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Orders Of The Day

Volume 404: debated on Monday 28 April 2003

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

European Parliament (Representation) Bill

Lords amendments considered.

I draw the House's attention to the fact that privilege is involved in Lords amendment No. 17. If the House agrees to this Lords amendment, I shall ensure that the appropriate entry is made in the Journal.

Before Clause 2

Lords amendment: No. 1.

6.31 pm

I beg to move, That this House agrees with the Lords in the said amendment.

With this it will be convenient to take Lords amendments Nos. 2, 3 and 20.

This small group of amendments relates to part 1 of the Bill. As hon. Members who were involved in the Bill in Committee will recall, we discussed the limited circumstances in which the order changing the number of Members of the European Parliament could be made. As I said in Committee, our intention has always been that that should apply pursuant only to our treaty obligations. The Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee asked that the scope of the clause

"should be expressly limited to changes arising out of Treaties which have already been the subject of an earlier Act of Parliament".
That is what amendment No. 1 does. It defines "Community law", which is referred to particularly in clause 4, to mean in this context treaties that have been the subject of an Act of Parliament amending the European Communities Act 1972 to include such treaties and Council decisions or other Community instruments made under such treaties. That clarifies the position and ensures clear safeguards for Parliament.

Amendment No. 2 was inserted to enable action to be taken to debate and put in place the orders necessary to change the numbers and distribution of MEPs in advance of those Community law provisions, and if necessary in advance of their incorporation into UK law.

I am glad that there has been some movement, but is not the Minister being a little economical with the truth? This is a climbdown. It was not clear during the original debate that the provision was limited to those areas where treaties had already been the subject of the proper debate and parliamentary scrutiny that is required for the passage of an Act, and the worry was that it would be back-door legislation without proper scrutiny.

We have always made clear our intention to ensure that we could implement not only decisions made under treaties, but Council decisions that were pursuant to treaties. That is why the orders are necessary. We have responded to the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee—

The hon. Lady is being a little disingenuous. She may recall that not once, but two or three times, I raised the question of protocol A to the Nice treaty—I am sure that she remembers every detail of it. That was some time before the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee made its recommendations, and I am somewhat surprised that she should overlook the fact that although the matter was hotly debated, she has only partially addressed the points that I made.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman's remarks suggest that he will therefore support the amendments. We have responded to the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. Moreover, as we clearly explained in Committee, the problem with the amendments that he tabled is that we could not be sure that they would apply not only to the explicit wording in the treaty, but to Council decisions pursuant to the treaty. As I remember, we discussed that in considerable detail. We have ensured that the provision is framed in such a way as to cover not only the explicit wording of the treaty, but Council decisions that are pursuant to it. That is important.

Amendment No. 2 enables debate to take place in advance, but it is important to recognise that it does not allow the orders to be brought into force until the conditions set out in amendment No. 1 apply and, in effect, until the Community law provisions come into force. That is necessary because the treaty of accession that sets out the number of MEPs for 2004 will not come into force until 1 May 2004, which is only five or six weeks before the election. Furthermore, if one of the accession states should fail to ratify the treaty, a Council decision under the protocol on enlargement annexed to the treaty of Nice will make a pro rata correction to the number of MEPs, which could enter into force at a similarly late stage. We expect, however, to know what the numbers of MEPs will be shortly after all the referendums in ratifying states are completed in September this year. It is important that everyone with an interest in the elections—those who are involved in the administrative arrangements, electoral returning officers and those who are involved in the parties in terms of campaigning and candidates—can plan with some sense of what the arrangements will be for 2004. We therefore expect to be able to debate and to make the order well in advance of 1 May 2004, even though it will not actually come into force until that date or the date on which the Council decision comes into force. The amendment solves the timing problem to allow electoral administrators, candidates and parties to proceed on a firm basis early in 2004.

Amendment No. 3 is simply a consequence of amendment No. 2, which moves two subsections displaced by amendment No. 2 to a more logical place, arid amendment No. 20 corrects a typographical error.

I commend the amendments to the House.

I have already made one of the points that I intended to make in response to the Minister. She is indeed being disingenuous, as I suggested. We debated the provision significantly in Committee and on Report. but it is still no more than a partial response to the points that we made, which at that time were resisted by the Government. Before the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee made its recommendations, the Minister was not prepared to accept the points that. I made. I have here protocol A of the Nice treaty, which deals with the enlargement of the European Union, and which, in article 2, sets out the provisions concerning the European Parliament. The Minister rightly says that it is perfectly possible that a number of countries may decide—they would be wise to do so—to vote against the proposals in a referendum, but the fact remains that article (2)(3) states:

"If the total number of members referred to in paragraph 2 is less than 732, a pro rata correction shall be applied to the number of representatives to be elected in each Member State, so that the total number is as close as possible to 732, without such a correction leading to the number of representatives to be elected in each Member State being higher than that provided for in Article 190(2) of the Treaty establishing the European Community".
However, it then goes on to say:

"The Council shall adopt a decision to that effect."
In other words, protocol A already prescribes the manner and vires of the decision.

The amendment, which refers to an anticipated change in Community law, states:
"In this Part 'change under Community law' … means a change made by … a treaty provision that is part of the Community Treaties; or … any provision of a Council Decision, or of any other instrument, made under a treaty provision that is part of the Community Treaties."
The provision to which the Minister refers is specific: it is a decision under article 2(3) of protocol A. It therefore surprises and concerns me that she is not prepared to stick to the words of the treaty and refer in terms to the fact that the decision on which she relies is already prescribed.

The amendment to clause 4 constitutes another substantial change, which is partly a response to points that I made in Committee and on Report, to the timing of an order. We had extensive debates, which we do not need to repeat. Although I am prepared to concede that some progress has been made, and that it is the job of Government and Parliament to respond to reasonable points that the Opposition and other parties make, the provision is exceptional and objectionable. It is objectionable because it tries to deal with the fundamental point of principle that I have made throughout the proceedings on part 1.

The Lord Chancellor and the Minister as his vicarious representative on earth have provided that an order making an amendment to section 1 of the European Parliamentary Elections Act 2002, which prescribes procedure and the number of seats allocated to each member state,
"may be made before the provision making the relevant change has entered into force."
It may be highly convenient for those who have regard to the diktats and decrees of Brussels and the order-making powers that are incumbent on Ministers in the European Communities Act 1972 to say that the requirement to debate such matters, or at least to do so at the right time, is a waste of parliamentary time and that we have to be more realistic about that in a modern world.

As the Minister said in Committee, those who do not have a majority in Committee do not win votes. She also suggested that the outcome would be based on a European decision, and that we would not win our case on that, either.

Is not the Bill's great irony the fact that it genuflects to democracy by offering us elected offices to put before the British people but does so in such an undemocratic way that there can be no proper democratic debate or discussion, and that the Community cannot work out a timetable for agreement that leaves us time to undergo a proper democratic process?

I agree with my right hon. Friend. The problem emerges in all sorts of other arenas such as the Convention on the Future of Europe and proposals that pre-empt proper democratic decision making by this Parliament, thereby reducing it to rubble. We are expected to accept all that for reasons such as: it will happen anyway; it is good for us. The sort of discussion that we would expect at the right time will be precluded.

6.45 pm

I wish to underline the significance of the point that my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) made. Will my hon. Friend comment on what he believes that the Government intend to be interpreted or connoted from the words "anticipated change"? For how long does it have to be anticipated? What forum will be the subject of the anticipation? Who will anticipate it? The words are so spectacularly imprecise that they are constitutionally perilous.

I personally believe that the provisions are not only perilous but damaging to the democratic process. As we said in Committee and on Report, the anticipated change depends on events that have not yet occurred. The proposal and the mandates are therefore based on a hypothesis. For example, we do not know how many countries will agree to the changes. We do not know whether they will be agreed in Poland. [Interruption.] The Minister for Europe had to eat humble pie over several European matters recently, including the common foreign and security policy. He now makes another of his famous predictions. Poland represents a significant number of seats in the European Parliament, and it is possible that it will reject the proposals.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) said, a range of obstacles has to be overcome before the final decisions can be made under the decision to which I referred earlier. It is not right to make provision in advance of decisions on a hypothesis that renders nugatory and makes a laughing stock of the parliamentary process.

Amendment No. 2 refers to proposed new subsection (2C), which would provide that
"no amendment to section 1 … may be made so as to come into force… if the relevant change is made by a provision … before that provision has entered into force".
Despite the gobbledegook and wrapping up in ribbons, there is an attempt to provide that the Government will legislate in embryo and enable their wishes on "anticipated change" to be effected under the order-making power. However, they appreciate that matters may not turn out in the way in which they would like; hence in response to the Opposition's demonstration of the constitutional black hole into which they were moving on Report and in Committee, they simply tried to provide that
"no amendment … may be made so as to come into force"
unless the provisions that I mentioned were in force. That stretches the parliamentary process to the point of incredulity.

The amendments are unprecedented, undesirable and unnecessary. I therefore do not intend to ask my colleagues to vote for them. However, I propose to divide the House on only the first amendment in the group. My comments on the others should be perceived in the light of the vote against it; otherwise we could be here for much longer than the time for which the programme motion that the Government have imposed on us provides. I am sure that they do not want to keep us here to the last minute.

The hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) is in danger of not accepting a yes, however guarded, hedged around with circumstances or faltering, for an answer. The Minister might have been a little more explicit in acknowledging that the proposal in amendment No. 1 was pressed upon her both by me and by the hon. Gentleman in Committee and on Report, because we were concerned about the rather nebulous way in which the Bill was originally drafted.

I am not entirely satisfied even now that the Bill is sufficiently explicit. I cannot for the life of me understand why the Government are being so coy about this. The Bill implements the treaty of Nice, protocol A, article 2, paragraphs 1, 2, 3 and 4. Why do they not just say that? Most of us would be extremely happy—I cannot speak for the whole House because some may not be—to see enacted an explicit measure bringing into effect what the Lord Chancellor on behalf of the Government proposed as a result of a treaty signed by Her Majesty's Government and debated by the House. Instead, we have these vague and imprecise terms that allow suspicions to be formed that there is a range of other secret treaties or obligations that have yet to see the light of day and which the House will be refused the opportunity to debate fully simply because of the way in which the Bill is worded.

As I say, I do not believe that that is the case, which is why I am so irritated by the way in which the Government have chosen to address the issue. I believe that they are simply trying to ensure that the Bill to allow for enlargement is introduced in good order. As I told the hon. Gentleman in Committee, I do not for one moment buy the notion that a Minister of this Government, even the Lord High Chancellor, would deliberately reduce the United Kingdom's capacity to be represented in the European Parliament in the absence of a reduction in the overall size of the European Parliament. That would be a nonsensical position. However, it seems odd that the Government persist in legislating in generalities rather than in specifics, which is effectively what is being done here.

I shall support amendment No. 1 because it improves the Bill, and I shall recommend that my right hon. and hon. Friends do so too. I am partly reassured by the fact that amendment No. 2 will not come into force without the various treaty provisions coming into force. That squarely addresses the point made by me and by the hon. Gentleman in Committee and on Report. But it prompts the question of the necessity for pre-emptive legislation other than specifically in the context of the Nice treaty. Again, I ask the Minister why on earth the Nice treaty is not specified. The first part of the Bill is effectively a ratification process for the Nice treaty, so why on earth do we not make that explicit?

The remaining amendments simply regularise and improve the Bill and, in one case, correct a glaring error that, despite our best endeavours, we seem to have missed in Committee. I am glad that that has now been corrected.

I welcome the Government's somewhat reluctant acknowledgement of the force of the arguments that were put at an earlier stage in the proceedings. It is a shame that we have to have the recommendation of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee to make the point that was quite adequately made by both Opposition parties in discussions on the Bill. It would have been more generous of the Government to have acknowledged that and to have simply said that they had taken our advice and put it into the Bill.

I share the worries of Opposition Members that this is only a partial recantation by Her Majesty's Government. It is a pity that the Minister did not come in a more humble spirit and say that a mistake had been made and that the debate led by my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) had made an impact. It would be so much better if Ministers practised what they sometimes preach. I thought that the idea of Parliament was to bring to bear on issues the collective mind of the elected representatives of this country, and where good points were made, from wherever they might come, that Ministers should listen to them and take them on board. That was how I tried to conduct myself as a Minister. There were times when I accepted amendments in Committee and was happy to do so because I did not think that Ministers and the civil service had a monopoly on wisdom when it came to drafting such measures. In this case, it was a material point that went to the heart of democracy: the right of this House to have a prime discussion and primary legislation on matters that Ministers certainly think are of major importance—the question of how many representatives there should be in the European Parliament as it develops, how they should be chosen and the areas that they might represent.

The Bill shows that Ministers have little ability to influence the pace and nature of debate in the EU. Surely Ministers should explain our democratic system to our partners on the continent and explain that, as a matter of courtesy to the House of Commons, they should agree not merely the general outlines, but the actual numbers of MEPs in good time for the House to debate and legislate with primary legislation before the elections are called. It is bad manners on the part of the Community not to offer Britain, and for all I know several other countries with similar democratic traditions, the time and space to debate these important matters in the traditional way rather than having to hurry through cobbled-together legislation and then having to change that under protest and under pressure because some of the legislation fell foul of the usual procedures and ways of conducting business.

Ministers say that through this device we can anticipate the number of MEPs that may be required. I do not know whether that comes from the Foreign Office tradition that thinks that the Beano is a stronger source of authority than some of the European documents that it wishes to dismiss when we try to debate them, and whether we have to look in the pages of the Beano to see how many MEPs might be needed and legislate on the back of that, or whether Ministers have in mind something more substantial before bringing before the House the exact number of MEPs that they wish to see.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is a danger that the inclusion of the words in the Bill "anticipated change" could themselves act as a self-fulfilling prophecy? That is to say that the very fact of including the words and predicting the scenario could force the pace of events within the Community in a direction that it might otherwise have not have taken.

It could have that impact, or we could end up legislating twice. We might anticipate wrongly and the House would have to deal with an embarrassing correction from Her Majesty's Government.

I urge Ministers, first, to accept tonight that they have given some ground, and rightly so. That would be sensible, accepting their role in democratic debate. Secondly, I would like Ministers to assure the House that, when negotiating such matters in future with our partners in the EU, they will try to obtain more space and time so that we can go through our usual democratic processes and not feel rail-roaded and dealt with rather shabbily, as we do tonight.

I knew that I would need my copy of the Nice treaty. When the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) gets a chance to speak about Europe, it is always useful to have a copy ready to hand.

7 pm

I am slightly puzzled by the concerns of the hon. Member for Stone about this issue, because he seems to think that the Council's pro rata decision under the Nice treaty is already prescribed, if various states fail to ratify. Yes, the way in which the Council will need to make such a decision is prescribed; it has to be a pro rata decision. That was among the many points that I made when we discussed this in Committee. It will have to make a pro rata adjustment. The Council's decision is pursuant to the treaty, but given that the numbers in question are not on the face of the treaty, it is important to clarify that the numbers—the final end point in terms of the numbers of MEPs that we shall have—and the Council's decision, should a pro rata adjustment need to be made, are both covered in the Bill. It will be possible

to introduce an order that will implement the Council's pro rata decision under the treaty of Nice if such a decision is needed.

The hon. Gentleman seems to be complaining that this is referred to in the Nice treaty. We have always said that this is about the decisions that are pursuant to that treaty, which has been debated in this place and incorporated in UK law by this Parliament. That should surely constitute the safeguard that the hon. Gentleman is asking for. He is concerned that Parliament has not had a chance to debate these issues, but the fact that it has debated the Nice treaty and incorporated it in UK law should surely be the answer to his concerns.

The hon. Lady might recall that I tabled 240 amendments to the legislation incorporating the Nice treaty. Her answer does nothing to contest the argument that I am presenting, which is that the provisions in subsection 1(a) and (b) of proposed new clause 1 are too wide. They refer to

(a) a treaty provision that is part of the Community Treaties;
(b) any provision of a Council Decision, or of any other instrument, made under a treaty provision that is part of the Community Treaties."
The Minister must realise that that is so wide that it is not confined to the protocol under the Nice treaty; it is wider than that. Perhaps I can offer her a suggestion. She knows that the European constitution is coming up, and that it will be wrapped up with the latest articles that have just been put forward and which include a whole range of provisions for consolidation of treaties and the tabling of amendments. That is probably therefore what this is all about—

Madam Deputy Speaker, I thought that it would not be long before we strayed into such territory, but that is not the subject of the Bill and I will not debate those issues now.

Yes, the hon. Gentleman did table an immense number of amendments to the legislation incorporating the Nice treaty, but the fact that he does not like the treaty does not mean that Parliament did not get the chance to debate it. He might not like Parliament's decision, but the UK Parliament decided to incorporate the treaty of Nice in UK law, and he should stop trying to use Parliament as a cover for the fact that he simply does not like the treaty or the European Union. That was most telling in his opening remarks, in which he said that if people were wise, they would vote against the provisions. I think that that probably sums up where a lot of this is coming from.

