§ 4.6 pm
§ Mr. Tony Blair (Sedgefield)
I beg to move amendment No. 23, in page 2, line 24, at end add—'(7) The Committees shall have regard to Paragraph 5A of Schedule 2 to the 1978 Act before determining their final report to the Secretary of State.'This amendment concerns the issue of a public inquiry as part of the process of redrawing the European parliamentary boundaries. On Second Reading the major concern on both sides of the House was the absence of a proper time or mechanism for a public inquiry. Public inquiries, as we know, are the usual procedure when redrawing either the Westminster or the European boundaries. The purpose of the amendment is to raise the subject of the power to hold an inquiry. The means may be open to debate, but the amendment promotes discussion as to whether there should he, and whether it is feasible to have, a time for proper public inquiries.
The other cause for concern on Second Reading was that a special committee would redraw the boundaries, rather than the Boundary Commission. The Government, however, moved a considerable way to allay fears about the nature of the committee. They have undertaken to appoint boundary commissioners where possible, or, if they are appointing new people to serve on the special committee to draw up the boundaries, to appoint committee members on the same terms, and after similar consultation with other parties, as boundary commis-sioners.
The Government have also undertaken that the committee should have the same secretariat and staff as the Boundary Commission and that its independence should be guaranteed. So, as the Minister said when replying to the Second Reading debate, it will be the Boundary Commission in all but name.
One objection has been catered for, but the powers of the committee will still not include the power to hold a proper public inquiry. The history of the matter is as follows. In December 1978, the first boundaries were drawn up for direct European parliamentary elections. It is true that there was no inquiry then; that was the only other time when there has been no timetable for a public inquiry when parliamentary boundaries have been redrawn. However, exceptional circumstances gave rise to that exceptional state of affairs.
First, the process necessarily had to be carried out at the last minute because there had been tremendous disagreement in the House, and the procedure and the timetable came at the end of what I understand was an acrimonious debate about whether there should be direct elections to the European Parliament at all. Secondly, at that time all the boundaries had to be drawn for the first
341 time. We were dealing not with six additional seats. as we are here, but with all the European seats, for which boundary inquires would have had to be held. Everything was being done for the first time, so the administrative and procedural difficulties were necessarily all the greater.
Thirdly, the European Parliament had less power then than now—[Interruption.] The Home Secretary does not seem to consider that a matter of consequence, but I think that it is. The more power the European Parliament has the more important it is to maintain a proper procedure for drawing up the boundaries. Finally, the Home Secretary of the day gave a firm promise that the process that had excluded the possibility of holding public inquiries would never happen again.
Now let us move forward to March 1984, when the boundaries were changed again before the June 1984 elections. Many more boundaries were altered then than must be altered now. Having done some research on the subject, I can say that even though the timetable was held back until March 1984, about 10 inquiries were held, nine in England and one in Wales, as I understand—perhaps the Home Secretary will comment on that later. Although the timetable are pressing, 10 inquiries were still held, and I understand that 10 is about the maximum number that would have to be held now.
I agree that it was unsatisfactory that the process had to wait until March 1984, but at least it was proved then that such a time scale is not entirely impossible, and we are now considering a more favourable time scale. I also point out to the Home Secretary that, at the conclusion of the process in March 1984, about half the boundaries that had been the subject of a public inquiry were changed, so the inquiries made a difference to the outcome.
Furthermore, moving to the other part of the history of the matter, it is right to say that the timetable is so pressing now only because of the delay in introducing the Bill. As I said on Second Reading, the moment that it was announced following the European summit that six extra seats were to be allocated, we immediately asked the Home Secretary of the day what the procedure for drawing the boundaries would be.
The question was constantly raised from that time onwards, yet the Government are now relying on their own delay as a reason for defeating what would otherwise be the normal process for drawing the boundaries. That delay has stretched over many more months than was necessary. Therefore, if there is any possibility of securing sufficient time for a public inquiry to be held, the onus is all the heavier on the Government to try to achieve that.
Of course, the present Home Secretary was not responsible for the delay and I understand his problem. As, by the means that I have already explained, he has guaranteed the independence of the Boundary Commission, I do not challenge his good faith; I assume that he genuinely believes that public inquiries cannot be held in the time available. However, I do not think that the House would consider it right merely to accept the right hon. and learned Gentleman's assertion that the timetable does not allow for public inquiries. Rightly, people would like that proposition to be tested and shown to be right before accepting it.
In normal circumstances, as I believe that the Home Secretary concedes, public inquiries should and would be held. Therefore, only if he can show that the circumstances are wholly exceptional and exclude the practical possibility of a public inquiry will he have proved that one should not 342 be held. To test the assertion that that is not a feasible proposition, we must compare the differing time scales that have been drawn up by the Home Office and by the Opposition. It is worth explaining how those time differences occur so that we can test whether it is feasible to have a public inquiry in the way in which we suggest.
In essence, the Home Office time scale says that, in the event of a public inquiry, the process of boundary redistribution could not be completed until the end of January—earlier than March 1994, but I accept that it would be wholly exceptional to go that far. Using the Opposition time scale, including a public inquiry, the process would end in mid-December. In effect, there is a seven-week difference between the Home Office calculation and the Opposition calculation. I shall explain where that seven-week difference arises.
The timetables of the Home Office and the Opposition are the same up to week five of the process of boundary redistribution—up to the publication in early August of the provisional recommendations. In normal circumstances, there is then a statutory requirement to provide at least four weeks for representations and objections to be made. However, that period falls during the summer, so it is not unreasonable to allow a longer time for representations to be heard; so we have allowed six weeks, whereas the Home Office has allowed seven.
I cannot see why six weeks is not enough. On our time scale, the final date for representations would stretch well into late September and I cannot see why that is too onerous a burden to carry. I must stress throughout that the final time scale adopted would be agreed by all parties. Therefore, it would ill behove parties making representations to complain that they had not had enough time. That area is where the Opposition proposal loses one week.
Both the Home Office and the Opposition allow one week to consider representations, so the time scales match on that issue. Depending on the representations received, if the trigger of 500 protesting electors occurs, a public inquiry should be held. The decision to call a public inquiry depends on the representations, so when the committee meets to consider and decide on the representations, it will then be in a position to know whether to hold a public inquiry or not.
The Opposition time scale allows a further week for the committee to complete the administrative process of issuing the notice of the inquiry, but the Home Office allows two weeks. Again, there is one week's difference between the time scales suggested. I cannot understand why, when it is decided that an inquiry is needed, it cannot be called straight away.
The main gap occurs in the notice given for the public inquiry. We allow four weeks and the Government allow six weeks. I cannot understand for the life of me why that notice cannot be given in four weeks. Four weeks' notice of a public inquiry seems to be easily long enough and I cannot believe that, for the sake of an extra two weeks, it is worth jeopardising the whole process of a public inquiry. If all parties agree that that is a fair and reasonable notice of time, it seems to be fair enough. I agree, however, that for Westminster seats, the period of notice is normally six weeks, not four, but in the exceptional circumstances of this case, it would not be unreasonable if we were all to agree that it should be four weeks rather than six.
343 That leaves a four-week gap between the Home Office and Opposition time scales. If the process is completed one month later on the Home Office scale, it will go beyond Christmas, taking an additional three weeks, making seven weeks in all.
I appreciate that the details are difficult to follow. However, I have been through the matter carefully and genuinely to see whether our time scale was so unreasonable that it would mean that public inquiries were impossible. I am totally convinced that the time scale is possible if we decide that it is necessary. If, as I believe, public inquiries are an important part of the process and make a difference, if it can be done, it should be done, and I believe that I have shown by our time scale that it could be done.
One final objection is then given. It is said, not unreasonably, that there might be an unforeseen event affecting the holding of the public inquiry. The commissioner might fall ill or the council building in which the inquiry was to be held might become unavailable. There could be all sorts of reasons why, in the particular case of a particular inquiry, it became impossible to meet the timetable. As I understand it, of the 10 inquiries in 1984, not one was postponed.
However, let us assume for the purposes of argument that postponement was possible due to an unforeseen event. Even on our time scale, that could be allowed for. By early December, we have completed the process, so it allows an extra couple of weeks to run up to the Christmas period. Let us suppose that one or two inquiries went into January. I cannot believe that that is of such massive importance to the ability to fight the European elections effectively that it justifies vitiating the entire exercise of public inquiries for all the seats.
I do not overstate the case because I do not accuse the Home Secretary of malice. I simply say that the Home Office has been obstinate. I do not believe that under the proposed time scale it would be impossible to fulfil the requirement for a public inquiry. The amendment is phrased in general terms. We say that we should simply "have regard" to the paragraph in the European Parliamentary Elections Act 1978 which allows for a public inquiry.
I do not stand by the precise terms of a detailed amendment. However, I do say that we should uphold the principle that public inquiries are an integral part of redrawing constituency boundaries, either for Westminster or for the European Parliament. It is only in the most exceptional circumstances that we should accept that public inquiries should be excluded. The onus is on the Home Office to show that public inquiries should be excluded. It has failed to do so and in the absence of its ability to convince us that public inquiries are unnecessary, the House should support the amendment and should make the Home Office face up to its responsibilities.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Michael Howard)
I rise at this early stage in the debate to make clear the Government's position on the matter. The amendment seeks to draw the constituency committees' attention to the requirements of the European Parliamentary Elections Act 1978 concerning the holding of public inquiries.
As I explained to the House on Second Reading, I want the committees to follow as closely as possible the procedures of the Boundary Commissions. That is why, as 344 the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) conceded, we have sought—and, I hope, will largely succeed—in terms of the composition of the committees for which provision is made in the Bill, to appoint boundary commissioners where it is possible and where it is not, to follow procedures that mirror closely those that we should follow if we were appointing boundary commissioners.
I share with the Committee the latest information on the issue because it demonstrates the extent to which we are serious in our desire to follow those procedures wherever we can. Both the Boundary Commission members for Wales have agreed to take on the task and to serve on the committee for Wales. Although at present no deputy chairman has been appointed for the Welsh Boundary Commission, a nominee has now been agreed with the leaders of the parties.
I expect my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor to make an announcement on the matter shortly. The judge who has been nominated has agreed to he chairman of the committee. I expect the position in Wales to be that all three members of the committee will be members of the Boundary Commission for Wales.
For England, progress has not been quite as satisfactory. The deputy chairman of the Boundary Commission for England is too committed to other duties to take on the task. One of the other members has said to me that he is willing to take part as long as the review is completed by Christmas. The other member is willing in principle, but wants to know more about what is involved and especially about the outcome of our deliberations today before making a firm commitment.
We will be making progress in England also. I hope and expect to appoint at least one member of the Boundary Commission for England, and perferably two, as members of the committee. But that, as will be apparent from what I have said, depends on the outcome of our deliberations today. If the Government were obliged, as a result of the Committee's deliberations, to hold a public inquiry, at least one and possibly two members of the Boundary Commission for England would be unable to become members of the committee.
I have dealt with the composition of the committees and I have demonstrated the Government's desire to follow the procedures of the Boundary Commission as closely as possible. I should like to adopt procedures that would mirror those of the Boundary Commission in other respects.
The one respect in which I feel obliged to ask the committees to depart from those procedures is the holding of public inquiries. There will still be a full opportunity for individuals to make their views known to the committees, and for those views to be taken fully into account. There will be a full opportunity for the committees to modify their original recommendations and proposals in the light of those views.
However, one element of the Boundary Commissions' normal procedures that would be absent would be the holding of public inquiries. The reason for that absence is simply that I do not believe that we could guarantee that the procedures would be concluded in the time available if public inquiries were held.
§ Mr. Andrew Rowe (Mid-Kent)
Is it correct that, once a public inquiry has begun, it is entirely up to that inquiry how long it continues to hear evidence and deliberate? Am 345 I right in saying that there is an open-ended commitment once an inquiry has been set up, or is there some way of limiting the length of the inquiry?
§ Mr. Howard
My hon. Friend has asked a question which goes to the heart of the matter. In a very real sense, a public inquiry is an open-ended process. Of course, the chairman of the inquiry has a certain limited discretion to rule repetitious representations out of order. But there is no limit to the ingenuity—I know from my experience in such matters—with which those who are determined to make representations to public inquiries frame them in a way that differs to some extent from similar representations that may have been heard earlier in that inquiry.
It is difficult and, in the end, impossible to put a time limit on a public inquiry. My hon. Friend is right to say that a public inquiry is an open-ended process.
§ Mr. Howard
It is commonly known that public inquiries—although not necessarily in the subject that we are discussing—that were expected to last for a matter of days have frequently lasted for a matter of months. The same procedure could apply in the matters that we are discussing.
If the hon. Member for Sedgefield suggests that we can totally exclude the possibility of something happening in the future because it has not happened in precisely that way in the past, that seems to be an eccentric way of dealing with matters.
We have a serious question to deal with. It turns on whether we are prepared to run risks. I put the matter before the Committee not on the basis that it is absolutely and utterly impossible that public inquiries could be held within what is regarded by all hon. Members as a desirable time scale. We might be lucky. It might be possible. Everything might run like clockwork. The inquiries might not need to be held or, if they did, they might be completed in a short time.
It is not the Government's position that the procedures that are urged on us are necessarily and definitely impossible to achieve. However, we cannot be certain that the procedures would be achieved. Indeed, the better view that I have is that they would not be achieved. I freely concede that that involves an element of judgment. But it does not require an element of judgment to recognise that, whatever view one takes of the matter, one must accept the possibility that the process will not be concluded within the relevant time scale and that, as a consequence, Britain will be unable to take up our extra seats in the European Parliament.
That recognition is independent of judgment. That is what the hon. Member for Sedgefield and his right hon. and hon. Friends have to face and have refused to lace. That is the bottom line which has to inform our deliberations.
§ Mr. Blair
I agree that one must make a sensible judgment of the risk, but let us make the matter absolutely clear. As I understand it, there is no difference between us, on our time scales, about the likely run of the public 346 inquiry. So the point made by the hon. Member for Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe) is not valid. Other things may elongate the inquiry, but deliberate delay is not one of them.
