European Parliamentary Elections Bill
Order for Second Reading read.
I inform the House that I have selected the amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.I stress at the outset that the Bill has no effect whatever on the powers of the European Parliament. The Bill is a consequence of the agreement reached at the European Council at Edinburgh that additional seats should be allocated to some member states. That agreement was a consequence of the large increase in the population of Germany arising out of unification of that country following the collapse of communism. The United Kingdom received six additional seats under the agreement. The Bill provides for their distribution within Britain and for the work needed to change the boundaries of European constituencies to incorporate the extra seats. Under the European Parliamentary Elections Act 1978, which the Bill amends, representatives from Great Britain in the European Parliament fill single-member seats to which the candidate with a simple majority is elected. The Bill proposes no change in that system. In the exceptional circumstances of Northern Ireland, as in local government elections, Members of the European Parliament are chosen by the single transferable vote system. Northern Ireland is a single constituency for that purpose. That system was introduced in the Province in 1977 to ensure fair representation for both communities, and we do not propose to change it. We are prepared to participate in further Community discussions about electoral procedures for the European Parliament, but I must make it clear to the House that we see no case for departing from our traditional system. It is noteworthy that there is a movement in our direction in the Community, as people in other member states see the disadvantages of proportional representation. That hardly suggests that we should be moving in the opposite direction.
I am grateful, as many of my hon. Friends will be, for the strong words that my right hon. and learned Friend has used about our excellent system of voting for membership of the European Parliament. It is obvious that next year we shall be having an election in this country on the basis of the first-past-the-post system. Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that, so far as he is concerned. the European election after that will also be fought on the first-past-the-post system?
I have answered my hon. Friend. I see absolutely no case for moving away from our first-past-the-post system. I am convinced that it is the best system and I am confident that, in time, our view will prevail in the Community.
I have the impression that Opposition Members are sceptical when my right hon. and learned Friend speaks about people in other countries coming our way. Does he agree that there has been total chaos in Italy, but that Italy has now come our way?
My hon. Friend is right to the extent that Italy is moving in our direction—not yet as far or as fast as I would like, but I live in hope. What we have seen are the first stages of a move in our direction. I am confident that in time we shall see more.
Given that the Community is shortly to extend itself from 12 to perhaps 16 seats, and given that the majority of countries use proportional representation, how does the right hon. and learned Gentleman reconcile that with article 138 of the treaty, which says that we should move to a uniform electoral system?
The hon. Lady will be aware that all decisions on what that uniform system should be must be reached by unanimity. During the period when the movement in our direction which I described is still taking place, we shall rely on our veto to encourage those other member states to move further and faster in our direction.
To avoid wasting time, will the right hon. and learned Gentleman simply confirm that Italy has changed from one proportional system to another proportional system?
As I told my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster (Dame E. Kellett-Bowman), Italy is moving in our direction, away from a system of extreme proportionality to a system much closer to ours. I said that Italy had not moved as far or as fast as I would like, but I am an optimist.The effect of clause 1 is that next year's European parliamentary elections will be contested with the following number of seats for each of the four territories of the United Kingdom: 71 seats in England, eight in Scotland, five in Wales and three in Northern Ireland. That represents an increase of five for England and one for Wales. That distribution of the extra seats is, I believe, the fairest available, as the arithmetic clearly shows. I have put in the Vote Office—and my hon. Friend the Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) has copies available in the Chamber for hon. Members who wish to follow the matter—a note setting out both the current position and the effect of introducing the various options. At present, the average electorate of a European Parliament seat in Wales is 1 per cent. greater than that in England. In Scotland, the average electorate is 10 per cent. smaller than that in England. So Wales is slightly disadvantaged compared with England and considerably disadvantaged compared with Scotland. England, too, is disadvantaged compared with Scotland. If all the new seats were allocated to England the average electorate for Wales would be 10 per cent. greater than that for England. In Scotland, the average would he 3 per cent. less than that in England. That option would therefore increase the disadvantage to Wales. The most unsatisfactory change of all would be to distribute the seats on the basis of four to England, one to Scotland, and one to Wales—the solution suggested in the Opposition's reasoned amendment. This would mean that Scotland's unfair advantage would increase from the present 10 per cent. to 16 per cent., while the average for Wales would go from 1 per cent. more than England to 15 per cent. less, giving Wales an unfair advantage over England almost as big as that of Scotland. By giving five seats to England and one to Wales, the most satisfactory result which does not disadvantage Wales is achieved. The average electorate in Wales would become 13 per cent. less than England's, but Scotland's would still be 4 per cent. less than England's, so both Wales and Scotland would still be advantaged over England, but to a much lesser extent than the four-one-one option favoured by the Opposition. The strength of the Union depends on all its parts being treated fairly. Once again, it is only the Conservative party that is prepared to stand up for a fair deal for England.
Has the right hon. and learned Gentleman failed to take land mass into account? Does he appreciate that the existing Highlands and Islands constituency is larger than some countries in the Community? Is he not prepared to take into account the area that has to be covered by each MEP? Does he accept that if the Government's recommendation is adopted, Scotland's representation will be lower in Europe than in the House of Commons?
The hon. Gentleman anticipates precisely the point to which I was about to come.The largest of the Scottish constituencies, in geographic terms—the Highlands and Islands—is already the lowest in terms of population. It would be very unlikely to be altered were there to be an extra Scottish seat. It is far more likely that there would be an extra seat in the central belt of Scotland, where there could be no conceivable argument of geographical fairness or of fairness based on the size of the electorate or any other criterion.
My House of Commons constituency lies within the Highlands and Islands European constituency, which is represented by my mother-in-law, Madame Ecosse. If the Secretary of State looks at the geography of the Highlands and Islands, he will see that the constituency's most southerly point is nearer to London than to its most northerly point. Thus, the servicing of the constituency involves a great deal of complication. Just getting to the islands is a problem. Indeed, the constituency has more islands than any other part of the European Community, and its land mass is bigger than that of Belgium. Does the Secretary of State not agree that it is desirable to take account of geography as well as of arithmetic?
The hon. Lady cannot have heard the answer that I gave a moment ago. In practice, what she wants would not make any difference. I should be delighted to take any possible steps to enable her to see more of her mother-in-law. Indeed, I can think of a number of ways in which the electorate could assist in that process—I am thinking not just of European parliamentary elections but also of United Kingdom parliamentary elections, in the next of which I hope that the electorate will take the necessary steps. However, this is not the best means of achieving that desirable objective.
Scotland is not the only part of the kingdom with very large constituencies. The constituency that I had the honour of representing years ago—then Cumbria, now Cumbria and North Lancashire—includes all of Cumbria and three very large House of Commons constituencies in north Lancashire, and is bigger than the rest of the north-west put together. I certainly had some travelling to do, but I loved it.
My hon. Friend is completely right. She makes an entirely apposite point.
My right hon. and learned Friend referred very skilfully to the European Parliamentary Elections Act 1978, but that Act was amended in 1981 and 1986. Has he not noticed the specific reference to the role of the Boundary Commission? It would not be right to say that the European constituency boundaries create more difficulty for the Boundary Commission than do the House of Commons constituencies, which have to take account of geography, shape, accessibility and so on. With regard to the European parliamentary boundaries laid down in the European Communities (Amendment) Act 1986, it is provided that if at least 500 electors make any representation—not by reference to criteria laid down in respect of Westminster—there must be a local inquiry. Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that this Bill represents a step well away from arrangements enacted as recently as 1986?
I hope that my hon. Friend will bear with me, as I am dealing at the moment with the distribution or seats in Great Britain. Of course there is an important point with regard to the role of the Boundary Commission and I shall come to that in due course.
My right hon. and learned Friend is being very brave in at last securing an element of fairness for England in the European Parliament. Will he go one step further and reduce Scotland's representation in the House of Commons so that England can have fairness here?
My hon. Friend will be the first to appreciate that this is not an appropriate legislative vehicle for any endeavour of that kind.In the figures that I have given, I have made no mention of Northern Ireland as it is proportionately the best represented of the territories of the United Kingdom, with three Members of the European Parliament for a population of only 1,153,204. That level of representation is for good reasons. First, any fewer seats would result in Northern Ireland's being the least well represented of the home countries. Secondly, the three seats allow the communities to be represented roughly in proportion to their numbers.
The Secretary of State has been talking about the six extra seats—whether they be Scottish, Irish, Welsh or English. We are told that the extra cost will be £250,000. My understanding is that that sum would provide only one and three quarters MEPs. Is this bargain-basement Europeanism? How have the Government done their arithmetic?
I am always keen to help my hon. Friend in his search for value for money. The sum to which he referred is the cost of reorganising the constituencies to enable us to implement the provisions of the Bill.
On the question of cost, I should like to ask my right hon. and learned Friend what I ought to say to those of my constituents who believe tht there are already too many MEPs, do not know what those MEPs do, and who say—perhaps unfairly—that they never see or hear of them. [Interruption.] I am expressing a view that has been put to me not infrequently by constituents. Are we justified in increasing the number of MEPs, who have very limited power and virtually no influence? Is there any point in having more of them before they have a real job to do?
My hon. Friend is inviting me to dip a toe into some very troubled waters. I am a little reluctant to accept his invitation, although I realise that it was extended with the best of motives. I am sure that even my hon. Friend acknowledges that it is sensible for us to take advantage of increased representation for the United Kingdom when there is to be increased representation for other countries. No doubt we shall all do our utmost to make sure that the people who represent the United Kingdom will do so sensibly.
Does my right hon. and learned Friend think it possible that my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Mr. Bowden) misheard slightly and that most of the criticisms to which he referred were about Members of this House?
If my hon. Friend will forgive me, I think that the sense of hearing of my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Mr. Bowden) was probably accurate on this occasion.
Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that, even after the proposed redistribution, the proposals will still result in a greater number of electors per seat in England than in Scotland? Is that not one of the reasons why it is appropriate for the seats to be awarded principally to England?
My hon. Friend is quite right. Even after the distribution of seats proposed in the Bill, England will still be at a disadvantage compared with Scotland and Wales, but it will be a much smaller disadvantge than that which would flow from the alternative arrangement suggested by the Opposition parties. That is why I said that only the Conservative party is prepared to fight for a fair deal for England.
This is the last time that I shall give way before dealing with clause 2.
Perhaps I can make the Secretary of State more comfortable by saying that, however unsatisfactory the position in the Brighton area, we in east Scotland get excellent value from Mr. David Martin and Mr. Alex Falconer.
I note the hon. Gentleman's view on that matter.Clause 2 and the schedule to the Bill set out the machinery proposed for making recommendations for the constituencies for the 1994 European parliamentary elections. I now come to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Cash). The recommendations will be made by two special ad hoc European parliamentary constituencies committees, one each for England and Wales, appointed by the Home Secretary. It is a one-off task and does not form part of the duties assigned to the parliamentary Boundary Commission by the 1978 Act or, indeed, by the 1986 Act. That is solely because time does not permit that course to be followed. There is wide agreement that the process should be completed by the end of November. The Boundary Commission's procedures would not enable that date to be met, but it is my intention that, subject to those time constraints, the procedures that we adopt should follow as closely as possible the procedures which the Boundary Commission would adopt. The membership of the committees will be selected in consultation with Opposition parties, and I shall seek agreement with them on this matter in exactly the same way that I would if I were appointing Boundary Commissioners. I am delighted to say that, subject only to confirmation of the necessary timetable, I have the agreement of one existing Boundary Commissioner to sit on the committee for England and that of one existing Boundary Commissioner to sit on the committee for Wales. I certainly intend to appoint more Boundary Commissioners if it proves possible.
Let us be quite clear about this. Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman saying that, with regard to the appointments to and the independence of the committees, the process of consultation and agreement with other parties will be exactly the same as with the Boundary Commission?
Yes.The committees will adopt procedures which—again, subject to time constraints—will follow the consultation arrangements which the Boundary Commission would have followed. Due to the time constraints, it will not be possible to hold public inquiries, but I am confident that full opportunity will be made available to all who wish their views to be taken into account. It is clearly important that the shape of the constituencies is settled as quickly as possible, taking account of the need for proper public consultation, so that the political parties can select candidates and prepare for the June 1994 elections in good time. I shall therefore ask the members of the committees to start work immediately on their appointment and before Royal Assent.
Does my right hon. and learned Friend not recognise that an important point of principle is involved? Why is it right for us in the European context to abandon the traditional methods and safeguards that we observe when choosing or altering British parliamentary boundaries? Does that not tend to reinforce the fears of those of us who believe that every step down the European road tends to weaken this country's traditional democratic safeguards?
I do not think that my hon. Friend's fears are justified by anything in the Bill. He talked about our traditions, but this will not be the first time there have been no public inquiries on the designation of constituencies for European parliamentary elections. When the first direct European Parliament elections took place in 1979, the process for drawing up the constituencies did not make provision for public inquiries. So there is a precedent-this is not a novel departure in the context of the European Parliament.
We were promised that it would never happen again.
I do not conceal from my hon. Friend the fact that I would have preferred to appoint the Boundary Commissioners in the usual way and to hold public inquiries, but there is no time. We have checked carefully how long that procedure would take, and I am satisfied that time does not permit us to adopt it. It is for that reason, and for that reason alone, that I proposed the alternative procedure and, as I have tried to say, I am attempting to mirror to the greatest possible extent within the time contraints the procedures which would be followed were the Boundary Commissions to be set up.
If any Home Secretary of any political party were to say that the British parliamentary constituency boundaries were to be changed but that the traditional method of doing that was to be abandoned due to pressures of time, there would be an outcry from all parties and throughout the country, so why should the argument be acceptable in the European context, especially bearing in mind that in 1978 we were given an absolute assurance that such a procedure would never be followed again?
I have made as clear as I can the reasons why we propose to follow this course on this occasion. I do not think that I can add anything to what I have said.
I am happy to give way, but I have already given the reasons for pursuing this course and I shall only be able to repeat them in answer to further interventions.
Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that, although the Boundary Commissions' reports for Europe were published in July 1983, because of the public inquiry system the boundaries were not finalised until March 1984? Would such a delay not make it almost impossible for candidates who are seeking to fight constituencies of 500,000 people, which is very much more difficult than fighting a Westminster constituency?
I think that my hon. Friend is right. There was widespread agreement that we needed to have the constituencies finalised in good time before the election, for reasons that we all readily understand. As I have said, it was for that reason that I have included this procedure in the Bill.
If we cannot do what is necessary through the Boundary Commission because of the lack of time, how do we explain to our constituents, who will surely want to know, that we are appointing a committee rather than referring the issue to the Boundary Commission when we have lost more than six months since it was originally agreed that the number of seats would have to be increased?
I have a suspicion that the issue will not be uppermost in the minds of our constituents, but when it is raised we shall have to tell them—and there are few people better placed to do so than my hon. Friend—that we have had an especially heavy legislative timetable this Session and that we have been occupied with other matters, which has made it very difficult for us to deal with this issue until today. I am sure that my hon. Friend will be able to put that case persuasively to his constituents.
Does my right hon. and learned Friend recall that the European Parliamentary Elections Act 1978 related to a tin-pot Assembly by no means the same as that referred to in the proposals contained in the Maastricht treaty concerning European political parties, the process of integration and all that goes with that? I therefore argue—and I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will agree—that the requirements for greater control are necessary by virtue of the fact that the Maastricht treaty enhances the powers of the European Parliament. It is therefore essential that the criteria followed are no less significant than those which apply to the Boundary Commission. By bypassing the insertions in the 1986 Act, my right hon. and learned Friend is depriving 500 or more electors, notwithstanding the local inquiry, from having an opportunity to have their say on a far more important matter than that which applied in 1978.
With great respect to my hon. Friend, he has got it wrong. The criteria that will be used to draw up the new constituencies will be identical to those that the Boundary Commissioners would follow. The procedures, however, will be different.