The hon. Gentleman raised some concerns about amendment No. 2. Let me try to spell this out again. The order cannot come into force until the Community law provisions come into force. It cannot be implemented until those relevant decisions come into force. It is, however, sensible to be able to debate the matter in advance. Of course we can anticipate now that 78 is the number of MEPs that the Copenhagen Council and other discussions that have taken place across Europe have allocated not just to the UK but to other countries as well, if all countries ratify. We shall also have the ratification decisions by September this year. Conservative Members seem to be asking for us to wait until 1 May 2004—when the treaty of accession comes into force and at which point elections will be just five or six weeks away—to tell the electoral administrators, candidates and political parties how many MEPs there are going to be. They are suggesting that, in the interim, we should simply leave them to guess on the basis of what they read in the papers, while we give them a nudge and wink and say, "Well, it will probably be 78, but we cannot have a debate about it in Parliament. Everybody is capable of reading the papers, and electoral administrators up and down the country will be capable of working out that the anticipated number is 78 but, no, Parliament just cannot do it."

Conservative Members seem to be suggesting that we should take that position. That is just not sensible when a whole load of people across the country have to organise an election. They have a hard enough job as it is; an immense amount of work goes into such organisation. Surely we should be able to say, very sensibly, that we can debate the order now, when we are able to, and give those people warning as to what we expect to take place. The order cannot come into force until the Community law comes into force, but it is sensible that we should be able to have that debate in advance.

The hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) has an obsession with the word "anticipation". The term "anticipated changes" allows the Lord Chancellor to refer anticipated changes to the Electoral Commission and to ask for its advice and recommendations. If necessary, the Lord Chancellor can refer a series of options on which it can make recommendations. Again, this prevents us from having to wait until the treaty of accession or other treaties come into force, possibly at a very late date, before we can even ask the Electoral Commission to advise us on the distribution of MEPs.

Any idea that the Lord Chancellor should be entrusted with the responsibility for determining what constitutes anticipation in these circumstances is scarcely reassuring to most right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House. May I ask the Minister, however, to agree to the principle of consistency in these matters and, therefore, to tell the House how she reconciles the decisions under the treaty of Nice that have necessitated the Bill and the amendments to the order-making power with the prior inclusion in the treaty of Amsterdam of the protocol on the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality, because there is obviously a direct read-across?

I should have brought my treaty of Amsterdam. I knew that I was taking a risk by just bringing a copy of the treaty of Nice to the House this evening. The treaty of Nice sets out the clear and simple issue, which the Bill is trying to implement, of changing the number of MEPs in order to allow the accession states fair representation in the European Parliament. We cannot simply unilaterally decide how many MEPs we want to send to the European Parliament this year—they would arrive there and there would not be any seats for them. Clearly, the number of MEPs that each nation is entitled to send has to be negotiated and agreed across Europe. Those decisions then have to pass through the appropriate incorporation into UK law, and the House decided to incorporate the treaty of Nice in that way. The treaty set out a simple principle, which does not need the treaty of Amsterdam or any other treaty that the hon. Member for Buckingham chooses to throw into the debate to explain it.

Hon. Members have asked whether there will be a debate on these matters. There has already been a debate on the treaty of Nice, and there will be a debate on the treaty of accession, which will set out the number of MEPs for 2004, when the legislation to incorporate the treaty of accession will come before the House. My hon. Friend the Minister for Europe, who is on the Front Bench, has responsibility in those matters.

The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) is right: the amendments improve the Bill and I hope that Conservative Members will recognise that and will have the sense to vote for them.

Question put, That this House agrees with the Lords in the said amendment:—

The House divided: Ayes 270, Noes 113.

Division No.171]

[7:08 pm


Abbott, Ms DianeClarke, rh Tom (Coatbridge &
Ainger, Nick


Ainsworth, Bob (Cov'try NE)Clelland, David
Alexander, DouglasClwyd, Ann (Cynon V)
Allen, GrahamCoaker, Vernon
Anderson, rh Donald (Swansea E)Coffey, Ms Ann
Armstrong, rh Ms HilaryColeman, Iain
Atherton, Ms CandyColman Tony
Atkins, CharlotteCook, rh Robin (Livingston)
Austin, JohnCooper, Yvette
Bailey, AdrianCorston, Jean
Baird, VeraCousins, Jim
Banks, TonyCrausby, David
Barnes, HarryCruddas, Jon
Barron, rh KevinCryer, Ann (Keighley)
Battle, JohnCryer, John (Hornchurch)
Bayley, HughCummings, John
Beard, NigelCunningham, rh Dr. Jack
Beith, rh A.J.


Beith, HilaryCunningham, Jim (Coventry S)
Bennett, AndrewCunningham, Tony (Workington)
Benton, Joe (Bootle)Dalyell, Tam
Best, HaroldDavey, Valerie (Bristol W)
Betts, CliveDavies, rh Denzil (Llanelli)
Blackman, LizDavies, Geraint (Croydon C)
Blizzard, BobDawson, Hilton
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)Dean, Mrs Janet
Bradshaw, BenDhanda, Parmjit
Brake, Tom (Carshalton)Dobbin, Jim (Heywood)
Brown, rh Nicholas (Newcastle EDobson, rh Frank


Donohoe, Brian H.
Doran, Frank
Bryant, ChrisDoughty, Sue
Buck, Me KarenDrown, Ms Julia
Burnham. AndyEdwards, Huw
Cable, Dr. Vincent Efford, Clive
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)Ellman, Mrs Louise
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'Bridge)Ennis, Jeff (Barnsley E)
Campbell, rh Menzies (NE Fife)Ewing, Annabelle
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)Field, rh Frank (Birkenhead)
Casale, RogerFisher, Mark
Challen, ColinFlint, Caroline
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)Follett, Barbara
Chaytor, DavidFoster, Don (Bath)

Foster, Michael (Worcester)McDonnell, John
Foster, Michael Jabez (HastingsMacDougall, John


McFall, John
Foulkes, rh GeorgeMcIsaac, Shona
Francis, Dr. HywelMcKechin, Ann
Gapes, Mike (llford S)Mackinlay, Andrew
Gardiner, BarryMacShane, Denis
Gerrard, NeilMcWalter, Tony
Gibson, Dr. IanMahmood, Khalid
Gidley, SandraMallaber, Judy
Gilroy, LindaMandelson, rh Peter
Goggins, PaulMann, John (Bassetlaw)
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)Marris, Rob (Wolverh'ton SW)
Hall, Patrick (Bedford)Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Hamilton, David (Midlothian)Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury &
Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)


Hanson, DavidMarshall, David (Glasgow
Harman, rh Ms Harriet


Harvey, NickMarshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Havard, Dai (Merthyr Tydfil &Meacher, rh Michael


Merron, Gillian
Healey, JohnMichael, rh Alun
Heath, DavidMiller, Andrew
Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N)Mole, Chris
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)Morris, rh Estelle
Hendrick, MarkMullin, Chris
Hepburn, StephenMunn, Ms Meg
Hewitt, rh Ms PatriciaMurphy, Denis (Wansbeck)
Hill, Keith (Streatham)Murphy, Jim (Eastwood)
Hinchliffe, DavidNaysmith, Dr. Doug
Hodge, MargaretNorris, Dan (Wansdyke)
Hood, Jimmy (Clydesdale)Olner, Bill
Hope, Phil (Corby)O'Neill, Martin
Hopkins, KelvinPalmer, Dr. Nick
Howarth, rh Alan (Newport E)Perham, Linda
Howarth, George (Knowsley N &Pickthall, Colin

Sefton E)

Pike, Peter (Burnley)
Howells, Dr. KimPlaskitt, James
Hughes, Beverley (Stretford &Pollard, Kerry


Pond, Chris (Gravesham)
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)Pound, Stephen
Hughes, Simon (Southwark N)Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
Humble, Mrs Joan
Hutton, rh JohnProsser, Gwyn
Iddon, Dr. BrianPurchase, Ken
Illsley, EricPurnell, James
Ingram, rh AdamQuinn, Lawrie
Irranca-Davies, HuwRapson, Syd (Portsmouth N)
Jackson, Glenda (Hampstead &Reed, Andy (Loughborough)


Reid, rh Dr. John (Hamilton N &
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)


Jamieson, DavidRendel, David
Johnson, Alan (Hull W)Robertson, Angus (Moray)
Jones, Helen (Warrington N)Robertson, John (Glasgow
Jones, Kevan (N Durham)


Jones, Martyn (ClwydS)Roche, Mrs Barbara
Keeble, Ms SallyRooney, Terry
Keen, Alan (Feltham)Ruddock, Joan
Keen, Ann (Brentford)Russell, Ms Christine (City of
Khabra, Piara S.


Kidney, DavidRyan, Joan (Enfield N)
Knight, Jim (S Dorset)Salter, Martin
Ladyman, Dr. StephenSanders, Adrian
Lammy, DavidSawford, Phil
Laxton, Bob (Derby N)Sedgemore, Brian
Lazarowicz, MarkShaw, Jonathan
Lepper, DavidSheerman, Barry
Levitt, Tom (High Peak)Sheridan, Jim
Lewis, Ivan (Bury S)Shipley, Ms Debra
Lewis, Terry (Worsley)Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
Linton, MartinSingh, Marsha
Love, AndrewSmith, rh Chris (Islington S &
McAvoy, Thomas


McCabe, StephenSmith, Jacqui (Redditch)
McCafferty, ChrisSoley, Clive
McDonagh, SiobhainSouthworth, Helen
Spellar, rh JohnTwigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Squire, RachelTyler, Paul (N Cornwall)
Starkey, Dr. PhyllisTynan, Bill (Hamilton S)
Steinberg, GerryVaz, Keith (Leicester E)
Stevenson, GeorgeVis, Dr. Rudi
Stinchcombe, PaulWalley, Ms Joan
Strang, rh Dr. GavinWard, Claire
Stringer, GrahamWareing, Robert N.
Stunell, AndrewWatts, David
Sutcliffe, GerryWhite, Brian
Tami, Mark (Alyn)Whitehead, Dr. Alan
Wicks, Malcolm
Taylor, rh Ann (Dewsbury)Williams, Hywel (Caernarfon)
Taylor, Dari (Stockton S)Winnick, David
Taylor, David (NW Leics)Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Thomas, Gareth (Harrow W)
Timms, StephenWishart, Pete
Tipping, PaddyWoodward, Shaun
Todd, Mark (S Derbyshire)Woolas, Phil
Tonge, Dr. JennyWorthington, Tony
Touhig, Don (Islwyn)Wright, Anthony D. (Gt
Trickett, Jon


Truswell, PaulWright, David (Telford)
Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Turner, Dr. Desmond (Brighton

Tellers for the Ayes:


Mr. John Heppell and

Twigg, Derek (Ha/ton)

Mr. Fraser Kemp


Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey)Grieve, Dominic
Amess, DavidGummer, rh John
Arbuthnot, rh JamesHague, rh William
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)Hammond, Philip
Bacon, RichardHawkins, Nick
Baldry, TonyHayes, John (S Holland)
Barker, GregoryHeathcoat-Amory, rh David
Baron, John (Billericay)Hendry, Charles
Bellingham, HenryHermon, Lady
Bercow, JohnHoban, Mark (Fareham)
Beresford, Sir PaulHogg, rh Douglas
Blunt, CrispinHoram, John (Orpington)
Boswell, TimHoward, rh Michael
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W)Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)
Bottomley, rh Virginia (SWJackson, Robert (Wantage)


Jenkin, Bernard
Brady, GrahamKey, Robert (Salisbury)
Brazier, JulianLaing, Mrs Eleanor
Browning, Mrs AngelaLansley, Andrew
Burnside, DavidLeigh, Edward
Burt, AlistairLetwin, rh Oliver
Cameron, DavidLewis, Dr. Julian (New Forest E)
Cash, WilliamLiddell-Grainger, Ian
Chope, ChristopherLidington, David
Clarke, rh Kenneth (Rushcliffe)Lilley, rh Peter
Conway, DerekLuff, Peter (M-Worcs)
Curry, rh DavidMaclean, rh David
Davies, Quentin (Grantham &McLoughlin, Patrick


Maples, John
Davis, rh David (Haltemprice &May, Mrs Theresa


Mercer, Patrick
Djanogly, JonathanMitchell, Andrew (Sutton
Duncan, Alan (Rutland)


Evans, NigelMoss, Malcolm
Fabricant, MichaelMurrison, Dr. Andrew
Field, Mark (Cities of London &Norman, Archie


O'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbury)
Flight, HowardPage, Richard
Flook, AdrianPaice, James
Forth, rh EricPaterson, Owen
Fox, Dr. LiamPickles, Eric
Francois, MarkPrisk, Mark (Hertford)
Garnier, EdwardRedwood, rh John
Gibb, Nick (Bognor Regis)Robathan, Andrew
Gray, James (N Wilts)Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)
Grayling, ChrisRosindell, Andrew
Greenway, JohnRuffley, David

Selous, AndrewWalter, Robert
Shephard, rh Mrs GillianWaterson, Nigel
Shepherd, RichardWatkinson, Angela
Smyth, Rev. Martin (Belfast S)Whittingdale, John
Spelman, Mrs CarolineWiddecombe, rh Miss Ann
Spicer, Sir MichaelWiggin, Bill
Spink, Bob (Castle Point)Willetts, David
Spring, RichardWilshire, David
Streeter, GaryYeo, Tim (S Suffolk)
Syms, RobertYoung, rh Sir George
Taylor, John (Solihull)
Taylor, Sir Teddy

Tellers for the Noes:

Turner, Andrew (Isle of Wight)

Mr. Desmond Swayne and

Tyrie, Andrew

Hugh Robertson

Question accordingly agreed to.

Lords amendments Nos. 2 and 3 agreed to.

Clause 9

Electoral Commission Recommendation

As To The Electoral Region To Be Combined With Gibraltar

Lords amendment: No. 9.

I beg to move, That this House agrees with the Lords in the said amendment.

With this it will be convenient to deal with Lords amendments Nos. 8, 11, 12, 14, 15 and amendment (a) thereto, 16, 17 18, and 19.

All these amendments are concerned with provisions in the Bill relating to the role of the Government of Gibraltar in the preparation for, and conduct of, the European Parliament elections in Gibraltar. They stem from the very constructive debate that took place at previous stages in this House, in the other place and with the Government of Gibraltar. As I explained in Committee and on Report, we were keen to introduce amendments that address the concerns raised in Committee and by the Government of Gibraltar. It was important to consult them before doing so, and we have brought forward amendments in the other place with that in mind.

Lords amendments Nos. 14 and 15 deal with issues relating to the jurisdiction of the courts. They move the original provisions into a specific clause on jurisdiction, and set out more clearly that the powers are concerned with conferring jurisdiction on Gibraltar and the UK courts, not simply on the latter. Our intention remains, as we explained in Committee, that issues that would normally be dealt with in the UK by magistrates courts, the Crown court or county courts will be dealt with locally by the courts in Gibraltar, but that issues that tend to be dealt with by the High Court or the election courts—issues that might involve the result of an election in the region as a whole—will be dealt with by the UK courts. These amendments set out more clearly that that is possible. Also included in the clause is an express reference to a power to provide for a judge from the supreme court of Gibraltar to have a role on the elections court should a case need to come before it, and should such action be regarded as appropriate in those circumstances.

Are the Government of Gibraltar entirely happy with these amendments, or do they still have reservations and criticisms?

I have a letter from the Government of Gibraltar, and if the right hon. Gentleman will give me the chance, I will find it while other Members are speaking and read it to him later, so that the Government of Gibraltar can speak in their own voice. Certainly, we have had considerable further discussion with them.

I draw hon. Members attention to amendment (a), which I have tabled, to Lords amendment No. 15. It corrects an error in the new clause, the intention of which is to enable the conferring of jurisdiction on the courts to be made under either regulations or an order. The current reference is limited to "regulations", and the amendment corrects that error.

Amendment No. 16 confirms expressly that the Government of Gibraltar can play a role in making legislation that relates to the European parliamentary elections provided for under this Bill. In fact, we expect the Government of Gibraltar and the House of Assembly to pass some of the necessary legislation, and we expect to work with them closely on some of the follow-on subordinate legislation that will be needed.

Amendment No. 4 adds the leaders of the political parties in the House of Assembly to those who will be consulted by the Electoral Commission. Amendments Nos. 8 and 11 apply to the returning officer. We had established that the returning officer should be appointed by the Governor of Gibraltar in the same way that the House of Assembly's electoral registration officer is currently appointed, as we understood that the same person would be appointed to both posts. However, amendment No. 8 adopts a similar approach by simply stating that the clerk of the House of Assembly should hold the post of electoral registration officer for Gibraltar. I understand that the Government of Gibraltar are content with that amendment.