It may well be the case that public inquiries of a general nature such as planning inquiries are supposed to last days but last months. But I can think of no justification for imagining that constituency boundary inquiries will run beyond the time that they have always run.
§ Mr. Howard
I am astonished at the innocence of the hon. Gentleman. He is right to say that we agree on the likely duration of the public inquiries. That is not the point. The point is that what we regard as the likely duration may not, in the event, turn out to be the actual duration.
It does not strike me as outside the realms of possibility that we might face a sustained and deliberate attempt to obstruct and delay the whole process. We might well face a concerted attempt—
§ Mr. Howard
I do not join my hon. Friend in identifying any particular source, but it is perfectly possible to envisage a sustained and deliberate attempt to obstruct and delay the process. We would then be unable to complete the procedures within the time available.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Hoon (Ashfield)
First, can the Secretary of State cite any example of a Boundary Commission public inquiry that lasted longer than the time frame that my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) identified? Secondly, given that the procedure that the Government have put before us is entirely novel, why is it not possible to include in it a limit on the length of time that the public inquiry could take?
§ Mr. Howard
I have dealt with the first question. It was precisely identical to that asked by the hon. Member for Sedgefield, and I answered it.
§ Mr. Howard
I answered the question fully. I told the Committee that, if the hon. Gentleman was prepared to proceed on the basis that, because something had not happened in exactly the same way in the past, one could safely assume that it would never happen in the future, his approach to the decision-making process struck me as eccentric.
In answer to the second question, I am not aware of any attempt that has been made to set a time limit on the public inquiry process. It would lead to great difficulties in practice. The hon. Member for Sedgefield has suggested something different. He suggests putting a time limit on the whole process, not merely on the public inquiry, and requiring public inquiries, if they are held, to be completed within that overall time limit. That gives rise to different difficulties, which I am perfectly prepared to deal with if I am pressed to do so.
Before I began to accept interventions, I was about to deal with the amendment. We know what it purports to achieve, but it does not achieve it. Although its defect is capable of being remedied, it is important that I explain. The amendment says:
347The Committee shall have regard to Paragraph 5A of Schedule 2 to the 1978 Act.It is not easy to see what the term "have regard to" means in that context. Sub-paragraph (1) is an optional provision about local inquiries. Sub-paragraph (2) is a mandatory provision, which triggers local inquiries if demanded by 500 electors or a local authority. Sub-paragraph (3) gives a Boundary Commission discretion to hold further local inquiries.
We know that the hon. Gentleman does not intend the third of those provisions, but in so far as we understand what he seeks to achieve, as he has explained it this afternoon, I have to tell him that his amendment would not achieve it.
Let me deal with the timetable that the hon. Gentleman has advanced. On the whole, he has summarised accurately and fairly. I do not take issue with the difference between his timetable and the one that I think more likely. On the basis of the judgment that I have reached and the advice that I have given, my view is that his timetable is unrealistic.
One has to give proper time to allow for representations objecting to the committees' proposals. It is only fair to give local authorities proper opportunity to meet to discuss the proposals and submit them to the committees. It would be difficult for local authorities to achieve that during August. Therefore, we must allow them sufficient time in September.
The time that the hon. Gentleman's timetable allows is too short. If public inquiries were to be held, that would take much longer. That point was made to me by the English boundary commissioners, who believe that the hon. Gentleman's timetable which involves finishing the task with public inquiries by 9 December, is unrealistic. It would be impossible to do justice to the task in the time proposed. In their experience—they are the repository of experience in these matters—the inquiries tend to add substantially to the length of the process.
First, the committee has to consider carefully whether an inquiry is warranted; secondly, it has to give adequate notice of the inquiry to enable people to prepare the information that they wish to represent. That takes us a week behind the hon. Gentleman's timetable. That is based on the judgment that the process will take not fewer than nine weeks overall: two weeks for the committees to decide whether inquiries are needed; four weeks for publicising them; and three weeks for conducting all the inquiries. The practice of the Boundary Commission is to organise public inquiries some months in advance to allow people wishing to attend to prepare themselves properly.
Even within those nine weeks, the setting up of inquiries is not a simple task. Finding a suitable venue can present considerable difficulties. Finding a senior and appropriately qualified lawyer to preside at the hearing is not necessarily easy. Currently, all the assistant commissioners who are used for Boundary Commission inquiries are heavily committed Queen's Counsel or other senior barristers. There needs to be at least a further two weeks beyond what the hon. Gentleman allows in order to give them adequate notice, for their briefing material to be prepared and for them to study and absorb it.
In addition to the nine weeks required for setting up and conducting the inquiries, it will take considerable time for the committee to consider and act on the reports of the 348 inquiries. We need to allow for the likelihood that up to 10 inquiries would be needed. The hon. Gentleman's timetable allows only two weeks for the preparation of reports on the inquiries.
It has to be remembered that the people who preside at the inquiries are not employed full-time. They have to fulfil other professional commitments, as well as preparing the detailed reports. When the committees consider the reports, they will need to take into account a number of factors, to study the transcripts and to evaluate the representations received. The hon. Gentleman's timetable allows only two weeks for that process, and that is not adequate.
Bearing in mind the number of inquiries envisaged, at least another three weeks would be required beyond the time set by the hon. Gentleman to allow the committee members to cope with the volume of work that would be generated. Such judgments have led me to the conclusion that the timetable put forward by the hon. Gentleman is unrealistic. I accept that those are matters of judgment. However, none of the differences makes any allowance for the delays and other inhibiting factors that would be beyond the control of either the members of the committee or the Government.
It does not require any great imagination or ingenuity to identify circumstances that would knock the process completely off course. The sudden illness of a committee member or someone appointed to conduct the inquiry would lead to considerable delay. As I said earlier, an inquiry might be prolonged as a result of a deluge of oral representations, whether or not they were part of a concerted and orchestrated campaign. A venue might suddenly no longer be available, for all sorts of reasons. Venues of the necessary kind are not easy to find at short notice. That, again, would lead to considerable delay.
§ Mr. Blair
One can hypothesise situations in which time scales become impossible—if the Secretary of State were right, virtually any time scale would be impossible to adhere to because of the unforeseen events that might occur. Even if we were to add six weeks on to our time scale, with the worst hypothesis for one or two inquiries, it would take the process to late January. I appreciate that those are matters of judgment and I hope that I am not being unreasonable, but, with the greatest of respect, I cannot understand the judgment that leads the Secretary of State to believe that that is wholly impossible.
§ Mr. Howard
I have clearly set out my position. The difference between us is some seven weeks. The difficulty that I face is that factors such as those that I have exemplified are not susceptible to any control. It simply is not possible to set a limit on the extent to which they may prolong the process. The hon. Gentleman was right when he said that that is the case with any timetable. That is why we have to ensure that we have sufficient leeway to give us the scope to make the assessment that the risk is acceptable.
The essential difference between the hon. Gentleman and me is that he speaks—I am not making a simple debating point—from the Opposition Benches and I speak from the Government Benches. I would have responsibility for the process. I have the responsibility for looking at it carefully and ensuring that it is not vulnerable to unforeseen contingencies that could knock the whole process off course.
349 That is why it is not unreasonable for the hon. Gentleman, sitting where he is, to deal with the matter in terms of likelihoods and predictable events and cutting corners here arid there. However, sitting where I sit, I have to build into the process sufficient leeway and a sufficient margin to give me some assurance that we shall achieve a result that is desired on all sides.
§ Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman
My right hon. and learned Friend spoke of a result that is desired on all sides. I am not sure that all hon. Members on the Government Benches regard that as a desirable result. Is it not highly probable that, if people can so orchestrate events that they take much longer in the House, if they were given the opportunity to do so in the country at large, we never would get the results in time for elections?
§ Mr. Howard
I am not certain how entirely helpful is the parallel that my hon. Friend draws, so I hope that she will forgive me if I do not follow her down that road. It is clear that we would be running substantial, and unacceptable, risks.
§ Mr. Hoon
I have listened to the Home Secretary describing his great weight of responsibility. Given the timetable resulting from the Bill, were those matters in the collective mind of Home Office Ministers for the long period that we have had to wait for the Bill to be presented to the House? The Home Secretary makes a persuasive case about accepting his responsibilities, but were they not the same during the eight months that we waited before the Bill was presented?
§ Mr. Howard
Yes, of course, those matters were in, the collective mind of the Home Office and of others elsewhere during that period. I cannot pretend that they were uppermost in my mind, but they were under consideration. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that we have faced an exceptionally heavy legislative burden during this Session. For that reason, it has not been possible to bring the proposals to the House before now.
The timetable that I have placed before the Committee is not one which I have drawn up unaided. It has been drawn up by my officials, in consultation with the Boundary Commission. They have taken into account the time that each of the stages in the procedure can realistically be expected to take.
I sympathise with the sentiments behind the amendment. If I thought it possible to achieve the objective that the amendment sets out, without involving an unacceptable risk to the timetable of the process, I should be much more minded than I am to translate my sympathy into action, but I have a responsibility to ensure that the new constituencies are in place in good time for next year's European parliamentary elections. We could not achieve that without taking an undue and unacceptable risk if we were to accept the holding of public inquiries. For that reason, I invite the Committee to reject the amendment.
§ Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)
I listened with care and interest to the Home Secretary's exposition of his difference with the official Opposition over the amendment. It seemed to boil down to a difference of seven weeks. As many more than seven weeks have elapsed since the problem came to public attention, 350 he cannot be absolved of responsibility for the imbroglio in which we find ourselves. As he spoke, I was reminded of the Empress Maria-Theresa's attitude to the partition of Poland—the more he wept for the demise of democracy, the more he demanded by way of subtraction from democratic procedures.
We are arguing not just about seven weeks, but about an important principle and issue of natural justice. That principle is summarised in the phrase—no doubt well known to him as a lawyer—"audi alteram partem", meaning that it is appropriate to hear both viewpoints. If all viewpoints are not openly expressed before the Boundary Commission, or this substitute for a commission which he dreamt up, the public cannot be satisfied that proper considerations have been taken into account during the process, or that justice has been done. The Home Secretary's suggestion that he is anxious to stick as far as possible to the Boundary Commission's procedures is a somewhat threadbare assertion if the core of that procedure, the public inquiry, is dispensed with.
It was argued on Second Reading, although not by the Home Secretary today, that this procedure is not wholly unprecedented because a somewhat truncated procedure was accepted by Parliament in 1978 on the recommendation of the then Government. I do not need to go into the historical precedent and the reasons for it. However, it is right to note that, in these matters, precedent is often invoked.
§ Mr. Howard
Could the hon. Gentleman's reluctance to go into the reasons for that decision have anything to do with the fact that he is the only hon. Member in the Chamber at the moment who was a member of the Government who took that decision?
§ Mr. Maclennan
It could, but it does not. The historical record would seem remote from today's debate. Although I have a considerable historical interest in what happened on that first occasion when we made arrangements for the election of Members to the European Parliament, it would be wearisome for the Committee if I were to elaborate upon what happened.
The point that I want to make is that precedent is invoked in such matters. It is clear in retrospect that it was unfortunate that that precedent was established then because the Government have prayed it in aid as the reason for proceeding as they have today, just as I fear that they may pray in aid in future the precedent of the measure before us to dispense with what many people would regard as a key part of the process of the fair distribution of seats.
It is not as though this situation is wholly unique. We can anticipate that, in future, there will be alterations in the number of seats consequent upon alterations in the size of the European Community if Scandinavian and eastern European applicants are admitted to the Community. If that happens, we can anticipate that there will be alterations in the composition of the European Parliament. There can be no confident prediction that that will occur at a time which makes it easy for the Government of the day to fit in with the timetable of the Boundary Commission.
In dispensing with the Boundary Commission's procedures, we are setting a dangerous precedent, which can be ameliorated only in the way suggested by the hon.
351 Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) if we are to avoid a sense of injustice following the process which the Bill encapsulates.
I listened to what the Home Secretary said about his inability to guarantee the conclusion of the procedures if the public inquiry process is included. I am bound to say that his suggested reasons for delay were far-fetched to the point of fancy. It would not be difficult to empower the boundary commissioners—or the committee chairmen as proposed in the Bill—to take steps, in the event of emergencies of the kind adumbrated by the Home Secretary, which would truncate the procedures or ensure that the results were available by a given date. In my opinion, it would be possible to do that in a way that would make it proof against judicial review.
If there was a will, there would be a way. It must be said that the Home Secretary has, from the beginning, made it plain that he had no will or stomach for ensuring that the carve-up of seats was seen to be fair among all parts of the countries affected. From what the Home Secretary has said, it has been almost impossible to divine the serious objections to the proposed timetable.
The Home Secretary said that he has heard from some boundary commissioners that they would find the timetable tight and that it does not conform with previous practice. However, we are not dealing with a situation which can be fitted in nicely with the timetables to which boundary commissioners have worked in the past.
I noted what the Home Secretary said about the fact that some of those who would be participating as counsel in the inquiries are engaged on a part-time basis. It is not entirely clear why that should be an insuperable or even a difficult obstacle. We are not talking about the situation in which there are, by the Home Secretary's own admission, a vast number of inquiries. He suggested that there might be 10. If one cared enough about the democratic process it would be perfectly possible to retain the services of those part-time participants here and now and dispense with them as it became clear that their services were not required.
Many of the professional people whom the Home Secretary referred would regard it as a normal part of their public service to. be engaged and not to do it for pin money. I venture to suggest that the Home Secretary has exaggerated that problem unconvincingly.
I hope that the Committee will have heard the careful way in which the hon. Member for Sedgefield spelt out his proposals. The timetable that he adumbrated is realistic and fair and allows ample time at each of its stages for proper consideration of the proposals by individual members of the public, local authorities and others. If that timetable were implemented, it would be possible to include in the Bill provisions for a public inquiry which would ameliorate provisions which are otherwise quite unacceptable.