I am glad to have the assent of my hon. Friend.The 500 people to whom my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford referred will have full opportunity to make representations, which will be taken fully into account. The difference is that there will be no opportunity for a public inquiry. I wish that that were not so, but the time constraints make it impossible for such inquiries to be delivered.
Arising out of the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Mr. Gill), and accepting that there are considerable time pressures facing the Boundary Commissioners at present, would my right hon. and learned Friend be prepared to consider that between the next two European elections the ordinary processes by which we decide our parliamentary boundaries should apply? That would enable local difficulties or complaints about relatively minor matters to be negotiated through public inquiries. The boundaries would be honed rather than decided roughly through the committee, as proposed.
I very much hope so. I do not find it easy to look so far ahead in such detail, but I hope that we shall be able to do what my hon. Friend regards as important.
May I intrude on this matter?
By all means.
Although I concede to the Home Secretary that this is not what Bernard Ingham, of happy memory, would call the
none the less, on what grounds will the criteria deciding the constituencies be different from the normal Boundary Commission criteria which decide parliamentary boundaries?"talk of Two Feathers in Hebden Bridge",
The criteria will be those with which we are familiar and will include those which instruct the Boundary Commissioners or the members of the ad hoc committee to look at the numbers in and geographical configuration of a constituency. There will be no difference between the criteria employed by the committees and those employed by the Boundary Commissions. It is the procedures which are different and I want to make the differences as few and as small as possible. The criteria will, however, be identical.
I do not believe that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has grasped the force of the point about a public inquiry. He has refused such a possibility because of the problem with the timetable, but many people feel that that time constraint is due to the delay in bringing the Bill forward. If there were a way in which a public inquiry could be held and its recommendations published within five or six weeks, that would surely be a sufficient amount of time.
I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman overlooks the practicalities of these matters. I have sought the most careful advice that I can obtain. I am clear that the timetable that is agreed as desirable simply cannot be met if we introduce public inquiries into the process. That is the only reason why I have been driven to the conclusion that I have explained to the House.
If my memory serves me correct, the right hon. and learned Gentleman entered the House in 1983. He may not therefore recall that it was just about two months—a matter of weeks—prior to the 1983 general election that the House approved the reorganisation of constituency boundaries. I did not know the constituency boundaries on which I would fight the 1983 election until the House had approved the order, just two months before that election. If that could be done for the House, surely it could be done for Euro-elections to be held in June next year.At the heart of the Bill is the integrity of our democratic procedures, which govern how boundaries are drawn. The Prime Minister gave his own word—I hope to deploy the record of that later—that the Bill would maintain the integrity of our democratic procedures. They will not be maintained by stamping out the possibility of a public inquiry, however tight the time scale may be.
I disagree with the hon. Gentleman. The integrity of the process is guaranteed by the integrity of those who carry out the task. They will be independent and they will be selected in consultation—and, I hope, agreement—with the Opposition parties. I hope that many of those individuals will be Boundary Commissioners.As to what happened before 1983, the hon. Gentleman tempts me to remind him that, whatever the time at which the order providing for the constituencies was laid before the House, everyone knew what those constituencies would be because they had been agreed by the Boundary Commission in good time for the 1979 election. It was only on the basis of a disgraceful example of gerrymandering by the Labour party that those changes were not introduced in time for that election. I do not believe that it does much credit to the hon. Gentleman or to his party to remind the House about what happened.
That is not true.
Oh yes it is—that is exactly what happened. The Boundary Commission made recommendations in good time for the 1979 election, but the Labour party was terrified of having to fight the election on those boundaries, so it indulged in a shabby piece of procedural gerrymandering which made it impossible for the election to be fought on those boundaries. That is why we had to wait until 1983.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman has got the wrong date.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Before I sought re-election to the House in 1983, I attended a public inquiry in Birmingahm of the Boundary Commission relating to changes made in 1981–82. How could that meeting relate to boundaries decided on before 1979?
The Home Secretary has got the wrong date.
Order. There seems to be a slight difference of opinion on dates. Perhaps hon. Members on both sides should do further research so that agreement can be reached.
It is the Government side that has got it wrong.
I can quite understand the sensitivities of the Opposition about the gerrymandering exercise which took place immediately before the 1979 election.
Perhaps we can leave gerrymandering and get back to the criteria. The committees will apply the same criteria as the Boundary Commission. Does that mean that the new Euro constituencies in England and Wales will not take in parts of Westminster constituencies, but entire Westminster constituencies?
Indeed it does. I will discuss the specific criteria in a moment, but I can answer the right hon. Gentleman's question in the affirmative.
Does my right hon. and learned Friend believe that the usual conventions will he followed and that those who have attended the Second Reading and shown their interest by making interventions and speeches will in due course be invited to form the Standing Committee?
As my hon. Friend will know, those matters are not for me. I understand that the Committee stage of the Bill is likely to be taken on the Floor of the House, so there will be ample opportunity for my hon. Friend to make his points.
Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that the opinion on his supportive Back Bench is that the event to which he referred, when Mr. Callaghan gerrymandered the boundaries in the belief that it would help the Labour party in the 1970 election, did not take place in 1979 but in 1969? Of course, it did not help. Before my right hon. and learned Friend replies, he should have a look at the Box.
It is not always easy to distinguish between one piece of Labour party gerrymandering and another. It comes naturally to the Labour party. Undoubtedly, if Labour Members were ever to sit on the Government side of the House they would be up to the same tricks again.I hope that the members of the committees to whom I have referred will publish their draft reports in mid-August. I then envisage about four to six weeks of public consultation and a further month or so of subsequent deliberation before final reports are published in November. Approval by Orders in Council would then follow. The criteria that the committees must follow in considering the distribution of seats will be the same as those laid down in part II of schedule 2 to the 1978 Act. They specify that each European parliamentary constituency must consist of at least two parliamentary constituencies, that no parliamentary constituency can be included partly in one European parliamentary constituency and partly in another, and that the electorate of each constituency must be as close as possible to the electoral quota for that part of Great Britain, having regard to special geographical considerations where appropriate. This Bill is not concerned with the powers of the European Parliament, but the extra seats for the United Kingdom will give this country a greater voice in the important jobs of scrutinising the Community budget, exposing fraud and calling European Commissioners to account. The Bill sets out the right way of allocating our extra seats to different parts of the United Kingdom. It deserves wide support, and I hope that it will receive it. I commend it to the House.
I beg to move, to leave out from "That to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof:
The first point that should be made about the Bill is that it is long overdue. Indeed, we have encountered some of the problems that the Home Secretary described precisely because of the delay in bringing the Bill to the House. On 14 December, the Prime Minister announced that the review would take place following the Edinburgh summit. At the summit, it was agreed that, as a result of unification, the German allocation of seats would increase to provide for proper representation for east Germany. Eighteen seats were agreed for Germany and six apiece for France, Italy and the United Kingdom. That means that the latter three countries, with populations of about 56 million or 57 million, will return 87 European Members of Parliament, and Germany, with a population of about 80 million, will return 99. I immediately wrote to the Home Secretary on 14 December asking for clarification of the procedures, because we supported the principle of six extra seats but wanted to be sure that the proper procedures would be followed. It took almost six weeks for a reply to come through, on 27 January 1993. It is right to say—of course, this was before the Home Secretary took office—that there were fairly constant reminders and requests to expedite matters. There has been an enormous delay in bringing the Bill forward. That delay is relevant for reasons that I shall give in a moment. I do not simply raise it to make a point about the delay—it is relevant to the two principal points that we are discussing with regard to the Boundary Commission and the issue of public inquiries. There are three main aspects of the Bill that we should consider: first, it will not be the Boundary Commission but a sub-committee appointed by the Home Secretary that will draw up the new boundaries; secondly, there will not be the full process of public inquiry that is normally associated with boundary changes; and, thirdly, there is the issue of distribution of the seats, which the Home Secretary has done on the basis of five for England, one for Wales and none for Scotland. We believe that the Bill is justified if it provides for six extra seats, but it must be done on a proper basis. The reason for having the Boundary Commission draw up the boundaries is obvious-it is independent, it is respected and it has the expertise. It is also what the Prime Minister promised would happen when he announced the extra seats for Britain. He said:"this House declines to give a Second Reading to the European Parliamentary Elections Bill which has been delayed without justification; which does not provide for the Boundary Commission to establish new boundaries with the power to hold public inquiries and proper consultation; and which does not provide for an additional seat for Scotland."
Today, the Government say that the Boundary Commission cannot perform the task, first, because the commission is too busy with the Westminster constituencies. However, I now understand that the reason is a technical one—the Boundary Commission, as a statutory body, would need specific parliamentary power to draw up the new boundaries. Because of the time problem as a result of the delay, work on the new boundaries would have to begin immediately. I understand that the Boundary Commission would be unable to do that work on an informal basis and, apparently, such considerations do not apply to any new and different committee that the Home Secretary appoints. Let us be clear about this. If it is merely a technical matter, that is one thing. But if there are any circumstances in which the independence or integrity of the process is called into question, that would be another matter. At the minimum, we would demand that, so far as the guarantee of independence is concerned, this must be the Boundary Commission in all but name if there is a genuine technical objection to the Boundary Commission pursuing it; where possible, Boundary Commissioners should serve; it should be effectively the same secretariat that services it and there should be the proper and normal process of consultation over any additional members so that we can be sure that this is the product of a cross-party agreement and there is no question of people who are susceptible to the Government or are supporters of them being appointed. That seems to be an entirely reasonable list of demands. I now turn to the question of the timetable. The big omission is the omission of any proper public inquiry. submit that the existence of the process of a public inquiry is an important part—not merely a usual part—of the process of consultation when a boundary redistribution takes place. I do not believe that the House would for one moment contemplate allowing a redistribution of Westminster boundaries without a proper public inquiry. Therefore, it seems to be wrong in principle to say that we should have such a redistribution of European constituency boundaries without some public inquiry element. The process allows scrutiny and cross-examination and matters often emerge during public inquiries. Most people who have been through the process would recognise that it is a valuable and, indeed, integral part of the process of scrutiny and consultation."The provision of six extra MEPs will mean that fresh boundaries are set across England, Scotland and Wales, which will be a matter for the Boundary Commission. not the Government."—[Official Report, 14 December 1992; Vol. 216, c. 35.]
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, contrary to what the Home Secretary appears to believe, the trigger for a public inquiry, which is the 500 or more electors or an interested authority, under the European Parliamentary Elections Act 1978, as amended by the Parliamentary Constituencies Act 1986, has been left out of the procedure, or am I wrong? Does he have a view on that?
I understand that the effect of the Bill is that there will not be a public inquiry, whether or not there are 500 or more electors. Obviously, we wish to see that element of public inquiry inserted in the Bill. What I find unsatisfactory about what the Home Secretary said is that we have an assertion that there is insufficient time available. However, we must examine that assertion before we simply accept it at face value.
If the hon. Gentleman's amendment is successful as a result of a decision of hon. Members, abstentions or whatever, and if the Bill is voted down—even if the amendment were successful—would we have elections on the same basis as at present? What process would be used?
The Government would have to introduce a Bill in consequence of the reasoned amendment. I hope that they would do that. That would be their clear conventional obligation in the House.
Some people, especially people outside the House, might think that the expression "public inquiry" is rather meaningless. But that is far from the case. The Boundary Commissioners have just been examining my parliamentary seat. The examination produced an initial recommendation which, after the public inquiry, was substantially changed because there was a local outcry in Lincolnshire. The commissioners have accepted the changes to their original recommendation suggested by the public. That would not be possible under the proposed procedures, and it is wrong.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) has just reminded me that about 70 per cent. of boundary changes are altered after the public inquiry. Perhaps my mind is unduly concentrated on the matter because my constituency will go through the process of a public inquiry next Monday. The public inquiry is important because Members of Parliament, parties and people who have objections often attend, so there is necessarily much more detailed consideration, as anyone who has seen the process at work will understand.
I do not want there to be any misunderstanding on this issue. The procedures will allow for consultation to take place and representations to be made after the members of the committee have published their provisional recommendations. There will certainly be opportunity for changes to be made to those provisional recommendations in the light of any representations that are made. Of course, my hon. Friend the Member for East Lindsey (Sir P. Tapsell) is right to say that there will not be a public inquiry. However, all the people who would have attended the public inquiry and wanted to make their views known will be able to make representations. The members of the committee will be perfectly able to take account of those representations and change their provisional recommendations in the light of them.
The Home Secretary is less than persuasive. Of course it is true that, according to his timetable, people will be able to make written representations. But the point that is being made to him is that in the process of an oral inquiry people can attend and the commissioners can be subject to proper scrutiny and cross-examination. I shall give evidence at the inquiry next week in my constituency.I suspect that what often happens—indeed, I am certain that it frequently happens—is that the proposals to change the Boundary Commission recommendations are driven by the interests of political parties. That is natural and entirely sensible from the standpoint of the political parties. In a process of public inquiry, such recommendations can be tested and the commissioners can decide whether they are merely a desire to sort out the boundaries in a way most convenient to a political party or whether there is a genuine objection about the way in which constituencies are represented. Therefore, I believe that the Home Secretary crucially underestimates the importance of holding an inquiry in public. We are on particularly strong ground when the reason for the truncation of the timetable is delay by the Government.
The hon. Gentleman's figure of 70 per cent. may apply to reorganisation of Westminster parliamentary constituencies, in which a ward may be moved from one constituency to another, but in a reorganisation of European parliamentary constituencies whole Westminster constituencies may be moved. The number of changes that occurred as a result of the public inquiries after the 1983 review was nowhere near 70 per cent. Does the hon. Gentleman accept that under the procedures adopted in 1978 significant changes were made through the representation system? Does he agree that the system adopted in 1978 by the Labour Government was precisely the same system as that which is being adopted this evening?
I do not believe that the hon. Gentleman is right about the current boundary changes, but, in any event, it was made clear after the 1983 review that the process would have proper public inquiries built into it from then on.The Prime Minister said in the House back in December that the normal political processes would apply through the Boundary Commission. Paragraph 7 of the schedule—perhaps the Home Secretary or whoever replies to the debate could comment on this—says that it is for the Secretary of State to
It is important to know exactly who will be responsible for making those modifications."lay the report before Parliament together with the draft of an Order in Council for giving effect, whether with or without modifications, to the recommendations contained in the report."
I refer the hon. Gentleman to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall). Moving bits of constituencies is a vastly different kettle of fish. In the current boundary changes, I have been given some remarkable fragments which bear no relation whatever to each other. It is a different matter when one moves whole constituencies. It is a much simpler process.
I do not understand why that should be a point against holding public inquiries here, because, if anything, it means that the process can be expedited in a sensible way. On any basis, there will be a relatively limited number of inquiries. In a moment I shall show how public inquiries could be built into the timetable. As I understand the Home Secretary's argument, he does not argue that there is any reason of principle for not having public inquiries. He says that he would prefer to have public inquiries, but that the time constraints simply do not allow him to do so. That should not pass without proper investigation.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that people can attend a public inquiry and have a fair crack of the whip and that, even if they do not achieve what they hoped, they recognise that justice has been seen to be done? There is a vast difference between that procedure and some shenanigans of written submissions to a faceless committee which writes back a form letter saying, "Thank you very much, Guy, but push off."
Whether that point will console me if the Boundary Commission plays around with my constituency next week, I do not know. I certainly agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is important to have a public inquiry. Otherwise, the representations are simply written and the commission will not consider any oral representations. There is no opportunity for cross-examination of key witnesses, as there is in normal inquiries. The reason why oral inquiries are held on any matter is precisely that the scrutiny is greater and more profound than when written representations are handled behind closed doors.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. He is being patient. Has he realised that we are likely to have new boundaries for every European election for some years as a result of either boundary changes to the Westminster constituencies, which are likely to need to be reflected in the European boundaries, or the enlargement of Europe, which is the cause of today's Bill? If we are likely to have changes every five years, is it not about time that we developed some agreed system that would be a great deal speedier and cleaner than the attractive but leisurely system that we have for Westminster constituencies, which takes rather more than the 10 years that it is supposed to take?