Amendment No. 12, which is more technical, improves the distinction between the status of Gibraltar and that of a local authority. Clause 19 is about providing for the Government of Gibraltar to place at the disposal of the electoral returning officer for the European Parliament elections the services of their officers. It is a parallel provision to that within the UK, and it was important to distinguish appropriately between the status of Gibraltar and that of a local authority.

Amendment No. 17 refers to clause 22, which makes financial provision for expenditure arising from the Bill's provisions. The basic intention in respect of financing of the European parliamentary elections in Gibraltar is that the UK consolidated fund will pay for the Gibraltar returning officer's expenses, and Gibraltar will pay for its local registration officer. Gibraltar will use its own legislation to enable it to pay for the latter expenses, so the amendment removes from clause 22 any provision for this purpose, as it is no longer necessary.

Amendments Nos. 18 and 19 are minor, technical amendments that ensure that certain references in clauses 24 and 25 are correct.

Anyone listening to the Minister might be forgiven for assuming that the Government and the people of Gibraltar are entirely satisfied with the proposals, and that there are not in fact several important matters that have effectively been glossed over—a process that we got used to in Committee and on Report.

The Minister has an extraordinary capacity for making light of matters that are hotly debated and controversial and that go to the heart of many issues that the Gibraltar Government, and the people of Gibraltar as a whole—as reflected in the referendum—feel very strongly about. The cursory and arrogant manner in which the Minister disposed of those questions is consistent with the criticisms that I made of the whole Bill—that Gibraltar matters are being dealt with in an imperialistic and colonialistic fashion. One would not have expected it—or, at least, not in the past—of the present Government. They surprise us all the time—sometimes in a way that is more to our liking than at other times.

7.30 pm

One central question is the overriding concern of the Gibraltar Government to make it clear that the territory of Gibraltar, not just its electorate, is being enfranchised. It is argued that it is all about individual electors and the electorate, but if a significant proportion of my electorate were to be excised from parliamentary representation and I said that it was not both territorial and electoral, I would be severely criticised. The Government are playing games with the notion of the electorate. What is happening is part of a process and, in practice, despite the constitutional fictions presented by the Government, the territory is being enfranchised. To enfranchise a territory, it is necessary to do so through its constitutional mechanisms and institutions.

The ambivalence and ambiguity of the Bill is highlighted by the Government's refusal to include Gibraltar in the name of the constituency. I tabled an amendment to that effect, which was debated in earlier proceedings. It is perfectly logical, as with so many constituencies in the United Kingdom, to have double or even treble names to reflect the territorial aspect of the electorate in question. It defies belief, and surprises and disturbs me, that there is no recognition of the fact that Gibraltar is by any standards an important part of the history of this country and strategically still of immense importance. I hope that nothing in the constitutional proposals—I must not go into detail—will in any way lead to a change in the status of Gibraltar. As I said, it is illogical that the name of one of the two territories of the combined region should not be reflected in its name.

The Minister explained that in terms of relative size and numbers, an issue that cropped up during the debate. However, we believe that Gibraltar should be included in the constituency name because the reality is territorial as well as constitutional. I do not believe in constitutional theology, only in the relevance of constitutional frameworks in the context of practical results. The current state of affairs shows how the Government have failed to combine the practice with the constitutional arrangements that they are proposing.

Amendment No. 4 poses a serious problem. The Government have partially responded to the representations that I made in Committee and on Report. Originally, the process of discussion and consultation was too limited, but the amendment would allow for the Chief Minister and other political leaders to be involved in the process of consultation with the Electoral Commission in respect of the electoral region to be combined with Gibraltar. That is a step in the right direction, but, unfortunately, the Government have insisted that consultation with the Governor should be included, which causes difficulties that I will explain.

Elections are fundamentally a political and democratic event. They are, under the Gibraltar constitution, a defined domestic matter. That is important, as the Minister well understands. Indeed, elections fall within the competence of the Gibraltar Government and the House of Assembly. In no sense whatever does the Governor represent the people of Gibraltar. The Minister knows that the Governor represents the Crown: it is a prerogative appointment, so—in constitutional practice—the Foreign Office represents the reality of the position of the Governor.

I passed through Thurrock this afternoon and I was thinking about the hon. Gentleman as I drove up the A20. I wondered whether he would be present in the debate. I concur with what he said. In no sense does the Governor represent the people of Gibraltar and neither do they feel represented by him. The difficulty with the amendment is that its provisions are democratically inappropriate and irrelevant.

It is important to note that a duty to consult does not mean a duty to agree. We have seen how Gibraltar has been bamboozled in the past when consultation has produced good advice, but it has been ignored.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for making that point. He is absolutely right—I have made the same point on several occasions in earlier proceedings—that consultation means no more than listening to what people have to say. A framework may be in place to ensure that people are listened to carefully, but it does not go beyond that. We are glad that some movement has taken place, but dissatisfied in respect of the substantial points that I have made.

We agree with amendments Nos. 8 and 11 and we are glad that they have been accepted. Amendments Nos. 14 and 15 relate to clause 21, and amendment No. 15 would insert a new clause entitled "Jurisdiction of courts". The election court's decision would impact on the election result for the entire combined region, so we must expect it to have jurisdiction over that whole region. That could be achieved by UK legislation bestowing the requisite jurisdiction in respect of the UK part of the region, and by Gibraltar legislation bestowing it similarly in respect of the Gibraltar part. As a result, between the two pieces of legislation, the court would have jurisdiction over the whole.

No one suggests that the Gibraltar court should have jurisdiction to dispose of the issues for the entire region. That would be ridiculous, because Gibraltar is only part of a combined region. It has been proposed that the UK election court should constitute the election court for Gibraltar, but that it should be appointed under Gibraltar legislation.

That seems a reasonable suggestion. It has been proposed that a Gibraltar judge should join the election court, which is an acceptable and sensible step in the right direction. However, that does not alter the fundamental point that I have already made about the essence of jurisdiction.

It is suggested that the court would also be Gibraltar's election court, pursuant to local constitutional provision. It would thus become a Gibraltar institution, in the same way as the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, even though that is a United Kingdom court. There would thus be a better way of dealing with the jurisdictional problem posed by the new clause. Glad as we are that some movement has been made in that respect, it is, unfortunately, not possible to accept the proposed mechanism for ensuring that the election court's jurisdiction extends to Gibraltar. Regrettably, that problem remains on the table and has not been resolved, despite some movement in the right direction.

Lords amendment No. 16 would insert a new clause on the effect of statutory powers on the capacity of the Gibraltar legislature. I regret that the Minister did not go into detail about that extremely important provision. Unfortunately, the amendment fails to deal with the fact that Gibraltar's legislature should play a legislative role that recognises the relevance of its territorial institutions. In fact, the proposals would go in the opposite direction by giving United Kingdom subsidiary legislation supremacy over Gibraltar primary legislation. That is a serious problem. It would have been far better, even with a provision for consultation between the Lord Chancellor and the Chief Minister, if the Gibraltar House of Assembly had been given power to legislate on any provision required to give effect to the Act in Gibraltar.

Such a mechanism could have been employed by using Gibraltar's legislative procedures in consultation with the Lord Chancellor. I would anticipate no difficulty in producing the right result, because the Gibraltarians are, above all, practical and reasonable people. They appreciate the necessity of provisions, in the right context, so that Gibraltar would not be attempting to legislate for the whole of the combined region. However, when provisions affect their territory, institutions and status, it seems insensitive, to say the least, that the matter should be dealt with by giving UK subsidiary legislation superiority over Gibraltar primary legislation.

Furthermore, after the provisions have gone through, I do not expect the people of Gibraltar to sit back and say, "That's fine." It is fair to say that they retain considerable residual suspicion as to Spanish aspirations towards Gibraltar. I hope that I do not misinterpret anything that was done in respect to Iraq in imagining that there might be some degree of cooperation in the determination underlying the process of bringing Gibraltar back into Spanish territory. That remains of deep concern to the people of Gibraltar and none of the amendments—

Order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will now address his remarks to the amendment.

7.45 pm

I understand your point, Madam Deputy Speaker, as I know that you understood mine, so I do not need to press the matter.

Lords amendment No. 17 relates to clause 22. Again, I am happy to acknowledge that, as a result of representations that we made in Committee and on Report, the Government have moved towards our proposals. The people of Gibraltar do not have a direct voice in this House so, to a great extent, they have had to rely on Members of Parliament to make their case for them.

Although the Bill is obviously a step in the right direction, does my hon. Friend agree that Gibraltar also needs at least one MP in this House?

My hon. Friend makes an extremely valid point, with which many people will agree. If people have the right to elect a Member of the European Parliament, there seems no logical reason, given the territorial point that I have made repeatedly and by virtue of assimilation in the legislative process of the EU, not to recognise the fact that Gibraltar is affected by the legislation of the European Parliament so its people, too, should have representation in this House. I have no difficulty with that proposition. I do not know whether my hon. Friend is thinking of going over to Gibraltar; I am sure that, as the Member for North-West Norfolk he would be welcome, although I do not think he has it in mind to become the Member for Gibraltar—

Indeed, although I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Norfolk (Mr. Bellingham) would also be a powerful advocate for Gibraltar.

Although concessions have been made on clause 22, a difficulty remains: the extent of payments that the Gibraltarians would be expected to make was not entirely clear from the Minister's comments. Perhaps she could amplify that point when she replies to the debate.

There was much concern and discussion of the fact that, in effect, the Gibraltarians were being instructed as to how they should deal with their own funds. Much of the heat has been taken out of that situation by the redrafting of the proposals, but it is not yet clear exactly how much the Gibraltarians would have to pay from their own funds. The provision is rather general as to that, so I should be grateful if the Minister could amplify her earlier remarks.

On territoriality, in UK law a mixture of status plus residence in an electoral region is needed to create eligibility to vote. It has been suggested that, in the case of electors in Gibraltar, such residence would have to be in the territory of Gibraltar. I was given to understand that the requirement would be clear from Gibraltar's inclusion in the schedule listing the geographical parts of the relevant region.

I can find no such reference in the Bill or the amendments, although I looked several times because I had been given to understand that that had been suggested. I had hoped that it would be set out, if not in the schedule to the Bill, certainly in the list of regions in clause 1, but I am afraid that I have not come across that, so I remain puzzled. Perhaps the Minister will refer to that issue as well. Those are the main points that I wished to make. We are partially satisfied; we are glad that there has been some movement in our direction, but, regrettably, not enough.

It is a pleasure to return to the subject of Gibraltar and the inadequacies of the British Government in recognising the fact that Gibraltar is part of the territory of the European Union. As has been ascertained by the European Court of Justice, the European Parliament is responsible for part of Gibraltar's legislation, yet the people of Gibraltar have been denied enfranchisement. The Bill will finally correct that anomaly; indeed, it is worse than an anomaly, it is an affront to the people of Gibraltar, and the change is long overdue.

In totality, I broadly support the amendments because, as the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) said, they represent a move in the right direction on a number of points, which he and I have put to the Minister on various occasions during the consideration of the Bill. However, I agree with him that the amendments do not by any means represent 100 per cent. of what we would have liked to be included in the legislation. Many hon. Members have been surprised at the lack of real consultation with the Government of Gibraltar and the failure to understand some of the points that they have made.

I accept that, since we first raised the issue, there has been significant dialogue with the Government of Gibraltar, and the Minister was kind enough to send hon. Members a copy of the observations that the Government of Gibraltar sent to her Department on 27 January 2003, in a facsimile message from Mr. Ernest Montado, the chief secretary to the Government of Gibraltar. He raised two substantive points and seven separate points that he asked the Government to consider. Even more helpful was the fact that the Minister provided not only a copy of that transmission to me and, I presume, the hon. Member for Stone, but an addendum consisting of the ticks and observations that presumably civil servants or perhaps the Minister herself made to indicate support or otherwise for the position adopted by the Government of Gibraltar.

First, the Government of Gibraltar raise the important point of the naming of the joint constituency, which I will not go into because it is outside the scope of these amendments. Lords amendment No. 4, which relates to clause 9, repeats the observation of the hon. Member for Stone that the reference to consultation with the Governor should be deleted. Interestingly, that was one of the references in the original message that was ticked as being okay. It obviously turned out to be not okay later, and I fail to understand why.

The Governor is one of two things. First, he represents the Crown in Gibraltar, and it is entirely inappropriate that the Crown should be a consultee to what is essentially a political process. If one sets aside the fact that the Governor represents the Crown, the other thing that the Governor represents is the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, as an appointee of the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. So we have the extraordinary position of the Government consulting their own appointee on legislation that they wish to introduce.

As the hon. Gentleman says, the Governor is appointed without consultation. Of course the Lord Chancellor is appointed without consultation, so the appointed Lord Chancellor discusses with the appointed Governor what should be the electoral arrangements for Gibraltar. I find that entirely inappropriate. Having said that, I cannot bring myself to vote against an amendment that will extend the consultation to the leader of each political party represented in the House of Assembly because that clearly improves the Bill.

In Committee and on Report, I put the argument to the Minister that the consultation should include not just the Chief Minister. but the representatives of each political party in Gibraltar for the purposes of transparency and balance, so although Lords amendment No. 4 does not go far enough—the word "Governor" will not be deleted—it is welcome nevertheless.

However, has the Minister seriously considered the fact that the Bill proposes consulting only on the electoral area in which Gibraltar will be placed, not on the electoral arrangements and those for registration and all the others matters that will pertain in Gibraltar following the Bill's enactment? It seems extraordinary that, when a similar Bill was introduced for the United Kingdom, consultation with the various political parties in this country was required, but that is not considered necessary for Gibraltar. The arrangements for political registration, registering gifts and donations and all the other points of electoral law with which we have become familiar will be determined by diktat. I ask the Minister to explain why that is the case in the context of Lords amendment No. 4.

The second point that Mr. Montado made was in reference to clause 11, about which he said:
"this can be achieved by Gibraltar legislation (or at least with parallel legislation)."
Again, that point is ticked, but no amendment to clause 11 has been proposed; nor has one been proposed to clause 14, which was not quite given a tick—a question mark was put by Mr. Montado's suggestion that the provisions in clause 14 could be achieved by local legislation.

We should applaud the provisions relating to the clerk to the House of Assembly being the returning officer. That was requested by the Government of Gibraltar, and I am grateful to the Government for acceding to that request.

The Government of Gibraltar have made a further suggestion about clause 13(4), asking that the Government should consider adding the words,
"any provision of this Ordinance which empowers the Lord Chancellor to prescribe…may with the Lord Chancellor's agreement be done by the legislature of Gibraltar".
The hon. Member for Stone was making that point and, interestingly, the annotation made by the civil servant or the Minister was not only a tick, but the words, "Should have been in?" Well, that suggestion should have been in, but it turns out that it was not in, and it is still not in. That is an omission.

I welcome the Lords amendments to clause 19 that separate references to the Government of Gibraltar from the references to a local council. Those references in the original text were quite extraordinary. I welcome the changes to the position of the court of Gibraltar. To an extent, I share the reservations of the hon. Member for Stone, as we are being asked to allow the court of Gibraltar to be involved in part of the procedure, but by no means all of it, although it relates to matters that affect people in Gibraltar. A better balance could have been reached, but nevertheless I am happy that the amendment has been included.

The last point that I want to make relates to finances—a matter that we explored at length in Committee because a number of us, including the hon. Member for Stone and myself, thought it quite improper for legislation passed in the House to require the expenditure of funds from the Consolidated Fund for Gibraltar without any reference to the Government of Gibraltar. That expenditure would essentially be made by diktat, given that definite devolved powers were given to the Government of Gibraltar under previous legislation.

It seemed to me that that was entirely wrong. The Government have now accepted that and have put it right with amendment No. 17, which I welcome. It is a pity that there was not a little more co-operation and dialogue in relation to what the Government intended and to what the Government of Gibraltar were clearly happy to accede—they are delighted with the prospect of enfranchisement for the people of Gibraltar and they want to co-operate in that regard—instead of the process that has been adopted.

8 pm

In sum, this group of amendments are welcome. They all move in the right direction, although some do not go far enough. I fear, however, that that is as good as we are going to get at this stage in the Bill's progress. I shall not recommend that my right hon. and hon. Friends vote against any of the amendments, as there are none with which I disagree; I would simply like a few more— [Interruption.] My right hon. and hon. Friends have all gone to win council seats—there are plenty around—as hon. Members will discover on Thursday.

The Minister should have gone further. She should have listened earlier to the people of Gibraltar, and she should have acceded more fully to their requests. Clearly, however, the Bill is better as a result of these amendments than it was when it left the House of Commons, having been the subject of so many fruitless hours of discussion on points to which the Government did not accede.

It is typical of this Government that they did not consult properly in the first place and did not listen. Even now that they have consulted—after a fashion—the Minister was still unable when I intervened on her during her opening remarks to tell me whether the Government of Gibraltar were satisfied with the amendments. As the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) pointed out, the Government of Gibraltar are clearly not entirely satisfied with the amendments. It is no wonder they are so unhappy: they have seen this Government do them down over the sensitive issue of sovereignty, in respect of which this Government ignored the strong advice from Gibraltar; we have seen them done down over the issue of taxation and tax status by being brought into a net to which they do not wish to belong in order to damage their economy; and this same Government who fail to stand up for Gibraltar are now not listening to it carefully enough in relation to these sensitive amendments. I hope that at this late stage the Minister will admit that she has not stood up for Gibraltar on these issues, and that she will reconsider the matter, as the amendments are not sufficient to meet the legitimate concerns of the people and Government of Gibraltar.