The Home Secretary said that the amendment was not drafted so as to achieve its purpose. However, that is almost invariably the case when amendments are drafted by the Opposition or minority parties which do not have the benefit of parliamentary counsel advice. The purpose of the amendment is clear beyond any doubt. If further 352 refinements are required, the Government have at their resources skilled draftsmen who are perfectly capable of helping Parliament in that respect.
If the proposal of the hon. Member for Sedgefield, which my right hon. and hon. Friends and I and many hon. Members on all sides of the Committee support, is accepted, it would be sensible to write in a measure which is not specifically alluded to in paragraph 5A of the European Parliamentary Elections Act 1978 which the amendment seeks to import into the Bill. That is a power for the boundary commissioners or their chairmen to dispense with or timetable a particular part of a proposal, or to manage the procedures of the commission so as to achieve the objective of concluding the process by the date which is generally agreed to be desirable. I understand that the Government wish that process to be concluded by the end of January or perhaps the end of the year. It would certainly be desirable to achieve that process by the end of the year and I have already indicated that view to the Home Office. We are at one on that matter.
In the circumstances, giving the chairmen of the committees, as they are called in the Bill—they are not the Boundary Commission—the duty to present the report by that time would ensure that their role could be discharged without the threat of judicial review invalidating any step in the procedure or making it practically impossible to hold the inquiries at such a key part of the process. Therefore, I have great pleasure in supporting amendment No. 23 and I hope that the whole Committee will think it right to do so.
§ Mr. John Biffen (Shropshire, North)
The beginning of the debate was almost an uplifting occasion, with the match between the Dispatch Box eloquence of the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) and the forensic skills of my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary. None the less, there is some unhappiness because there is no doubt that the absence of a public inquiry is inevitably a factor which vitiates the procedures for the prospective European parliamentary elections.
I should like to be rather more pedestrian and reflect on some of the grubby ways of politics. It is not the fault of my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary that we find ourselves in this position. We are in this position because a decision, I believe, was taken by the Government that the work of the Boundary Commission on our Westminster constituencies should precede all other considerations.
If one could summon from the murky depths of Cabinet committees and drag into the daylight blinking Ministers who had taken the decision, one would find that they were all among the most communautaire element of the Cabinet. What does that demonstrate? It demonstrates that, when it comes down to domestic consideration against European commitment, domestic consideration wins, and not just by a nose.
I make that good-natured observation because it clears the ground from a certain amount of what otherwise might be make-believe.
It is obviously regrettable that there cannot be public inquiries, but I place some hope upon what my right hon. and learned Friend has asserted about the representations that may take place after the recommendations have been published. I say that in the peculiar context of the review,
353 it being about the European constituencies and not about the reviews with which we are naturally more familiar and which relate to the Westminster Parliament. Although the Westminster Parliament experiences the most extraordinary consequences and the most unexpected and unwelcome upheavals in boundary designation, there is a very significant factor, which is that council districts may be cannibalised to produce a relatively static parliamentary situation. Great flexibility is available to those who draw the Westminster boundaries to ensure to some extent that there is maximum continuity.
No such factor operates in respect of the European constituencies. No Westminster constituency can be cannibalised to try to bring about greater continuity and stability in the European electoral map. One move, I believe, could have more knock-on consequences right across the European electoral map than we have possibly hitherto considered. If that is true, the possible dislocation or redrafting as a result of the adhesion of the four, five or six extra seats could mean a substantial redrafting of the European seats.
I put that in the context of a very large question mark because I cannot in any sense anticipate the findings of the boundaries committee. However, the very fact that one cannot break up one constituency and allocate it to neighbouring European constituencies deprives us of one factor of bringing about greater stability than would otherwise be the case. That is self-evident, and it means that one has to accept, certainly as a possibility, far greater upheaval from this seemingly relatively simple alteration to our representation in Strasbourg than perhaps we have hitherto assumed. If that is the case, the opportunity for representation, for appeal and for reconsideration is much more powerful.
Clearly, that is a matter that my right hon. and learned Friend will have considered, but it reinforces the point that there must be maximum opportunities for those who are affected to be able to appeal against whatever decision is made. Whether that can be conveyed to those who will administer the process—and that is in itself sufficient—or whether it will necessitate adjustment in the Bill, I know not, but I would like my right hon. and learned Friend to reassure me on that point.
§ Mr. Hoon
My hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) has dealt in detail with several practicalities for a timetable for public hearings. I begin by examining one aspect of what I hope are the principles involved, particularly against the background of other provisions in the Bill. I invite hon. Members to read the Bill as a whole and then say whether, on balance, they consider that the approach that the Government are recommending is one that we in this country are either used to or expect from a Government dealing with the sensitive issue of the redrawing of boundaries—something that has been regarded as above and beyond party political considerations and has brought great credit to this country for the way in which such issues are resolved.
Read as a whole, the Bill contains an extraordinary set of provisions which, taken together, could be viewed as deeply disturbing. They could be described by someone in the Public Gallery, with recent experience of a totalitarian country, as the product of that kind of approach. I do not say that I would use that expression. Someone who lived in the former Soviet Union might look at the provisions with a somewhat jaundiced eye.
354 In case Conservative Members consider that I am overstating the case, I invite them to consider the Bill and use the modern term for what we call the Secretary of State or the Home Secretary—"Minister of the Interior". That is, instead of the comforting descriptions that we use—Secretary of State or Home Secretary, to which no one in this country would take exception—we might use the expression "Minister of the Interior". That would produce a different interpretation, particularly of the schedule.
If the "Minister of the Interior" were responsible for the appointment of the members of the various committees and their staff and, in turn, responsible for their terms and conditions and determining their pay, we would be looking at the proposals much more suspiciously. If he were then able to make modifications to the proposals without necessarily referring to a member of the committee—and, indeed, he was able to make further incidental or consequential provisions—we would have some doubts about whether that was the sort of system that we expected from a democratic Government in a democratic society. That is one aspect of the schedule and the way in which the committees are composed.
We would be more disturbed if the provisions were unable to be challenged legally. That is the sort of approach that we expect in totalitarian societies. In such societies, we would expect the Government to introduce proposals that could not be subject to any sort of legal challenge. Of course, that is precisely what we find in the schedule—the recommendations of the committees cannot be challenged in the courts. We have discussed that matter and I listened to the Minister's explanation. His explanation was less than satisfactory, if I can put it that way. In addition, the Bill provides for the committees to be established in advance of Royal Assent. Clause 2(6) provides for the work of the committees to be retrospectively validated.
I mention those points simply to show how someone who perhaps does not clearly understand the intention and motivation of the Government, which I am sure is fair-minded and reasonable, with regard to the proposals might read the Bill and say that it does not have the hallmark of fairness that we would expect in Britain, which is associated with the sensitive subject of the drawing of boundaries.
I mention all of those points not to depart from the amendment but to emphasise a simple point of principle. If the Government say that there is no validity whatever in the argument, a simple way of resolving the problem would be to accept the idea that there should be public involvement in the process, as proposed in the amendment.
There should be proper public consultation and hearings of the sort that we would expect if this were a matter for the boundary commissioners, or a procedure that the Home Secretary described as being "as close as possible to the procedure adopted by the boundary commissioners". The reason for my long introduction is simply to put the matter in the context of the Bill.
The amendment, however it is interpreted, would permit a clear refutation of the argument that somehow or other the Government are being unfair, partial and not necessarily adhering to the spirit of the redrawing of boundaries which has been a characteristic of the House and its work for some considerable time.
I turn to the Home Secretary's arguments about the timetable. I hope that he will forgive me for saying that his 355 argument was a little slippery with regard to the justification for the Government's difficulties. The Government have known for some eight months that they had to introduce these proposals. I listened carefully to the arguments advanced in terms of the Home Secretary's responsibility to ensure that the procedure is conducted properly and there is not the opportunity for people to disrupt the process and make it last much longer than any conceivable timetable will allow.
Those are perfectly reasonable arguments, and I can understand the Government's fear. However, that needs to be balanced against the fact that the Government have known for some eight months that they had to introduce this Bill. The Home Secretary's arguments would be much more acceptable, and certainly more understandable, if there had been greater urgency on the part of the Government.
It is hard for me to accept—I sat through most days and nights of the Maastricht process—that there are not three days of parliamentary time for the Bill, even allowing for the time that was taken to deal with the Maastricht Bill, and assuming that as many as three days are necessary to complete all of the relevant stages. That argument is a little difficult to accept against that background.
The argument is more difficult to accept when the Home Secretary shifts his position slightly and slips from one justification to another. He began by saying that it was difficult to follow the various stages that would be required within a reasonable time and then concluded by saying that one of the real difficulties was that the process could be open-ended if people took advantage of the opportunity to frustrate the work of the public inquiries.
I know that the Home Secretary, in a previous incarnation, has had considerable experience of public inquiries. Clearly, some public inquiries have stretched for a considerable time—and much longer than originally envisaged. However, I cannot think of a Boundary Commission public inquiry that has lasted an inordinate amount of time, nor one that has been abused in that way.
Let us assume that, in some part of the country, people took it into their heads to prolong the work of a public inquiry. The Home Secretary knows better than I—and probably better than any other hon. Member—how public inquiries are organised and run, and how those who are responsible for taking evidence organise the work.
With that practical understanding of the process, he knows better than anyone else that whoever is responsible for the organisation of a public inquiry could at the outset set out the opportunities that people would have to give evidence, the time limits that he expected and, if necessary, the sort of sittings that could be arranged if there was any deliberate organised attempt to prolong the proceedings for longer than the timetable proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair).
The Home Secretary knows that the people who are appointed to organise public inquiries are not usually those who will be intimidated by the organised disruption of business. Effectively, he is saying that an organised filibuster might make such public inquiries take longer than to next June, which is clearly the date that we are concerned about. Even if a public hearing ran into May, it 356 would still be possible to hold public inquiries and allow us to reach a conclusion. I simply invite the Home Secretary to examine that aspect.
The Home Secretary is saying that the Government want the process to be completed towards the end of November, rather than towards the end of December or January, whichever timetable is adopted. As he fairly said, that is a matter of judgment. It is a matter of exercising our minds about what is appropriate. In that context, I simply invite him to consider this question: what difference will that make in practice?
Let us assume that the process is completed by the end of November—I understand that that is roughly the Government's intended timetable. That would mean that, over the Christmas holiday period of late December to early January, we would all know the nature of the European constituency boundaries. That does not seem to add unduly to the advantage that the political parties may gain from the knowledge of the precise organisation of the European constituencies at that stage. It seems to make little difference to the candidates standing in those elections whether the changed boundaries are published in late November, ready for Christmas and the new year, or at the end of December or January.
Having stood in two such elections, I recognise the advantage to the candidates of knowing as early as possible the nature of the boundaries. I do not argue against that and I understand why the Government want them to be published as soon as possible. However, as the Government have waited for eight months, it is difficult to accept that eight more weeks will make a big difference to European constituency organisation and election campaigns fought by the candidates.
Although the constituencies will not be finalised, most candidates will have a good idea of the nature of the constituencies in which they will be campaigning. Hon. Members are as familiar with that process as anyone else. Once the Boundary Commission has produced its proposals, notwithstanding the possibility of a public inquiry, everyone has an idea what the constituencies will be like once the elections take place. That is what we are arguing in terms of the European constituencies.
The committees will make their proposals in August. Whether or not there are procedures for public consultation, those proposals will he known to everyone. The opportunities for changing them will be relatively limited, because, for the time being. most European constituencies contain some eight parliamentary constituencies. The rules will be the same as in the past, whereby entire parliamentary constituencies must fit within European constituency boundaries.
In those circumstances, the possibilities of change will not be so great that candidates will be unduly and adversely affected by a delay of eight weeks in the process, given the fact that we have already waited eight months. It is therefore a little difficult to accept the argument about the timetable.
In the context of a Bill that raises questions in people's minds about the integrity and objectivity of the process of redrawing boundaries, I hope that the Government will accept the amendment, so that the Bill can proceed smoothly with widespread acceptance in the House.
§ Mr. Tim Rathbone (Lewes)
I hope that the hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Hoon) will forgive me if I do not follow his argument precisely, although he was correct 357 to remind the House that we should not take our democratic practices for granted. It would be easy to do so as, because we have become accustomed to them, we feel that they can be bent or adjusted according to the exigencies of developing circumstances.
I refer to the interesting words of my right hon. Friend the Member for Shropshire, North (Mr. Biffen). I do not share his suspicion of ministerial actions but believe that Ministers have given deep thought to the requirements of these elections, as they do to those of domestic elections. They have planned the process carefully, bearing in mind the outcome that they wish to achieve—fair boundaries for fair elections, which will result in as fair an outcome as possible, representing a variety of political opinions from throughout the country.
Although I regard the Bill with less suspicion than my right hon. Friend, I share with him some qualms about the possibility, although not the probability, of the cannibalisation of Westminster constituencies to make up tidy European parliamentary constituencies. There would be less redrawing of existing seats and less upheaval if a different form of elections were used in the future.
§ Mr. Biffen
A Westminster seat cannot be cannibalised in the context of European elections. That point was put to me recently by a Member of the European Parliament.
§ Mr. Rathbone
I thank my right hon. Friend for that clarification and reassurance. I hope to be able to provide a little more reassurance in a moment.
To achieve what the House and the Government want to achieve requires considerable study and the maximum opportunity for those concerned, at both the receiving and planning ends, to expose their thoughts and have them questioned.
The opening remarks of my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary gave some reassurance. He described the committee, as it is to be called, that is to be set up for Wales and made up of commissioners. However, there are some serious difficulties in identifying proven commission members for the committee for England. Even if that turned out to the best, it seems to show that there may be a requirement for even greater supervision and review of their conclusions than would normally be the case for a Westminster constituency.
I shall not be tempted to reiterate all the timing problems, as both sides of the argument have been put clearly. However, I conjecture with the House about how our decisions today could affect actions in the future, particularly if at some time in the future a pan-European system of elections were adopted and applied to this country, as it would be applied to all other countries in the European Community. For example, if the additional member system were adopted for this process, the plans that we are now making would affect what was considered then.