It is precisely such interventions which will worry many people in the House. The hon. Lady is saying that this is not an exceptional case and that the new procedures should become the norm. Yet the Home Secretary justified his position by saying that the new procedures were exceptional. Many people are worried that if the issue is conceded once, it will be accepted as something which should be conceded for a period of time.I return to the point that in the end the debate must be a matter of analysis of the timetable. If, as I hope to show in a moment, proper time can be found for public inquiries without undue delay, public inquiries should be held.
The point about paragraphs 7 and 8 of the schedule is crucial. Under the present arrangement, the Boundary Commission, not Ministers, will, after a draft proposal and a public inquiry, decide whether to issue an amended draft proposal. In this case, it is clear that the Minister, not the committee, will agree to issue the amended proposal. Opportunites sometimes arise for even a second public inquiry. That occurred on a previous occasion in the Finchley area, if I remember correctly. That point is crucial. It has to be transparently seen that the system has integrity from start to finish. The system will be damaged if there is no opportunity for a face-to-face verbal inquiry in which witnesses can be challenged and the commission that made the original proposal can decide whether, on the force of the arguments, to issue another proposal.
I understood that drawing up the boundaries would not involve any ministerial decision. Perhaps the Home Secretary could confirm that.
The hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) combined two points in his intervention. He made a point about face-to-face contact, which is obviously what one gets at a public inquiry. He also said that, as a result of the procedures that we propose, the original committee would not decide whether the representations that were submitted were such as to cause the original recommendations to be altered. On that, the hon. Gentleman is wrong. Members of the committee, who will make their recommendations and receive representations in exactly the same way as the Boundary Commissioners, would decide, without a public inquiry, whether, in the light of the representations, they wish to change their original recommendations. The committee will have the power to do so. In that respect, the procedures that we expect to follow will be identical to those which the Boundary Commission would follow.
I have no doubt that my hon. Friend the Member for Perry Barr will make that point again during the debate. Is the Home Secretary giving an assurance that there will be no ministerial involvement in assessing whether the provisional recommendations of the Boundary Commission are altered or modified?
The procedures would be identical to those that would otherwise be followed. The procedures always provide that when either the Boundary Commissioners or the members of the committee make their final proposals, the Home Secretary can make orders in accordance with those proposals or modify them. That is always the case. There is no difference between what we propose in the Bill and what normally takes place.The procedures will be as follows: the members of the committee will publish their provisional recommendations; they will receive representations on those recommendations and decide whether to alter their original view in the light of the representations that would be received; they will then submit their final recommendations to the Home Secretary, who will then make Orders in Council. The Home Secretary has a discretion to modify final recommendations. I cannot remember when that discretion was last exercised.
It never has been.
The hon. Gentleman says that the discretion has never been exercised. He may well be right about that. I have no reason to suppose that that practice would be any different on an occasion such as we are debating. The form and the language used for that stage of the process would be identical. I repeat what I have said time after time. Although there would not be room for a public inquiry in the process, and subject only to that omission, the procedures will mirror as closely as possible those that apply when the Boundary Commission is involved.
I accept the point that the Home Secretary makes. But the existence of the power to which he has referred adds weight to the need for a public inquiry. There is even greater pressure on the Minister not to exercise that power, because the full process of consultation will not have been completed.
The hon. Member was probably still at school at the time and may not recall the occasion when a Labour Home Secretary had the audacity to lead his troops into the Lobby against his own orders.
The hon. Lady is absolutely right. I do not remember that occasion.
I shall try to seek some compromise in this difficult situation. Would not it be in accordance with the spirit of this excellent Bill if we were simply to go home now, cancel the debate and send a written representation to the Home Secretary about what we think about the Bill? He could carefully consider those representations and then—perhaps tomorrow—let us know his conclusion. Is not the issue of a public inquiry that there is a massive difference between having a debate about something and simply sending letters that are carefully considered? Is not the matter one of principle rather than a minor bureaucratic point as some people think?
The hon. Gentleman has made his point well. The Opposition often feel that, even after a full debate, our points are not always taken on board fully.The timetable, I would submit, would allow for the public inquiry process. The consultation of the committee membership could be achieved, one would think, within days of the Bill receiving Second Reading. The committee could determine provisional recommendations certainly within a couple of weeks. Those provisional recommendations could be published, let us say, a couple of weeks later. There could be a final dale for representations. Notice of the public inquiry could be given—it could be four weeks on such a timetable. There could be then a week of public inquiries. We understand that public inquiries would be necessarily limited to a maximum of about 10 inquiries. There would be another month before final recommendations were determined, and another couple of weeks before publication. That process from giving notice of the public inquiry to the publication of the final recommendations would take about 10 weeks. Looking as reasonably as one can at the matter, it does not seem to be impossible to do that. If the Home Secretary had been able to give a clearer illustration of why that was genuinely not feasible, he would have found a greater echo in some of the comments that he made in the House. If the process were to be put back to mid-December, which is not impossible, that could be done within the proper time scale and would allow for the public inquiry to take place. I understand elements such as the transcripts and commissioners' consideration and other matters. I return to the powerful point that the Government, if anyone, are responsible for the delay. They have dragged their heels. [Interruption.] It does not lie in the mouths of Conservative Members to blame their own side.
Well, the hon. Lady may do so, but she must sort that out with the Government.It cannot be right that the delay is used as a reason for not having a proper timetable for public inquiries. I have shown, or at least raised a prima facie case, that even with the constraints of time there is room for a public inquiry. We believe that it is important that the fairness of the procedure should not be a casualty of the timetable in the Bill. There are three effective reasons why there should be an additional seat for Scotland. First, there are the special geographical considerations. If we leave out the seat for the Highlands and Islands, on the current basis Scotland does not have a much lower average electorate than England. The effect of giving England four extra seats instead of five reduces the average by only 7,000 voters per seat. The effect of giving Scotland an extra seat would be to reduce the average electorate by 55,000. If the calculation were purely numerical, the outcome would have been six, nothing, nothing—six seats for England and none for Wales or Scotland. A seat has been given to Wales and we support that. If there is one for Wales, there should also be one for Scotland. That would leave Wales and Scotland similarly balanced. I am not suggesting that there is not a case for six seats to England, none to Wales and none to Scotland or even five, one, none, but there is a strong case for the position that we are advocating. Indeed, if the Secretary of State looks at his own table, he will see the strength of that case made out, because Wales and Scotland are treated differently. We ask support for the notion that there should be an equitable distribution of the seats and a proper way of determining the redrawing of European seat boundaries. They are important matters when new boundaries are drawn up and new seats given. The procedure must be sensible and fair. It must erase any appearance of substituting some ad hoc committee run by the Government for a proper independent body. The Secretary of State has moved towards meeting the objections to independence and I accept that. However, I am not satisfied, and I do not think that my hon. Friends are either, about the issue of the public inquiry. For that reason and the other reasons that we have given, we ask for support for our reasoned amendment.
It is evident from the speeches and interventions that there is equal concern on both sides of the House for the principle of regular, fair and independent boundary reorganisation. That is a fundmental part of our democracy.It is significant that there is not the same concern for these European proposals. One must ask why my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary should espouse so fundamentally and clearly the principle of independent, regular boundary reviews—so essential to our parliamentary democracy—yet feel it possible to recommend to the House a truncated and simplified system for European boundaries. Alas, he has left the Chamber, but the fundamental difference is that Westminster boundaries matter to this House and the public, whereas fundamentally, after many years of experience with this, the Strasbourg boundaries do not. If they did, there would be no proposition such as the one before us tonight.
There is another, simpler explanation: we have a deadline of June next year.
A deadline would not be enough to undermine the principle that is so important to the House if we were talking about Westminster boundaries. I agree with my right hon. and learned Friend. I agree with the Bill. It is a matter of supreme indifference to my constituents and to most constituents whether or not these new boundaries are determined by the full Boundary Commission and public inquiries or by a committee.I would go further: I suspect that it is of supreme indifference to them whether or not they get the six extra seats. They will not cheer if the Bill is passed or weep tears if it is not. Had we declined to take these six seats, people would not be particularly upset. I admit that there are some with ambitions to represent their areas in Strasbourg or Brussels who would be disappointed, but for the vast majority that is not the case. The important message that we can deliver to the world at large following today's deliberations on the Bill is that we should now examine the logic of what we are doing and the fundamental principles on which this and previous legislation are based. I can say that as one who is on the record as having voted in November 1977 against the original direct elections Bill. I believed it wrong then, and I believe it wrong now. If one believed it wrong then, it is logical to continue one's objections to the increased number of seats and the further entrenchment of the principle of direct elections. My hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Mr. Bowden), who has now left us, was a little unkind when he referred to the general public's perception of Members of the European Parliament. I am not saying that he was wrong, but it was unkind to draw attention to the fact that most members of the public do not know their MEPs, are not aware of their role and have little contact with them. That is reflected at elections, when the percentage turnout is pathetically low. It is derisory. That is not a criticism of MEPs. They are worthy, earnest, dedicated, conscientious men. My MEP is an honourable man, as are they all. Given their remit and their constitutional role, they cannot respond as we expect elected representatives to do. That is the point that we are entitled to examine when we consider this Bill today. We now have an opportunity to examine the Bill in the light of developments in the Community and other developments, particularly one referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie). She rightly pointed to the changes that will be forced on us by the enlargement of the Community. The proposal to increase the number of seats has come to us because of the enlargement of the Community by the inclusion of eastern Germany. As enlargement progresses and the Community of 12 becomes ultimately, I hope, the Community of 20, what then? Every time we take in two or three new member states, are we to have a new Bill of this sort? If so, what are we going to do? Will we reduce the number of Members per nation so that we do not increase the size of the Parliament, or will we increase their number until we have an assembly of 1,000 members? I would find it rather amusing to be a member of such a Parliament. I suspect that it would give the same sort of pleasure as was given to the inhabitants of the tower of Babel. In practical terms, however, it cannot work. Surely it is incumbent on us now, during these interesting proceedings, to say what we want, and to ask where the European Parliament is going and what it is about.
I agree with every word of my hon. Friend. Does he accept that. if we defeat the Bill tonight and throw it out, there will be no extra MEPs in any country, because, under the Edinburgh agreement, if one country rejects the legislation, there will be no extra MEPs? Could we not save a great deal of public expenditure and avoid all the problems that he has described by agreeing to chuck out the legislation?
That is a tempting thought, but I do not feel in a destructive mood.
We should be constructive, and we should examine the Bill. After all, we have a Committee stage, when some such proposal could be tabled.Let us consider what we should do in future. I say to my hon. Friend and even to the most enthusiastic Europeans, if I may use that phrase, such as my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes), that we must consider what will work in future, because it is self-evident that the directly elected European Parliament is not working as we believe it should. It is not responsive and responsible to its electorate as a Parliament should be. The situation will not improve; it will become increasingly difficult. Therefore—this is the serious message that we must examine today, because if we do not, we shall have to return to it time and again—in the light of the enlargement of the Community, we should return to the system that we had before the 1977–78 legislation, which was nomination by this House. If we had such a system—or, at least, the option of such a system—we would not face this legislation. That is an important proposition, and soon the Community will come back to recognising the advantage of it. If, indeed, we believe in a Europe of nation states and want the central institutions to be responsive to our national legislatures, think of the advantages of returning to the system that worked rather well before 1977—that hon. Members of this House should be nominated by their parties to serve in the European Parliament. They could work there in rotation or for a limited number of years. The advantages are self-evident because, being Members of this House, they would be in touch with their electors and responsive to the real world instead of being in their ivory towers elsewhere, with electorates of some half a million. That system worked before, and I believe that it could work again. In pursuing that logic, some nations may not want to follow that pattern, but others do. If we believe in subsidiarity, it should be left to each member state to determine how it selects those Members who are to represent this nation in that Assembly. Instead of the Government simply diving into this Bill, how much better it would have been had we raised at Edinburgh and the recent negotiations the prospect of subsidiarity applying to the method of choosing Members to go to the European Assembly.
Does my hon. Friend agree that, as there have been grave doubts about the word "subsidiarity", this is an opportunity for the Government to demonstrate exactly what it means, and to have it work in this case? This is a classic case in which subsidiarity might work, yet the Government have rejected it and are producing a new invented mechanism specifically for Europe.
This debate gives us that opportunity.I repeat what I said at the beginning: it is a matter of supreme indifference to my electors how those boundaries are changed—whether by a boundary commission or a committee. That does not undermine the principle of independent boundary commissions for Parliament, where it matters for democracy, but I see no evidence to suggest that it affects real democracy in the full sense of the word, because my constituents are not influencing the democratic power of MEPs. The system does not allow for that., so it cannot be fundamentally important. We should now say, let the Government have the system. Although it is not satisfactory, they are probably right to say that there is no alternative. But let us send a message loud and clear that this is the time to re-examine the basis of the directly elected European Parliament.
I agree with the thrust of what my hon. Friend says but take issue with him on whether the powers of the European Parliament have been significantly increased under the Maastricht treaty. If this Bill is enacted, it will apply to the provisions of the Maastricht Bill, when enacted. Therefore, the powers of co-decision and all that go with them, which European parliamentarians will acquire, will be attributable to those Members who will sit in those new parliamentary constituencies.
I have heard my hon. Friend express that view about increased powers of the European Parliament, and undoubtedly there are some. I am an optimist, and believe that those powers are neither extensive nor wide, and will not grow. It is our task to try to prevent them from growing.I therefore maintain my position that it is of no great significance whether we have six more Members, because they are doing nothing effective or helpful to this country. Individually, they may be superb and they are delightful men and women, but collectively their constitutional role is muddled, and the system by which we send them to Europe is wrong. In the meantime, it does not matter what happens to those six seats. Let Scotland have them all if that makes it happy. It will do England little harm. Alternatively, Wales could have half.
My hon. Friend makes a serious point. Gibraltar is a deserving cause for representation in the European Parliament. If Luxembourg can have such a large representation, Gibraltar must be equally entitled. Let us give Gibraltar all six seats. If that is not satisfactory and we are to conform in some way, let us give them to other worthy organisations such as Age Concern, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds or the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. The matter is of no great constitutional importance.Ultimately, we must deal with the matter, and we have had no answers yet on how the European Parliament is to mould itself to a Europe of 20 separate sovereign states. There are those who will not for one moment yield the principle of direct elections, because they see them as a symbol of a nation state, albeit a federal, centralised one. To them, it is almost a principle of religious importance, because that pretension to a unitary state requires direct elections. If the converse is true, and we believe in a Europe of nation states and decentralisation, we should get away from direct elections and return to the system whereby this Westminster Parliament nominates Members to the European Assembly.