I assume that the hon. Member— [HON. MEMBERS: "Right hon."] I apologise. I assume that the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) made his strong views clear to his right hon. and hon. Friends in the Government of whom he was a part before the 1997 general election, who supported the current constitutional position of Gibraltar and who failed to enfranchise the people of Gibraltar for the European parliamentary elections. I think that I also caught him saying—although I may have to check Hansard—that this Government were the first to stand up for Gibraltar. I think that those were the words that he used, and I thank him for those kind words.

I certainly did not intend to say that, and I trust that Hansard heard me correctly. I said that this Government have not stood up for Gibraltar, that they will not do so, and that the Minister has shown again tonight that she cannot do so.

I am afraid that what I heard the right hon. Gentleman say, after complaining that previous Governments had not done enough for Gibraltar, was that this Government, who are the first to stand up for Gibraltar, have not gone as far as he would have chosen to. Clearly, he and the Hansard reporter will need to argue over the record this evening.

I know that some hon. Members want to change the constitutional status, and this Bill does not do that. It has never pretended to do that, and it should not do that. It cannot resolve every constitutional debate that hon. Members want to have about Gibraltar and its future. The Bill is designed to give the people of Gibraltar the vote for the European Parliament. The hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) referred to the issue of the name, which we have discussed in Committee, as he said, and we made it clear that it would be disproportionate to do as he suggests, given the numbers of people—

I will, although the point is not covered by the amendments that we are discussing.

On the question of territoriality, the point remains important. In the 18th century, we had constituencies that were under the high water mark that still returned Members of Parliament. We now have electors who are allowed to elect people to the European Parliament, but, according to the Government, they are not entitled to any territorial claim. That sounds most odd.

The hon. Gentleman said, "I do not believe in constitutional theology." I will therefore refrain from getting into a debate with him about constitutional theology, and point out again that the constitutional status of Gibraltar is not a part of this Bill.

The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) raised the issue of the Governor and consultation of the Governor. The Governor is listed as one of the consultees, which is an aspect of the current constitutional status of Gibraltar. The hon. Gentleman is right that this issue relates to the consultation by the Electoral Commission, and we maintained throughout the Committee stage that we are committed to consulting the Government of Gibraltar, exactly as we have done not simply throughout the passage of the Bill but prior to the Bill being laid before Parliament. We will continue to do so, and we will need to do so in relation to the detailed secondary legislation that will be required in time for the 2004 elections.

It would be helpful, for the record, if the Minister were to set out her expectation that the Electoral Commission will also consult with parties other than the Government of Gibraltar on electoral registration, on donations to parties and on the range of issues that are not explicit in the Bill.

The Electoral Commission has always set out that it will consult widely on all the issues for which it has responsibility, and has always done so. My experience of the Electoral Commission is that it is always keen to consult widely and to ensure that all its work is properly based on a wide and effective consultation.

With reference to subsection (2) of amendment No. 16, and the reference to the status of subordinate legislation, can the hon. Lady tell the House what is the direct application of clause 63 of the Colonial Laws Validity Act 1865?

I fear that I am supposed to have brought not only the treaty of Amsterdam but an entire constitutional history of the nation to be able to answer the hon. Gentleman's questions.

The hon. Member for Stone referred to a series of issues about the courts and the role of the different courts as set out in the amendment. As I explained in Committee, the secondary legislation will provide in more detail for the way in which the courts will deal with particular issues that they consider. I am advised that the hon. Gentleman's proposal with regard to the election court is not possible. I am keen, however, to consider the issues and questions that he has raised to determine whether, as we set out the detail in secondary legislation, we can accommodate further concerns that he has not had the chance to raise.

I will deal with these points first.

The hon. Member for Stone and several other hon. Members raised the issue of allowing secondary legislation to be made in Gibraltar whenever possible. Throughout the Committee stage we maintained that such legislation should be made in Gibraltar wherever possible. However, we are constrained by the fact that in many cases the legislation will need to apply not only to Gibraltar but to the combined region as a whole, so it can be made only by the UK Parliament. The legal position, therefore, means that many legislative changes will need to be made in this place, although we have always said that we will consult the Government of Gibraltar.

We have plenty of time, so the hon. Lady need not be too concerned. Does she not accept that there are many instances in which parallel legislation has to be introduced in both this Parliament and the Scottish Parliament to achieve the same objectives, and that does not prove to be an obstacle to the proper administration of law in this country? There is no particular reason why Gibraltar could not have introduced parallel legislation to bring its electoral arrangements into accord with those in the UK, while maintaining the principle that Gibraltarian law is made in Gibraltar, not in this House.

That may prove to be the case in some legislative areas. We had a detailed discussion about that in Committee, and I do not want to return to that now. It will be possible for Gibraltar to introduce further legislation in certain areas, and we are certainly happy to support that, but in other areas the legal position will mean that as Gibraltar operates as part of the combined region, legislative changes will need to be made in this House. We have made great efforts to accommodate the concerns of the Government of Gibraltar on this issue, but the legal position means that we simply cannot do so entirely.

On amendment No. 17, the hon. Member for Stone asked for clarification about the UK Consolidated Fund and asked who would pay for what. The fund will pay for the Gibraltar returning officer's expenses for conducting the election in Gibraltar. That will represent the bulk of the expenditure at the election. That leaves the Government of Gibraltar to pay for the expenses of the Gibraltar-European registration officer. Effectively, then, the registration process will be paid for by the Government of Gibraltar, in an arrangement parallel to those for elections to local authorities throughout this country. The Government of Gibraltar have indicated that they are content with that.

I cannot resist the opportunity to give the hon. Gentleman the chance to entertain us.

I am delighted, because I have always paid homage to the hon. Lady as the intellectual hotshot and rising star in the new Labour firmament. Before she goes rushing helter-skelter on to the gravamen of amendment No. 17, I want her to explain the proper application of clause 63 of the Colonial Laws Validity Act 1865 in amendment No. 16, the parentage of which is hers, not ours.

I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman would like to give the House the opportunity to debate in great detail the constitutional history of Gibraltar and its relationship with this country, but that is not relevant to the Bill.

The new clause in amendment No. 16 confirms that the Bill does not remove the power of the Gibraltar legislature to make legislation that is not contrary to the provisions made by or under the Bill. Hence the reference to the Colonial Laws Validity Act 1865, which provides that any colonial law, which would include law made by Gibraltar, is void to the extent that it is contrary to law made by or under a UK Act of Parliament in relation to that colony, which includes Gibraltar. Accordingly, the amendment does not affect the Lord Chancellor's powers to make provision in exercise of his powers under the Bill. I trust that the hon. Gentleman is suitably enlightened and that if he has any further concerns he will conduct his own research into the Colonial Laws Validity Act. I am sure that he will not only write to me but entertain the House with his views on various historical provisions.

8.15 pm

Finally, the hon. Member for Wokingham— [Interruption.]I keep forgetting that he is the right hon. Member for Wokingham. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the views of the Government of Gibraltar, and I said that I would read to the House the letter that the Chief Secretary wrote to the Lord Chancellor's Department. It said:
"Thank you for your letter of the 25 March 2003 explaining further the approach which you have adopted in addressing our concerns.
We acknowledge that you have done your best to accommodate us within the constraints of your own position on the issues raised. I can assure you that we will, of course, continue to work together on the detail of the legislation that may be required to complete all the necessary arrangements for Gibraltar's inclusion in the 2004 elections for the European Parliament."
I have responded to hon. Members' points, and I hope now that Conservative Members will now feel able to support the amendments, which were welcomed by Conservative Members of the Lords. Indeed, Baroness Rawlings, who led for the Conservatives on the Bill, said at the conclusion of the debates:
"The Bill is very good news for the people of Gibraltar. We wish it well."— [Official Report, House of Lords, 7 April 2003; Vol. 647, c. 14.]
I hope that hon. Members in this House will adopt the same point of view and vote in support of the amendments.

Question put, That this House agrees with the Lords in the said amendment:—

The House divided: Ayes 280, Noes 113.

Division No. 172]

[8:16 pm


Abbott, Ms DianeCruddas, Jon
Adams, Irene (Paisley N)Cryer, Ann (Keighley)
Ainger, NickCryer, John (Hornchurch)
Ainsworth, Bob (Cov'try NE)Cummings, John
Alexander, DouglasCunningham, rh Dr. Jack
Allen, Graham


Anderson, rh Donald (Swansea E)Cunningham, Jim (Coventry S)
Armstrong, rh Ms HilaryCunningham, Tony (Workington)
Atherton, Ms CandyDalyell, Tam
Atkins, CharlotteDarling, rh Alistair
Austin, JohnDavey, Valerie (Bristol W)
Bailey, AdrianDavies, rh Denzil (Llanelli)
Baird, VeraDavies, Geraint (Croydon C)
Banks, TonyDawson, Hilton
Barnes, HarryDean, Mrs Janet
Barron, rh KevinDhanda, Parmjit
Battle, JohnDobbin, Jim (Heywood)
Bayley, HughDobson, rh Frank
Beith, rh A. J.Donohoe, Brian H.
Benn, HilaryDoran, Frank
Bennett, AndrewDoughty, Sue
Benton, Joe (Bootle)Drown, Ms Julia
Best, HaroldEdwards, Huw
Betts, CliveEfford, Clive
Blackman, LizEllman, Mrs Louise
Blears, Ms HazelEnnis, Jeff (Barnsley E)
Blizzard, BobEwing, Annabelle
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)Field, rh Frank (Birkenhead)
Bradshaw, BenFisher, Mark
Brake, Tom (Carshalton)Fitzpatrick, Jim
Brown, rh Nicholas (Newcastle EFlint, Caroline


Follett, Barbara
Bryant, ChrisFoster, Don (Bath)
Buck, Ms KarenFoster, Michael (Worcester)
Burnham, AndyFoster, Michael Jabez (Hastings &
Cable, Dr. Vincent


Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)Foulkes, rh George
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)Francis, Dr. Hywel
Campbell, rh Menzies (NE Fife)Gapes, Mike (Ilford S)
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)Gardiner, Barry
Casale, RogerGerrard, Neil
Challen, ColinGibson, Dr. Ian
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)Gidley, Sandra
Chaytor, DavidGilroy, Linda
Clarke, rh Tom (Coatbridge &Goggins, Paul


Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Clelland, DavidHall, Patrick (Bedford)
Clwyd, Ann (Cynon V)Hamilton, David (Midlothian)
Coaker, VernonHamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)
Coffey, Ms AnnHanson, David
Coleman, IainHarman, rh Ms Harriet
Colman, TonyHarvey, Nick
Connarty, MichaelHavard, Dai (Merthyr Tydfil &
Cook, rt Robin (Livingston)


Cooper, YvetteHealey, John
Cousins JimHeath, David
Crausby, DavidHenderson, Doug (Newcastle N)

Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)Michael, rh Alun
Hendrick, MarkMiliband, David
Hepburn, StephenMiller, Andrew
Heppell, JohnMole, Chris
Hermon, LadyMorris, rh Estelle
Hewitt, rh Ms PatriciaMullin, Chris
Hill, Keith (Streatham)Munn, Ms Meg
Hinchliffe, DavidMurphy, Denis (Wansbeck)
Hodge, MargaretMurphy, Jim (Eastwood)
Hood, Jimmy (Clydesdale)Naysmith, Dr. Doug
Hope, Phil (Corby)Olner, Bill
Hopkins, KelvinPalmer, Dr. Nick
Howarth, rh Alan (Newport E)Pearson, Ian
Howarth, George (Knowsley N &Perham, Linda

Sefton E)

Picking, Anne
Howells, Dr. KimPickthall, Colin
Hughes, Beverley (Stretford &Pike, Peter (Burnley)


Plaskitt, James
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)Pollard, Kerry
Humble, Mrs JoanPond, Chris (Gravesham)
Hutton, rh JohnPound, Stephen
Iddon, Dr. BrianPrentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham
Illsley, Eric


Ingram, rh AdamPrimarolo, rh Dawn
Irranca-Davies, HuwProsser, Gwyn
Jackson, Glenda (Hampstead &Purchase, Ken


Purnell, James
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)Quinn, Lawrie
Jamieson, DavidRapson, Syd (Portsmouth N)
Jones, Helen (Warrington N)Reed, Andy (Loughborough)
Jones, Kevan (N Durham)Reid, rh Dr. John (Hamilton N &
Jones, Lynne (Selly Oak)


Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)Rendel, David
Keeble, Ms SallyRobertson, Angus (Moray)
Keen, Alan (Feltham)Robertson, John (Glasgow
Keen, Ann (Brentford)


Kemp, FraserRoche, Mrs Barbara
Khabra, Piara S.Rooney, Terry
Kidney, DavidRuddock, Joan
Knight, Jim (S Dorset)Russell, Ms Christine (City of
Ladyman, Dr. Stephen


Lammy, DavidSalter, Martin
Laxton, Bob (Derby N)Sanders, Adrian
Lazarowicz, MarkSawford, Phil
Lepper, DavidSedgemore, Brian
Levitt, Tom (High Peak)Shaw, Jonathan
Lewis, Ivan (Bury S)Sheerman, Barry
Lewis, Terry (Worsley)Sheridan, Jim
Linton, MartinShipley, Ms Debra
Love, AndrewSimpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
McAvoy, ThomasSingh, Marsha
McCabe, StephenSmith, rh Chris (Islington S &
McCafferty, Chris


McCartney, rh IanSmith, Jacqui (Redditch)
McDonagh, SiobhainSmith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
McDonnell, JohnSoley, Clive
MacDougall, JohnSouthworth, Helen
McIsaac, ShonaSpellar, rh John
McKechin, AnnSquire, Rachel
Mackinlay, AndrewStarkey, Dr. Phyllis
McNulty, TonySteinberg, Gerry
MacShane, DenisStevenson, George
McWalter, TonyStinchcombe, Paul
Mahmood, KhalidStrang, rh Dr. Gavin
Mallaber, JudyStringer, Graham
Mandelson, rh PeterStunell, Andrew
Mann, John (Bassetlaw)Sutcliffe, Gerry
Marris, Rob (Wolverh'ton SW)Tami, Mark (Alyn)
Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)Taylor, rh Ann (Dewsbury)
Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury &Taylor, Dari (Stockton S)


Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Marshall, David (GlasgowThomas, Gareth (Harrow W)


Timms, Stephen
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)Tipping, Paddy
Meacher, rh MichaelTodd, Mark (S Derbyshire)
Merron, GillianTonge, Dr. Jenny
Touhig, Don (Islwyn)Whitehead, Dr. Alan
Trickett, JonWicks, Malcolm
Truswell, PaulWilliams, Hywel (Caernarfon)
Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)Winnick, David
Turner, Dr. Desmond (BrightonWinterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster



Turner, Neil (Wigan)Wishart, Pete
Twigg, Derek (Halton)Woodward, Shaun
Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)Woolas, Phil
Worthington, Tony
Tyler, Paul (N Cornwall)Wray, James (Glasgow
Tynan, Bill (Hamilton S)


Vaz, Keith (Leicester E)Wright, Anthony D. (Gt
Vis, Dr. Rudi


Walley, Ms JoanWright, David (Telford)
Ward, Claire
Wareing, Robert N.