I share with hon. Members on both sides of the House a belief that it is a pity that the Government have risked missing the opportunity to adopt the additional member system, because it would be sensible to adopt a system designed for additional members when we are discussing the allocation of additional members. It seems to fit so beautifully tidily and might even let my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary off the hook if it were adopted. There is no difficulty in Wales because Wales is being treated as a single constituency anyway, but it would 358 require a drawing of constituency boundaries in England to establish the best system, which is regional representation for the five additional seats that are to be given to England.
The basis for that system lies in our economic regions, although there are eight of those so they would have to be adjusted to fit the five seats. There would have to be combinations of areas such as north, Yorkshire and Humberside, north-west and east midlands, east Anglia and east midlands, north-west and the west midlands, the south-west, and the south-east. I shall not attempt at this stage to set out a prescription for that, and there is nothing sacrosanct in any of those divisions.
It would be easy to set up the new Euro-constituencies for an additional member within the constraints so clearly outlined by my right hon. Friend the Member for Shropshire, North. With that possibility in mind, I consider it all the more important that a clear system is set up now, and that we do not create further precedents for the establishment of constituency boundaries in the way that the Government have outlined.
This is not blue sky dreaming; it is not an impossibility. It is possible that the new requirement will come to pass. It is not a new fad. Our electoral system has developed over the centuries: we have made quantitative reforms, such as broadening the franchise so that men and women have equal voting rights; the voting age was lowered recently and, even more recently, people on holiday or living abroad were allowed to vote. We are not unused to changing our electoral circumstances and methods.
We have even been innovative in terms of qualitative improvements, as can be seen in the electoral arrangements for the European Parliament that have been made in Northern Ireland. Those arrangements establish a better representation of the various divisions in Northern Ireland.
Steps towards further reforms—whether unilaterally by the United Kingdom Government or as part of a pan-European activity—are not inconceivable. There are well-established criteria for such developments.
We want the British system to maintain the current firmly rooted democratic practice of a close relationship between representatives and their constituencies. That would mean a continuation of the current first-past-the-post system of elections for the European Parliament. Subsequently, to allow for national unity and representation of minorities—especially nationally based minorities —additional Members would be added.
The additional seats would encourage broadly based national parties to gain representation in areas where they have sizeable support, although they do not have a majority. There are two very good examples in Scotland, which were raised in the House only yesterday. The Liberal Democrats and the Conservative party in Scotland do not have proportionate representation in the European Parliament. We want to maintain in this country—as we always have—a simple system, as opposed to the complicated systems of other European countries.
Those points underline, yet again, the possibility—the probability, perhaps—of the adoption of the additional Member system, particularly where additional Members are already being established. That would both increase proportionality and maintain single-Member constituency representation.
359 It may seem as peculiar for a Conservative to adopt this line today as it seemed yesterday for a hon. Member for a Sussex constituency to be concerned about representation in Scotland, at the other end of the United Kingdom, but it is not as peculiar as it might seem at first. Some change to the electoral system for the European Parliament is inevitable, sooner or later. It would be in British interests, and the Government's interests, to adopt the system best suited to our present and future, and to give the lead and promote it as the best system for Europe. If we do not do that now, we will inevitably have to do it in the future, at a time when political pressures may be much greater.
If we adopted the system now, we would give a good British and Conservative lead to the rest of Europe. We would establish a paternity for reform, which I would be only too pleased to see as part of the action and initiative of my party, Parliament and the country. We would, in the process, show our commitment to constitutional propriety.
I am not being disloyal to the present Government or the present system—although I think that the system could stand improvement—by putting forward these suggestions. In the past, the Tory party has been committed to protecting individual rights and individual responsibilities, and I think that has been at the core of many of the comments made by hon. Members on both sides of the House. We are certainly committed to supporting properly founded constitutional democracy, and that is one of the themes that I have tried to follow.
There is no doubt that the ownership of an equally valid vote—along with the opportunity to cast it effectively—is the essence of freedom and the cornerstone of national confidence, without which we will never recreate and conserve a firmly founded United Kingdom. The fact that precedents have been set in the past suggests that we should eschew the temptation to set a further precedent now, which might be detrimental in the future. It is important to remember that young people will have more to enjoy or endure in the future than most of us—certainly more than people of my own generation.
It is with those questions in mind that I express the hope that Ministers will reconsider the question of public hearings in regard to the drawing of European constituencies. Wider ramifications will be involved in the drawing of those constituencies, not just for now but in the future as Europe, and our position in it, increases.
§ Mr. Bruce Grocott (The Wrekin)
I listened carefully to the remarks of the hon. Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone) and I agree with a great deal of what he said. I shall make three or four brief comments, one of which has doubtless been made many times during the debate.
Although this is a very short Bill and the debates have not been massively attended, it is an extremely important Bill; not to put it too pompously, it is part of the fabric of our democracy. It may be only a small part, but it is an extremely important one. I think that we should change the system of our democracy, or any part of it, only with great care and deliberation. That is not an automatically conservative approach, but an approach based on common sense.
The structure of boundaries is a small part of a democracy, but we in this Parliament are increasingly in the habit of sending observers to elections in other parts of the world, either from this Parliament directly or through the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association or the 360 United Nations. I strongly support that. The intention is to determine whether elections are free and fair, and we must indulge in the exercise with some modesty.
§ Mr. Grocott
That is right and in all cases, whatever the auspices, the objective is simple but vital in countries such as Angola and Nigeria, to name but two where the exercise was recently carried out. It has been a revealing experience for many of us because it has told us something about our own democracy. Anyone with some humility and intelligence who examines how things are done in other democracies will start to ask questions about how effectively we operate our own democracy. It is right to ask such questions because many aspects of our democracy bear closer scrutiny. So as not to be ruled out of order, I shall mention just two.
It is most peculiar that in our democreacy the strictest control, based on individual constituencies, is exercised on what candidates can spend. The obvious reason for that is to stop people buying votes. However, there is no control whatever of national expenditure, although we all know that when it comes to the crunch in a general election national considerations primarily determine the outcome. Some hon Members, of whom I am not one because I have lost elections on several occasions, think that the outcome is solely due to the talents of the candidate. However, most of us are honest enough to admit that it has much more to do with national considerations.
§ Mr. Alan W. Williams (Carmarthen)
My hon. Friend speaks about general election expenses. Does he agree that money spent in Britain on general elections should be raised here and that money raised overseas should play no part?
§ The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse)
Order. The hon. Gentleman is straying wide of the amendment.
§ Mr. Grocott
I am not certain whether my hon. Friend refers to a current example, but I am sure that the principle he has enunciated is right.
My modest observation is that many aspects of our democracy do not stand up in comparison with some other democracies. The other obvious example relates to the first item that we look at when testing whether elections abroad are free and fair—the dissemination of information. People who observe general elections in this country should apply the test of whether there is fairness among the different news outlets in the explanation of party manifestos and objectives. They would be hard pressed to say that it is fair.
Another matter that has emerged, if it has not emerged before from observations of overseas elections, is that our democracy is extremely complicated and includes legislation such as the Bill. Free and fair elections cannot just be achieved on the day by checking that the right people take part. It is about the machinery that is established in the run-up to the election and that can extend over many years. That is what we are debating and it is central to a first-past-the-post system, which I strongly favour and hope that we shall retain for a long time.
There is nothing more central to such a system than the determination of parliamentary boundaries. Although the boundary commissioners will never admit it, the 361 determination of such boundaries has strong political ramifications as well as all the usual arguments about community of interest.
We should be cautious and acknowledge that when the process is interfered with, for whatever reason, it runs risks. Why are the Government interfering in this normal part of our democratic process? Is it because it has not worked in the past? Like many hon. Members, I have been involved for many years in parliamentary and Boundary Commission inquiries. The system works fairly well and it does not take long.
In Shropshire, the preliminary proposals were presented in September, the inquiry took place earlier this year and the final report is expected quite soon. That is a fairly leisurely pace, but it gave everyone the opportunity to express their views. The public inquiry was relaxed and good and it was a small but essential part of our democratic machinery. There is no reason for tampering with it because there is no suggestion that the procedure is at fault.
Democracy is a fragile flower. We have to be careful how we tamper with it and we must be especially careful when it is tampered with unilaterally. I was persuaded by some of the speeches by Conservative Members. Is it a good idea for the Government to present such a Bill when concerns have been expressed, especially about the amendment, and to push it through? Presumably the Government will use their majority to do that unilaterally and without the sort of consultation that one would normally expect on such a Bill.
The right hon. Member for Shropshire, North (Mr. Biffen), who is my parliamentary neighbour, asked in his usual gentle teasing style what happened after Cabinet committees had operated and Ministers blinked in the light of day. Perhaps I can take his inquiry further. We all know the genesis for the Boundary Commission acceleration nationally, which has been followed by the European Boundary Commission. It is because the Conservative party, mistakenly I am happy to say, believes the national newspapers which say that changes in boundaries will give the party a net gain of 25 to 30 seats. I have never believed that for a moment and history is a little on my side.
There was great agitation about the Boundary Commission recommendation before the 1974 election, which took place in the 1970–74 Parliament. I was not here at the time, but I remember that the newspapers strongly supported the then Conservative Government, no doubt on the ground that when the new boundaries came into operation they would deliver a Conservative victory in February 1974. What happened was unique in British parliamentary history. In the election, Labour did not get as many votes as the Conservatives did, but it won more seats. That is what matters and it resulted in that splendid Labour Government from 1974 to 1979.
The Home Secretary smiles. He was not here at the time. If he had been it would have been a valuable part of his political education. He could have enjoyed with us our legislation to protect workers and to abolish tied cottages and could have witnessed the move towards fairness in education. I fear that I would be out of order if I went further, but I am sure that you, Mr. Lofthouse, are enjoying this as much as I am.
362 That belief by the newspapers was based on the false premise that a boundary redistribution was always an advantage for the Conservative party. There is bad news for the Conservatives almost by the month. Although I can speak only of areas that I know best, it is predictable that seats will go in city centres. But they will be re-established in the suburbs and the more rural areas as people, many of whom I am happy to say are Labour voters, move to the suburbs and rural areas.
I confidently look forward to Labour Members being returned in many of the seats that have been recommended so far. That will happen at the next general election, and the sooner the better. It is based on a false premise. Labour Members, being altruistic, will not try to rush through boundary changes because we know that they are to our advantage; we believe that they should be based on established democratic procedures which include essentially a proper public inquiry at which everyone who is likely to be affected can make their views known.
It is easy for a Government with a majority, albeit a small one, to say, "This is in our political interests so we will get it through, and it is tough if you are in opposition." It is in the nature of political life and happens often in regard to various pieces of legislation, but it is particularly bad and dangerous when it involves the machinery of our democracy. We tend to be a little pompous about it, particularly in relation to other countries, but it has been established with considerable difficulty and numerous parliamentary battles over a long period.
I urge the House to see the common sense of my hon. Friend's amendment and to ensure that proper democratic public inquiries take place for the European elections.
§ Mr. Thomas Graham (Renfrew, West and Inverclyde)
In principle, we are absolutely correct to support the amendment, as we are in danger of threatening our entire democratic process by removing the public inquiry from any boundary change, especially in Europe.
We are in the throes of discussing local government boundary changes in Scotland. The people of Scotland are not happy with the present lack of consultation. The Government are continually destroying people's rights to be heard and to make democratic observations in the right and proper place and on the right and proper platform.
I remember one of the first public inquiries in which I took part. I am not an academic; I have never professed to be an academic. I have seen how Ministers and Members of Parliament operate in the House of Commons. When they meet someone who asks a complicated question, they say, "Write me a letter," and they never receive that letter. That- is the biggest put-off they can give anybody. How many people out there can write letters to inquiries?
We should consider the rights of our constituents to examine boundary changes. Anyone living in any constituency has the right to be heard. We are not talking about people's right to write an elaborate letter and put everything that they feel into that letter. Many of our constituents do not have the skill to write letters putting their objections. They need the right to a public inquiry so that they can articulate their views, perhaps better than they can write.
My name is not Jeffrey Archer; I am Tommy Graham, a Member of Parliament who came up through the ranks and went to a comprehensive school. I did not go to any fancy university or public school. I had an elementary 363 education and I have worked at it all my life. I still do not write 50 or 60-page letters. That is not my style; it is not how I operate, nor is it my academic upbringing.
We insult millions of people by not allowing them to take part in the democratic process of a public inquiry. It is an insult to destroy their right to be heard. In a democracy, it is important that we never short-circuit; when we do, we end up with dictators, bad legislation and shoddy workmanship. The Government should never take away people's right to be heard. They cannot expect everyone to sit down and write out their objections.
I represent a constituency which epitomises the solid working-class in Britain. Most people in my constituency do not have work, perhaps as a result of Government policies. I have spoken to folk about many things, and I have fallen into the same trap—[Interruption.] If any hon. Member wishes to ask a question, I am happy to give way.
When folk have come to my surgery with their problems and I have had a big surgery with 20 or 30 folk waiting, I have said, "Maybe you could go home and write to me." I got a blank look, and then I saw the pain that I caused. Now I never ask folk to do that before asking, "Are you all right at letter writing? Do you have any difficulties? If you wish to dictate a letter, we will sit down and work it out."
A public inquiry is a vehicle for vocal expression and that is crucial to democracy. I will continue to elaborate my point so that the Minister will be absolutely clear as to what I am saying. We all know that there are frail, elderly people who may be suffering from some mental or physical problem or an illness that does not allow them to sit down and write an elaborate letter. I do not always ask my constituents to write letters; I give them help and assistance to articulate their views so that they can sign a statement saying exactly what they want and pass it on to the Government.
The Government are now short-circuiting democracy by setting up committees whose members will say that people can write with their representations. However, Mrs. McDonald, a housewife without academic experience, may still wish to make representations about boundaries.
In a famous case in Scotland, a woman took her case to the European Court and won. I see the wee smile on the Minister's face and I am delighted to see that he has some humour. She articulated her case and the court put it on paper.
My demand is not short-circuiting democracy; the Government have short-circuited all kinds of democracy. They do not listen to people. Another way of turning a deaf ear is to make people write.