I had a great deal of respect for the hon. Member for Faversham (Sir R. Moate) and did not believe that I would hear such a frivolous speech. It horrifies me because if we want to take our membership of the European Community seriously, as I believe the majority in the House and the country do, to treat the matter so frivolously does no justice to the House of Commons. I am extremely disappointed in the hon. Gentleman.There is a role for national Parliament. Because of changes in the Community, which will undoubtedly occur within the next few years as a result of increased membership, the nature of the European Parliament will change. To try to keep the numbers sensible, it may mean a reduction in the number of directly-elected Members for each existing member state, and there will probably be a role for a second chamber made up of members of national Parliaments. That would provide a check and a balance. Each stage of democracy should have checks and balances built into it. I see possibilities there, although I do not wish to pursue the matter in detail. I do not accept that the principle of subsidiarity applies in this case. I agree that a case can be made for it but it has no strength simply because, if the European Parliament is to be treated seriously, bring the Commission to heel and have some control over what happens within the Commission, it is important that that Parliament is elected on a common, uniform basis and in a way that is compatible within Parliament. If each member state could send Members there on a wholly different basis—some elected, some appointed and others in different forms—it would negate the strength of a possible powerful check on the Commission by a democratically-elected European Parliament. I therefore do not accept the argument that each member state should be able to choose how it sends members to the European Parliament. We are debating an important issue. We should not say that the turnout in the elections does not matter. As democrats, we should encourage maximum turnout at every election as part of the democratic process. It is up to our constituents to choose whether to participate in the debates. We should not argue that they do not care about the election and that we need not bother them with public inquiries as they can send letters. We should not tell them that that body and that election do not matter and that therefore their votes have no value. That sends a terrible signal to our constituents about what we think of the worth of their participation in how their country is governed. I say that in the widest sense because not all power now resides in this House. Over time some of our powers have gone to the greater good of the European Community. On the whole, our constituents benefit from that, so it does not behove us to say that the elections do not count and that therefore it does not matter about the mechanism for those elections. It is more crucial for this country than for the other countries of western Europe. I freely declare my view that the elections should be based on proportional representation, as should the elections to this House. But I shall not pursue that matter today. This is the only country in Europe that elects Members of Parliament on a single constituency, first-past-the-post arrangement. That has a destabilising effect on the composition of the European Parliament because, as we know from the 1989 election, a small change in the way the electorate votes can make a huge difference to the party representation of Great Britain in the European Parliament. The other member states are rightly aggrieved by that because they all subscribe to a system of proportionality by which representation is reflected in proportion to the votes cast for parties. Our system is not proportional and we make no attempt to make it so except in Northern Ireland. That alters the party groupings in the European Parliament, the time available for speaking and the composition of its committees, and that is wholly disproportionate to the wishes of voters throughout Europe. Other countries have every reason to be aggrieved by Britain's slow progress on our commitment to a better and fairer system. The Labour party conducted a long review of electoral procedures and systems. I attended all 28 of the meetings which were chaired by Lord Plant of Highfield. At our final meeting there was only one vote against recommending our party to subscribe to proportional voting based on a regional list system for the European Parliament. That view has been endorsed by my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the Opposition, and I am certain that it will be carried at our annual conference in the autumn. By the end of the year and before the next Euro-elections Labour will be committed to a proportional system for those elections. I regret that the Government have not taken the opportunity presented by the Bill to bring our system up to date in line with article 138 and the proposals endorsed by a committee of the European Parliament in March. Those proposals would enable England, Scotland and Wales to retain single member constituencies up to a maximum of two thirds, the other third to involve a system of proportional top-up so that votes are matched to the representation of the political parties. Hon. Members think that people vote on an individual basis and that we have huge personal votes, but in European constituencies, with electorates of 500,000, people will vote on a party basis. The nature of our representation in the European Parliament should reflect that vote.
I welcome the hon. Gentleman's comments on proportionality. Has he looked at the implications for Scotland, Wales and England separately, bearing in mind that Scotland and Wales each have four major political parties whereas England tends to have three? There should not be a cross-boundary transfer of votes: representation should reflect the votes cast in Scotland, Wales and England.
I accept that without equivocation and, of course, that applies in some other member states. However, because they use proportional systems, the small parties in those states are not snuffed out. In the nations of Scotland and Wales the parties represent large proportions of the electorate. Political parties are in the process of competition and of maximising support for their ideals and principles. It is not our role to organise systems to snuff out other parties. A proportional system, however it is based, must reflect the nature of the nationalist vote and other votes in Scotland and Wales. The dilution of the English vote must not be used to snuff that out.
Under the hon. Gentleman's proposal, would there be a national list system or a list system for the different component parts of the United Kingdom?
I think I said that we propose a regional list system for the European Parliament. Regions can be drawn in different ways but clearly Northern Ireland would be designated as a region and in that context would not be attached to any part of the mainland because that would not form a cohesive whole that any hon. Member could recommend. Scotland and Wales would be separate regions: it would be difficult to propose otherwise. The regions of England would need to be examined.That is Labour's general proposal but we have not dotted all the i's and crossed all the t's because the detail is a matter for negotiation between the parties in the House and interested bodies outside. It is not for one political party to say, "This is what will happen." The Secretary of State is effectively saying through the Bill what will happen and there will not be proper discussion.
The hon. Gentleman is well known for his pioneering work in his party and outside on these matters. Was not it a great tragedy that in 1977 the Labour Government cynically removed the regional list construction from the original draft Bill and went instead for giant constituencies? The latest disappointment also is that there will not be an additional member system for the six seats.
I am not in favour of rewriting history. On a free vote the House had a choice between single member constituencies—the huge existing ones—and a regional list system. A schedule to the Bill that the hon. Gentleman mentions contained both systems. I voted for first-past-the-post, single member constituencies, but since then I have seen the disbenefits of that system in local, regional and national elections and I have changed my mind. There is nothing wrong in learning from one's experience: I thought that that was what life was all about. Such systems were proposed during the time of the Lib-Lab pact. The last Labour Government recommended that the House support the regional list system, but on a free vote the House chose not to do so.My hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) spoke about Scotland. In his speech, the Home Secretary repeated words from a Home Office press release. The idea of fairness in elections is a new Home Office concept. On pure arithmetical fairness the proportions are 5:1:0—five to England, one to Wales and none to Scotland. To try to rule on the basis of arithmetical fairness, ignoring community interests, Britain's political geography and the nations that make up the United Kingdom, would not take account of the aspirations and opinions within the United Kingdom. Therefore, I could support an extra seat for Scotland. I wish that the city of Birmingham had the same representation as the city of Glasgow, but as a result of agreements over time Scotland is over-represented because of its geographical position and the historical understandings that have served the nation well. I am prepared to live with that. We do not propose the imposition of a uniform system. The Government have an arithmetical case but political logic demands that Scotland should have an extra seat.
I am not sure where the hon. Gentleman stands on the issue of one man, one vote, but surely the essential issue is that individuals are voting and not land masses. Therefore, the arithmetic makes a difference. It is people, not space, and the natural formula to follow is based on arithmetic.
If it were just a question of arithmetic, there would not be various shaped constituencies for this House. Massive deviations are accepted, even at a time of boundary redistribution, over and above the arithmetical figure. America follows the arithmetic almost to the last 0·5 per cent., which means joining together districts that have no affinity just to make the numbers right. That is the problem with first-past-the-post, single-member constituencies and we have to live with that. It is one reason why I no longer subscribe to that system.This House and the European Parliament should reflect, on a party basis, the votes cast in the ballot box, and that can be achieved by using one of a number of PR systems, whether single-member based with a regional top-up, a list or multi-member single transferable vote, as in Northern Ireland. That is the only way to get around the arithmetical difficulty of every constituency not being the same size. I want to raise the issue of delay in bringing this matter before the House. In some ways this debate, in which my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield has forcefully argued against the snuffing out of public participation in the way that the boundaries are drawn, is happening only because of that delay. One would think that no one knew that there would be a delay. We seem to be overlooking the fact that from July to December last year Britain held the European presidency. When the Prime Minister went to the Edinburgh summit, it did not come as a surprise to him that there would be extra seats. I corresponded with the Prime Minister on that issue between October and March. I want to share some of that correspondence with the House. On 23 November, in response to a question about the size of the European Parliament, the right hon. Gentleman wrote:
I checked the newspapers—although I did not do a massive Sherlock Holmes job—and I could not find a single account of the Prime Minister, during the presidency, raising the matter in the House or in the country. No briefing emanated from No. 10, prior to Edinburgh, about public participation in or soundings with other member states about the issues surrounding extra seats. The Prime Minister also said in that letter:"We are, as Presidency, doing all we can to work for a solution … We are taking soundings with other member states before Edinburgh."
That agreement was reached at Edinburgh a few weeks later."As far as the redrawing of European Parliamentary constituency boundaries is concerned, various options for doing this are being considered, but I am confident that we can work out a solution once an agreement on the number of seats has been reached."
Does the hon. Gentleman recall that it was Germany's absolute insistence that it should have 18 additional seats—despite the fact that it had previously said that it would not press for them—that precipitated this process? It is another example of our giving in, as we always do in Europe, to the overall pressures exerted by the Christian Democrats and the European People's party, and all that goes with that. That is the real reason for this Bill.
That is xenophobic nonsense. If the structure of the European Parliament is to reflect the people in the nation states, while ensuring that small nations like Luxembourg are not snuffed out, the representation of countries such as Britain, France, Italy and Germany—which all had roughly the same size populations before reunification—must now be adjusted to take account of German reunification. Germany virtually absorbed another nation state of 17 million to 18 million citizens, so it deserves greater representation. No other member state deserves greater representation. On the basis of arithmetical fairness, there would be extra seats for Germany but none for any other country.It is political logic that has resulted in not just Britain, France and Italy, but all the other countries, except Luxembourg, gaining extra seats. Political logic is the very argument that we would use for Scotland.
Would not the correct solution have been simply to have given Germany extra seats to reflect its greater population after reunification? The complication has arisen because the French were afraid of losing out to the Germans.
All this happened a long time ago, at the Edinburgh summit last December. There has been plenty of time for the issues to be resolved.In my correspondence with the Prime Minister, I said that while we held the presidency Britain should give a democratic lead to Europe by pushing to have the issue resolved. On 30 December, having reached agreement at Edinburgh, he responded:
He also referred to the importance of the European Parliament being able increasingly to scrutinise the Commission. That is crucial, but nothing happened. There was silence. The Government put forward no proposals for how that would be done. By February, I had become quite angry and I accused the right hon. Gentleman of seeking to delay the issue to create the conditions for an electoral coup d'etat and have boundaries drawn behind closed doors. That is what will happen under the Bill. It is important to put his response on the record. In his letter of 16 March he said:"This breakthrough will give us time to redraw constituency boundaries in time for the June 1994 elections."
I should have hoped that it went without saying that"the question of how to allocate the extra seats is far from simple. It needs to be considered carefully, and it will be considered carefully. Consultation with Opposition parties will form part of the process. But I am not prepared to discredit the system by forcing colleagues into making unduly hasty and ill-considered judgments".
This Bill does not maintain that integrity. Boundaries will be drawn up behind closed doors, without public scrutiny or participation. Some might take the view that the European elections do not matter. My view is that all elections matter when our constituents are asked to exercise political choice through the ballot box. Anything we do to devalue the procedure for next year's European elections will, at some future time, be used as the thin end of the wedge to undermine what happens in local government and, probably, in this place."one of our main concerns will be to ensure that whatever methods are used should be seen to be independent of political considerations. Our proposals will maintain the integrity of this country's democratic traditions."
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I had intended to sit down, but as the hon. Gentleman has been generous himself I shall give way first.
In view of the hon. Gentleman's strong feelings and the vehemence with which he expresses them, it would be of interest to many Conservative Members if he would confirm that he will be voting against the Bill.
I shall vote for the reasoned amendment—
The reasoned amendment sets out the reasons for our opposition to the Government's proposals. The key reason is the damage to the integrity of the democratic process in our electoral system. That should concern all Conservative Members, whether or not they are classed as Euro-sceptics. Labour Members should be concerned about whether or not we support the move to a more unified Europe. Any damage to the integrity of our elections to the European Parliament could in future be used to damage the integrity of our elections to this place. I am not prepared to stand to one side and keep quiet about that.
You have had to listen to all the Euro-assurances over the year, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I am sure that you are sad that so many of them are subsequently broken or thrown aside.I remind those on the Government Front Bench that in 1978, when there was an unusual election system without the Boundary Commission having its proper representation, we were told that it would never happen again. Absolutely key assurances were given, while some people were yawning, yet now we are again being told, despite this Bill, that it will not happen again. Others have mentioned the obvious objections to the Bill. I hope that the Government will not disregard the Scottish point. Although it does not matter all that much where the seats go, to give one to Wales but not to Scotland could be regarded as rather unfortunate, or even as a slight on Scotland. One reason for that is the figures. If the Government were to distribute the seats 4:1:1, the representation for Scotland and Wales would be almost identical. It would be 440,000 for Wales and 436,000 for Scotland. However, with no extra Scottish seat, there would be 444,000 electors for each seat in Wales, and 491,000 electors for each seat in Scotland, so a Scottish Euro-constituency is far bigger than a Welsh one. We should not forget that the spirit of the Act of Union was that Scotland would get more representation. As my hon. Friends often complain, we have 71 Scottish Members of Parliament, when we should have a far smaller number on proportional representation, but we are guaranteed that number of seats. Although, to my knowledge, the EC was not mentioned in the Act of Union 1707, my understanding of the distribution of European seats was that we should try to maintain the spirit of that Act. I know that it does not matter all that much, and I do not care a great deal where the seats go, but I hope that the Government will not disregard the fact that silly little slights can be taken very badly in Scotland. I am sure that the Minister of State, Home Office will also be well aware that some of us are suspicious about the Government's preference for Wales. During the recent Maastricht debate, those dreadful Welsh nationalists were jumping up and down to do whatever the Government told them. We had the impression that, if the Government had told the Welsh nationalists to walk into the centre of Trafalgar square and say, "Long live red socialism," while standing on their heads, they would have done it. The Scottish nationalists, by comparison, showed a healthy independence by voting in a more sensible way, and certainly not as Tory stooges. Quite apart from the obvious issue of not being unkind to Scotland in a foolish way, we should bear in mind the fact that anything the Government now give to Wales but not to Scotland will be viewed against the grave suspicion that they are honouring or trying to reward their friends—those little Welsh nationalists.
My hon. Friend could offer his Scottish compatriots a certain amount of reassurance. Not only will they still be relatively over-represented in the House, but many English seats and English European seats are also represented by Scotsmen.
Right hon. and hon. Members should not think that I am trying to make a case for giving seats to Scotland and Wales. Arithmetically, there is no case, but if one gives a toffee apple to one child, one should give one to the other as well. I am sure that the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing) will say that it is not right to mention children, and that we should talk about brothers. I apologise for that mistake. I withdraw it absolutely, and I hope that she will not quote me, in Glasgow or elsewhere.From a democratic point of view, which I am sure all Southend residents will share, we are concerned about the casual attitude to democracy stemming from the EC. We have a democratic right to a public inquiry about constituencies. That right has been chucked aside simply because it is a Euro-matter, and because of the alleged time scale. The other day, I asked the Minister how many letters he had written to the Boundary Commission. The answer was that there had been no correspondence. The Government could have involved the Boundary Commission had they started a little earlier. They could still do it now, although some of their work might have to be set aside, but l hope that the Government will try to make sure that we have a public inquiry. I am more worried about clause 2(2), which is the kind of thing that King Charles used to do. That splendid chap Oliver Cromwell, who did a great deal of good for Britain, chopped off the king's head because he spent money and acted without parliamentary approval. The Clerks will have seen that, in clause 2(2), the Government are setting up a committee, and we are letting them spend money before the House of Commons approves it. I did not think that the Home Office would be associated with such measures; it is what we expect of the Foreign Office. The Home Office is saying, "We are presenting a Bill and we want to spend the money and appoint people before we have parliamentary approval." That is wrong, but we should not get too excited because, as we all know, our democracy is being set aside, washed away and chucked in the bucket as a direct result of our European involvement. Every right hon. and hon. Member knows what is going on and is sad to disregard it. However, I shall put three brief points to the Government. If we chucked out the Bill, no European country, whether Belgium or the Republic of Ireland, would have any extra MEPs. Would that be a good or a bad thing? First, I hope that hon. Members will bear in mind the Government's problems with financing. The Government face horrible problems with money. I am told they are now borrowing so much money that income tax will have to go up by 2½ p next year just to pay the interest on the money we are borrowing this year. So we should watch the money. Appointing extra MEPs will cost a great deal of money. The basic salary of an MEP from Britain is £30,800. There will be a subsistence allowance of £128 a day for every day spent away from home, an attendance allowance of £130 a day for every day they sign on at the European Parliament, an allowance of £52,692 for secretarial and research costs, and an additional allowance for other office costs of £23,060. Then, of course, there are travelling expenses, so the total is £40,000.