Tellers for the Ayes:

Watts, David

Dan Norris and

White, Brian

Joan Ryan


Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey)Heathcoat-Amory, rh David
Amess, DavidHendry, Charles
Arbuthnot, rh JamesHoban, Mark (Fareham)
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)Hogg, rh Douglas
Bacon, RichardHoram, John (Orpington)
Baldry, TonyHowarth, Gerald (Aldershot)
Barker, GregoryJackson, Robert (Wantage)
Baron, John (Billericay)Jenkin, Bernard
Bellingham, HenryKey, Robert (Salisbury)
Bercow, JohnKirkbride, Miss Julie
Beresford, Sir PaulLaing, Mrs Eleanor
Blunt, CrispinLansley, Andrew
Boswell, TimLeigh, Edward
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W)Letwin, rh Oliver
Bottomley, rh Virginia (SWLewis, Dr. Julian (New Forest E)


Liddell-Grainger, Ian
Brady, GrahamLidington, David
Brazier, JulianLilley, rh Peter
Browning, Mrs AngelaLuff, Peter (M-Worcs)
Burnside, DavidMaclean, rh David
Burt, AlistairMcLoughlin, Patrick
Cameron, DavidMaples, John
Cash, WilliamMay, Mrs Theresa
Chope, ChristopherMercer, Patrick
Clarke, rh Kenneth (Rushcliffe)Mitchell, Andrew (Sutton
Conway, Derek


Cormack, Sir PatrickMoss, Malcolm
Curry, rh DavidMurrison, Dr. Andrew
Davies, Quentin (Grantham &Norman, Archie


O'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbury)
Davis, rh David (Haltemprice &Page, Richard


Paice, James
Djanogly, JonathanPaterson, Owen
Duncan, Alan (Rutland)Pickles, Eric
Evans, NigelPrisk, Mark (Hertford)
Fabricant, MichaelRedwood, rh John
Fallon, MichaelRobathan, Andrew
Field, Mark (Cities of London &Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)


Rosindell, Andrew
Flight, HowardSelous, Andrew
Flook, AdrianShephard, rh Mrs Gillian
Forth, rh EricShepherd, Richard
Fox, Dr. LiamSmyth, Rev. Martin (Belfast S)
Francois, MarkSpelman, Mrs Caroline
Gale, Roger (N Thanet)Spicer, Sir Michael
Garnier, EdwardSpink, Bob (Castle Point)
Gibb, Nick (Bognor Regis)Spring, Richard
Gray, James (N Wilts)Stanley, rh Sir John
Grayling, ChrisStreeter, Gary
Greenway, JohnSwire, Hugo (E Devon)
Grieve, DominicSyms, Robert
Gummer, rh JohnTaylor, John (Solihull)
Hague, rh WilliamTaylor, Sir Teddy
Hammond, PhilipTurner, Andrew (Isle of Wight)
Hawkins, NickViggers, Peter

Walter, RobertYeo, Tim (S Suffolk)
Waterson, NigelYoung, rh Sir George
Watkinson, Angela
Whitlingdale, John

Tellers for the Noes:

Widdecombe, rh Miss Ann

Mr. Desmond Swayne and

Wiggin, Bill

Hugh Robertson

Question accordingly agreed to.

Lords amendment agreed to.

Clause 12

Sections 10 And 11: Supplementary

Lords amendment: No. 5.

8.30 pm

I beg to move, That this House agrees with the Lords in the said amendment.

With this we may discuss Lords amendments Nos. 6, 7, 9, 10 and 13.

This group of amendments is inspired by the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, which recommended in its 11th report that the delegated powers in part 2 should be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure. In his response to the Committee, the Lord Chancellor accepted its recommendation. He said that he would table amendments, and amendments Nos. 5 to 7 and 10 and 13 are intended to achieve this purpose.

The amendments apply to the delegated powers under clauses 12, 17 and 20. They require the Lord Chancellor to use either an affirmative procedure, whereby a draft is laid and may not come into force until parliamentary debates have been held, or, in urgent cases, an alternative but well-established affirmative procedure whereby the debates may be held within 40 parliamentary sitting days after the instrument has been made.

The procedure recognises the concerns that have been expressed that detailed secondary legislation should receive the scrutiny of both Houses, and the Government's concern that we should not find ourselves in a position where, because of timetabling difficulties, we will not be able to put the final details in place to enable all parties concerned to prepare properly for the elections in June 2004. As we set out in Committee, there are time constraints, given the imminence of the 2004 elections and the immense amount of work that will have to be done. The Government of Gibraltar must be consulted on some of the practical details to ensure that the application of UK electoral law to Gibraltar for the European Parliament elections can work properly. We are also required to consult the Electoral Commission as the independent body that can give an authoritative view on what is proposed. There is a tight timetable and a great deal of work must be done.

Our firm intention is to use the affirmative procedure wherever possible. We have stated that we intend to combine, where possible, the making of as much as possible of the legislation with the general European Parliament regulations, which we would in any case be preparing in advance of next year's elections. The amendments set out the possible situation where for "reasons of urgency" there may be some cases where we have to opt for the delayed affirmative procedure. We must ensure that, in the run-up to the 2004 elections, we are not unable to provide appropriate information to those who need to conduct the elections.

I am sure that the Minister will agree with the general proposition that these important matters must not be discussed in the abstract. To lend some verisimilitude to the argument that she is advancing in support of subsection (5B), can she depict for the House a practical example of the circumstances in which that subsection would be suitably applied?

The difficulty that we have with election law is its complexity. Sometimes concerns can arise at a relatively late stage that need to be addressed. Such concerns might not have been anticipated. That is the nature of the detailed legislation that we are addressing. If we were able to anticipate problems that might arise at a late stage, we would be able to resolve them early on and take them through the normal affirmative procedure. It is important that we have a fall-back position should problems arise at a late stage in the process, perhaps through consultation with the Electoral Commission or through consultations with the Government of Gibraltar.

We are considering a procedure that has been used before. For example, section 85 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 provided for the use of the delayed affirmative procedure where reasons of urgency were involved. The procedure has been invoked in other Acts.

We are in an unusual situation. The 2004 elections are looming. That is effectively the deadline. It is the time when the Bill needs to be in place so that the elections can be conducted properly. It is therefore appropriate that the delayed affirmative procedure is in place. However, as we have always said, we are keen to ensure that the process can be used, wherever possible, alongside the European Parliament regulations. It would therefore go through the affirmative procedure anyway.

It is always interesting to hear the Minister responding to the representations that have been made to her from whatever quarter. She has a slight tendency not to want to give the impression that she is giving anything away. There is a bottom line to the way in which she puts her concessions to bed, as it were. The reality is that the Government were forced into this position. They do not want to tangle with the distinguished Committee in the House of Lords that deals with regulatory reform. A list of the Members in question would perhaps indicate the extent to which the Government are determined not to fall out with them. The members of the Committee are distinguished in their own right.

There is always the suggestion, however, that when the matter comes back to the House there will be deference to the House of Lords, but grudging acquiescence in any political concession that might be made to the Opposition or to the opposition of the Liberal Democrats. That has been a consistent theme. It is rather regrettable because, as has already been said, the purpose of parliamentary procedure is to ensure that there is a proper debate. Provided that the points are well made, it does not matter where they come from. The concession should be made with good grace and it should not have to be wrung out of the Minister in question. In this instance, I have to say that that usually has to be done.

I am not at all convinced by the arguments that the Minister has advanced about urgency in relation to the timetable and about the Lord Chancellor retaining the power to be able to make the order without approval in draft. I would like the Minister to tell me whether that was agreed by the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee in the House of Lords. Has the hon. Lady conceded in principle that all the orders should be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure? In earlier proceedings in this place I tabled a stack of amendments that had the effect of insisting that these matters should be dealt with through the affirmative procedure.

Notes have just arrived from a certain quarter that may help to elucidate the Minister's answer to my question. The analogy that she made with Northern Ireland legislation does not bode well for the degree of urgency that is dealt with in the Bill. The Bill provides a procedural timetable, whereas in respect of Northern Ireland the problem is more prolonged and vexatious and is usually associated with some emergency or other. I should be rather surprised if a proper analogy could be made with the precedent in Northern Ireland legislation or in relation to Orders in Council affecting Northern Ireland. No doubt the hon. Lady will explain that when she replies.

A further point arises under clause 12, to which amendment No. 5 refers. Subsection (8) contains a rather peculiar provision, which states:
"If, apart from this subsection, an order to which this section applies would be treated for the purposes of the standing orders of either House of Parliament as a hybrid instrument, it shall proceed as if it were not such an instrument."
The drafting is questionable, not least because I think I am right in saying that in the House of Commons there is no equivalent to the treatment of an order as a hybrid instrument in the House of Lords. In the House of Commons, there are procedures in respect of the Clerks of Private Bills and there are special procedures in respect of the examiners of Bills as to whether a Bill is hybrid or not. There is a different procedure in the House of Lords. I believe that the drafting of the Bill is defective. as there is no parallel between the two Houses in respect of hybridity.

That is a drafting question. The essential question, which lies at the heart of my concerns, is the provision whereby an order to which the section applies would be treated for the purposes of the Standing Orders as a hybrid instrument. In such circumstances, it is treated as though it were not such an instrument. It is astonishing that the Government can use a Bill to ride roughshod over the Standing Orders of Parliament. They are saying that it does not matter a hang whether an instrument is a hybrid instrument or not.

Procedures that were built up over two centuries or more have been used to safeguard the rights of the subject with respect to a hybrid Bill or hybrid instrument—that is, in a nutshell, where there is a class affected by an order or a Bill, and the members of that class are treated differently in relation to their specific private interests. Where that arises and there is a difference within that group or class, the Bill is declared to be hybrid. For practical purposes—here is the rub—the Bill must be referred to petitions and the Select Committee procedure with leading counsel and all the rest of it.

I can understand that the Government might be nervous about such a matter. Indeed, I was the legal adviser on the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill in 1977, when we proved hybridity in the Bill. The flagship Bill disintegrated in a puff of smoke and the Government fell. [Interruption.] The Government Deputy Chief Whip says that that was two years later. It was a chain reaction.

Hybridity is an essential part of the procedures and safeguards for the subject that have built up over many years. I see the copy of "Erskine May" on the Table. Pages and pages of it are devoted to this special subject. However, along comes the Minister and introduces a clause that states that were such a situation to arise in respect of Gibraltar, and the inconvenience of the Standing Orders of either House of Parliament produced a hybrid instrument or provision, it will no longer be regarded as such.

That raises a serious question, because I doubt whether it is proper constitutional practice for Acts of Parliament to override what you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, Mr. Speaker or Parliament have decided to be an applicable Standing Order. That is a dangerous path for the Government to take and the Minister stands accountable to answer for it.

8.45 pm

I am extremely worried—as I imagine you are, Mr. Deputy Speaker—that Acts of Parliament could override Standing Orders. One could think of almost any Standing Order offhand that could be overridden simply by an Act. That could relate to the Consolidated Fund or whether the privileges of the House had been breached. The Government could override Standing Orders by using their large majority to provide that they would no longer apply or not apply in a specific context. I hope that you would regard that as a matter of gravity and take soundings on it, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I hope that you will be good enough to note what I say and perhaps let me have your view on the extent to which the unprecedented provision is in the framework of the constitutional treatment of Standing Orders.

I am effectively making a point of order, but the irony is that I do not have to make a point of order because I am talking about the Bill. That is pretty odd and I would be grateful if a person in your Office. Mr. Deputy Speaker. or one of the Clerks would tell me the extent to which the provision is precedented. However, we need not divide the House on the matter. It is important but it can be allowed to mature through correspondence in due course. It will be interesting to hear the Minister's reply, and perhaps her advisers will give her a note so that we may have further elucidation.

One could reach two assumptions: either the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee has taken careful cognisance of remarks made in Committee and on Report and has been persuaded by the arguments of the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) and me, or the points that we made were so self-evidently correct that it could do nothing but agree. Whichever is true, we arc glad that it made its recommendations and that the Lord Chancellor has acceded to them.

I was simply going to concur with the hon. Gentleman's sentiments and the Lords amendments, but he made a small peroration on hybridity. I was desperately worried that he would be out of order by doing that because the amendments do not relate to it. However, I realised, as you would, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that clause 12(8) qualifies the rest of the clause and therefore qualifies the amendments that we are debating. The hon. Gentleman was clearly in order to express his concerns about the Humpty-Dumpty provision in subsection (8) that will allow the Government to decide what any word shall mean. If they choose to decide that a word means the opposite of what it clearly does mean, they will legislate for it to mean the opposite. That is the purport of subsection (8).

The hon. Gentleman will recall, having echoed "Through the Looking-Glass", that the final phrase following the question about the meaning of words is

"which is to be master—that's all."

Indeed; who are the masters now?

I do not wish to pursue that line of debate any further except to say that it raises questions about the procedures of this place. I do not think that the Government have successfully dealt with the salient points raised by the hon. Member for Stone. However, they are not the subject of the amendments, with which we agree and which we asked for in Committee, although they were apparently tabled as a result of the intervention of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee and not as a result of any arguments from our good selves that may haw, struck home. None the less, we must modestly accept the procedure by which we have achieved our result and welcome the amendments.

I should like to deal first with the points made by the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) about hybridity, which we discussed previously in the House. He pressed to a Division amendments relating to the issue, but they were not accepted. The issue is not the subject of the amendments before us and was not raised by the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee.

The hon. Gentleman asked about precedents. Section 26 of the Local Government Act 1992 is a precedent and contains a similar measure. Clearly, he did not manage to do to that measure what he managed to do to the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Act 1977, although I guess that it was not for want of trying to sabotage his Government's measures in one way or another at that time.

Hon. Members asked further questions about the delayed procedure. One aspect of the procedure is that it would allow orders to be made during a recess when there is an important need for electoral administrators or others to get on with the work in question. Parliament would then debate the matter afterwards.

The provisions are sensible measures that allow us to do what many hon. Members and the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee have asked for and give greater parliamentary scrutiny to the issues involved. They also ensure that we can meet the timetable. We need to do so to ensure that those who live in Gibraltar can vote in the European parliamentary elections in June next year.

I welcome what I think was support for the amendments from the hon. Member for Stone, as well as the support of the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath). I assume that the hon. Member for Stone is still planning to vote against them, as he has previously argued that orders should be more clearly limited to treaty provisions and to debates in the House, but then proceeded to vote against provisions that achieve exactly that. He has also argued that we should conduct more consultation with the Government of Gibraltar and do more to address and respond to their concerns, but he voted this afternoon against provisions that do exactly that. I presume that the fact that he expressed support for the amendments means that he will proceed to vote against them.

I shall give the hon. Gentleman one last chance to clarify his position.

The issue is very simple. The Government have moved somewhat in our direction under the intense pressure that we exerted both in Committee and on Report, and also thanks to our noble Friends in the House of Lords. We have made progress, and Liberal Democrat Members have also contributed to the pressures exerted on the Government in that respect, as have the Chief Minister and others in Gibraltar who have played such a magnificent part in the proceedings. However, this has been only a partial success and it is not over yet by a long way.

One has to question the logic of the hon. Gentleman's position if he can describe an amendment as progress, then choose to vote against it to try to defeat it. Presumably he would rather we ditch all the so-called progress and return to the Bill as it was when it left this place, despite his anxieties about it at that time. I know that he is always keen to vote against progress whenever he can, but I urge him not to vote against the progress made in this final group of amendments. I ask him to join hon. Members from other parties to ensure that the whole House supports not only the amendments, but the whole Bill. It is a good Bill that extends democracy, and it is right that we should wish it well so as not only to include the accession states in the 2004 elections, but to extend the franchise to the people of Gibraltar.

Lords amendment agreed to.

Lords amendments Nos. 6 to 14, 15 and Government amendment (a) thereto agreed to.

Lords amendments Nos. 16 to 20 agreed to [one with Special Entry].

National Minimum Wage (Enforcement Notices) Bill Lords

As amended in the Standing Committee, considered.

Order for Third Reading read.

8.59 pm

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

On behalf of my hon. Friend the Minister for Employment Relations, Industry and the Regions, I thank all those who have taken part in the debates in the House and in the other place since last November. The Bill is small but complex, and has received much all-party support, for which I am grateful. I am sure that the many former workers who stand to benefit from the measure are grateful for the support that has been expressed in the House and in another place.

My hon. Friend dealt with the detail and the technical issues on Second Reading. I do not propose to cover them again. The network of 16 enforcement teams throughout the United Kingdom, operated by the Inland Revenue, will be able to carry on as they did before the Bebb Travel case arose, and thus resume helping some of the most vulnerable workers to obtain their legal entitlement under the minimum wage. As hon. Members know, the Court of Appeal heard the Inland Revenue's appeal in the Bebb Travel case on 24 March. It agreed with the Employment Appeal Tribunal and ruled against the Inland Revenue. It is just as well that we did not depend on the appeal. We want to close the loophole in the way that every hon. Member supports through the Bill.

I emphasise the importance of the measure, in case there are lingering doubts. It is an important part of the Government's employment relations strategy, which aims to promote partnership, encourage greater adaptability and provide good minimum standards of fairness at work for all. The minimum wage is firmly established as a feature of the United Kingdom labour market.

Given that the logic of the existence of the minimum wage is that it will be periodically and affordably increased, and that the effect of the increase that the Government recently announced to take effect in October should be to help some of the most vulnerable people in our society, how does the Minister intend to ensure maximum dissemination of information about the increase to businesses? That would ensure that the maximum number of businesses complied with the law and did not render themselves liable to an enforcement notice under the Bill.

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. I agree with him about the desirable impact of the increase in the minimum wage, which has been announced, and I am grateful for the terms in which he expressed that. Experience shows that the mechanisms that we have used to disseminate changes in the rate proved effective. The Inland Revenue's enforcement role, apart from in the circumstance that the Bill covers, has proved effective. If the hon. Gentleman believes that there are gaps or weaknesses in the arrangements that he wants to draw to my attention, I shall ensure that officials consider them. It is vital that the information be widely known by employers and employees, to achieve the maximum benefit from the change.

The hon. Gentleman's point gives me the opportunity to celebrate the way in which the minimum wage is a firmly established feature of the UK labour market. Its benefits are widely recognised and it has been successful.