I plead with the Minister to support our amendment, as it is sensible. If the Government do not support it, they will be getting into the realms of political chicanery and letting the Boundary Commission get away with it. I notice that you are listening closely, Mr. Lofthouse, and I shall stick rigidly to the amendment. The point I am making is relevant to the amendment. It is also relevant to local government in Scotland as the Boundary Commission there will be able to act in the way I have mentioned.
All the boundaries start at distict council level. The wards are made into regional council sets which then are 364 made into parliamentary seats which are made into European seats. Aspects of local government make it important that the whole process is followed through.
There is no way in which anyone could be denied the right to argue about the geographical location of boundaries in local government. There is no way in which we would accept that we do not have a right to a public inquiry to articulate our arguments about parliamentary boundaries. We would go loopy loo in here if we were denied that right. So why should we accept a situation in which the issue of the European boundaries will not be allowed a full public debate?
Whether they can write letters or not, people have the democratic right to be heard. Everyone has a right to speak and to be listended to, and I hope that the Government will allow them to do that.
§ 6 pm
§ Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)
I apologise for not being present during the Front-Bench speeches. I was asked to comment on the welcome decision of the court to require the Home Secretary to review again the issue of a posthumous pardon for Derek Bentley. I and many others have campaigned for that, so naturally I had to give it some priority. I am pleased that the Home Secretary is here. I hope that he examines the case carefully, because he knows that there is a well of opinion on the side of reviewing the case and granting a posthumous pardon. I will not go further down that road, but that is why I was not able to be present.
I want to comment on the question of public inquiries because it is important. I happen to be a victim of boundary changes. I realise that we are talking about European seats—EC seats. We use the word "European" too sloppily. Europe is a continent and the word should not be used when referring to a group of 12 trading states that are forming an inward-looking block. The issue of public inquiries relates to every decision about a constituency, whether it is a parliamentary seat or the larger—half a million—EC seat. Public inquiries often represent keenly fought arguments and invoke strong feelings in relation to disputes over a decision by a committee about whether an area should be excluded or included.
For nine and a half years I was the Member of Parliament for Keighley. There was a strong argument about whether an area called Ilkley should be included in that constituency. It was widely regarded as an overwhelmingly Conservative area and, since I had a majority of 75, the question whether that area should be included was examined with some concern.
We argued that Bingley should be included. We suggested that, not only on the ground of political advantage, although that is a motivating factor in many people's concern, but because it was a better unit. It was closer to the centre of Keighley and would have made a much more effective political and representative unit, more able to be represented by a Member of Parliament than the seat that was finally decided upon. In those circumstances, Mr. Lofthouse, I am sure that you realise that there were heated debates.
These Common Market seats are difficult and unwieldy. They consist of half a million people at the very least. With that size, it is difficult for people to feel any sort of identity with the person who represents them. The 365 first-past-the-post system is much more likely to give a sense of identification than the various conundrums that surround proportional representation. Proportional representation is one way of divorcing any sense of identity between the electorate and the representative.
That being the case, the first-past-the-post system is more likely to produce arguments about seats, because individuals are involved. That is one of the reasons why we should have a public inquiry to resolve the committee's recommendations. People representing the areas involved may wish to have some say in the decision on an EEC constituency.
§ Mr. Rathbone
I have listened to the hon. Gentleman's comments about proportional representation and the first-past-the-post system. If he had been in the Chamber earlier, he would have heard what I had to say. I am sorry that he was not here, but I am sure that he was busy elsewhere.
The hon. Gentleman's blanket condemnation of proportional representative systems does not apply to all those systems. For instance, it does not apply to the additional member system, which maintains constituency representation and has members in addition. So that, there is both proportionality and representation of individual constituencies.
§ Mr. Cryer
I know that that system was adopted in western Germany and, subsequently, in Germany. It is entirely unsatisfactory because, for example, in Germany 50 per cent. of the members are decided by the additional member system and takes that number of people out of contact with constituencies. In the context or this amendment, it would mean less local feel and the question of public inquiries would not be so important.
The additional member system also places an additional weapon in the hands of the central party apparatchiks. The dissidents of a party are perforce limited to the possibility of being selected in a reduced number of seats where they can be elected and have some independence in the body to which they are elected. The additional members are chosen by virtue of their loyalty or even subservience to the party.
I spent five years in the EC. One of the difficulties involved in dealing with the other parties representing member states in the EC is trying to obtain comments from them. They have to clear everything with central office or the central party apparatchiks. If they do not do so, they are in danger of making a statement that will place them not at No. 10 in the list of additional members, but at No. 1,010. If the Labour party had an additional member system, there are several people who would be a long way down the list. Mercifully, we do not have such a system.
§ Mr. John Marshall (Hendon, South)
I was in the European Parliament for twice as long as the hon. Gentleman. I can confirm everything that he has said. In 1984, Mr. Chirac, the leader of the Gaullists, went to a number of people who had been distinguished Members of the European Parliament in the previous five years and said, "You have annoyed me. You will not even be No. 81 on the Gaullist list." The hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) is quite right because we saw in the European Parliament how that power is misused.
The First Deputy Chairman
Order. The hon. Gentleman is straying rather wide of the subject of inquiries. It would be welcome if we were to return to it.
§ Mr. Cryer
Under a system in which individuals represent constituencies, the question of public inquiries is more important because the issues are more keenly felt. In Holland, the EC pays considerable expenses directly to political parties. If an inquirer applies for information or comments on a case, it is sent to the party and the case is allocated to a Member of the European Parliament on the list. That means that the issue becomes an amorphous blur rather than a Member taking it up on behalf of constituents and building up, he hopes, a certain following. That is difficult to do in a constituency of half a million people, but at least the individual representing the constituency will have the chance to do so.
For example, I took up the case of 200 Sheffield steelworkers who, after they were made redundant, were not given money for retraining that was due to them under the treaty of Paris because Commissioner Manuel Marin was using them as a pawn in negotiations with the Government of the day. I had to lead a campaign to get those workers the money. Those steelworkers would say, "We do not accept the recommendations of the Boundary Commission because they would cut us out of the constituency. We are delighted and satisfied with the representation that we have had and we do not want to be part of the EC constituency."
Under the first-past-the-post system, constituents can say to their Member of Parliament, "What on earth are you doing about this issue?" That is not possible under a list system, because Members are bothered only about staying on the list, which, by and large, is decided not by the electorate but by party apparatchiks. I am opposed to the list system and to proportional representation because the relationship between the member and the constituency is important.
As an MEP, I represented Sheffield steelworkers and tried to get some changes out of Manuel Marin, who was supposed to be a socialist commissioner but who would not recognise socialism if he had it sprayed on his eyeballs; he certainly did not care about Sheffield steelworkers. Under the amendment, if people felt that the Boundary Commission or the proposed committee was mistaken, they could write a letter of complaint or be represented at a public inquiry.
Being represented at a public inquiry is fairly daunting, but there is almost always somebody who will represent a group of people who will have the opportunity to air their views. A public inquiry generates more publicity. Local newspapers attend public inquiries and, if a matter is hotly contested, representatives of local radio and television sometimes turn up, which generates more publicity for the issues that are being enjoined. That is patently a more democratic process, because it is open and an inspector makes recommendations.
There is a view that the proposed committees are not entirely satisfactory. The Bill is being rushed through. We know that boundary commissioners are appointed by the Government, but they try to gain a reputation for independence. Are the Government establishing committees that will support them or at least that are complacent 367 and do not have an objective thought? It may be wrong to make that assertion, but it would be easier to discount if the amendment proposing a public inquiry were accepted.
A public inquiry is an open process and it would act as a stop-gap against an allegation that the committees that are being set up fairly rapidly might make a decision politically in favour of the governing party. Every Boundary Commission proposal is accused of being lickspittle subservience to the governing party.
That may be true—on balance, I think that it is untrue —but in Keighley the view then and now was that the commission favoured the Government and handed Keighley on a plate to the Conservative party. Many people simply do not believe the claim that the boundary commissioner was absolutely neutral and that everything was above aboard—and that was with a public inquiry. What will they say about a system that does not offer a stop-gap, whereby people can present their view? Even if people do not accept the decision, at least they will have had the opportunity of putting their point of view to the inspector or presenting papers. It is a much better and more open system than a decision taken in writing behind closed doors.
If the Minister wants to avoid the taint of the accusation of political partiality and prejudice—
§ The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Peter Lloyd)
It did not happen in Keighley.
§ Mr. Cryer
We had an open public inquiry in Keighley and people's criticisms, at least on that score, were set at rest. But the fact that people still regard it as gerrymandering shows that prejudice lingers long and that without an inquiry it would linger longer and more fervently. Therefore, would not it be a good idea for the Secretary of State to say, "In order to ensure that the grounds for criticism of political prejudice are absolutely minuscule, the back-stop of a public inquiry has been incorporated and, moreover, we accepted a Labour party amendment in the House of Commons to ensure that we showed beyond peradventure that good will and impartiality are being incorporated in legislation." That is quite important because people should know that decisions of committees are as open and straightforward as possible.
I do not believe that the expense of five extra MEPs is worthwhile, and if the amendment brought the whole thing tumbling down I would not be terribly worried. If, for example, the legislation were not passed and if, as a consequence, no extra people were sent to Strasbourg or the committee rooms at rue Belliard in Brussels or sent on odd journeys to Luxembourg in the labyrinthine consultation process, I would not shed a single tear. In fact, I would cheer, because we would save the taxpayer some money, so much of which is flooding into the silly common agricultural policy which is never improved or changed but merely costs more money. At the same time, I should be able to consider whether the legislation, if it is to be passed, can at least be improved. Although I am opposed to the concept, it might as well be amended and improved.
The Labour party's amendment would mean that a public inquiry would be held. It would be an improvement because it would remove any taint of partiality from the committees, which would be important for them in the carrying out of their function. They would be able to argue 368 that, although one may disagree with the appointments, the Government at least accepted a Labour party amendment and that the legislation has, to some extent, been subject to improvements from both parties and must therefore have a degree of impartiality. If people disagreed with the committee's decisions, there could be a public inquiry.
I should have thought that the Home Secretary would find it difficult to resist such a formula. However, he does some nasty things from time to time, so he may be able to resist it—signing exclusion orders was one especially unjust and nasty thing that he did recently, so I do not have much hope that he will consider the amendment in the spirit of good will and impartiality in order to get the best electoral arrangements in the creation of the additional seats.
The democratic processes apply equally to all parties, and we should obtain the best and fairest system possible. I should have thought that a public inquiry would be an advantage.
The Minister might argue that everything is being done in a frightful hurry because this hurried and lunatic system was set by the Common Market and we must follow suit and establish the new seats. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Grocott) said, public inquiries can be incorporated into a time scale to allow for decisions to be made and recommendations for Orders in Council sent to the House. A public inquiry would be included if there were any controversy, which is the only circumstance in which it is likely to be relevant. It is not a great possibility, but we should nevertheless legislate for it.
I am not very much in favour of the legislation, but, as I have offered such a reasonable amount of support for a reasonable amendment, I hope that the Home Secretary will be reasonable in return and will accept the amendment, because it would be a plus for the democratic system.
§ Mr. Alan W. Williams
I am grateful for the opportunity to support the amendment. I suppose that one of the good things to come out of the Maastricht treaty is the fact that we are being allocated six extra seats in the European Parliament. I presume that it is because of the unification of Germany, and the subsequent increase in population, that Wales is to have a further seat and England another five. We debated Scotland's position yesterday, and I believe that it would have been fairer if Scotland had received an extra seat and if England had received four of the extra six.
The amendment asks for a public inquiry to decide the new Euro-constituency boundaries so that the public have the opportunity to make known their views. Like the hon. Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone), I should have preferred it if the six seats had gone to additional Members under a system of proportionality. I am strongly in favour of electoral reform. I noted that my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) received tremendous support from Conservative Members, which must be a cause of severe embarrassment to him. It reaffirmed my conviction that we need electoral reform.
§ Mr. Williams
My hon. Friend is answering the wrong question. His answer was right, but it was to a different question; that question will be posed in 1996, and I am sure that he has the right answer.
The question we must ask is whether our electoral system is fair, especially to the minority parties. When we have lived through the four Governments that we have, we must ask whether the system works in the best interests of the British people, of my hon. Friend's constituents and of mine. I am sure that we need electoral reform, and I thought that it was part of our agreement to join the European Community that proportionality would in due course be introduced in our elections to the European Parliament. That is an opportunity to introduce an element of proportionality.
As I understand it, the Government have known about the six extra seats since the Edinburgh summit in November last year. What have the Government been doing in the past six or eight months? Why have they not introduced the relevant legislation or set up the committees to establish the new boundaries? The lack of such legislation is a problem for the Conservative and Labour parties because they do not know exactly where the constituencies will be for the elections in June next year. It also removes the possibility of a public inquiry into the new Euro-constituency boundaries.
I am delighted that Wales is to receive an extra seat and that our existing four seats will be increased to five. It will give the Welsh people a louder voice in European affairs, but there are considerable problems in drawing the new constituency. I had hoped that the Boundary Commission would opt for minimum change and hold as many as possible of the Westminster constituencies within the three Euro-constituency boundaries. Broadly speaking, one constituency is Newport-based, one is Cardiff-based and one is Swansea-based, but there is a problem with the other two.
§ Mr. Allan Rogers (Rhondda)
I must correct my right hon. Friend. It is quite wrong to say that the South East Wales constituency is Newport-based. As the ex-Member of the European Parliament for South East Wales, I can tell him that nine of the parliamentary constituencies covered by that seat were in the coal mining valleys rather than in Newport.
§ Mr. Williams
I stand corrected and bow to the superior knowledge of the former MEP for South West Wales. I must add that I am delighted with the new candidate selected for that seat and wish her well in the coming election. I am sure that we shall win the largest majority in Britain in that seat. I agree that I was using shorthand when I said that the constituency was Newport-based. What I meant was Gwent, but—as my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers) says—the population of Gwent is heavily concentrated in the industrial valleys.