I am sorry to be late in interrupting him, but may I take the hon. Gentleman back to the point about the legal consequences of the United Kingdom not taking up the six extra seats? Why is he arguing that, if the United Kingdom chooses not to take up the extra six seats, that necessarily has consequences for other countries? It was not a treaty change; it was a decision of the European Council, and it could well follow that, simply because the United Kingdom chose not to elect six extra MEPs, that would have no effect on the other 11 member states.
I do not have the details, but it was an agreement, not a treaty. The agreement required member states to take appropriate action. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to say that it is not in the treaty, but the wording is such that, if one country does not take the steps, the others are unable to do so. As the European Parliament, with 500 MEPs, costs about £390 million, and this little Parliament costs £175 million, we should bear in mind the costs.The second reason why we should be reluctant to appoint more MEPs is that it would be an insult to Gibraltar. It is totally wrong that right hon. and hon. Members are not prepared to consider the dreadful situation there. It is in the EC, but it is not in the EC. The problems we had with Spain and the need to stay friends with Spain involved various deeds and arrangements in the Council of Ministers and elsewhere, and means that we are treating Gibraltar with contempt. For example, Gibraltar's attempts to build its own little airport have been turned aside by the European Court, because Gibraltar is not in charge of anything. It is the only part of Europe without representation, it does not have the same rights as French or Portuguese overseas territories. It would be an insult to Mr. Bossano and his excellent democratic Government and to all the people of Gibraltar, in which I have no interest except love and affection for good democrats, were we not to do something before we appoint more MEPs. Finally, before we appoint more MEPs and agree to spend more money, we have to face up to the financial consequences for political parties in the United Kingdom. I have been astonished to see everyone getting so worked up and excited about Mr. Asil Nadir and possibly the money he has given to the Conservative party. People say that that is bad and unreasonable, but nobody is considering the fact that the European Parliament and the parties in it are keeping the political parties of Britain alive. No one seems to be concerned about that. There is concern about the possibility of graft, corruption and the influence that some chap from Turkey is going to exert over Ministers, but no one is prepared to consider what the European Parliament and European funding—basically slush funding—are doing to political parties in the United Kingdom. The amount of money involved is enormous. People are not prepared to consider what will happen to the parties and how much more money will be spent if the Bill is passed and there are more MEPs. The amount of money spent on MEPs in 1988 was £26 million—on what are regarded as the operating expenses of political groups, the European information campaign, the purchase of data processors, the hire and maintenance of equipment and other activities. That clever man Jean-Marie Le Pen is, I understand, concerning the Scottish Labour party by planning to visit Edinburgh. It should not worry, because this year Mr. Le Pen has held conferences in Paris, Dublin, Rome, Vienna, Venice, London, Lisbon, Madrid and Nice. Such conferences are lovely, because there are about four hours of discussion—
The hon. Gentleman will be pleased to know that Labour Members are not at all concerned about Mr. Le Pen, because, happily, a few hours ago, he announced that he was not visiting Edinburgh. That is a welcome decision for Scotland.
If that is a welcome decision for Scotland, it is a bad one for the five-star hotels. The hon. Gentleman will be well aware that, when Mr. Le Pen and his friends go places, they stay in five-star hotels—all Euro-funded with taxpayers' money.When I meet poor people in Southend and elsewhere who are short of cash and need things doing in their council houses, the fact that those guys are regularly holding great conferences, staying in five-star hotels and not discussing anything but having a glorious time at public expense annoys me. If the Bill goes through, with the help of the Home Office, there will be more money for such events. I have heard all kinds of stories about the Labour party. I do not want to single the Labour party out, because I am sure that all parties are the same. I have heard astonishing tales of the amount of funding from European Parliament funds that goes to the United Kingdom Labour party. I have tried to find out about that. I have heard astonishing tales about allegedly letting properties, making money for the provision of information and making money for the provision of figures for the United Kingdom Conservative party. I have heard astonishing tales—in fairness, they are not so bad—about the Liberal Democrats because of the special relationship they have with the European Liberals. The parties are not associated. My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) will accept that the People's party, which seems to be the one linked with the Conservatives, does not support Conservative policy at all, but is in favour of federalism and social charters, which I am told our party is against. I tried to find out how much money is being made. I consulted our splendid House of Commons Library, and it consulted the European Parliament office first. That office said that, if there is any information available about all the money received by the political parties from Europe, it will be available through the political groups in Strasbourg. Our splendid Library staff then went to the European Parliamentary Labour party and the London Office, EPP group, of British Conservatives, to see whether they could supply details of income received via the European Parliament. The Library said:
That is terrible because, sadly, as we know, our country is insolvent, and the political parties are too. Everybody seems to be worried about how they can be subject to influence and how my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East and his friends may get their arms twisted by people from Turkey and Cyprus. Should we not be worried about the Euro slush fund that is keeping the parties going? As my hon. Friend the Member for East Hampshire (Mr. Mates) said in his personal statement yesterday, people deserve to be told. I hope that, before we pass the Bill, the Government will say that, before we agree to more MEPs and more money—all the slush funds to keep parties going and officers paid and events paid for and the handing out of lots of money—people should be told—"I am afraid that neither was enthusiastic about supplying figures".
My hon. Friend is again making a powerful point. We all have a great deal of respect for our right hon. Friend the Minister. It is open to him to get in touch with central office before he gets to his feet later, and he could probably satisfy my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East by telling him precisely how much money the Conservative party has received from European sources over the last year.
I am sure that all the parties are the same. We have all read about overseas accounts. That splendid chap Lord McAlpine, a great British patriot, knew all about such numbered accounts. My hon. Friend the Member for East Hampshire, a straight and honourable chap, is not aware of such events. It is not his fault that he works so hard for his constituents that he sometimes does not know about some of the devious ploys that are adopted by political parties-such as numbered accounts in Jersey and so on. One cannot find out about that, so even if the Minister—
Would my hon. Friend accept, following the point that he made to my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow), that it may be extremely difficult for the Conservative party to he able to give exact figures of the amount of money given in the Conservative cause in respect of the European People's party, because its policies are diametrically opposed to those espoused by the Government in relation to European matters? It would be an absolute scandal if we are taking any money off them.
That is crucial. I hope that the Minister will think about that. I accept that that party's policies are different from the British Tory policies. It wants to do more ridiculous Euro-things. If that party is providing the cash, what kind of influence will that have? Will the Government say that they do not like the EC or make such statements? The vice-chairman of the Conservative party, who works so hard and sometimes pops into debates, will be well aware that, if that party were to develop totally different policies on the EC, it could have frightening consequences for Euro-funding.We know that the Conservative party is facing a crisis, like all parties. Piles of cash are coming from the EC to the European Parliament fund. That affects not only political parties, but the CBI. I have tried to find out by writing time after time and asking how much money the CBI gets from the Euopean boys for providing information, providing seminars and all the rest of it. It will not tell me. If we have more MEPs, as suggested in the Bill, it is time that we had the facts from the EC and from this Parliament about where the money goes and who gets it. If there is one thing we are entitled to know in Britain, it is where the European money goes and to whom. My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East knows more about European money than anybody.
Do I assume that my hon. Friend is in favour of the disclosure down to the last pound of all the accounts of the Bruges group?
If a British taxpayer or the taxpayer in Europe is putting money into something, they should be told where it is going. If my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East—I appreciate there are not so many wealthy people these days, because they are members of Lloyd's—wants to give his money to the Bruges group, or to any other group, that is a matter for him. Is taxpayers' money being handed over to promote political efforts and to twist the arms of political parties? I noticed how all the political parties are becoming more and more pro-EC. Why" They say that it is not like that, but they are provided with accommodation and with information.On the basis of private conversations that I cannot repeat in detail, a former MEP, who was a senior official of the Conservative party, told me that lots of money is going. I also know, from a member of the Labour party who might be unreliable but who seems to be a good chap and supports a good football team, that the same thing is happening in his party. Perhaps the right hon. Member for Strangford (M r. Taylor) can tell us more about what happens in the Ulster Unionist party. He is someone I know I can rely on. If we are to have more MEPs and spend money on them, we should insist in Committee, with the help of the Labour party, which has always stood for the working man, freedom, liberty and straightness, that every penny of taxpayers' money going to political parties is disclosed. Then at least we would know what is happening. I see that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary has kindly come back for my speech and I am grateful that he has returned to hear me. I hope that the Government can give three minor assurances. First, there should be full disclosure of public funding from the European Parliament for political parties. Secondly, we should sort out Gibraltar, which is terribly important. Thirdly, which is also important, as long as we can avoid additional costs, the right thing to do is to do what we should do with all these Bills: we should pay no attention to them. When the vote comes, we should perhaps not express an opinion. The real work comes in Committee. We shall want to keep asking many questions and we shall insist on getting answers. With a new Home Secretary who is prepared to get on with the police, which is an amazing step forward, we look forward to straightforward, honourable answers. I hope that we shall get them.
Membership of the European Community, to which this country assented in a referendum—the hon. Member for Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor) does not seem to have come to terms with the result, never mind a number of subsequent events—carries with it the requirement in international law to move towards a common system of election to the European Parliament. I regret the fact that since it became clear that the European Community would seek to enlarge the European Parliament to take account of the adherence of East Germany, the Government have done nothing to advance towards the fulfilment of that international obligation.The Government have stood on the sidelines, despite the fact that Britain held the presidency for the last six months of last year while these matters were discussed in the European Parliament. Today, the Home Secretary opened his speech by stating his intention, on behalf of the Government, to exercise a veto against the other 11 member countries of the European Community if they introduced a proposal for a proportional system of election. That smacks of the old saw, "Storm in the channel; continent isolated." Yet again, it appears that the Government wish Britain to stand alone, at odds with the growing consensus within the European Community and without any regard to the consequences for this country's standing and influence in the institutions of the Community. The Bill is unfortunate in that it takes us no nearer the objective of a common electoral system and simply reinforces the discrepancies caused by our system of first past the post. That not only results in our unrepresentative contributions—approximately one quarter of the electorate is unrepresented in the European Parliament—but has the distorting effect of shifting the balance within the European Parliament for other countries as well. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) made the point forcefully and I need not labour it. As a matter of comity, it is time that the Government recognised that we do these things not only to our own damage, but to the damage of the institutions to which we subscribe. Even by the standards of British constitutionalism, the Bill falls far short of what might have been expected. It does not build on our experience of altering European parliamentary boundary seats by establishing boundary commissions and acting on their recommendation after a proper process of scrutiny. The hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) pointed to the length of time that has elapsed between it becoming clear that an additional six seats would be made available to this country—it is fair to say that that realisation pre-dates Edinburgh, although the change was confirmed at Edinburgh—and the Government's explanation of what they propose to do. There was no White Paper, there was no Green Paper and there was no statement. No explanation was given in answers to parliamentary questions or in letters to Members of Parliament, and there was no debate in the House. I do not believe that that is an appropriate way in which this country should strengthen its democratic participation in the European Community. On looking at the terms of the Bill, the position appears to be even more disturbing. The Government are taking it on themselves to establish a committee that will decide what recommendations to make to the Home Secretary, who in turn, under paragraphs 7 and 8 of the schedule, will present them to the House of Commons, subject to such modifications as may be decided on. It is not clear on the face of the Bill whether the modifications are intended to be made as a result of the recommendations of the partisan committee. It is clear on the face of the Bill that the changes may be made by the Home Secretary. That is simply an outrage. There may be a precedent that gives the Home Secretary a residual power in such matters under the conventions of this country. Such oddities of constitutional practice certainly exist. But, to my knowledge, it is not a convention that has ever been followed by a Home Secretary.
The power has never been used, but it is part of the legislation on boundary reviews. The Bill merely repeats what is in existing legislation. My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary's determination was to depart as little as possible from the previous wording. I dare say that he will depart as little as possible from previous practice and that he will not want to present modifications. However, he has that power. It is written into existing legislation that deals with boundary reviews.
The Minister confirms my reading of the Bill. He confirms that the Home Secretary intends to retain a power that, in the context of a procedure involving public inquiries and public representations in which objections can be made, might have no serious consequences. However, in the context of this procedure, in which a committee, appointed by the Home Secretary, is not required to accept representations in the form of public appeal procedures and is not provided in statute with arrangements for modifying its recommendations and publishing them in the normal way, it is a dangerous power. It is an erosion of our normal democratic standards and it undermines the integrity of our democratic institutions.That such a step should he taken at all is bad. What concerns me is not only the issue of the six seats, but the fact that the procedure is a precedent which will, no doubt, be built on again. The Government give scant regard to the fragile conventions that hold democracy together in this country. When they do not like a local government, they wind it up entirely. How can we take any comfort from the assurances that were given by the Home Secretary earlier in the debate that he does not envisage using this power? I turn from the inadequacies of the proposed procedures to what might have been included in the Bill. If there is a timing problem—I am not convinced that there is, and what the hon. Member for Sedgefield said about the alternative timetable was extremely compelling—it could be eliminated entirely by adopting a proportional system of election that would not require the Boundary Commission, still less this bastard committee, to determine boundaries. On the basis of five seats for England and one for Wales, which is the Government's choice—or on the basis, which we believe is more appropriate and which the Labour party has expressed to be more appropriate, of four seats for England and one each for Wales and Scotland—the new seats could have been allocated according to the largest average vote system, under which the number of votes cast for each party would be divided by the number of seats won by that party, plus one. That system operates effectively in the Federal Republic of Germany. It results in a greater proportionality of distribution of seats and in the votes cast for election to the European Parliament being reflected in the number of members elected to the European Parliament. Few objective people would deny that we have an unjust system. Had we had such a proportional system as I recommend—we should prefer, like the hon. Member for Perry Barr and the Plant commission, to which the Leader of the Opposition subscribes, a regional list system—we should not have found that more than 2 million people who voted for the Greens in this country at the last elections for the European Parliament did not have a single representative in that Parliament. It was the biggest vote cast for the Green party throughout Europe, but it has no representation in the European Parliament. Furthermore, in 1985 there would not have been a comparable discrimination against those who voted for the alliance parties. Under such a system as I have advocated, the alliance parties would have had some 15 seats. The Bill is highly defective and should not be passed. We shall therefore vote for the amendment that has been selected by Madam Speaker, though it does not go as far as I would wish it to go in criticising the Government. Furthermore, we shall vote against Second Reading. In doing so, I must make it plain that we have no wish to disfranchise the 17 million East Germans. We wish merely to succumb to the irresistible temptation, after 15 years, to enfranchise 25 per cent. of the British electorate. We recognise that it is time for this issue to be faced squarely by our Government. In March of this year, proposals were advanced in the European Parliament. We are proud of the fact that the action that we as a party took in the European Court, in which we ought to establish the right of the citizens of this country to a fair voting system, assisted in the process of concentrating minds upon the need to implement the international obligation to move towards a common system of fair voting. We wish that to be done as soon as may be. We do not believe that the Government will be able to adopt this stand-pat position, which the Home Secretary described at the beginning of the debate as the exercise of the veto, for much longer. Justice will be done.