The Bill fits the Government's framework and sends an important signal. It is the first time we have had to amend the National Minimum Wage Act 1998 because of a court case. We will do that again if the need arises in order to protect the interests of low-paid and often vulnerable groups of workers. Any minimum wage system has to have effective enforcement provisions. The powers in the Bill will be critical in helping the most vulnerable to secure their rights. They will also indirectly assist responsible employers—the vast majority—who must be free from the fear that a competitor will undercut them.

Again, I welcome the wide support for the Bill, and I commend it to the House.

9.4 pm

First, I declare my interests, which are in the Register of Members' Interests. I thank the Minister for warning me that the Minister for Employment Relations, Industry and the Regions could not be here tonight. I understand that he has had to fly to Taiwan via Bangkok, where he will be batting for Rolls-Royce in an important bid for engine replacements. We wish him well in that task and fully understand and accept why he is not here this evening. I understand that he would have been able to fly direct to Taiwan had it not been for the severe acute respiratory syndrome crisis.

I am impressed that the Minister has been able to read himself into the Bill so quickly. As he pointed out, the Opposition have supported this small but important Bill. He referred to the decision in the case of Inland Revenue v. Bebb Travel plc in which Judge J.R. Reid QC—I do not know whether he is any relation to the Leader of the House; perhaps he is the Leader of the House—came up with a bizarre ruling. He held that enforcement officers can issue enforcement notices requiring the employer to pay the minimum wage only in respect of current and future pay periods or in respect of current, future and past pay periods. Enforcement officers cannot issue notices for past periods alone, therefore. As the Minister pointed out, that ruling was upheld on appeal two weeks ago.

Bebb Travel had 25 employees who were receiving less than the minimum wage and there were pay arrears of £37,649. The enforcement notice was dated October 2000, but the 25 were dismissed in May 2000, and so were past employees.

Obviously, it was the intention of the House that the legislation should address the interests of such employees. Therefore this evening we are restoring the position to what everyone believed it was before the Bebb Travel case. As the Minister pointed out, the Bill has widespread support. It is supported by the CBI and the TUC.

The Government are appealing against the decision by Judge J.R. Reid QC. In Committee, the Minister said that he would continue with the appeal, if necessary to the House of Lords, because he felt that it was wrong to prejudge Parliament. We all respect the Government's sensitivity in this. It would be an arrogant Government who said that they would drop the appeal because they knew that the Bill would go through. They have adopted a sensitive position towards Parliament and they are not making any assumptions. However, with the Opposition's support, there is no reason why the Bill cannot go through quickly.

The argument put on Second Reading and in Committee was that the Government would go ahead with the full appeal process because to withdraw at this stage would mean the Government paying the costs of Bebb Travel. Here we have a rogue employer and it would be wrong if the taxpayer had to pick up its costs.

What is the Government's position at the moment? If the Court of Appeal gives them leave, will they go to the House of Lords, or will they withdraw the appeal? If they do withdraw the appeal, will they have to pay the costs of Bebb Travel? I assume that they will have to. How much has the case cost the Government, and was it, with hindsight, the right decision to launch the appeal against the Employment Appeal Tribunal in the first case? I appreciate that the Minister is not fully up to speed on the Bill, and I sympathise, but if he does not have the answers tonight perhaps he could drop me a note on this.

We are dealing here with a serious drafting error. One could have concluded that the Employment Appeal Tribunal judge was over-zealous and would be easily overturned in the Court of Appeal, but the Minister kindly let me have the Court of Appeal's judgment before tonight's debate, and it is obvious from that that the judges took the view that there was a serious drafting error.

Is this perhaps a consequence of the growing problem of the lack of scrutiny in this place? More and more Bills are going on to another place without proper scrutiny, and intolerable pressure is being put on another place for that reason.

We must learn the lessons of this débâcle, because the Bill is going to cost the taxpayer a substantial amount of money. I do not know what it costs to take a mini-Bill through Parliament, but it must cost a substantial number of thousands of pounds. I would be grateful if we could be told how much this has cost. We must learn from this, because a mistake has been made. It has been corrected, and we are all happy to correct it, but why was it made in the first place? We do not want the Bill to become an Act and then to pass away without this lesson being learned. Another cost arises in the form of the cost to the employees who are affected by this issue. The Inland Revenue told us back in February that 250 former employees had had their cases put on hold because of the Bebb Travel case. Will the Minister tell us how many more have been added to that figure since then?

Most Bills come into effect two months after receiving Royal Assent. For that reason, the 250-plus former employees whom I have just mentioned are going to have to wait another two months anyway. There might then be further delays in the court system, as this could run on into the summer vacation. It is therefore possible that quite a few of those former employees will not get their cases on until well into the autumn.

Is my hon. Friend aware that some of the outstanding enforcement notices relate to pieceworkers and outworkers whose liability is difficult to calculate? One estimate that I have heard is that it will take five man-years for the Inland Revenue to calculate the amount that might be due to the employees of a firm in my constituency.

That is extremely interesting. My hon. Friend makes the point that this is a complicated matter, and enforcement officers from the Inland Revenue and from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs are working extremely hard on preparing these cases. The cases have been put on hold, however, and the employees in question might not get their cases on until well into the autumn. There could also be deferred judgments. We therefore need to look carefully at the two-month rule.

The two-month rule delays the implementation of a Bill by two months after it has received Royal Assent to enable all the interested parties to make the necessary arrangements and adjustments. We are, however, talking here about an Act—the original Act—with which every interested party is already completely up to speed. This small Bill is going to become an Act, but everyone knows where they stand. I therefore suggest to the Minister that there can be no pressing reasons for the Bill not to be brought in immediately. It is unique, and there is every argument for it to be implemented at once.

The Opposition have had a look at a number of Bills that have been enforced immediately in recent years. The Northern Ireland (Elections) Act 1998 was enforced immediately, as was the Education Act 2002, the Antiterrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001, the Armed Forces Act 2000 and the Freedom of Information Act 2000. I understand that an investigation was carried out in 1979—I realise that that was some time ago and that Governments of all hues have changed their practices since then—when a working party from the Statute Law Society looked at 105 Acts passed in the 14 months between 1 January 1978 and April 1979 to ascertain when they had come into force. It was found that 41 Acts came into effect on the exact date on which they were passed, that only 12 came into force on a date specified in the Act, and that 14 came into force after the expiry of the two-month period.

We are talking about a very vulnerable group of employees, and it is in everyone's interest that they should get their cases on as soon as possible.

Is there any reason why the Bill cannot be implemented as soon as possible once it has received Royal Assent, preferably in a matter of days? I am sure that is supported by Labour Back Benchers. Everyone knows where they stand. We have discussed this matter with various employer organisations, and they are in full agreement that there are no complications.

My hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow), who is not in his seat at the moment, raised a point about interest on outstanding amounts of wage that are due. These vulnerable employees have been waiting a long time. Through no fault of their own, their cases could not be dealt with because of the Bebb Travel case. In these exceptional circumstances, is there an argument that interest should be paid? After all, the Bebb Travel case involved a total sum of £37,000, and I imagine that quite a lot of interest would have accrued on that amount. Those employees were dismissed by Bebb Travel in May 2000, and they deserve to receive interest on that money. Perhaps the Minister will consider that.

On Second Reading and in Committee we referred to the debate in the other place about how many years one should be able to go back to take a claim through the county court. The statute of limitations applies to the county court, so there is a six-year limit. However, although most cases go through the county court, some go through the employment tribunal system, including that of Bebb Travel. Unless one brings a case to an employment tribunal within three months of the discovery of the underpayment, the case cannot be brought. That is why most cases are brought in the county court.

Until an amendment was made in the other place, there was no limitation on how far back one could go in a case before the employment tribunal. In theory, one could go back eight, nine, 10 or 12 years. In the other place, the Government graciously accepted an amendment whereby if a case is brought to the employment tribunal by enforcement officers, the six-year limit applies as in the county court. However, if an individual employee brings a case to the employment tribunal, he can go back as far as he wants. That is academic, because the original Act came in only a few years ago, so the statute of limitations is not relevant. If we fast forward 10 years or so, individual employees who bring cases in the county court and in the employment tribunal will be able to go back more than six years.

Companies are obliged by company law to keep records going back only three years, however. There is nothing in this legislation to ensure that companies keep wage records for more than three years. That counts as a normal company record. The Minister's Department could send out guidance to companies. After all, it is always bombarding them with useless information. It would be helpful if a guidance note went out to employers, perhaps from the Inland Revenue, advising them that, given the six-year limit in the county court and the current legislation that applies the six-year limit to employment tribunals, they should keep wage records going back at least six years.

I do not know whether the Minister can comment on that. Conservative Members are keen to reduce the burdens on business. If companies were guided in the right direction, it could save an awful lot of extra management time later on.

The hon. Gentleman is making a powerful case for records to be kept for six years in relation to the minimum wage. Would he also argue that companies should be obliged to keep records to protect their employees in similar circumstances?

That is certainly a strong point. Individual employees have always been able to take cases involving contractual disputes of beyond six years—in fact, they can cover an unlimited period—to an employment tribunal. Of course. the reason why very few of those cases go back much further is the lack of records. It is very difficult for an employee to prove that a contract has been broken when the records have long since been lost.

My other point—perhaps the Government will look at this as well—is that a case cannot be brought before a tribunal unless it is brought within three months of the complaint being discovered or the underpayment taking place. That is another issue that the Minister could have a look at.

We support this small Bill and have made it clear that we support the national minimum wage. We voted against the national minimum wage in the last Parliament because we were genuinely fearful of its effect on jobs, which was the prevailing view of the CBI and the Institute of Directors. For many years until some five or six years ago, a lot of people in the TUC also took a fairly critical view of a minimum wage policy. Over the past five years, however, we have enjoyed a very strong labour market in this country. The national minimum wage has yet to be tested in a sustained economic downturn, so the jury is obviously out on that point so fir as the future is concerned. None the less, we support the national minimum wage and we will support it as part of our policy at the next election. If we form the next Government, we certainly do not intend to abolish it, and that is also why we support the Bill this evening.

9.21 pm

I shall speak briefly because as the Conservative spokesman, the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk (Mr. Bellingham), has just said, the Bill is uncontroversial, has received multiparty support at each stage, is supported by both sides of industry and has not been subject to any contentious amendments. We are therefore fully behind it.

It is unfortunate that the Government had to introduce new legislation, but since nobody picked up the legal anomaly identified in the case, I doubt whether there is any opportunity for recrimination; the point was simply missed and has now been rectified. Although the Bill is small it is important, because after a few years probably thousands of people will have accumulated retrospective arrears in respect of the minimum wage. They are precisely the people who, because they are frightened of their employers and of retaliation if they push for arrears, will have accumulated substantial sums. It is therefore very important that the anomaly be put right and that the legal powers and the enforcement procedures should exist. So we fully support what is taking place.

The question of for how long a retrospective claim should be allowed, which was the final point raised by the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk, is the only hint of controversy in the Bill. At various points, he argued for a period of three years to align the legislation with the period for which companies keep records. In some cases, very diligent employees will have kept their records for longer than three years, and he argued that an unfair disadvantage for the employer would be created in such cases. The Government were right to insist that the period should be longer. When we debated that issue, I expressed the view that I could not see why there should be an upper limit even of six years, but I accept that we have reached a compromise and I am perfectly happy with what has been agreed.

In conclusion, I follow the Minister and the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk in reiterating my support and that of my hon. Friends for the minimum wage, for the way in which it has been operated on the advice of the Low Pay Commission, and particularly for the way in which the recent increase has been advanced on the basis of advice from the LPC. I emphasise that point because I have achieved a certain notoriety in some of the Labour equivalents of our "Focus" newsletters. Perhaps because the Labour newsletters do not have the same commitment to scholarship and scrupulous accuracy as our "Focus" newsletters, they somehow tried to pretend that my hon. Friends and I were opposed to the minimum wage and to the recent increase. That is simply not the case.

It was perfectly legitimate to warn that it would have been wrong of the Government to press for a binding two-year increase in the light of economic uncertainty. As I understand it, however, they have agreed to the follow the LPC's advice to proceed with a two-year increase, with a break after one year for the LPC to reexamine the economic data. They have agreed to proceed on that basis, and we are perfectly content with the way in which the matter has been dealt with. We support the minimum wage and the way in which it has been implemented, and we support the Bill.

9.24 pm

I rise to support the Bill on behalf of the Scottish National party. I had the pleasure of sitting in Committee, albeit briefly, and I was pleased to note the consensus to ensure that the Bill passed speedily through the procedures of the House. As the Minister said, the Bill is brief but important. Following the unsuccessful appeal by the Inland Revenue against the Employment Appeal Tribunal decision, the legislation was necessary to close the loophole in respect of past periods of employment, particularly when the worker is no longer employed by the relevant employer. It was obviously not the intention of supporters of the original legislation to exclude such workers from the important protection of the National Minimum Wage Act 1998. I welcome Third Reading and I hope that the Bill will shortly be on the statute book and speedily implemented thereafter.

On the agricultural minimum wage, I am pleased that the Scottish Parliament will be left to legislate in that area on the basis that agriculture is a devolved matter. It is right and proper that Scotland should deal with its own devolved legislation, and it is a pity that it does not happen more often.

It is interesting to hear how important the Bill is to Scotland, particularly in respect of agriculture. Would it not have been better if the hon. Lady's former colleagues had turned up to vote for the minimum wage in the first place?

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman should read Hansard, the official record of the House. If he did, he would find that the SNP supported and voted in favour of the National Minimum Wage Act 1998. Indeed, the SNP also played an active role in the Committee that considered the Bill and was the only party that sought to speak in the debate on Lords amendments to it. If the hon. Gentleman read Hansard rather than Labour press releases, he might be better informed.

In conclusion, I am happy to reiterate the Scottish National party's support for the original legislation and the present Bill. As I said, I look forward to its speedy implementation.

9.27 pm

I should like briefly to discuss the position of a company in my constituency that will be directly affected by the Bill. The company is called Industrial Rubber and since February 1990 it has sought to comply with minimum wage provisions relating to outworkers. The Government recognise that it is a difficult area to comply with and have produced a consultation document to seek ways to improve the process so that companies and employees can benefit more clearly from national minimum wage regulation.

Outworkers are paid under a fair estimate agreement. Industrial Rubber has tried to implement that agreement as best it can in the circumstances in which it operates. The company went to an employment tribunal, but, as a consequence of losing its case on two points, it now awaits—and has been waiting for six months since the tribunal first met—an enforcement notice. The expectation is that when the Bill is passed, it will receive the enforcement notice, because it will relate to several employees who no longer work for the company.

The company first introduced a fair estimate agreement in February 2000. It believed that, because it worked alongside Inland Revenue, the agreement was compliant with the regulations under regulation 25 of the National Minimum Wage Regulations 1999. However, it transpired that it was not. When advised by Inland Revenue to that effect, the company tried to work with the Revenue to refine the agreement to make it compliant with the regulations in order to avoid having to go to a tribunal and to avoid receiving an enforcement notice.

However, the process is ongoing and that is not satisfactory either for the company or its employees.

In January 2003, following the employment tribunal, the company thought that the Inland Revenue had agreed that its current fair estimate agreement was workable and compliant with the Act. Only a month later, however, the Inland Revenue changed its mind and said that the agreement was no longer compliant. Industrial Rubber had to go back to drawing board to try to amend the estimate agreement to bring it into compliance with the regulations.

I am sure that hon. Members would agree that, if the regulations were straightforward, it would be remiss of the company to fail to comply with them. However, as the Government's consultation document suggests, that is not the case. The document states:
"The Government has received representations from both homeworker employers and homeworker representatives arguing that fair estimate agreements are not working well. It appears that few employers are actually making use of these agreements."
Having heard about Industrial Rubber's experience of trying to comply with the agreement, I can understand why. The document continues:

"A variety of reasons have been given for this but the principal point seems to be that they are seen as complex and difficult to administer, and that in practice it may be difficult to predict the estimated hours for each block or tranche of work taken on by an individual homeworker from week to week."
That has been a problem for the company in my constituency. It works on short lead times for products. Orders are unpredictable, so the company does not know from one week to the next what products the outworkers will have to process.

Given that the Government, home workers, home workers' representatives and home workers' employers all realise that the schemes are difficult to implement, it is disappointing that the Inland Revenue cannot give proper clearance of fair estimate agreements so that both home workers and their employers can have some certainty that their agreements comply with the law, thus ensuring that they are not brought before an employment tribunal and that no enforcement notices are levied on them. Sadly, however, the Inland Revenue will not give that clearance for fair estimate agreements. although it does so before major transactions for large companies. There is thus uncertainty both for employees and employers as to whether a fair rate is being paid for the work.