My area, Dyfed, is currently combined with West Glamorgan in the South West Wales European constituency. I hope that the Boundary Commission will reject one of the options put forward, which is that Dyfed should join Gwynedd, in which case my Member of the European Parliament would lose half his constituency, which would be split in two. Then there would be a constituency of western Wales, composed of north-west and south-west Wales in one slab.
§ Mr. Rogers
My hon. Friend is right to express fears about what might happen in south-west Wales. In the 1973 reorganisation of local government, the Conservatives gerrymandered the county council and split up Glamorgan, thinking that they would take control of South Glamorgan. They were shocked immediately afterwards to find that the Labour party won the seat and has been in power ever since, but it was blatant gerrymandering.
In south-west Wales we are afra[...] of a Tory carve-up so that the Tories can get a seat in Wales, because they have been rejected. We feel that there ought to be a public inquiry so that the gerrymandering of the Home Secretary—who happens to come from Llanelli—can at least be seen to be translucent.
§ Mr. Williams
I shall move on to that very point. inquiries are vital for the new Euro-constituencies, and I am sure that if there were a public inquiry mechanism, the possibility of a Dyfed-Gwynedd seat would never arise and we would stick to something more like Dyfed-Powys or Dyfed-Powys-West Glamorgan.
As I understand it, generally 70 per cent. of public inquiries about boundary changes result in substantial alterations, so it is a travesty to dispense with that mechanism.
§ Mr. John Marshall
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that in 1983–84, when there was a large number of inquiries into proposed Euro-boundaries, the figure of 70 per cent. did not hold good?
§ Mr. Williams
I was not aware of that, but the adjustments at that time were generally quite small. For example, in my area eight constituencies increased to nine to form the new Euro-seat. It was just a case of slipping one across. But generally in boundary changes, as I understand it, 70 per cent. of public inquiries lead to alterations.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South mentioned the involvement of the general public and the need to give them an opportunity to air their views openly, not in writing. As my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, West and Inverclyde (Mr. Graham) pointed out, people want to attend public inquiries and give their evidence orally. That opportunity helps to consolidate in people's minds the importance of the Euro-constituencies.
It is a cause for great regret that in every Euro-election the turnout in Britain has been far lower than in any other European country. I cannot remember, but I think it was less than 60 per cent. last time.
I certainly remember the first Euro-elections, in 1979, which came within a month of general election. I think that I was one of the hardest workers—or one of the hard workers—in my Euro-constituency in that election. The turnout was something like 33 or 36 per cent. nationally, but in our area it was the highest in Britain. Turnout in Euro-elections is poor, and if the electorate are denied the opportunity of a public inquiry, it is tantamount to a slap in the face. People will think, "It does not matter much to the Government anyway, so why should it matter to me? Why should I vote when the time comes?"
Public inquiries are necessary, and I hope that the Government will accept our amendment.
§ Mr. Rupert Allason (Torbay)
I appreciate that time is pressing and will keep my remarks brief.
Let me take hon. Members back to the Maastricht treaty, because the amendment goes right to the heart of the problems and anxieties that some of us had about the treaty, against which I voted consistently from Second Reading.
I was not so worried about the future of Europe, or whether we had a place in Europe, as I was about the fact that we were being swept along on a road towards federalism and conducting our affairs for the convenience of Europe.
In essence, my worries were borne out by the way in which this Bill deals with public inquiries. The Government assured us that subsidiarity would be one of the main advantages of the Maastricht treaty. There was plenty of discussion, as we know, about the definition of subsidiarity, but the main interpretation was that we would be able to conduct our affairs in the United Kingdom in the way that we had always done, which reassured the sceptics, like myself, who knew that we would probably lose the battle.
This Bill is one of the first major pieces of business to be introduced since we discussed the Maastricht issue. What does it do? It sweeps away our traditional method of selecting boundaries and introduces an entirely new system.
§ Mr. Malcolm Moss (Cambridgeshire, North-East)
My hon. Friend says that the Bill introduces an entirely new system. May I remind him that in 1978, under the previous Labour Government, the initial boundaries were drawn up for the European elections without public inquiries?
§ Mr. Allason
That is certainly the case, but we were assured that it would never happen again. We are now being asked to change our system, and it seems that it pulls the rug from under the argument about subsidiarity. This would have been the ideal opportunity for the Government to say to those of us who are opposed to the Maastricht treaty, "Listen; here is an example of how subsidiarity works. We are using the European model, but we are adapting it to our conventions." The convention in this country has always been that an unpartisan and unbiased Boundary Commission considers boundaries and holds public inquiries.
Why do we hold public inquiries? It is not for any cosmetic purpose, but so that the man of the Clapham omnibus can believe that he has a fair crack of the whip. It means that he has a forum to which he can go to express his view about a boundary. Even if he fails and his argument is rejected, at least he has had his day in court.
That is the British way; it is about the man in the street having the right of freedom of speech and being able to express his views to the commissioner in a public forum. He may prevail, but, even if his argument is rejected, he will leave that forum knowing that he has had a fair crack of the whip. He may be disappointed, but when he goes home at night he can put his head on his pillow and sleep soundly because he is satisfied that he has seen justice done.
What alternative are the Government proposing? They are saying that there is not time for a public inquiry, that it is inconvenient and, furthermore, that instead there will be a committee that will not sit openly. It will receive representations from the general public, but how will they 372 know what deliberations took place? Will they, as I suspect, receive in reply a form letter saying, "Thank you very much indeed for your representations, which have been taken into account. Goodbye." That is not what I call democracy, and it will not enable any citizen of this country to believe that he has had a fair crack of the whip.
The Boundary Commission is part of the foundation of democracy in this country, and when we consider its history, and the history of the way in which constituencies have been drawn up, it is obvious that the drawing of a line in one place or in another, or the inclusion or exclusion of a ward, can make an enormous difference. When such deliberations are conducted in secret, and the public cannot have a fair say, I believe that that undermines the whole system. It certainly gives ammunition to people who believe that decisions are made in smoke-filled rooms. without any account being taken of views that may have been expressed in writing to the committee.
Many of us have considerable worries about Europe. We are worried about the principle of majority voting, and we have seen commitments being made to majority voting on such important issues as defence, security and foreign policy. We have had assurances from the Government about the implications of Maastricht for those important issues, which are matters of United Kingdom sovereignty.
My worry is that, on the first occasion when the Government could have made a commitment to the people of this country and demonstrated exactly what subsidiarity means in reality, they are taking the exact opposite course and saying, "Oh dear, we have an important commitment to Europe. We cannot change the June deadline. It would appear to be administratively inconvenient to have a public inquiry or to conduct some kind of investigation by November." That seems to me to strike right at the heart of the Maastricht treaty, and to highlight the worries that many Conservative Members have about its future, and about the path towards which the Government are leading us. Accordingly, I urge my hon. Friends to support the amendment.
§ Mr. John Marshall
I shall detain the House only briefly. Having served in the European Parliament, as has the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer), and having taken a close personal interest in the boundaries proposed in 1983, which were eventually determined in 1984, I know a little bit about the problem.
My hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Mr. Allason) talked about subsidiarity. I should have thought that the Bill was a wonderful example of subsidiarity. We are the only country in the European Community with a first-past-the-post system; long may it remain. I know that, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary says, things are moving our way on that issue, as on so many others.
It is somewhat ironic that one of the reasons for the Bill and the procedure outlined in it is the fact that the Government's legislative programme was bogged down when a number of Members refused to vote on procedural motions earlier this year. It seems rum that the very people who refused to vote on the procedural motions on Maastricht are now complaining about lack of time. If they had been more co-operative then, who knows what might have happened? They could have had the Boundary Commission. They could have had both. We might even have been on holiday by now, so we can blame them for that, too.
373 6.45 pm
What happened in 1983–84 was that, although the Boundary Commission made proposals in July 1983, they were not finally determined by the House of Commons until March 1984. The system of public inquiries is time consuming, so it was a long time before the decisions were finalised. We do not have that time now. We have only a short time, which is why I believe that the Government were right to make the present proposal. The fact that there will not be public inquiries does not mean that the original proposals will not be changed. In 1978, the proposals for London and Liverpool were changed as a result of representations, so there can be change even if there are no public inquiries.
§ Mr. Marshall
The Home Secretary has always had that power, and I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend will use the powers that he has been given far more dispassionately than did Lord Callaghan before the 1970 election. I find it appalling that a member of the Labour party should talk about gerrymandering, when what Lord Callaghan did then was the worst example of gerrymandering in the history of this country.
I am somewhat surprised that some hon. Members seem to believe that members of the general public are anxious to attend public inquiries, to give evidence and to be cross-examined by slick barristers—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] I did not say that all barristers were slick, I said that some were slick. Some are honourable—and some are right honourable. I believe that many members of the general public are happier if they can make their representations in writing, because they are intimidated by public inquiries, so they will find the procedures in the Bill most satisfactory.
§ Mr. Howard
I rise for the sole and specific purpose of giving my right hon. Friend the Member for Shropshire, North (Mr. Biffen) the assurance that I believe he sought. In the process set out in the Bill full account will certainly be taken of the knock-on effects to which my right hon. Friend referred, and full opportunity will be given to people who wish to make representations about those effects, to have those representations taken into account and to try to persuade the committees to amend their original recommendations for those reasons.
§ Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North)
I thank the Home Secretary for his speech. Innocent and naive as I readily admit that I am in the ways of the House, I had hopes on Second Reading that we might be able to find some common ground with the Home Secretary and his colleagues—common ground even broader than that which we found, although I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for the assurances that he gave the House at that point. I thought that we would be able to reach common ground on the public inquiries, but it appears that we have not been able to achieve that. Perhaps I was naive in thinking that we would. None the less, I am disappointed—
§ Mr. Allen
I shall give way shortly.
374 I am disappointed that common ground concerning a fundamental right in this country—the right to contest elections on honest boundaries, and on boundaries that are not only honest but are seen to be honest, because the correct process has been carried out—no longer appears to exist.
Now I shall give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda.
§ Mr. Rogers
I was about to ask my hon. Friend whether, when he looked at the Home Secretary and the massed ranks on the Conservative Benches, he realised that he would not get any fairness from them. The Conservative party is trying to improve its position in the European Parliament. It was annihilated at the European elections. Surely my hon. Friend does not expect fairness; surely he does not expect the Conservatives to support his proposals.
§ Mr. Allen
Again, I must admit my innocence in such matters—in contrast, perhaps, with the cynicism of my hon. Friend. I had hoped that, provided that we presented a rational case, as my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) did in great detail and with great care, we might be able to win over the Home Secretary and his Minister of State. The main reason for my hope was that we in the House must above all always be on our guard against any erosion of our democratic process.
No one pretends that the Home Secretary will leave the Chamber and fiddle boundaries for the European elections. I do not believe that that is his intention. However, our approach has been to convince the Home Secretary that the process must at all points be above reproach. It is a process that we have enjoyed in Britain —certainly it applies to parliamentary elections and recently to European elections—for some 50 years. I hope that the Secretary of State is happy to concede that the precedent being set is unfortunate and one that he would never wish to see repeated.
The Home Secretary said that the reason was that we have had a lack of time properly to conduct the process. There are reasons for that, which I shall mention later. We all agree that there has been a lack of time. Will the Home Secretary reassure us that there is no intention to use the change as a precedent for future boundary redistribution at European level or even at parliamentary or local government level? That answer would help set the right tone and tenor for the debate and vote.
§ Mr. Howard
There is certainly no intention to use that as a precedent for the future. I cannot anticipate the various circumstances that may arise, but certainly there is no intention to use it as a precedent. Circumstances that may arise will have to be dealt with on their merits.
§ Mr. Allen
The next problem that we face is that the proposals appear to be a matter of administrative convenience. Perhaps officials felt that this was the best way in which to progress. I appreciate that the Home Secretary assumed his post only a few weeks ago and cannot be held personally responsible for the delay that occurred before then. None the less, officials no doubt put it to him that such a course was the only way out of the situation in which the Government had got themselves. Again, the Government have decided to place administrative convenience above a fundamental pillar of our democracy.
375 I am reminded a little of the statement made by the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Thames (Mr. Lamont—that we have a Government who may well be in office, but who on occasions are actually not in power.
§ Mr. Alan W. Williams
A minute ago, my hon. Friend said that the Government's action could be a precedent for the European boundaries. There is the exact danger of that happening in Wales, where we shall consider the Bill—perhaps in the autumn or in 12 months' time—on local government reorganisation that will set up around 21 new unitary authorities. Wales will also undergo boundary commission changes in constituency boundaries that will have to take into account the boundaries of those unitary authorities.
In 1995, we could well find ourselves right up against the deadline of a pending general election. The Government could argue that there was no time for proper public inquiries into Boundary Commission decisions in Wales and that the process would have to be speeded up. That would indeed be a sad precedent.
§ Mr. Allen
It is unfortunate that the building blocks of our parliamentary constituency boundaries—the local government boundaries and, ultimately our European boundaries—are, in a sense, being subverted by the way in which the Local Government Boundary Commission is going about its work. For the first time, there has been a political input, as my hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen has pointed out. Once those building blocks and the ward and polling district boundaries are amended, and not in a way that demands cross-party support, a knock-on process begins into parliamentary seats and then further into European parliamentary seats. That has always been alien to our democratic tradition.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield talked of how we might view the Bill if the phrase "the Minister of the Interior" were used in an old-fashioned eastern European sense. We would read the Bill differently in that context. My hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin gave us his experience of observing the processes of developing democracies in Africa and Asia where people would give their right arms to have an impartial and fair boundaries commission of the sort we have enjoyed for so long in this country.
We press for fair and free elections abroad. It is only here in Ruritania that the process is being thrown into reverse by the Boundary Commissions being done away with. Let us be clear about the Bill. It does away with Boundary Commissions in the European context. It abolishes the right to a public inquiry which the British people have enjoyed for many years. Clause 2 will abolish the right to be heard and the right of effective appeal, as my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, West and Inverclyde (Mr. Graham) explained so well.