I begin by referring to the provisions in the Bill with which the Home Secretary dealt in his speech. As he mentioned that the Bill is governed to a certain extent by procedures similar to those adopted for previous European parliamentary occasions, I should point out that in 1978 when the proposals—on which, I understand, we rely to some extent for precedent—were first put forward, the powers of that assembly were very different. It was by no means the same kind of Parliament as is envisaged under the Maastricht treaty proposals. Furthermore, it did not meet the aspirations of those who would like to take us further and deeper into a more integrated Europe.It is important not to allow the Home Secretary to skip over the fact that it is not the 1978 Act, as originally presented to the House and enacted, with which we are concerned when it comes to the main constitutional changes proposed in the Bill. Under the Parliamentary Constituencies Act 1986, very significant changes were made to the 1978 Act and it is to those provisions that I wish to refer because they are now part of the 1978 Act, as amended in 1986. As I pointed out in an intervention, it is those provisions which provide, under paragraph 5(a) of schedule 2, for the Boundary Commission, if it thinks fit in respect of European parliamentary constituencies, to cause a local inquiry to be held in respect of any European parliamentary constituency or constituencies. It is not simply a question of whether, in respect of Westminster, the Government are somehow dodging and weaving—we are talking about the European parliamentary constituencies as stipulated in the 1986 Act. Therefore, the point made by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr ( Mr. Rooker), by my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Sir R. Moate) and by other hon. Members about the Westminster comparison is not wide of the mark—they are dealing with the essential principle. What some of them have not observed, however, is that this is a provision which already applies in respect of European parliamentary constituencies. The commission of the offence is thus compounded by the fact that in 1986 our own Government made provisions of a kind which I believe ought to apply in this Bill. The problem goes deeper than that. As I pointed out—I am anxious to be corrected if this is wrong, because beneath all this verbiage there is a certain complexity and the Bill has been drafted with considerable skill—one could be forgiven for thinking, when looking at schedule 2, that sometimes it refers to the principal Act and sometimes to the 1986 Act. One has to work out precisely which Act one is talking about at any given moment in time. Under paragraph 5(a), not only is the Boundary Commission empowered to cause a local inquiry to be held in respect of European parliamentary constituencies, but where it receives representations objecting to the proposed recommendation from an interested authority, that is to say, a county council, a district, a London borough, or a body of electors numbering 500 or more, the commission shall—not "may"—not make recommendations unless, since publication of the notice, a local inquiry has been held in respect of the European parliamentary constituency. In a recent enactment of the House in respect of the European parliamentary constituency question, there is an obligation not only to have a Boundary Commission review, but to follow simple prescribed procedures. The simple reason for that is that it is not possible for people's views to be taken into account properly unless a public or local inquiry is held. Within that inquiry, there are also provisions with regard to the application of the Local Government Act 1972 procedures, which govern the manner in which inspectors or persons holding such inquiries conduct their proceedings. I remember that in some ancient tome somebody once said that justice is to be found in the interstices of procedure. If we look a little downstream in respect of the procedures that were proposed for the Parliamentary Constituencies Act 1986 as applied to the European Parliamentary Elections Act 1978, we find that for the purposes of any such local inquiry the person appointed to hold that inquiry may by summons require any person to attend at a time and place, give evidence, produce documents and take evidence on oath. There are further provisions with respect to whether people can be imprisoned if they give false evidence. I am not suggesting for one moment that it would automatically follow that those powers would be required, but it appears to me that in respect of the boundary proposals under the committee of men, who I have no doubt will be very distinguished—
They will certainly all be men.
Hopefully it will be a committee of men and women. They will be appointed and, as has already been pointed out by hon. Members, they will not be subject to any of the procedures to which I have referred.I was a little disconcerted by the reply of my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary to one of my interventions. He suggested that the procedures being followed were in all material respects the same as those being followed in respect of Boundary Commissions for Westminster, let alone the European parliamentary constituencies. I have to admit that I was a little concerned about that. If, as my right hon. and learned Friend alleges, there is no substantial difference between the provisions of the Bill and the procedures set out in the 1978 and 1986 Acts, I am bound to ask why we are not allowed to have those arrangements, bar only the question of a local inquiry. How long would all this take? As we are dealing with relatively few, large constituencies, would it have made any difference if we had had local inquiries? I imagine that all the relevant material is already accumulating in the Boundary Commission's computers as a result of the current review. Most of the raw material, which takes time to accumulate, would already be available. I therefore cannot see that there should be much delay. I am sure that the Minister of State, Home Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Fareham (Mr. Lloyd), will enlighten me if I am wrong, as I hope that I am in this respect, but I understand that the interested authorities and the 500 electors that I have mentioned are being excluded. That is the essence of the operation. As local representatives and individuals, they should have an opportunity to make their objections known because funny things happen on the way to boundary reviews and it is very important that we get this right. I hope that the Minister of State will correct me if I am wrong.
It will be quite possible for them to make their feelings felt and to make their points, but, alas, they will have to do so in writing because there will almost certainly not be time for the normal local reviews which have been a feature of normal Boundary Commissions in the past. However, the committees will expect to hear from interested parties and will take careful note of what they are told. If there is time, some of the interested parties will be seen and heard.
I have always had the greatest faith in my hon. Friend the Minister, but I am not terribly convinced by that reply. It is not a question of the integrity of the so-called three wise men. The point relates to the functions that they are given which enable them, within the statutory arrangements that we are enacting—with or without their abilities, capacity and function—to perform the democratic function about which I am so concerned. Although the people concerned are very important and distinguished, what are they expected to do? By excluding people across the whole of Great Britain from making such representations, we are doing a great disservice to democracy in this country.Although I have not had a reply to this point—no doubt the Minister of State will assist me when he replies to the debate—I cannot understand why, for the year 1993–94, we are adopting a policy, procedure and principle which departs from a principle passed as recently as 1986 in respect of European parliamentary constituencies. I simply cannot understand that. With respect to the time factor, I believe that most of the public inquiries could be disposed of in one or two days. One would not expect them to continue for any length of time. The fact that there are so few of them, and the fact that many may not be contested, suggests that the Government are making a great mountain out of a mole hill—which leaves me with a deepening concern, if not a certain suspicion, about the reasons for all this.
Does my hon. Friend accept that when we went down the public inquiry route in 1983–84 the European parliamentary boundary proposals were produced in July 1983? Public inquiries were held, the results of which were collated by the Home Office, and the final boundaries were announced in March 1984. We are talking about a time gap of about eight months after the commission reported. Does my hon. Friend really believe that, with that kind of time gap, we could do the whole job in time to put candidates in place before the next European elections?
Some fairly sensible points have already been made about where the fault lies, because the timetable was known at the Edinburgh summit. Furthermore, I believe that the issues of principle are so important and overriding that they should not be allowed to interfere with what appears to be a relatively medium-term or short-term consideration.We are dealing with a very important matter. As some hon. Members have already said, there is a slight difficulty in relation to the proposal in the context of enhancing the powers of the European Parliament if it is seen to be the thin end of the wedge. If the anticipated process of integration and deepening is to continue and we are to establish in the Bill the principle to be used on future occasions, and we have no assurance to the contrary—I do not look for assurance because I object to the issue as a matter of principle—as the deepening process goes on and the neutering of this place continues, it becomes more important to ensure that the democratic process applying to European parliamentary constituencies is enhanced. Let us not forget that we are dealing with the provision of greater powers. I have pointed out that the European Parliament is now engaged, under the Maastricht treaty, in a process of co-decision which has been greatly underestimated. People who know most about the subject believe that the European Parliament is getting considerably greater powers than many had anticipated—[Interruption] I think I hear my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) say that that is good. He may be saying it in his usual jovial manner, but I gather that he is glad to hear about extra powers being given in that way. My hon. Friend probably knows that he recently had the support of a distinguished right hon. and learned Member of the Conservative party. I refer to none other than the Chancellor of the Exchequer who, in a House Magazine profile in January of this year, was quoted as saying that he, too, was pro-European and held views similar to those held by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East. I will only comment that if my right hon. and learned Friend holds such views, we must watch with great interest his progress as Chancellor of the Exchequer in relation to the exchange rate mechanism and economic and monetary union.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for referring to that article, which gave me great pleasure. He may feel reassured about plans for the European Parliament if he accepts my proposition that it does not mean that the powers of national parliaments will be reduced by the powers of the European Parliament being increased in the future. It is a question of the separation of powers and the addition of a separate layer of political activity.
My hon. Friend makes an interesting observation. I think it is the first time that I have heard him put so much emphasis on the importance of national parliaments, an issue to which I shall come later. We acknowledge that the European Parliament has an important function to perform. But we must make sure, in relation to the decision-making process—another subject which I shall develop—that opinions, when turned into political programmes and policies, reflect, within national parliaments and the European Parliament, a parallel philosophy as expressed by the political parties represented at both levels.We must consider the deeper political questions that lie at the heart of the Bill. With what sort of parliamentary boundaries are we dealing, and what issues must be considered in connection with the increased number of United Kingdom representatives to be elected to the European Parliament? In that connection, a massive problem is emerging in relation to the Conservative party vis-a-vis the Bill and the widening of the European Community. All Conservative M EPs belong to the European People's party. I have been watching with interest and concern the divergence that has been emerging between that party on the one hand and the Conservative party in this House on the other. I need not elaborate on the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor) about financing because I am anxious tonight to concentrate on the issue of compatibility between the policies that we pursue in Britain as members of the Conservative party and the espousal of the basic programme of the European People's party, the detail of which has just become available to me and which sets out the basis on which that party is now going forward—if that is the right word; I prefer to say backward—into Europe. I will cite a few examples of the way in which the representatives who are supposed to he elected under the proposals now before the House will conduct their policy-making. I am dealing with a matter of fundamental constitutional importance to the British House of Commons and its relationship with the European Parliament, as set out in articles 137 and 138 of the Maastricht treaty. Dealing with the issue of representation and elections, which is what the Bill is all about. the treaty states:
I was delighted with the terms used by the Home Secretary to repudiate the idea of that uniform procedure having anything to do with proportional representation. It goes on:"The European Parliament shall draw up proposals for elections by direct universal suffrage in accordance with a uniform procedure in all Member States."
That means that within the European Parliament there is, under the Maastricht treaty, a requirement for that Parliament, by a majority of its members—I shall later discuss who those members will be—to make decisions about what it will recommend, and its powers in that connection are considerable. The European People's party, comprising Conservative MEPs and Christian Democrats, is, under the provisions of the Bill, clearly intended to have increased representation. When that happens, there will be an increase in the impact of that party's decision-making, not only on this country but on other European countries, including Germany, which will get a proportion of the additional 18 representatives. The same will apply to other member states, in each of which candidates will be standing for the European People's party. So that party will have increased representation in the European Parliament. Its members must have the hope of forming a majority view to influence the extent to which there is a move to proportional representation. The European People's party has some extraordinary policies, which are at variance with the policies of the Conservative party in Britain."The Council shall, acting unanimously, after obtaining the assent of the European Parliament, which shall act by a majority of its component Members, lay down the appropriate provisions which it shall recommend to Member States for adoption in accordance with their respective constitutional requirements."
Order. I am at a loss to understand what the policies of any party in Europe have to do with the Bill or the amendment. Perhaps the hon. Member will explain the relevance.
I will explain. I am considering the procedure when a candidate stands on a platform in connection with the Bill, remembering that our discussion today is about representation in the European Parliament. It is not just a legitimate question; it is an essential question about what is to be achieved. This is not just a constitutional measure; we are dealing with policies in relation to the new Europe that is being created. It is not a technical question of no importance.
Order. The hon. Gentleman is not convincing me. I shall be very grateful if he returns to the contents of the Bill and of the motion in the names of Opposition Members.
Article 236 of the paper to which I have just referred says:
"It is the European Parliament, elected by universal suffrage, which primarily ensures that Europe is built"——
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Does the Bill make any reference to an article 236? I cannot find one.
I am having the same difficulty. I must, for the third time, ask the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Cash) to stay within the framework of the Bill and the motion. I shall be very grateful for his co-operation.
The article 236 is to be found in the paper to which I have referred. I made that clear, so my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall) must not have been listening. I am referring to the powers being sought by European parliamentarians—a matter that is undoubtedly directly relevant to the provisions of the Bill.
Order. I hesitate to interrupt the hon. Gentleman again, but I respectfully suggest that he read the title of the Bill and direct his remarks to it. I hope he appreciates that I do not want to have to intervene again.
The title is the European Parliamentary Elections Bill.
Order. I was referring to the long title.
The long title says that the purpose of the Bill is to
taken in Edinburgh, giving 18 seats to the Germans."Give effect to a Decision of the Council of the European Communities",
What the hon. Gentleman cannot do, and what no one else has done so far, is prejudge the outcome of the elections. The Bill deals with a people's choice. The whole thrust of the hon. Gentleman's argument presupposes which parties will win. That is what he has been talking about for the past 10 minutes. As a democrat, he has no such right. The people are sovereign. They decide through the ballot box. The purpose of the Bill is to enable them to do so.
I agree very much. I am not prejudging anything. The battleground upon which people are to exercise their freedom of choice in due course will be determined by the manner in which they address themselves, through European parliamentary elections, to attainment of the objective of turning policies into laws. Under the procedures of the Boundary Commission, representations may be made by 500 electors or by an interested local authority. Such people do not just waffle about shape, size and accessibility; they talk about the whole question of the type of representation they want. My hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack) and I attended a meeting the other day. We were talking about the boundary review——
Order. Can the hon. Gentleman explain to me how, when the Boundary Commission looks at areas, it decides what the people think about party policies and makes its judgment accordingly? That is not my understanding of the situation. If the hon. Gentleman cannot give me such an explanation, he must return to the content of the Bill. Otherwise, I shall have to ask him to resume his seat.
The criteria that ought to be adopted include geography, accessibility, convenience and constituency shape. These are all matters that one would expect to be aired in a public inquiry, if one were held. It is in the course of such exchanges that people raise questions about the kind of constituencies they want.You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, referred me to the long title, which indicates that the purpose of the Bill is to
If there is to be an increase in the number of United Kingdom representatives, it must be proper, in the relevant Second Reading debate, to refer to those people——"Give effect to a Decision of the Council of the European Communities, 93/81/Euratom, ECSC, EEC, of 1st February 1993 having the effect of increasing the number of United Kingdom representatives to be elected to the European Parliament".
Order. Those remarks are completely irrelevant to the Bill and the motion. I hesitate to repeat myself, but I must warn the hon. Gentleman that if he does not return to the subject of the debate I shall have to ask him to resume his seat.
In my view, this Bill disgraces the democratic process along whose lines we expect our democratic system to develop. Over the past 20 or 30 years, clearly defined procedures have been laid down—for example, in the European Parliamentary Elections Act 1978 and the Parliamentary Constituencies Act 1986. There is no doubt whatsoever that this is a departure in principle from those arrangements.I should like to refer to an excellent research paper. I am sure that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will not regard this as being in any way out of order, as the paper was prepared by a House of Commons research team in connection with this very Bill. It is made perfectly clear that the 1978 precedent is not by any means one upon which we can rely. It deals with the Welsh boundaries body and with the reviews that were carried out as recently as 1991. There is a whole range of recent precedents very much in favour of having a proper public inquiry procedure. The paper refers to the manner in which the whole process ought to be conducted. Not long ago—on 15 April this year—Mr. Robert Adley, our late, lamented friend and colleague, put to the Secretary of State for the Home Department the following question:
The Minister of State, in reply, said:"if he will make a statement on the arrangements he intends to make for the additional European parliamentary constituencies."
"My right hon. and learned Friend is currently consulting with colleagues on this matter. Once proposals are formulated, we will consult formally with the Opposition parties."—[Official Report, 15 April 1993; Vol. 222. c. 938.]
I am sorry to trouble you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I seek your guidance. I am rather puzzled. My hon. Friend is starting to quote a House of Commons research memorandum. Presumably he intends to do so word for word. There may be precedents, but I must ask whether this is a new procedure that is permitted. Is it correct and proper?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, the procedure is that there should not be too many quotations. I was listening with great interest and, although it is up to the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Cash) to make his own speech, I remind him that many other hon. Members wish to participate in the debate.