A particular problem for the company to which I have referred is estimating the amount of compensation that might be payable to home workers under the Bill. Neither the company nor the workers have adequate records that would enable them to fill the gaps. In an intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Norfolk (Mr. Bellingham), I pointed out that the company estimated that it would take the Inland Revenue about five man years to calculate the amounts due to former employees. However, as there is no evidence to show how many hours were actually worked the process seems flawed.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that part of the difficulty relates to the employees' contracts? Often, home workers are not sure whether they are contracted to a sub-contractor or to the actual manufacturing company. Part of the difficulty with fair estimate agreements is that employees do not actually know who is employing them.

I understand the hon. Lady's comment. In the case that I am describing, however, the worker is employed by the person making the rubber parts. There is a clear contractual relationship between the employee and the employer so, thankfully, that confusion does not arise.

When the Bill comes into effect and an enforcement notice is issued against Industrial Rubber, to what extent will the measure apply retrospectively? The company is a manufacturing business so, given the lapse of time, there is a question as to what resources will be available to pay the compensation to which the home workers may be entitled. When the Inland Revenue considers how enforcement notices are to be applied to businesses, I hope that it will bear in mind the problems encountered by employers in implementing fair estimate agreements and the complexity of working out back pay.

I refer the hon. Gentleman to a report on home workers and the minimum wage that the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs has just completed in which the Inland Revenue states that it is working on precisely the part of the agreement that he is talking about.

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for that information. Not only will I read that report, but I will send a copy to the company in my constituency. However, I fear that it is too late for many people. It is now more than three years since the fair estimate agreements were put in place, and a lot of employees may have lost out in the process, as a consequence of legislation being introduced in haste, with perhaps insufficient consultation and consideration of the implementation problems.

I wish to conclude by saying that I hope that the Inland Revenue will look carefully at such cases and at the complexity of the calculations involved and the difficulty that the Government have acknowledged in consulting on a replacement for fair estimate agreements. I also hope that they will consider the interests of not just past employees, but future employees—those people whose livelihoods depend on the financial viability of the firm—and ensure that their jobs are secure, as well as looking after the interests of those who have been employed previously by that company.

9.36 pm

With the leave of the House, I wish to thank all those hon. Members who have contributed for supporting the Bill. In particular, I thank the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk (Mr. Bellingham) for his sympathetic understanding of the reasons why my hon. Friend the Minister for Employment Relations, Industry and the Regions has been unable to lead this debate, as he would have wished to do this evening.

The hon. Gentleman asked me to say something about the Bebb Travel appeal. As he indicated, on 16 April, the Court of Appeal upheld the decision of the Employment Appeal Tribunal in August 2002. The three judges ruled that, under section 19 of the National Minimum Wage Act 1998, enforcement officers may not issue enforcement notices on behalf of former workers. He also asked me about the costs. The Inland Revenue was ordered to pay costs of £9,420.

The ruling on the interpretation of the 1998 Act may be perhaps correct in the strict legal sense, but the key point is what policy Parliament wanted to enact. In a sense, the ruling demonstrates the wisdom of the decision to introduce the Bill, as it will make the position clear beyond doubt.

The Bill will restore the position to what we understood it to be last August—once more, officers will be able to issue enforcement notices., in respect of former workers—but those cases covering former workers that had been partly processed before August 2002, under the 1998 Act, and put on hold while the appeal was brought, which may well be what happened in the case referred to by the hon. Member for Fareham (Mr. Hoban), will have to be restarted because of the court ruling.

We have, of course, logged the details of all the cases involving former workers that have been brought to our attention since August. I do not have any update on the number of those cases beyond the figure of 250. to which the hon. Gentleman referred, that was provided in February. During the next few weeks, we shall review the position on all those cases, so that we can make a running start when the Bill comes into force.

I understand that my hon. Friend the Minister for Employment Relations, Industry and the Regions said in Committee that the Government would continue to pursue the appeal to the Court of Appeal, but not necessarily to the House of Lords. We believe that that decision was right. We did not know last autumn that we would obtain the Bill, and we believed that we had a good case that should be argued before the Court of Appeal. We have now lost, and on the basis of the debate, I am confident that the Bill will be passed. My hon. Friend has obviously considered the issue and taken the view that it would not make sense to take the appeal to the House of Lords.

The hon. Member for North-West Norfolk asked me about implementing the Bill with immediate effect. Of course, we cannot do so because clause 2(2) states:
"This Act comes into force at the end of the period of two months beginning on the day on which it is passed."
So that is the position in the absence of an amendment to that subsection.

Nevertheless, the point of principle that he raised is perfectly fair. We have taken advice from the Cabinet Office that the two-month lead period should only be waived in exceptional circumstances: for example, emergency legislation on terrorism, He gave a number of examples, which I acknowledge. I think that he will accept, however, that the Bill is not really in the category to which the Cabinet Office advice refers. As the Bill will be retroactive in effect, I hope that he will take the view that it will ensure that there is a fair settlement of all the outstanding cases without undue delay.

The hon. Gentleman also asked about interest. The legislation does not envisage the addition of interest to wage arrears identified in an enforcement notice. If the debt is claimed through the county court, however, interest on debts can usually be claimed at the rate of 8 per cent. per annum. He talked about the question of three years versus six years, on which the hon. Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable) also commented. He attributed to the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk the view that the period should be three years—I do not think that he argued that position tonight, although he has put the case previously; his concern tonight was more in relation to whether guidance should be given to companies to keep the information for six years. Some might argue that that was an additional burden on business, but I thought that he made a fair case for that change. It is an interesting suggestion and we shall consider the point carefully.

I am grateful to other Members who have spoken for their support: the hon. Member for Twickenham, to some of whose comments I have referred, and the hon. Member for Perth (Annabelle Ewing). The hon. Member for Fareham (Mr. Hoban) raised a number of concerns, and my hon. Friend the Minister for Employment Relations, Industry and the Regions was also interested in some of his points about home workers. I understand that the case is still under appeal, and the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that I am not familiar with the details of it. It might be best if I were to write to the hon. Gentleman to pick up some of the fair points that he has made on behalf of his constituents.

I am delighted that the Bill has commanded such wide support, and I am sure that all of us would wish it to be implemented as soon as possible, given the two-month period to which we have referred.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed, with amendments.

Adjournment (May)

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 25 (Periodic adjournments),

That this House, at its rising on Thursday 1st May, do adjourn till Tuesday 6th May 2003.—[Mr. Jim Murphy.]

Question agreed to.

Princess Royal And Royal Shrewsbury Hospital Trusts

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.— [Mr. Jim Murphy.]

9.42 pm

I am very grateful for the opportunity tonight to raise my concerns and those of my constituents about the proposal currently being considered by the Secretary of State for Health and his ministerial colleagues to merge the Princess Royal and the Royal Shrewsbury hospital trusts. The Princess Royal is, of course, the hospital that serves Telford, the Wrekin and the east of Shropshire. I am grateful too for the opportunity to raise the implications of that proposal for my constituents.

I also want to touch on the scope of the consultation that has recently been concluded and its quality—the way in which it has been conducted. In the course of my comments, I hope that the Minister will accept that I will be expressing the views of a great many of my constituents. I am sure that if my hon. Friend the Member for Telford (David Wright) is fortunate in catching your eye, Mr. Speaker, he will make similar points.

It goes without saying that hospitals are important places. They are not just places that provide health care but local landmarks that help communities define their identity. People feel very strongly about their hospitals and take pride in them.

Certainly when I was a councillor in the Millbank ward in Westminster some years ago, the Conservative Government's announcement of the closure of Westminster hospital was met with almost as much alarm, despair and anger as were many of the depredations visited on the electors by Shirley Porter and Barry Legg, and their colleagues in the administration of Westminster city council. People had been born in that hospital and had given birth to their own children there; it was part of the cultural fabric of this part of Westminster, and they felt its passing very bitterly. I do not need to remind the Minister of the passions aroused in Kidderminster, not far from Telford and the Wrekin, when the hospital there was perceived to be under threat.

Hospitals are important in many ways, particularly in new towns such as Telford, because at this stage of the town's development, there are not many landmarks to steer by. We have no league football club, although we are very proud of Telford United and we look forward eagerly to seeing Telford play derby matches against Shrewsbury Town next season. We have no theatre, although one is planned, and the sooner it is developed the better. There are many reasons to visit Telford, but its nightlife is not one of them.

The town puts me in mind of the famous comment that Rayner Banham made about Los Angeles in his seminal book on that city, in which he spoke of 50 suburbs in search of a city centre. Telford does not have 50 suburbs, but the comment is not entirely inappropriate. It is a town seeking its identity. The suburbs are not so much in search of a town centre as fleeing it since USS imposed car parking charges there.

The Princess Royal hospital is important to us because we fought for it hard. It was built in 1989 after a long struggle. Many people, particularly in the west of the county, fought against the hospital's development, and they have continued to campaign against it, explicitly or implicitly, ever since. The hospital's future is of immense actual and symbolic importance, and I am sure that the Minister recognises that. I know from his speeches in the House that he is proud of his constituency and the landmarks that define it and its community. He will therefore understand the points that I am making.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the history of Shropshire's health economy has been dominated by Shrewsbury? One of the concerns of many people in Telford was that it was so hard to get a hospital built there. Families who have lived there all their lives had, for many years, travelled miles down the motorway or the A road to use hospital services in Shrewsbury, and Telford's hospital was so fruitful because people no longer had to do that.

My hon. Friend makes an important point, and I shall elaborate on it later.

We should not forget in this very mobile age that many of our constituents do not have access to their own transport. That is particularly true in Telford, where there are pockets of deprivation, and people find it extremely difficult to travel to Shrewsbury for their health care. As my hon. Friend will know, the problem is particularly acute for the families and friends of mental health patients, many of whom come from difficult backgrounds where mobility is a problem. It is all the more important that those families should be able to provide support to their relatives in the Shelton hospital in the west of the county.

It is worth noting, too, the reluctance of consultants based at the Royal Shrewsbury hospital to travel down the motorway to Telford. I understand that people like to be based in one place, rather than two or three, but it has often been suggested to me that one reason why decision making in Shropshire's health economy has rested in Shrewsbury is the power of the consultants, not least because they are rather fond of nipping round the corner from the hospital to earn money from their private practice nearby. Mobility, transport and distance are very important issues for all those reasons.

With the Labour Government committed to the national health service, there have been many significant improvements in the east of the county from which both hospitals have benefited. Shropshire health authority's budget doubled between 1997 and 2001—and that does not take account of the most recent comprehensive spending review and the exponential increase in funding that will take place in the next three years. The numbers of consultants and doctors are up, we have more nurses and treatments, and our waiting lists are down. We should celebrate all of that, but in a climate of expansion of, and investment in, the health service I do not want to talk any more about the survival of the Princess Royal hospital. Too often, that is the issue for many of my constituents who, like me, want to talk about growth, development and expansion.

That development is certainly justified by the growth of Telford and the Wrekin. Telford is the growth point for the west midlands. Between 1991 and 2001, its population grew by 16,000—a 12 per cent. increase— and the town is one of the fastest 20 growth points in England. Development is also justified according to the indices of clinical need in our part of the county. We have one of the poorest health profiles in the west midlands. Sixty per cent. of the population of Telford and the Wrekin live in the top 25 per cent. of the most deprived wards in the country, compared with a national average of 35 per cent. Forty per cent. of children in Telford and Wrekin live in families claiming some form of benefit, against a national average of 27 per cent., so there is a significantly greater proportion of such children in our neighbourhood. Half the wards in Telford and Wrekin are in the top 25 per cent. of wards with the poorest health and disability profile. A third of them are in the top 25 per cent. of wards with the poorest housing.

In more clinical terms, we have above average fertility, with the highest levels in the most deprived wards. Life expectancy for both men and women is lower than the national average, and premature death from heart disease is significantly above the national average, as, indeed, is premature death from cancer.

My hon. Friend is outlining in detail issues of deprivation in Telford and the Wrekin. One reason why primary care trusts were established was to look at the health care needs of people in the area. Does he agree that we should bed the primary care trust in before we proceed to examine a merger of our major general hospitals?

My hon. Friend is right. We owe a debt of gratitude to the Minister, to whom we made representations last year. We were concerned about the unseemly haste of the consultation on the merger, which was launched just a fortnight before Shropshire health authority passed into history and the two PCTs—Telford and Wrekin PCT and Shropshire county PCT—came into existence. It seemed to us and, evidently, the Minister, who deferred the start of the consultation, that that was prejudging the issue and putting the cart before the horse, hardly allowing the two most important organisations in our health economy to get their feet under the desk before considering an important development in the structure of health care delivery in Shropshire.

If the merger was going to help focus investment in Telford and the Wrekin and help the Princess Royal hospital address the growing needs to which I have just referred, I would not hesitate to support it. Indeed, I support the idea of merger in principle. In principle, I believe in a truly national NHS where there are no market mechanisms or false demarcation lines between one area of delivery and another.

Of course I would support the principle of merger, if I could be convinced that it would meet the needs of my constituents, cut bureaucracy costs and transfer money to the frontline of health care. However, I have grave misgivings about the practical details of what we are being asked to consider. I know that they are shared by my hon. Friend the Member for Telford. Before his time, they were certainly shared by his predecessor, Bruce Grocott. Yet the proposals for merger are silent on the issues that are of the greatest importance to us. It is because of that silence that we have serious concerns.

Those concerns are based on bitter experience. For years, Shropshire health authority promised us a reconfiguration of acute services. It recognised, as we did, that our constituents in the east of the county were under-resourced and under-provided for. It was recognised that there needed to be a rebalancing of health care provision. However, every year, in spite of the pledges and commitments made by the health authority, and in the face generally of opposition from Shrewsbury and the west of the county, the health authority failed to deliver and, indeed, failed my constituents.

We are now being asked to accept that a merger will put an end to what has too often been unseemly and bitter rivalry between the west of the county and the east, between the Royal Shrewsbury and the Princess Royal hospitals. Many of my constituents see merger less as a warm embrace than as a more subtle form of strangulation. They do not see the merger as a partnership between equals. Instead, they see it as a takeover. They regard it as the absorption of a smaller hospital by a larger hospital; the creation of a satellite that can be extinguished at will. At best, the merger, in my view, in the absence of a development plan for the Princess Royal hospital. will lock in the imbalances in resourcing and provision to which I have referred for the next generation at least.

Despite Telford's growing needs and despite the fact that the Princess Royal hospital has a larger catchment area than the Royal Shrewsbury, the Royal Shrewsbury has almost twice the budget of the PRH. It has three times the number of consultants. It has well over 500 beds compared with the PRH, which has fewer than 400. It has about 1,200 nurses compared with the 800 of the PRH. Critically, it has 12 countywide specialisms compared with the two that are based at the PRH. Every attempt over the years to rebalance that imbalance has failed.

There was a vigorous campaign in recent years to locate maternity services at the PRH. Every demographic and clinical index set out the argument that maternity services should be based at the PRH. However, that campaign failed. More recently, with the closure of Copthorne South at the Royal Shrewsbury, for sensible reasons—the buildings were falling down—there was a tremendous opportunity to relocate some of the services to the PRH, where there is ample room for development. That opportunity was missed.

It is not only in the acute sector that imbalance exists. It exists also in the mental health sector. A promise was made by the Shropshire health authority to develop acute beds on the site of the Princess Royal. That commitment was reneged upon. There is a need to redevelop the Shelton, which is one of the last Victorian asylums to be closed. The smart money is not on getting our provision in the east of the county. It is on redevelopment over in the west.

When primary care groups were established in 1999, Shrewsbury and Atcham had 3.5 per cent. above its fair share target while Telford and Wrekin had 6 per cent. below its target. Even now, with a generous settlement on the Telford and Wrekin primary care trust of a 34 per cent. increase in funding over the next three years, we still face an annual shortfall of £12 million a year.

The issue is equity. I am sure I speak for my hon. Friend the Member for Telford when I say that we do not wish to disadvantage anyone in the west of the county, but we want to improve access to health care for our constituents in the east. The merger should have offered us a once in a generation opportunity to redress the balance, redistribute specialties, address local health needs, and to develop the Princess Royal—

It being Ten o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without question put.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.— [Gillian Merron.]

—and to develop the Princess Royal hospital and its ability to attract top consultants. But that has not happened. The merger has not even attempted to do that. It has been made clear to me, for example by David Nicholson, the regional director of the Department of Health in a letter, that the proposal is to merge two organisations managerially, and because of that, that the proposal cannot address issues of provision of services. The question that I would ask, and which my hon. Friend asked earlier, is how we can make decisions on one without regard to the other.

The consultation has been flawed from the outset. As we discussed earlier, it was initially launched just a fortnight before the PCTs' establishment, which fuelled suspicions of a fait accompli. Those have not yet evaporated. I am grateful for the Minister's intervention then. He will not be surprised that I am not so grateful for his subsequent decision not to intervene to ensure a proper integration between the consultation that has taken place on merger and the development of local delivery plans by the PCTs. Decisions about structures seem to have been afforded greater priority than decisions about the delivery of health care.

The consultation that we recently experienced was a shambles. It was inadequate and misleading. Material was poorly circulated. The consultation was poorly publicised. At public meetings, the staff representing the NHS often outnumbered the public. The presentation of a fait accompli often interfered with people's preparedness to contribute to the public consultation.