§ Mr. John Marshall
The hon. Gentleman says that the Bill reduces the right to be heard and mentions his hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, West and Inverclyde. No one will ever reduce his right to be heard.
Far more importantly, will the hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) accept that the Bill does not reduce the right of individuals to make representations? In the same way, individuals made representations in 1978 about the proposed boundaries, and they were able 376 by those representations to change them. There is no reason to believe that under the Bill, the original proposals will have some sort of imprimatur as a result of which they cannot be changed. The hon. Gentleman misleads the House and potential objectors when he implies that they will not have the right to be heard. They will have that right.
§ Mr. Allen
The hon. Gentleman misses the point a little. I readily concede that individual members of the public will be able to make representations to the committees. There is no question about that, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman agrees. What will be missing is the right for those representations to be heard in a full public hearing.
My hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, West and Inverclyde pointed out that there are many people who do not wish to make written representations or who are incapable of making such representations effectively. As the hon. Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall) said, I should not like to oppose my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, West and Inverclyde if I confronted him at a public inquiry. He could certainly defend himself, as many members of the public can.
In the previous round, there were 10 European boundary inquiries and five overturned provisional recommendations as a result of listening to people. People will no longer have that right.
§ Mr. Greg Knight (Treasurer of Her Majesty's Household)
The House of Lords.
§ Mr. Allen
The House of Lords has been suggested. Unfortunately, that is out of my hands.
The Home Secretary tells us that we have a boundary commission in all but name. That may be true in terms of the composition of the new committees. Again, I am happy to place on record our thanks for his assurances about the composition of the new committees and for the news he gave us today about the individuals concerned. That is a reassurance. However, it cannot be said that the powers of the new committees will be identical to the powers that the Boundary Commissions once had, and certainly that is true in respect of public inquiries. Why?
The reason is entirely the Government's delay and incompetence in introducing the Bill. That in turn was caused by their fear of the Maastricht rebels. We shall see later tonight and perhaps in a minute or so whether that fear is justified.
The Home Secretary made an interesting intervention this afternoon. He said that there was a difference of only seven weeks between his view on the timetable and the view that the Opposition have expressed for a few weeks in our negotiations with the Home Office. If that is the case, I must ask the obvious question. Why was the Bill not introduced seven weeks ago? That would have permitted a full Boundary Commission with a public inquiry process.
The Home Secretary was not personally to blame, as he was not in that post seven weeks ago. But I hope that he will ask his officials in the Home Office why on earth a full 377 and proper Bill was not brought forward seven weeks ago. The difference of seven weeks is not the problem with the Bill and with the amendments—it is the 32 weeks that the Government wasted between the Edinburgh summit and the introduction of the Bill.
The Opposition have set out a clear timetable in which the full process that the Home Secretary wants, plus the public inquiry that the Opposition want, can both be met. That is possible, and I.hope that those in the other place will examine the timetable. If we fail tonight, I hope that their Lordships make the necessary amendments so that British democracy can retain the full right of public inquiry that we have enjoyed for so long.
§ Question put, That the amendment be made:—
§ The Committee divided: Ayes 257, Noes 298.380
|Division No. 323]||[7.pm|
|Abbott, Ms Diane||Corston, Ms Jean|
|Adams, Mrs Irene||Cousins, Jim|
|Ainger, Nick||Cryer, Bob|
|Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)||Cummings, John|
|Allason, Rupert (Torbay)||Cunliffe, Lawrence|
|Allen, Graham||Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE)|
|Alton, David||Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr John|
|Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)||Darling, Alistair|
|Anderson, Ms Janet (Ros'dale)||Davidson, Ian|
|Armstrong, Hilary||Davies, Bryan (Oldham C'tral)|
|Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy||Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)|
|Ashton, Joe||Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)|
|Banks, Tony (Newham NW)||Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'dge H'l)|
|Barnes, Harry||Dewar, Donald|
|Battle, John||Dixon, Don|
|Bayley, Hugh||Donohoe, Brian H.|
|Beckett, Rt Hon Margaret||Dowd, Jim|
|Beith, Rt Hon A. J.||Dunnachie, Jimmy|
|Bell, Stuart||Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth|
|Benn, Rt Hon Tony||Eagle, Ms Angela|
|Bennett, Andrew F.||Enright, Derek|
|Benton, Joe||Etherington, Bill|
|Bermingham, Gerald||Evans, John (St Helens N)|
|Berry, Dr. Roger||Ewing, Mrs Margaret|
|Betts, Clive||Fatchett, Derek|
|Blair, Tony||Faulds, Andrew|
|Blunkett, David||Field, Frank (Birkenhead)|
|Boateng, Paul||Flynn, Paul|
|Boyce, Jimmy||Foster, Rt Hon Derek|
|Bradley, Keith||Foster, Don (Bath)|
|Bray, Dr Jeremy||Foulkes, George|
|Brown, Gordon (Dunfermline E)||Fraser, John|
|Brown, N. (N'c'tle upon Tyne E)||Fyfe, Maria|
|Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)||Galloway, George|
|Burden, Richard||Gapes, Mike|
|Byers, Stephen||Garrett, John|
|Caborn, Richard||Gerrard, Neil|
|Callaghan, Jim||Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John|
|Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)||Godman, Dr Norman A.|
|Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)||Godsiff, Roger|
|Campbell-Savours, D. N.||Golding, Mrs Llin|
|Canavan, Dennis||Gordon, Mildred|
|Cann, Jamie||Graham, Thomas|
|Carlile, Alexander (Montgomry)||Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)|
|Chisholm, Malcolm||Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)|
|Clapham, Michael||Grocott, Bruce|
|Clark, Dr David (South Shields)||Gunnell, John|
|Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)||Hain, Peter|
|Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)||Hall, Mike|
|Clelland, David||Hanson, David|
|Clwyd, Mrs Ann||Harman, Ms Harriet|
|Coffey, Ann||Harvey, Nick|
|Cohen, Harry||Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy|
|Connarty, Michael||Henderson, Doug|
|Cook, Robin (Livingston)||Heppell, John|
|Corbett, Robin||Hill, Keith (Streatham)|
|Corbyn, Jeremy||Hinchliffe, David|
|Hogg, Norman (Cumbernauld)||O'Brien, William (Normanton)|
|Home Robertson, John||O'Hara, Edward|
|Hood, Jimmy||Olner, William|
|Hoon, Geoffrey||O'Neill, Martin|
|Howarth, George (Knowsley N)||Patchett, Terry|
|Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd)||Pendry, Tom|
|Hoyle, Doug||Pickthall, Colin|
|Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)||Pike, Peter L.|
|Hughes, Roy (Newport E)||Pope, Greg|
|Hughes, Simon (Southwark)||Powell, Ray (Ogmore)|
|Hutton, John||Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)|
|Ingram, Adam||Prescott, John|
|Jackson, Glenda (H'stead)||Primarolo, Dawn|
|Jamieson, David||Purchase, Ken|
|Janner, Greville||Quin, Ms Joyce|
|Jones, Barry (Alyn and D'side)||Radice, Giles|
|Jones, Ieuan Wyn (Ynys Môn)||Randall, Stuart|
|Jones, Lynne (B'ham S O)||Reid, Dr John|
|Jones, Martyn (Clwyd, SW)||Rendel, David|
|Jowell, Tessa||Richardson, Jo|
|Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald||Robertson, George (Hamilton)|
|Keen, Alan||Robinson, Geoffrey (Co'try NW)|
|Kennedy, Charles (Ross,C&S)||Roche, Mrs. Barbara|
|Kennedy, Jane (Lpool Brdgn)||Rogers, Allan|
|Khabra, Piara S.||Rooker, Jeff|
|Kirkwood, Archy||Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)|
|Leighton, Ron||Rowlands, Ted|
|Lestor, Joan (Eccles)||Ruddock, Joan|
|Lewis, Terry||Salmond, Alex|
|Litherland, Robert||Sedgemore, Brian|
|Livingstone, Ken||Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert|
|Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)||Shore, Rt Hon Peter|
|Llwyd, Elfyn||Short, Clare|
|Loyden, Eddie||Simpson, Alan|
|Lynne, Ms Liz||Skinner, Dennis|
|McAllion, John||Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)|
|McAvoy, Thomas||Smith, C. (Isl'ton S & F'sbury)|
|McCartney, Ian||Smith, Rt Hon John (M'kl'ds E)|
|Macdonald, Calum||Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)|
|McFall, John||Snape, Peter|
|McKelvey, William||Soley, Clive|
|Mackinlay, Andrew||Spearing, Nigel|
|McLeish, Henry||Spellar, John|
|Maclennan, Robert||Steel, Rt Hon Sir David|
|McMaster, Gordon||Steinberg, Gerry|
|McWilliam, John||Stevenson, George|
|Madden, Max||Stott, Roger|
|Mahon, Alice||Strang, Dr. Gavin|
|Mandelson, Peter||Straw, Jack|
|Marek, Dr John||Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)|
|Marshall, David (Shettleston)||Taylor, Matthew (Truro)|
|Marshall, Jim (Leicester, S)||Tipping, Paddy|
|Martin, Michael J. (Springburn)||Turner, Dennis|
|Maxton. John||Tyler, Paul|
|Meacher, Michael||Vaz, Keith|
|Meale, Alan||Walker, Rt Hon Sir Harold|
|Michael, Alun||Wallace, James|
|Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)||Walley, Joan|
|Michle, Mrs Ray (Argyll Bute)||Wardell, Gareth (Gower)|
|Milburn, Alan||Wareing, Robert N|
|Miller, Andrew||Welsh, Andrew|
|Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby)||Wicks, Malcolm|
|Moonie, Dr Lewis||Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Sw'n W)|
|Morgan, Rhodri||Williams, Alan W (Carmarthen)|
|Morley. Elliot||Wilson, Brian|
|Morris, Rt Hon A. (Wy'nshawe)||Winnick, David|
|Morris, Estelle (B'ham Yardley)||Wise, Audrey|
|Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)||Worthington, Tony|
|Mowlam, Marjorie||Young, David (Bolton SE)|
|Mullin, Chris||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Murphy, Paul||Mr. Peter Kilfoyle and Mr. Eric Illsley.|
|Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon|
|O'Brien, Michael (N W'kshire)|
|Aitken, Jonathan||Ancram, Michael|
|Alexander, Richard||Arbuthnot, James|
|Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby)||Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)|
|Amess, David||Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv)|
|Ashby, David||Forsythe, Clifford (Antrim S)|
|Aspinwall, Jack||Forth, Eric|
|Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)||Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman|
|Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley)||Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring)|
|Baker, Nicholas (Dorset North)||Fox, Sir Marcus (Shipley)|
|Baldry, Tony||Freeman, Rt Hon Roger|
|Banks, Matthew (Southport)||French, Douglas|
|Banks, Robert (Harrogate)||Fry, Peter|
|Bates, Michael||Gale, Roger|
|Batiste, Spencer||Gallie, Phil|
|Beggs, Roy||Gardiner, Sir George|
|Bellingham, Henry||Garel-Jones, Rt Hon Tristan|
|Bendall, Vivian||Garnier, Edward|
|Beresford, Sir Paul||Gillan, Cheryl|
|Biffen, Rt Hon John||Goodlad, Rt Hon Alastair|
|Blackburn, Dr John G.||Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles|
|Bonsor, Sir Nicholas||Gorman, Mrs Teresa|
|Booth, Hartley||Gorst, John|
|Boswell, Tim||Grant, Sir Anthony (Cambs SW)|
|Bottomley, Peter (Eltham)||Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)|
|Bottomley, Rt Hon Virginia||Greenway, John (Ryedale)|
|Bowden, Andrew||Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N)|
|Bowis, John||Grylls, Sir Michael|
|Boyson, Rt Hon Sir Rhodes||Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn|
|Brandreth, Gyles||Hague, William|
|Brazier, Julian||Hamilton, Rt Hon Archie (Epsom)|
|Bright, Graham||Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)|
|Brooke, Rt Hon Peter||Hampson, Dr Keith|
|Browning, Mrs. Angela||Hanley, Jeremy|
|Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)||Hannam, Sir John|
|Burns, Simon||Hargreaves, Andrew|
|Burt, Alistair||Harris, David|
|Butler, Peter||Haselhurst, Alan|
|Butterfill, John||Hawkins, Nick|
|Carlisle, John (Luton North)||Hawksley, Warren|
|Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)||Hayes, Jerry|
|Carrington, Matthew||Heald, Oliver|
|Carttiss, Michael||Heath, Rt Hon Sir Edward|
|Channon, Rt Hon Paul||Heathcoat-Amory, David|
|Chapman, Sydney||Hendry, Charles|
|Churchill, Mr||Hicks, Robert|
|Clappison, James||Higgins, Rt Hon Sir Terence L.|
|Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)||Hill, James (Southampton Test)|
|Coe, Sebastian||Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas (G'tham)|
|Congdon, David||Horam, John|
|Conway, Derek||Hordern, Rt Hon Sir Peter|
|Coombs, Anthony (Wyre For'st)||Howard, Rt Hon Michael|
|Coombs, Simon (Swindon)||Howarth, Alan (Strat'rd-on-A)|
|Cope, Rt Hon Sir John||Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford)|
|Couchman, James||Howell, Sir Ralph (North|
|Currie, Mrs Edwina (S D'by'ire)||Hughes Robert G. (Harrow W)|
|Curry, David (Skipton & Ripon)||Hunt, Rt Hon David (Wirral W)|
|Davies, Quentin (Stamford)||Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne)|
|Davis, David (Boothferry)||Hunter, Andrew|
|Day, Stephen||Jack, Michael|
|Deva, Nirj Joseph||Jackson, Robert (Wantage)|
|Devlin, Tim||Jenkin, Bernard|
|Dickens, Geoffrey||Jessel, Toby|
|Dicks, Terry||Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey|
|Dorrell, Stephen||Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)|
|Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James||Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine|
|Dover, Den||Key, Robert|
|Duncan, Alan||Kilfedder, Sir James|
|Duncan-Smith, Iain||King, Rt Hon Tom|
|Dunn, Bob||Kirkhope, Timothy|
|Durant, Sir Anthony||Knapman, Roger|
|Dykes, Hugh||Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash)|
|Eggar, Tim||Knight, Greg (Derby N)|
|Evans, David (Welwyn Hatfield)||Knight, Dame Jill (Bir'm E'st'n)|
|Evans, Jonathan (Brecon)||Knox, Sir David|
|Evans, Nigel (Ribble Valley)||Kynoch, George (Kincardine)|
|Evans, Roger (Monmouth)||Lait, Mrs Jacqui|
|Evennett, David||Lamont, Rt Hon Norman|
|Faber, David||Lang, Rt Hon Ian|
|Fabricant, Michael||Lawrence, Sir Ivan|
|Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)||Legg, Barry|
|Fishburn, Dudley||Lennox-Boyd, Mark|
|Forman, Nigel||Lester, Jim (Broxtowe)|
|Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)||Lidington, David|
|Lightbown, David||Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)|
|Lilley, Rt Hon Peter||Shephard, Rt Hon Gillian|
|Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)||Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)|
|Luff, Peter||Shersby, Michael|
|Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas||Sims, Roger|
|MacGregor, Rt Hon John||Skeet, Sir Trevor|
|Maclean, David||Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)|
|McLoughlin, Patrick||Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)|
|McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick||Soames, Nicholas|
|Madel, David||Speed, Sir Keith|
|Maginnis, Ken||Spencer, Sir Derek|