I am grateful for that intervention. I was about to read out the Minister of State's reply. He said:
I must say that I gained no satisfaction from the Home Secretary's opening remarks today or from the Minister of State's answer. The proposals are not providing the independent recommendations which would be expected if the arrangements were being made on a reasonable footing. It is a matter of grave disquiet to me and other hon. Members that the Bill will do a great deal of damage to the integrity and reputation of the House and, indeed, to the processes with which people are used to dealing. Public inquiries may be the only opportunity for people to make representations about the type of constituency in which they wish to vote. I was amazed to hear the rather specious argument about the timetable. It has nothing to do with the timetable. I cannot for the life of me understand why we cannot be told the real reason. Will the Minister of State, the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean), or whoever is to wind up the debate, be good enough to answer two simple questions? The first is, what is the real difference between the proposals in the Bill and the arrangements to which we are accustomed—based on real precedents, not merely that of 1978—for European parliamentary constituencies, as developed up until this year? Secondly, what would be the delay if we followed the procedures that have already been well established? I believe that we are entitled to straightforward answers to those questions."We shall not necessarily use the boundary commissioners to propose the new boundaries because they are very much occupied with the parliamentary boundaries, but we shall want to have similarly independent recommendations for the new Euro-constituencies. We are determined that there will be an opportunity for public consultation, although it will be constrained by a comparatively tight timetable."—[Official Report, 15 April 1993; Vol. 222, c. 938.]
I am sure that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and hon. Members will be glad to know that I do not intend to speak for as long as the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Cash). I intend to deal with two specific aspects of the Bill: how the seats have been allocated within the United Kingdom and the system of election.The House will have noticed that I and my hon. Friends tabled our own reasoned amendment, although Madam Speaker has decided that it should not be selected. We shall, therefore, support the reasoned amendment tabled by the official Opposition although I wish that they, like us, had mentioned proportional representation. I wish to chide, albeit gently, the hon. Member for Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor) for some of his remarks about my colleagues in Plaid Cymru. I do not think that he warned them that he was going to mention them—perhaps he had not intended to do so—but it ill becomes any hon. Member to call any other hon. Member a stooge. The House should recognise that members of other parties have the right to decide how to cast their votes on principle. My colleagues in Plaid Cymru have consistently pledged themselves to the European ideal. From time to time we may be found in the Lobby perhaps accepting the lesser of two evils, but we vote according to the principles to which we aspire and according to the ideals that we regard as precious to our countries and our peoples. I deal first with the allocation of seats, which is an important aspect of the Bill. I have raised the issue several times in the past few months with the Home Secretary and with the Foreign Office, arguing each time that it is important for Scotland to be given an additional seat. I found it depressing to listen to the Home Secretary start on the basis of the numbers game. I do not think that the allocation of any seats, whether for a European constituency, a Westminster constituency or a local government unit, can be based solely on the numbers game; identity, geography and communications should all be taken into account. It is interesting to trace how the seats were originally allocated for direct election. When the United Kingdom first agreed to the idea that there should be directly-elected seats to the European Parliament, the argument that the United Kingdom should have 81 or 82 seats was based on the concept that Scotland and Wales should have additional seats. It is effectively recorded by Dr. Garrett FitzGerald in his autobiography "All in a Life", in which he mentions the negotiations and discussions that were held with the then Prime Minister, now Lord Callaghan. It was argued that the United Kingdom was to have 81 or 82 seats in the European Parliament, Scotland 10 and Wales five. Having won the argument for additional representation at that stage, Scotland was allocated eight seats and Wales four. In 1993, however, Scotland is riot to have an additional seat, although Wales at least is now to reach the position that it should have reached in the 1970s. I also argued strongly for the geographical dimension to be taken into account. The Home Secretary and other hon. Members found it amusing when I referred to the Highlands and Islands constituency in which Moray is located. The Highlands and Islands constituency stretches some 380 miles from north to south and contains more islands than are attached to Greece. Communications are difficult, and the Member of the European Parliament has to travel by train, boat and plane to meet his or her constituents. I am not making a special plea on behalf of my mother-in-law who is capable of defending her own position. I am talking about the practicalities which would affect any MEP who represented that constituency. The constituency stretches from Muckle Flugga in the north of Shetland down to the Cumbraes and the islands of Bute and Arran. It covers a huge area, but it has a strong identity and integrity because there is a commonality of difficulties among its rural parts. It is the largest constituency in Europe and has an equivalent land mass to Belgium, but one single MEP is asked to represent the whole area. I therefore argue that there is a strong case for considering Scotland not on the basis of numbers but on its geographical area. It is on that basis that there are 72 Members of Parliament from Scotland in this House because the House recognises the transport difficulties. Unlike hon. Members with London constituencies, I cannot fly to Inverness. conduct a surgery in the evening and then vote here at 10 pm. Scottish Members of Parliament are here from the beginning of the week until the end because of the geography of our country. The Government must take that geography into account when considering the allocation of seats, as should the Boundary Commission when considering parliamentary constituencies and the Scottish Office when considering local government units. The hon. Member for Southend, East suggested that Wales had been given a toffee apple because it was to gain an additional seat. I do not begrudge the people of Wales an additional seat, but those who display that attitude towards the nations of Wales and Scotland do themselves and the people of England whom they represent a great disservice because it is not the attitude that the Scots, the Welsh and the English have towards each other. Scotland as a nation argues that it should be compared with nations which have a similar status. Denmark has a population of 5·1 million and it has 16 seats in the European Parliament. We have 5 million people in Scotland and we get eight seats. It seems that if one votes in Scotland, it is worth half of a Danish vote. The Republic of Ireland has 3·6 million voters and 15 seats—yet again a Scottish vote is worth half that in Eire. Tiny Luxembourg, which is roughly the same size of our capital city, Edinburgh, has an electorate of 0·4 million and has six seats compared with Scotland's eight. The Home Secretary had obviously not thought through his remarks carefully when he said that it was only a Conservative Government who would fight for the people of England. That will be noted in Scotland and Wales and offence will be taken, not because of some nicety, but because his remarks show a disregard for feelings and aspirations of those nations. Similar behaviour is evident elsewhere. The nature of the elections is also a matter of concern.
The hon. Lady does not need me to defend her, but does she agree that it would be better if a Minister from the Scottish Office were present on the Government Front Bench? After all, her name must have appeared on the annunciator. Such a presence is especially required when one recalls that, in November 1992, at St. Andrews, the Secretary of State for Scotland gave some specific assurances on this matter. Equally, the introduction to the White Paper, "Taking Stock", referred to the need to
At least we are due an explanation about why that promise has not been honoured."take steps to complement and add to Scotland's strong representation in Europe".
The hon. Gentleman has made a fair point. I am conscious of remarks by the Secretary of State, who said that he was bidding high for Scotland's position in Europe. He has not fulfilled that pledge. It is a shame that no one from the Scottish Office is here, unlike the official Opposition, who have maintained a presence in the Chamber. No doubt there are reasons for that absence, but, as a matter of courtesy and given the importance of the Bill, it would have been helpful if someone from the Scottish Office were here, to pay attention at least.
Would the hon. Lady care to comment on the absence from the Chamber of that most European party, the Liberal Democrats? None of its Scottish, Welsh or English Members is here.
Far be it from me to defend the Liberal Democrats, but, to be fair to the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan), he has been present from the start of the debate. Before he departed, he had to listen, at great length, to the hon. Member for Stafford. The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) was also present for a short time. That, however, is not the point. The fact is that no one from the Scottish Office is present during this important debate.I agree with the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) that a principle lies behind the argument about proportional representation. Many of us could spend a great deal of time arguing about the pros and cons of various systems of proportional representation. The principle that underpins our beliefs, however, is that we should move towards proportionality. We should not argue now about particular details. Article 138 of the treaty of Rome, to which the United Kingdom is a signatory, relates to the ideal that. ultimately, a uniform electoral procedure should be followed in all member states, based on the principle of universal suffrage. That procedure is followed in Northern Ireland, but not in mainland Britain. The amendment tabled by the Liberal Democrats refers to the De Gucht report, which has been debated in the European Parliament. I have followed the arguments about proportional representation with interest, and I am concerned about aspects of that report. Even if proportional representation is not adopted for the forthcoming elections to the European Parliament, I hope that the Government will commit themselves to following that procedure for the next set of European elections. I want to put down various markers about the De Gucht report and its various recommendations. Karel De Gucht is a Liberal Democrat from Belgium. When he first reported to the European Parliament in 1990, he submitted a draft proposal that would have successfully abolished Northern Ireland, Wales, and Scotland as electoral entities over a 10-year transitional period. He proposed, initially, to eliminate our first-past-the-post system by introducing multi-Member constituencies that were to become progressively larger until the constituencies corresponded with the member states, with a minimum of three Members per constituency from 1994, a minimum of five Members per constituency from 1999 and no constituencies from 2004. I find it difficult to agree with that proposal because the identities of Northern Ireland, Wales, Scotland and England must be retained in the context of the European Parliament. If the Government or any other parties are considering the De Gucht report, they should be careful about aspects of it. De Gucht was, originally, not in favour of a threshold being introduced, but he eventually accepted the 5 per cent. proposal. He did not proceed, however, to make it clear that the votes could not be transferred across the boundaries or borders of the various constituent parts of the United Kingdom. If a 5 per cent. threshold applied to a member state, the danger is that the United Kingdom would treat all four of its constituent parts as one. That would have repercussions for the various parties. In the previous European elections, the Scottish National party took 26 per cent. of the vote in Scotland and we ended up with one of the eight European Members of Parliament to which Scotland is entitled. If that vote were transferred to a United Kingdom-wide vote, the SNP, even after gaining 26 per cent. support in Scotland, would be reduced to 2·6 per cent. of the vote according to the United Kingdom threshold. We would therefore not have gained representation in the European Parliament. That would be a gross insult to those people who turned out and voted for the SNP.
We in the Ulster Unionist party are also extremely conscious of that problem. There is an alternative. If the threshold is decided on a national basis, the SNP could fight in England, where there are many Scottish voters. Certainly the Ulster Unionist party would put up candidates in England if that threshold operated on a national basis.
The right hon. Gentleman makes a reasonable point and it has been considered carefully by my party in the past. Various other regulations pertaining to broadcasting, for example, would be unfavourably affected if we put up candidates in English constituencies. I often receive letters from people in England asking me to put up an SNP candidate in their area. There are, however, logical reasons for not doing so. We are a Scottish-based party and we do not have any imperialist ambitions. We are seeking self-government for our country.If the De Gucht recommendations for the threshold were applicable across the United Kingdom, as a member state, that would be in breach of the Act of Union of 1707, which retained Scotland as a legal entity. The Scotland-England border is regarded in international law as an international boundary. I would fight to ensure that votes cast in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England were treated separately, whether a 5 per cent. threshold operated for other parties that may stand, such as the Greens, the Monster Raving Loony party or whatever. A 5 per cent. threshold should apply to each of the constituent nations.
The hon. Lady has made a reasonable point. Would she care to enlighten us as to which members of the public have written and from which constituencies suggesting that the SNP should put up candidates in English seats? Did they include people from Southend or Staffordshire?
I cannot recall, off hand, the exact location of everyone who has written to me. My geography is not perfect. I can assure the hon. Gentleman, however, that I have had several requests from English members of the public who would like SNP candiates to stand in their area. Given that so many former Conservative Members who represented Scotland have had to come south of the border to find seats, other people might find that, if SNP candidates stood in England, there would be too many Scottish accents in the House.It is wrong to base the allocation of seats solely on numbers. There is a strong principle for other arguments to be brought into play. The people of Scotland will be extremely disappointed that there will not be an additional seat, given the comparisons that I have made with other small nations. The second issue relates to proportional representation. There have been various signs that the Government are considering the possibility of proportional representation in elections towards the end of the decade. Will the Minister give an assurance that if proportional representation is to come into play, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England will be treated as separate entities and the system will be agreed through consultation with all the political parties in the House, not simply the result of a cosy arrangement between the Government and the Labour Front Bench?
I listened with great interest to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Cash). At one point, he said that he was not prejudging anything. That came as a great revelation because I thought that he prejudged everything relating to Europe. One sometimes thinks that my hon. Friend is one of the Rip van Winkles of British politics because he speaks almost as though we had not joined the European Community in 1973. He certainly speaks as though we did not have a referendum in 1975 and never passed the Single European Act—and, indeed, he did not vote for it.The debate is interesting because those hon. Members who have complained about time and the fact that they do not accept that as an argument for having the great and the good to determine the boundaries are the same ones who went on at length during the European Communities (Amendment) Bill. They are the same ones who voted against business motion after business motion and delayed the proceedings of that Bill for the maximum time. Perhaps if my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford had spoken slightly less on that Bill and voted for some business motions, this Bill would have been before the House a long time ago.
My hon. Friend is launching into something that I find slightly unusual in view of the fact that I have always regarded him as an hon. Gentleman and an hon. Friend. Not so long ago, he invited me to his constituency to talk about these matters. Furthermore, it was clear that the audience agreed with what I had to say. I hope that my hon. Friend will bear it in mind that his constituents seemed to share many of my views.
My hon. Friend was invited to my constituency, like so many of my hon. Friends. Most of those who come to my constituency support Government policy in its entirety. I believe that my constituents should be given a whole range of policies for examination. I assure my hon. Friend that the number of constituents who wrote to me supporting his point of view could be counted on the fingers of both hands. On the basis of my postbag, he did not attract as much support as perhaps he thought he was attracting at the time.Hon. Members who argue about time ignore the delay that they caused in the parliamentary process earlier this year. As one who fought two European elections, I find the time argument persuasive. In 1979, I was fortunate enough to be selected to contest the ensuing Euro-election for London, North. At that time, it had 10 Westminster parliamentary constituencies, of which seven were Labour. I had three months in which to become known to 500,000 people. Similarly, in 1984, we did not know the boundaries until March, which was only three months before the election. Such a time scale makes it impossible for candidates to become known to their electorates and people to judge the worth of the individuals for whom they are being asked to vote. Therefore, any procedure that will expedite the final decision about boundaries must be welcomed. Some hon. Members have argued that it would be feasible to have the local inquiries and the Boundary Commission deciding the boundaries. Let us go back to 1983. The Boundary Commission produced its proposals in July 1983—undoubtedly, it has been working on them for some months. The inquiries took place in December 1983 and the boundaries were agreed in March 1984. We are talking about a period of about nine months after the original proposals came from the commission. If we adopted that approach tonight, the new boundaries would not be in place in time for the next European elections. It has been suggested that if we had the system proposed by the Government, which is the same as that which prevailed before the 1979 European elections, the representations made by interested groups would be ignored. That is not the lesson of history because, in 1978, the proposed boundaries for London included one or two absurd suggestions. The people in London wrote to the commission and said that they did not like what the commission was proposing to do. They recognised that they could not have a public inquiry, but they believed that, for example, Southgate did not have a great deal of affinity with Hackney—it had an affinity with Finchley, Enfield, North and Edmonton rather than Hackney. The Boundary Commission looked at the maps and said that that was right, and the boundaries were redrawn in that way. If wise men who come forward with proposals make similar mistakes and people write in, those men will listen to what is said and propose boundaries that everyone will find acceptable. So far as the Scottish argument is concerned, I pay a great tribute to the European Member of Parliament for the Highland and Islands of Scotland. She is an hon. Friend and signed many of my motions. She represented that constituency with a flair that few people could match. Let us look at the numbers in Scotland. If we had an additional seat in Scotland, I do not believe for one moment that we would be dividing the Highlands and Islands constituency because it is already numerically the smallest of the Scottish constituencies. That extra seat would be in the great industrial belt of Scotland and we would he knocking a bit off Glasgow or one of the Strathclyde constituencies to make another seat in Scotland. That would mean that Scotland, which is over-represented numerically in this House, would be even more over-represented in the European Parliament. It would mean that an average constituency in England would contain 20 per cent. more electors than an average constituency in Scotland. That seems to be unjustified by the geography of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland constituency. Therefore, that argument is not persuasive. I welcome the fact that we are continuing with our system of single-member constituencies for England, Wales and Scotland. That is a great strength with regard to our representation in the European Parliament. Some of the systems adopted by other countries are inherently undemocratic. The French and German system involves a national list. The French socialists had President Mitterrand at the end of their list in 1979. He stayed as a European Member of Parliament for the first day and then resigned so that someone else could take his place. People were conned by his presence on the list to vote for the French socialists. The French Gaullists had a tourniquet system under which everyone on the list spent a short time in the European Parliament. Mr. Chirac was a European Member of Parliament for a short time. The House may be interested to know that during that time his button was pressed while he was on duty in Paris—he was recorded as voting in Strasbourg while he was undertaking mayoral duties in Paris. The whole system of a national list is not appropriate to the European scene. The national list system provided Mr. Le Pen with the ability to produce several European Members of Parliament from France. If the French had had a first-past-the-post individual constituency system, as we have in the United Kingdom, the Le Pen group would not have elected one person to the European Parliament. Another problem with the national list system in the European Parliament is the huge power that it gave to the party machines. The right hon. Member for Strangford (Mr. Taylor) will confirm that the Gaullist system was such that, if one got on the wrong side of Mr. Chirac in the European Parliament between 1979 and 1984, one was told that one was out—one would not even be No. 81 on the list in the next election. The system gives excessive power to the party machine. I do not know how my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford would fare under a national list system, but I do not think that he would even make first reserve. Some hon. Members might say that that is an argument in favour of a national list system, particularly when my hon. Friend is giving one of his not so brief speeches. The real problem with the national list system is that a constituent who has a problem does not know whom to turn to. I remember being asked years ago by the British unit trust industry to table a question for question time in the European Parliament. We were told that all other unit trust industries throughout the Community felt strongly about the matter and would back us up after we asked our question. We asked the question, and a British Member asked a supplementary. There was another supplementary question from a British Member, and then there was a deathly hush. I was told that the trouble was that the French industry did not know whom to turn to. The French did not have a particular Member whom they could ask about the subject. The German industry was in the same position. Members of the European Parliament may not have the same number of constituency cases that Members of Parliament at Westminster have, but the number is growing, and it is surely right that the link between the MEP and his constituency should remain as it does in the House of Commons.
