels that the court is incompetent, but there must be reasons, which have yet to be elucidated. I want to argue a strong presumption in favour of the court of Gibraltar being given the jurisdiction. A case would be brought before a court in Gibraltar, rather than one in the UK, only when a citizen of Gibraltar, either as a candidate or other participant in a European election, or a political party is suspected to have transgressed the regulations. In such cases, it would surely be inappropriate to require that hearing, with witnesses and legal representatives, to be taken from Gibraltar to a court in the United Kingdom. It would not make sense and instead offend against any concept of justice locally administered.
We are left with the question of why the court of Gibraltar should be excluded. I confess my ignorance in the area, so I would be grateful if the Minister explained the relationship between the jurisdiction in Gibraltar and the Lord Chancellor. I may be wrong, but I believe that that the House of Lords acts an as appellant court for the court of Gibraltar and therefore forms part of the overall British legal jurisdiction. However, it has separate characteristics to the court in Gibraltar. I understand that the judges to the court of Gibraltar are appointed at intervals by
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the Governor and therefore by the Crown, rather than by any other process. Will the Minister explain why the Gibraltar court should be excluded and, most importantly, why it should be held uniquely that any possible breach of regulation and law under electoral law should not be considered by a court in the vicinity, neighbourhood and same end of the continent where the offence takes place and the defendant is likely to be resident?
Yvette Cooper: I shall set out the intention and then return to the wording of the clause and to the amendments. Our intention, which has been discussed with the Government of Gibraltar, is that matters that would be dealt with by the electoral court or the High Court were the problem to arise in the UK, should continue to be dealt with in the electoral court or High Court if the problem arose with regard to Gibraltar. Matters that would be dealt with in the magistrates courts, county courts or Crown courts, were the problem to arise in the UK, should be dealt with in the Gibraltar courts. The intention is not to exclude all matters from the jurisdiction of any court in Gibraltar, but to ensure that the Gibraltar courts would deal with all the matters that might normally be dealt with by the magistrates courts, county courts or Crown courts in the UK.
Clearly the Gibraltar courts should be able to deal with offences that have a specific impact in Gibraltar that might already have been dealt with locally where they arise in the UK. However, some matters might go to the heart of an election result, for example, that would be dealt with in the UK by the electoral court. The impact on the election result as a whole would affect the combined region and not only Gibraltar. Therefore the rest of the region would have a stake, and it is therefore seen as appropriate to make such cases part of the jurisdiction of the electoral court and the High Court rather than that of the Gibraltar courts.
The sort of cases that arise in the magistrates courts and would therefore be dealt with in Gibraltar are election offences such as tampering with nomination papers or personation; in the county courts, appeals about registration; and in the electoral court, election petitions relating to the results of an election. That is the reason for the distinction between the two jurisdictions.
The powers set out in clause 21 would give effect to that intention in the regulations. Those regulations would still need to come back before Parliament. The clause is drafted broadly without specifying what should go to which court at this stage so that the full ramifications may be explored with the Government of Gibraltar. I am sympathetic to considering whether the situation could be clarified further. I understand that the clause does not make our intention clear. I am trying to set that out clearly in Committee so that it is on the record.