Telford and Wrekin council's health and care scrutiny commission has done a good job of assessing the consultation and the issues that have arisen. Its report states that it does not believe that
"members of the public and hospital employees have had an adequate opportunity to consider and respond to merger issues. It is concerned that the proposed merger has been presented as a fait accompli. It is unhappy that possible configurations involving the Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt Orthopaedic Hospital have been excluded. It is far from persuaded that a major structural merger can be contemplated without attending in more detail to related service implications."
The report goes on to state that staff at the PRH

"said they had not even seen a copy of the full consultation document."
With regard to GPs in the Telford and Wrekin area, the report says that

"they felt unable to form a view on the merger owing to their lack of information on the subject."
That was a problem shared by the voluntary sector. The document goes on to state:

"The Shropshire Council for Voluntary Services (CVS) considered that they had not received enough information about the proposed merger during this consultation process."
Even the Shropshire and Staffordshire strategic health authority expressed serious concern. It stated that

"the recently-established SHA would have preferred public merger consultation to have been postponed until at least later this year. It was stressed the 'historical and political tensions' need to be overcome if a single acute hospital trust is to work effectively."
The scrutiny commission concluded:

"The Commission felt that the consultation failed to engage the public due to the very narrow terms of reference prescribed. The public were unable to debate the areas of most concern to them, i.e. service configuration and in the view of the Commission this meant the consultation was seriously flawed."
Those serious views expressed by the commission were borne out by the views expressed to me. A consultant at the PRH, Bruce Summers, wrote to me to say:

"I am by no means convinced that a merger will be in the best interests of patients who currently look upon the Princess Royal as their local hospital. My experiences over the last 13 years are such that I do not have any faith in a combined Trust Board and combined management to provide equity of healthcare for all patients in Shropshire."
Another consultant, Peter May, wrote to say:

"Only a minority of the Telford medical staff are in favour…In truth professional staff have been tired by the endless wrangling. There seems to have been an unstoppable pressure from above",
and adds in parenthesis that it is

"the same pressure that merged Redditch and Worcester, closing Kidderminster".
He went on to say:

"Telford fears that its hospital will be downgraded after merger."
The nursing union and other unions at the PRH said:

"We have now consulted with our members but there appears to be an air of apathy and expectance that the merger will go ahead regardless of our views and concerns."
Certainly from the soundings that I took among staff at the PRH, the overwhelming view was against merger and there was deep concern that their views were not being heard.

The same is true of GPs in my constituency. Graham Thompson, a local doctor, wrote to me to say:

"We feel that the share out is too lopsided in favour of Shrewsbury when in fact most clinical need is in the East of the County."
Even the Telford and Wrekin PCT, which in the end voted for the merger, wrote to me in the following terms:

"That decision will not be made with enthusiasm; the PCT remains as concerned to avoid any drift of services or 'centre of gravity' to the Shrewsbury site as I know you are yourself."
That is hardly a ringing endorsement. That view is held not just by those in the medical community, but by people outside as well.

I received a letter from Lilleshall and Donnington parish council, which suspects that

"funding will be diverted from the Princess Royal Hospital, to aid Shrewsbury, thus devaluing"
the hospital's

"ability to serve Telford and its surrounding areas."
Similarly, Wrockwardine Wood and Trench parish council in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Telford wrote to me to, say:

"we are now in danger of having"
our hospital

"taken away from the area. We need more services in Telford and Wrekin, not less."
Again, those are hardly ringing endorsements for the merger proposal.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the process could have been positive had a development plan been in place for the Princess Royal hospital? Significant development land is available at the hospital and the way in which it is designed means that services can be added on to existing wings. We can still make the process positive, but we must have a development plan.

My hon. Friend is right. There is a lot of land at the PRH and it has a huge potential. There is also a great deal of commitment in the local community. Staff at the PRH are anxious that they are not being allowed to fulfil their potential in serving their community. The hospital has difficulties in securing and retaining staff, especially consultants, because it has relatively little to offer. That in turn feeds our constituents' anxieties because they think that in the absence of specialisms and a development plan, the future of their hospital is in doubt. The merger proposal makes it difficult to dissuade them from that point of view. Many regard the proposal as the thin end of the wedge because it omits to discuss the future of the hospital and does not set out a development plan. That is why we are worried that a merger before a redistribution of services in the county will lock in the imbalance to which I referred. That is one reason why I believe that I would betray my constituents and their interests if I supported it.

One further issue only came to light in recent days. In the past we have been reassured that even if Shropshire health authority let us down and the merger proposal was not accompanied by a development plan, the introduction of PCTs and their commissioning power would give Telford and Wrekin PCT an influential say in the future of our hospital and an important role not just in underpinning its future but in helping to develop its future through its commissioning power and funding. As I said, however, despite the generous increase in funding for the PCT over the next three years—I acknowledge that 34 per cent. is at the top of the range—and the 14 per cent. increase in capital investment over the next three years, we are starting from an annual deficit of £12 million, which means that we are 9 per cent. short of our fair share.

The spend per patient in Telford and Wrekin every year through the national health service is about £719, which compares with a national average of £819. That severely compromises the commissioning power of our primary care trust with regard to the Princess Royal hospital.

As I understand it, the problem has further intensified in the past week. As recently as March, the strategic health authority confirmed that, as I believe has previously been the practice in hospital mergers, the NHS would write off at the point of merger the accumulated debt of the two hospitals, which amounts to about £4 million or £5 million. As of 11 April, when a meeting took place between the health authority and the PCTs, the rules have been changed so that any debt recovery is within the strategic health authority area and not the NHS as a whole. That will come as extremely unwelcome news not only to Shropshire but to Staffordshire, which will have to pick up its share. It will also be unwelcome not only to the acute sector but to the primary sector, which will also have to reach into its already pressurised budgets to find its contribution. Yet again, the purchasing power of our PCT and its ability to support the future of our hospital will be still further undermined.

The Government rightly have a vision of the NHS that puts patients first. Of course I applaud that, but I suggest that the plans that are currently before us meet the needs of the bureaucrats before those of our community. What is worse is that, without cast-iron, copper-bottomed assurances about the future of our hospital, they could prove disastrous for my constituents.

If the Minister cannot find it in himself to reject the proposal or defer it until the issues that I have raised are properly considered, a well-conceived argument for merger is advanced and the health service communities and wider communities are properly consulted, I entreat him to give us assurances not only that the Princess Royal hospital will not be undermined by the merger that is currently being contemplated, but that the hospital will be developed and expanded to meet the needs and expectations of its staff and the community that they serve.

10.12 pm

I will keep my remarks very brief.

I am dismayed and disappointed by the remarks of the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Peter Bradley). He talked in the language of great misgivings, bitter experience and rivalry. Those terms were very appropriate under the Conservatives before 1997, when there was bitter rivalry between the Royal Shrewsbury and Princess Royal hospitals. That is certainly no longer the case. I am afraid that he most certainly speaks as one of the minority—the tiny minority.

Having checked with the PRH and the RSH tonight, I can say that it is clear that there is overwhelming support for the merger in Shropshire and Telford and the Wrekin. Seventeen out of 18 stakeholders, including community health councils, local authorities, the trusts, primary care trusts and the hospitals themselves, are in favour of merger. The 18th stakeholder has passed no motion in favour or against merger and expressed no opinion. There have been 35 meetings with the public and staff to explain what is happening, and there has been overwhelming support.

I genuinely wish that the hon. Member for The Wrekin had not been quite so strident in expressing his views. If the merger is delayed, it will be at a grave cost to the hospitals. A population of about 500,000 is needed to make a hospital viable in this day and age.

The joint population of Shropshire, Telford and the Wrekin is about 436,000. However, if he expects that the Princess Royal hospital can survive alone as one of the two smallest district general hospitals in the country, he is sadly mistaken. All the clinicians, GPs, consultants and other health care professionals are on board. The public are on board—more than 95 per cent. are supportive. It is incredible to think that the hon. Member for The Wrekin, and possibly the hon. Member for Telford (David Wright), too, are against the proposed merger. I urge the Minister to think carefully and to take everybody's views on board. We want a thriving, sustainable future for Shropshire health care services, and if we delay on this proposal we jeopardise the futures of the Royal Shrewsbury hospital and the Princess Royal hospital.

10.15 pm

I want to respond briefly to the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Mr. Marsden). In general terms, neither I nor my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Peter Bradley) is. as he suggests, opposed in principle to the merger of the two hospitals: we are interested in ensuring that a medium to long-term development plan is in place to ensure the future success of the two hospitals. The problem that communities in Telford have had over many years is that we have not had any reassurance from numerous Ministers—I have to say that my hon. Friend the Minister is excellent at liaising with Back Benchers—about a long-term commitment to ensuring that we have a sustainable hospital in Telford. That is what we are seeking in this Adjournment debate and have tried to seek throughout the consultation process.

I am extremely concerned by the final point made by my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin about the possible budget deficit for the two hospitals, which may mean that resources have to be found from the wider health authority and strategic health authority economy in Shropshire and Staffordshire. I hope that the Minister will reassure me that we can look to some central provision to support the strategic health authority in progressing the merger and ensuring that, if it goes ahead, it is successful, so that the needs of both communities—in Shrewsbury and Atcham and in Telford—are met, and we have the highest-quality health services that we can possibly have for our people.

10.17 pm

I begin by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Peter Bradley) on securing the debate on an issue that is important to him and to his constituents. I commend him for the assiduous way in which he has continued to lobby on behalf of the people of The Wrekin and Telford. He, like the people of Telford and Shrewsbury and the surrounding area, is eager to secure the very best-quality health services that those communities expect. In that sense, I hope that I share common ground with him and, indeed, with my hon. Friend the Member for Telford (David Wright).

The proposed merger of the Princess Royal hospital and NHS trust and the Royal Shrewsbury hospital and NHS trust was subject to public consultation following a decision to merge on 26 June 2002. The consultation ran between December 2002 and March 2003. As my hon. Friend will know, following that consultation the chairs of the two trusts decided to merge the two hospitals. The matter was then automatically referred to the Secretary of State for Health for a final decision. I am currently considering my decision on the merger, so my hon. Friend's debate is timely. I welcome this further opportunity to hear his views and assure him that I will take them fully into account as I consider every last detail of the merger plan over the next few weeks.

It will be useful if I remind hon. Members of the background to the consultation and give an indication of the issues that I will consider before making any decision.

As my hon. Friend said, much local history surrounds the proposed merger of the two trusts. Although they have separate boards, for several years they have shared an executive management structure and they collaborate closely on clinical networks and services.

Before approval to go to formal consultation, the two trusts prepared an expression-of-interest document. It set out a range of reasons for an acute hospitals merger based on factors such as the effective use of resources and building on the existing shared arrangements at chief executive level. As my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin said, I met him and my hon. Friend the Member for Telford before the start of the public consultation to discuss his request that it should be delayed. I am grateful for the credit that he gave me for delaying the consultation for a period of weeks. I stated that it must be as
"open a consultation as possible."
As my hon. Friend would expect, I shall look to that condition.

I also stressed that no service change is being proposed in the merger discussions. I listened to my hon. Friend's comments about that. As he knows, the consultation specifically covers structural merger and is not about the services provided by the hospitals. However, I am fully aware that some stakeholders are anxious about the future provision of services. I have looked for them to be addressed in the merger proposal.

Let me summarise the key consultation issues. The consultation was on the proposal that the two existing NHS trusts should be dissolved and a new NHS trust established from 1 October 2003. It focused solely on organisational benefits, both managerial and clinical. It states:
"The proposal does not discuss nor propose any changes to the services provided by the hospitals. There are no plans to change clinical services as a consequence of this proposed merger."
The second point is very important. No other organisations were involved in the proposal. The catchment area for the trusts covers the unitary authority of Telford and Wrekin, largely served by the Princess Royal hospital, and the whole county of Shropshire and parts of mid Wales, largely served by the Royal Shrewsbury hospital. The range of consultees reflected the interested stakeholders in the catchment area.

The consultation document set out three options: reverting to separate management arrangements; doing nothing and having continued collaboration; and merging the Princess Royal and the Royal Shrewsbury NHS trusts. The third option was the preferred option. The form of the consultation had two elements. The Secretary of State has conducted a formal consultation with the community health councils of Shropshire and Montgomery and with the staff of the two hospitals. A public consultation has also taken place so that Ministers—in this case, me—could decide whether there is local support for the proposals.

It is important to remember that the consultation specifically provides that no part of the proposals related to a plan to change any services. Indeed, the consultation is explicit about the commitment to retain accident and emergency, critical care and paediatrics at both hospitals. An independent chairman, Mrs. Cessa Moore, who has no direct connection with the two trusts, was appointed to lead the consultation. She established a consultation project board to oversee the process.

The project was led by a project director, Mr. Neil Lockwood, again with no direct interest in the result of the consultation.

Membership of the consultation project board included the chief officers of the two community health councils. The chief executive of the two trusts was also a member to ensure a link between the consultation process and the ongoing activities of the hospitals.

My hon. Friend will be aware that section 11 of the Health and Social Care Act 2001 puts a new duty on the NHS to make arrangements to involve and consult the public in planning services. The Department has recently published a document entitled "Strengthening Accountability" providing policy and practice guidance to support the NHS in meeting the requirements of this duty.

That Act also gave new powers to the overview and scrutiny committees of local authorities to review and scrutinise the planning, operation and development of health services. That ensures that the democratically elected representatives of local people, with responsibility for their well-being, have proper influence over the NHS. Those powers also came into effect on 1 January.

Overview and scrutiny committees have a particularly important role to play when a substantial change or variation to services is proposed. The NHS must consult the overview and scrutiny committee on any such proposal. The committee has a specific right to refer the proposals to the Secretary of State if it considers that public involvement has been inadequate or that the proposal itself is flawed.

Any consultation documentation needs to demonstrate that it was clear, simple, concise and could be readily understood. It also has to be readily available in both its full and summary forms, and all groups must have had sufficient time to consider their responses. I shall be looking to ensure that those statutory obligations have been met as I consider my decision.

I shall also be concerned to ensure that the analysis of responses was both accurate and comprehensive, covering both positive and negative aspects raised as part of the consultation. I will pay particular interest to the responses given by the local authority scrutiny boards, clinicians, nurses and other hospital staff, as well as the views of hon. Members.

My hon. Friend has many times made his misgivings on the merger clear, in particular the omission of Shropshire's third hospital, the Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt orthopaedic hospital. I am also aware of my hon. Friend's view that in any merger the west of the county might tend to dominate in decision making about access to services and facilities, potentially adversely affecting services at the Princess Royal hospital.

I recognise those concerns and in making my decision I shall be mindful of what is said in our recently published document, "Keeping the NHS Local". That states that hospital services need to change—

I will not give way at this stage.

That states that hospital services need to change if we are to continue to meet patients' needs and improve access to local services and that biggest is not always best. We recognise that patients want more, not fewer local services.

Mention has been made of the expenditure of the trusts. After any merger of two NHS trusts, the income and expenditure account of a new trust would be set to zero. However, under resource accounting rules, strategic health authorities are not allowed to write off accumulated deficits of trusts within their health economy area. Appropriate financial recovery plans will therefore have to be drawn up irrespective of whether the Princess Royal and Royal Shrewsbury hospitals trusts merge. The local strategic health authority will consider financial recovery plans with stakeholders across its health economy should the merger go forward.

As I said at the beginning of the debate, I welcome this opportunity to listen to my hon. Friend's views on the merger. I listened intently when he and my hon. Friend the Member for Telford (David Wright) came to see me and continued to lobby hard on behalf of their constituents on the issue. I am also pleased that we have been able to make record financial allocations to their areas because they were pressing on the financial issues as well. I listened then and I delayed the consultation. I believe that I did well by the people of Telford, the Wrekin and Shrewsbury, and I hope that in the decisions I will take in the next few weeks, based on close examination of all sides of the argument, that I will do well by the people of—

The motion having been made at Ten o'clock, and the debate having continued for half an hour, MR. SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at half-past Ten o'clock.


Official Report, 14 April 2003: in col. 766, Division No. 170, delete "Goggins, Paul" from the Noes and insert in the Ayes,

In col. 778, the first petition should read as follows:



11.42 pm

More than 5,000 of my constituents have signed a petition expressing concern that local pharmacies in York might be caused to close if the Government were to implement the recommendation of the Office of Fair Trading to allow pharmacies to open without approval from NHS authorities. The petition is signed by Susan Hargrave, a member of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, and many others, and reads as follows:

To the Honourable the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in Parliament assembled.
The Humble Petition of Residents of York sheweth that they wish to preserve local pharmacies and safeguard their continued services to local communities. Wherefore your Petitioners pray that your honourable House urges the Government to reject the proposals of the Office of Fair Trading that would allow unrestricted opening of pharmacies able to dispense NHS prescriptions.
And your Petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray.

To lie upon the Table.