The hon. Gentleman referred to confusion in the minds of the electors in Northern Ireland. We are Members of the sovereign Parliament of the United Kingdom, and we shall be until we are either abolished or eroded by our masters in Brussels. Confusion arises when constituency cases that are within the remit of the House of Commons are dealt with by some MEPs in Northern Ireland, for the simple reason that industrialists and private citizens do not know where to go, and they end up writing to all three local representatives. The lines get crossed, and we then spend half our time trying to disentangle the mess.
The situation in Northern Ireland is complicated in that there are three MEPs from three different political parties. We all know the particular reasons why there is proportional representation in those elections in Northern Ireland.
What is the reason?
The right hon. Member for Strangford surely cannot be so ignorant or naive that he does not know the reason. Obviously proportional representation exists in Northern Ireland so that both sides of the religious divide can feel that they are represented in the European Parliament. That is probably a good thing, given the unusual politics of Northern Ireland. I spent some years in Glasgow, and I discovered what Irish politics were all about.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Glasgow is not in Ireland.
The accuracy of the remarks of hon. Members is not a matter for the Chair.
I was about to explain that the politics of Glasgow in the 1960s were similar to the politics of Northern Ireland. I well remember canvassing in a council election and an elector saying that she was tremendously pleased to see a Conservative candidate at last. She then asked what my religion was. I replied Church of England, and added, "I suppose that is it." "No," she said. "You see, I am a Christian and I cannot vote for a Catholic." That was the politics of the east end of Glasgow in 1963, and I suspect that it is the politics of Northern Ireland today.One of the tragedies of the European Parliament is that, even though MEPs have been directly elected since 1979, the Parliament so far does not have a single seat. The administration is in Luxembourg, the committees sit in Brussels and the plenary sessions take place in Strasbourg. One of the reasons for that is the indifference of national state governments to that problem. The absence of a single seat for the European Parliament affects its efficiency and, therefore, affects the efficiency of those who are elected to it and whose election we are discussing this evening.
Does my hon. Friend agree that if the European Parliament had one seat the administration would be cheaper, which would be beneficial to the United Kingdom and to all the other members of EC?
I shall answer that intervention briefly, Madam Deputy Speaker, because I saw you confer with one of the Clerks. It obviously would be cheaper, more efficient and more convenient for those who work in the European Parliament if everything were centralised rather than having three different centres, which benefits no one.The European Parliament can be said to have in some ways power without responsibility. It has the power to vote for expenditure without the responsibility for raising the taxes to meet that expenditure. That is one issue which the Foreign Office and others will have to consider in the future. The Bill takes account of the need to have the boundaries in place in good time. Without the Bill, there would be a grave danger that the boundaries would be agreed far too late to allow candidates in the constituencies to mount effective campaigns. Therefore, I hope that the Bill will receive a Second Reading and have a speedy Committee stage. I also hope that the Bill will be approved by their Lordships before both Houses rise for the summer recess. It is I think important that these constituency boundaries are agreed speedily so that candidates know where their constituencies are to be and can get to know their electorates and, even more importantly, their electorates can get to know them.
I am delighted to catch your eye. Madam Deputy Speaker, and to follow that ridiculous speech by the hon. Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall). His characterisation of Glasgow was outrageous. To suggest that religion is a factor in Glasgow politics in this day and age is nonsense and will not be well received by the people of Scotland.Likewise, the hon. Gentleman's explanation of why Northern Ireland was given a rigged electoral system for the European elections was disgraceful. Northern Ireland Members represent people irrespective of their religion—whether they are Roman Catholic or Protestant. We are delighted to have the privilege to represent them in this, our sovereign Parliament. We represent our constituents in the same way as Irish Catholics and Protestants in England are represented by Conservative and Labour Members. We resent the hon. Member's interpretation of the way in which seats are allocated to the Province of Northern Ireland. The hon Member for Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor) referred in his usual humorous way to the European Community and in particular to the operations of the European Parliament. He referred to the funding of the British Labour party and Conservative party by the European Parliament. He challenged me to spell out the exact figures. He referred to the European information fund as a slush fund. That was somewhat unkind. The hon. Member for Southend, East implied that there was a great deal of secrecy about the European information fund. He said that he had tried to obtain details of the funding of the Conservative party and the Labour party from the House of Commons Library and had failed. He said that he had contacted the European Parliament offices at Queen Anne's gate and, once again, had failed. But there is no secrecy whatever about the fund. The European information fund is included in the parliamentary section of the budget of the European Community. A specific line in that budget refers to the European information fund. The result is that the British Conservative and Labour parties each get about £1 million from Europe to assist in the funding of information relating to the European elections in the 12 months between now and polling day. It is not just the Conservative and Labour parties, but the Scottish National party, the Ulster Unionist party, the Social Democratic Labour party and even the Democratic Unionist party that are assisted in that way. We get only a few thousand pounds each because we are small parties, but the two main British parties do not hide the fact that they get £1 million or thereabouts each. This year, the Labour party will get much more than the Conservative party, because it is now the largest party from the United Kingdom in the European Parliament. So there is nothing hidden. It is not a slush fund. The figures are all there for everyone to inspect, and that is how it should be. We must remember why we are having this debate and why the Government are presenting the Bill. It is because of the new order in Europe. The whole political scene in central Europe is changing. The Soviet Union has broken up. A vacuum has been created in central and eastern Europe. Germany has become united and is replacing the Soviet Union in that vacuum. It has taken the initiative in recognising several states in the former Yugoslavia. It is the new role of Germany in Europe which brings about the need for more seats for Germany in the European Parliament. It is only because eastern and western Germany have formed a united Germany that we in the United Kingdom are getting six new seats. Therefore, we must adjust to the new European order, which means accommodating greater Germany in the European Parliament and adapting to its changing role in the Community as the lead nation in western Europe. The European Parliament is not a real Parliament, like this one. It has no Government and no Executive. It does not appoint a Cabinet. That is not to say that it is not important. It has an important consultative role and some major powers, such as the right to abolish the Commission, to approve the budget and to approve the enlargement of the European Community.
Does the right hon. Gentleman regard the United States Congress as not being a proper parliamentary body because it does not appoint an Executive?
That is a fair point, but Congress has the right to make laws. The European Parliament has no legislative role. It has powers to abolish the Commission and to approve the budget and the enlargement of the European Community. Beyond that, it is in reality a talking shop, as I know from my 10 years there. It is a useful consultative body where the peoples of Europe at least have a chance to express their views on the Commission's diktats. If we did not have a Parliament in Strasbourg, the Commission would get away with more than it does at present.
I hear what the right hon. Gentleman says, but I wonder whether he has read the Maastricht treaty and knows of the additional powers that will be given to the European Parliament. The European Parliament will have one thing that this House does not have and probably will never have, which is a veto over legislation affecting the whole of Europe.
Order. Before the right hon. Gentleman replies, let me point out that we are not debating the constitutional niceties of the European Parliament. We are considering the number of seats, boring though that may be.
I accept your guidance, Madam Deputy Speaker. I was talking about the Parliament to which we elect Members. If the hon. Lady had been present for most of the debate she would have heard the additional powers under the Maastricht agreement referred to on numerous occasions. I am well aware of them, having read that agreement dozens of times. Indeed, I am alarmed at them because they transfer further powers from our national Parliament to Strasbourg.The proposals before the House are alarming because they change the procedure for changing United Kingdom constituency boundaries. In two respects they create concern. First, the Boundary Commission will not play a role. Instead, there will be a boundary committee. Secondly, the public will not have an opportunity at a public inquiry to express their views on the recommended revised constituency boundaries. In so far as the first concern applies to us in the Ulster Unionist party, we were encouraged by the Secretary of State's speech this afternoon. He made it clear that, to a large extent, the role of the committees would be similar to that of the Boundary Commission and that, in practice, boundary commissioners could well serve on the committees and the committees would apply the same criteria as the Boundary Commission. In that respect, our anxiety has been overcome to a large extent. Our anxiety remains about the lack of a public contribution to the procedure—the refusal to have public inquiries into the recommendations of these boundary committees. I require the Minister who will reply to spell out more carefully and to persuade us on the Ulster Unionist Benches that there is not enough time between now and the European Parliament election in June 1994 to have public inquiries before reaching a decision on the final boundaries of these European constituencies. We need satisfaction on that. We in the Ulster Unionist party recognise that time is running out. Luckily, the new boundaries for European constituencies in the United Kingdom do not apply to us in Northern Ireland. Therefore, we can prepare for the forthcoming European elections. We have advertised already for our candidates and within a few weeks we shall close the list. I am arranging meetings this autumn in my constituency for the European elections. I assume that other parties in the House also want to get on with the election machinery. They cannot do so until we know what the constituency boundaries are in England and Wales. Therefore, I recognise the Government's case that a sense of urgency is required in deciding these new boundaries. We certainly subscribe to a uniform electoral system for the European Parliament throughout Europe and certainly here in the United Kingdom. We are moving towards that in stages. The hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing) referred to the De Gucht report. It implies a gradual movement towards a common electoral system in Europe, yet we do not have one in the United Kingdom. Paragraph 3 of article 138 of the Maastricht agreement states:
That is what we in the Ulster Unionist party should like to see. How can we debate having a common system with the European Parliament when we do not even have one here in the United Kingdom? We have a gerrymandered system. In one part of the United Kingdom, 500,000 people are required to elect one MEP and in another part, Northern Ireland, only 300,000 people are required to elect an MEP. We have had an explanation. The cat was let out of the bag by the hon. Member for Hendon, South when he said that it was rigged in Northern Ireland for sectarian reasons to ensure that a Catholic was elected. That is an insult to the population of Northern Ireland, but that was the sectarian thinking behind the Conservative party when it decided to give Northern Ireland more seats than it deserved on a numerical basis."The European Parliament shall draw up proposals for elections by direct universal suffrage in accordance with a uniform procedure in all Member States."
The right hon. Gentleman's memory must have slipped, because it was the Labour Government and Lord Callaghan who brought in the legislation making arrangements for the European elections in Northern Ireland.
It was certainly a Labour Government who had the full support of the Conservative party, and the Conservative party supports it tonight. I shall give way to the Minister if he wishes to dissociate himself from that. The Minister remains seated and refuses to comment, confirming my point that the Conservative party supports the idea of the sectarian allocation of seats in Northern Ireland rather than a fair allocation throughout the United Kingdom.That unfair allocation of seats affects the whole of the European Parliament. That point was made by the leader of the Scottish National party. Scotland is underrepresented in the European Parliament, though not on the basis of its representation from the United Kingdom, and I do not agree with that. Scotland has fair representation when compared with England and Wales. The Government's new proposals are fair on the basis of numbers for Scotland, Wales and England. But Scotland is unfairly treated when compared with other sovereign nations. It is unfair that Scotland should have only eight seats for 5 million people while Denmark has 16 seats for 5 million people. That is not equity, fair representation or fair play. When we discuss a uniform electoral system for European elections within the United Kingdom and the European Community, we must ensure that if there is to be an increase in respect for the European Parliament—there is not much respect for it at present—it must be seen to be really democratic. Representation must be fair throughout the European Community. Under the new proposals recommended by the Minister tonight, only 60,000 voters will be required in Luxembourg to elect one MEP, while 800,000 voters in Germany will be required to elect only one MEP. That is neither a democratic forum nor a fair electoral system and it creates a Parliament that is not representative of the people of Europe. We are creating a Parliament with more powers over this nation and other Parliaments of Europe, but that Parliament is undemocratic.
Before my right hon. Friend develops that point, may I ask him whether he accepts that to move to a concept of a list system with proportionate numbers required to elect a person to represent constituencies in this nation would be wrong and undemocratic if that list were so limited that smaller, regional parties could not be elected?
Yes, we can have list systems on a national or regional basis. Both types of system apply at present in the European parliamentary elections, depending on the country. For example, Belgium has two regional list systems whereas Denmark has just one national list system, so the systems vary. The United Kingdom would have to ensure that its distinctive regions—Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland especially—had the right to have their own representatives elected.However, if the United Kingdom has a national list system we shall eventually have Ulster Unionist candidates standing in Glasgow, Birmingham, Liverpool and London because there are at least a million Ulstermen living in Britain. The same could be said for Scottish nationalists. The choice is between regional lists or so-called provincial parties entering the national political scene. Looking ahead, to give the European Parliament greater respect among the peoples of Europe, the electoral system must be uniform, which means one man, one vote and that one vote must have equal value throughout Europe. It is not right that Luxembourg should have six seats and that 60,000 people should be able to elect one MEP there, whereas it now takes nearly a million people in Germany to elect one MEP. May I add my support to those who have mentioned the position of Gibraltar? It is outrageous that, although Gibraltar joined the European Community in 1973—long before Spain joined—it still has no voice or representation other than an honorary voluntary group of Members of the European Parliament who look after its interests in that Assembly. In recent years, since Spain joined, there has been a form of discrimination against Gibraltar and it has not been given its full rights. The Government have a responsibility for Gibraltar and should try to ensure that it has a means of expressing its interest within the elected bodies of Europe and is treated as a full member of the European Community. The Ulster Unionist party is concerned about the Bill. We hope that the Minister of State, in his reply, will assure us that there is an urgency to get the legislation in operation and the boundaries confirmed quickly. We hope that he will assure us that this is simply a one-off and that never again will a committee decide the boundaries. I hope that we shall return to decisions being made by boundary commissioners with public inquiries. The point made earlier about future member countries joining the European Parliament was simply kite flying. It should be recalled that, when new members such as Spain, Portugal and Greece joined, there was no question of changing the number of seats allocated to the United Kingdom. Those remained at 81. The new countries were simply given their own seats but the existing countries' seats did not change.