|Maitland, Lady Olga||Spicer, Sir James (W Dorset)|
|Malone, Gerald||Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)|
|Mans, Keith||Spink, Dr Robert|
|Marland, Paul||Spring, Richard|
|Marshall, John (Hendon S)||Sproat, Iain|
|Martin, David (Portsmouth S)||Squire, Robin (Hornchurch)|
|Mates, Michael||Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John|
|Mawhinney, Dr Brian||Steen, Anthony|
|Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick||Stephen, Michael|
|Mellor, Rt Hon David||Stern, Michael|
|Merchant, Piers||Stewart, Allan|
|Milligan, Stephen||Streeter, Gary|
|Mills, Iain||Sumberg, David|
|Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)||Sweeney, Walter|
|Mitchell, Sir David (Hants NW)||Sykes, John|
|Moate, Sir Roger||Taylor, Ian (Esher)|
|Molyneaux, Rt Hon James||Taylor, Rt Hon John D. (Strgfd)|
|Monro, Sir Hector||Taylor, John M. (Solihull)|
|Montgomery, Sir Fergus||Temple-Morris, Peter|
|Moss, Malcolm||Thomason, Roy|
|Needham, Richard||Thompson, Sir Donald (C'er V)|
|Nelson, Anthony||Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)|
|Neubert, Sir Michael||Thornton, Sir Malcolm|
|Newton, Rt Hon Tony||Thurnham, Peter|
|Nicholls, Patrick||Townend, John (Bridlington)|
|Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)||Townsend, Cyril D. (Bexl'yh'th)|
|Norris, Steve||Tredinnick, David|
|Onslow, Rt Hon Sir Cranley||Trend, Michael|
|Oppenheim, Phillip||Trimble, David|
|Ottaway, Richard||Trotter, Neville|
|Page, Richard||Twinn, Dr Ian|
|Paice, James||Vaughan, Sir Gerard|
|Patnick, Irvine||Viggers, Peter|
|Patten, Rt Hon John||Waldegrave, Rt Hon William|
|Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth||Walden, George|
|Pickles, Eric||Walker, A. Cecil (Belfast N)|
|Porter, Barry (Wirral S)||Waller, Gary|
|Porter, David (Waveney)||Ward, John|
|Powell, William (Corby)||Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)|
|Rathbone, Tim||Waterson, Nigel|
|Redwood, Rt Hon John||Watts, John|
|Renton, Rt Hon Tim||Wells, Bowen|
|Richards, Rod||Whitney, Ray|
|Riddick, Graham||Whittingdale, John|
|Rifkind, Rt Hon. Malcolm||Widdecombe, Ann|
|Robathan, Andrew||Wiggin, Sir Jerry|
|Roberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn||Willetts, David|
|Robertson, Raymond (Ab'd'n S)||Wilshire, David|
|Robinson, Mark (Somerton)||Wolfson, Mark|
|Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)||Wood, Timothy|
|Rowe, Andrew (Mid Kent)||Yeo, Tim|
|Rumbold, Rt Hon Dame Angela||Young, Rt Hon Sir George|
|Ryder, Rt Hon Richard|
|Sackville, Tom||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Sainsbury, Rt Hon Tim||Mr. Michael Brown and Mr. Andrew MacKay.|
|Scott, Rt Hon Nicholas|
|Shaw, David (Dover)|
§ Question accordingly negatived.
§ Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
§ Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall)
I did not take part in the earlier debate because I thought it important, rather than simply concentrating on the substance of the amendment, to identify the major weaknesses in the whole of clause 2.
381 Those of us who have taken part in a Boundary Commission inquiry, be it for a Westminster or European seat, will know that those matters are extraordinarily complex. They are open to enormous potential conflict of evidence and they are often a recipe for confusion.
Hon. Members should know that my participation in such Boundary Commission inquiries was as an unpaid amateur. As there are a large number of professionals in the Committee this evening—from the busy activity on the Treasury Benches, it looks as though they will all wish to speak on the clause—I should make it clear that I have never accepted a penny in recompense for my appearances on those occasions. As the Home Secretary made his name at planning inquiries as a planning silk, it will be well known on both sides of the House, whether by lawyers or those who have taken part in a more amateur capacity, that the way in which the committees under clause 2 are intending to proceed will not obviate the need for detailed and careful scrutiny of complex issues.
My experience of a Boundary Commission inquiry into a European seat was in July 1988, when the assistant commissioner of the Boundary Commission came to Bodmin and undertook a public inquiry into the future delineation of the Cornwall and Plymouth Euro-seat. A substantial case was put to him for a separate Cornish seat, some of which appears in an excellent book, "The Making of Modern Cornwall". I do not intend to read the whole book to you this evening, Mr. Lofthouse, although some Conservative Members would like me to do so as they could then go off and have a leisurely dinner and come back rather later.
When that public inquiry took place, there were detailed submissions about the nature of the combined seat of Cornwall and Plymouth with the intention to make it a more sensible seat, delineated by the natural boundary of the River Tamar.
You, Mr. Lofthouse, may not be fully acquainted with the geography of the far south-west of Britain, but I believe you will know that Cornwall is surrounded by water on three sides. Therefore, it is a comparatively easy seat to set boundaries to on three sides. The difficulty is to identify what should happen on the other side. The inquiry to which I have referred was concerned simply with the submission about that other side. However, the problem in most Euro-constituencies in this country will be far more complex, as there may be three or more lines to draw.
As the hon. Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone) and the right hon. Member for Shropshire, North (Mr. Biffen) said, the knock-on effect of some of these decisions will be substantial. However, in the inquiry to which I have referred, we were concerned to show that, although the population might not amount to the normal average for other parts of England, quite separate from Cornwall, the particular historical and geographical identity of Cornwall was such that it made very good sense to have a separate constituency. It would be as big in population terms as others in the European Community and as big as some of those in the north of Scotland.
Cornwall has a special identity and a great history. We have heard this evening from representatives from other Celtic kingdoms in the United Kingdom. Cornwall is the oldest of the Celtic kingdoms, so history was on our side. In "The Making of Modern Cornwall" the substance of the case made by Cornwall county council, which will demonstrate my thesis that these are very complex arguments, was put in the following terms: 382Such feelings of loyalty are of a very different order from most counties in England. Indeed, Cornwall is almost an island with natural boundaries fixed by the coastline. It is largely isolated from the rest of the country. It has a strong separate identity with its own history, traditions, customs, language and (to some degree) law and institutions. Many of these attributes are firmly rooted in its Celtic past. It seems anomalous that such a community should not have its own separate voice in the European Parliament.It will not surprise you, Mr. Lofthouse, to learn that, being Celts, those of us represented at the inquiry to which I have referred made a very eloquent case for a separate Cornish constituency.
I hope that those on the Treasury Bench will take my next point to heart. The assistant commissioner at the Boundary Commission was able to balance the strength of the argument against other arguments, including the argument that the employment draw of Plymouth was so important to parts of Cornwall that it formed a natural linkage.
We know from the earlier debate that representations will be circumscribed simply to written representations. Although representations are important, the real value lies in hearing those representations, testing them and being able to put counter representations in their place.
It is significant that, with all his experience and expertise, the assistant commissioner, when summing up the case in his report, said:It is to be recalled also that together with the County Council of Cornwall, the views from other democratically elected bodies were virtually unanimous in their opposition. In the result my view is that there is a strong likelihood that the sentiments expressed at the Inquiry upon matters of history, culture, language and other emblems of 'separateness' would be shared by enough people in Cornwall to make this 'geographical consideration' a consideration of weight.The assistant commissioner was able to weigh that consideration in that inquiry. I assume that, by a narrow margin, he concluded that the balance was against a separate Cornish constituency because the population in those terms and at that time was substantially lower than the average for other parts of the United Kingdom.
However, the problem remains and it will be even more stark in the forthcoming exercise. The population of Cornwall is now much closer to the average for other parts of the United Kingdom. What should be done? Should the present constituency remain? That will have to be considered by the committee and no doubt some people will argue for that very strongly. However, there will be a very strong case for arguing that collecting all three existing Plymouth constituencies and keeping them with Cornwall is irrational, because it takes us way over the national average.
Should one Westminster constituency in Plymouth be detached from that combined constituency? It would surely be extraordinary if that were to happen, and it would fly against all the assurances given by the Home Secretary and the Minister of State that, on the whole, cities will be kept together where possible within the new boundaries.
An alternative is that Plymouth should look eastwards and be the centre of a new parliamentary constituency. That might make some sense. However, would it be possible for Cornwall alone to match up to the population requirements? Another possibility would be to add west Devon and north Devon to Cornwall. That would present major opportunities for my party, but I set such partisan considerations aside, as you would expect, Mr. Lofthouse. However, there would be some sense to that connection, as 383 there would be a more sensible identity of interests, a commonality of interests between the rural areas of west and north Devon with those in Cornwall.
I hope that the Home Secretary or the Minister of State will respond to the point that the complexity of those considerations in that single example, where Cornwall is a relatively easy case to determine, will be mirrored time and again throughout England.
§ Mr. David Rendel (Newbury)
Does my hon. Friend agree that, while in respect of several constituencies an entire county may form the major part of a constituency —and I am thinking of my constituency in particular—odd Westminster parliamentary constituencies may also be added on which may come from several different counties? Does my hon. Friend agree that that will confuse the electorate greatly? Does he accept that considerable consideration will have to be given to decide whether that is a sensible way to combine Westminster parliamentary constituencies into European parliamentary constituencies?
§ Mr. Tyler
I am grateful to my hon. Friend; he is entirely right. The original Act to which the Bill refers was, most confusingly, not entitled the European Parliamentary Elections Act 1978. It was originally entitled the European Assembly Elections Act 1978, but it was subsequently renamed. Paragraph 9 of schedule 2 is relevant to our discussions and it was misunderstood by the hon. Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone) in the earlier debate. Therefore, for simplicity's sake, I will quote that paragraph:In Great Britain—Paragraph 10 states:
- (a) each Assembly constituency shall consist of an area that includes two or more parliamentary constituencies; and
- (b) no parliamentary constituency shall be included partly in one Assembly constituency and partly in another."The electorate of any Assembly constituency in Great Britain shall be as near the electoral quota as is reasonably practicable having regard, where appropriate, to special geographical considerations.In response to the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Mr. Rendel), may I say that it is by no means clear whether geographical considerations mean county boundaries as at present defined, or whether they are county boundaries as they may be defined after the rolling programme of the Local Government Commission has made major changes to the boundary geography of England and Wales. We heard a few minutes ago that the process is already in action in Wales and it is by no means clear from the Bill whether proper regard will be taken of those changes.
I would like to refer to the right hon. Member for Shropshire, North as the right hon. Member for Oswestry. I gather that he would refer to himself in that way as well. The names that will be given to constituencies will give rise to yet another argument that will be adduced during the process. The right hon. Member for Shropshire, North referred to the massive "upheaval" that will be caused by trying to slot in the additional seats in this way. How will this be achieved? What criteria will be used? Will the committees major on identity of interest?
384 I know that Hansard cannot see a map, but for aide-memoire purposes—I do not know all the boundaries well—I have brought a map with me. Let me demonstrate my point with one or two simple examples.
§ Mr. Tyler
If I may refer to the text, it stands on all fours with my notes. I will not show the map to anybody; it is simply to remind me of the very difficult configuration of some boundaries. I shall refer to the names.
For example, there is the Wight and Hampshire East European constituency, which goes from Aldershot, which I have always regarded as an area of outer London, down to the southern tip of the Isle of Wight, which of course is a very long way from London—a most extraordinary shape. If somebody were to look at that constituency in a committee, he might take the view that there was some identity of interest among the good burghers of Aldershot, who have always made certain that they were represented in the House of Commons by a man of independent views. Whether that is then found to be the case all the way down through Hampshire East, through Havant, Fareham, Gosport, Portsmouth and across Spithead and the Solent to the Isle of Wight is far from clear. In those committees, somebody will make the point that there is no identity of interest, and then somebody will come up with a different proposition.
I could choose examples from all around the United Kingdom. There will not be just one simple proposition and then a statement of opposition. There will be proposition, modification, and consequences for next door, and there will be people whose political careers hang on those decisions.
To take one more example, in Dorset there is a constituency called Dorset East and Hampshire West, which includes several present Westminster constituencies, covering North Dorset, Weymouth, Portland, Purbeck, Poole, Bournemouth, East and Bournemouth, West, Dorset, East, Christchurch, New Forest and Romsey, as I read the map. It is extremely complicated. As Christchurch is in the middle, it is politically sensitive. Each of the propositions put to those committees will meet a counter-proposition by people whose livelihoods depend on the way in which the decision goes.
Without a public inquiry, as was made perfectly clear, it will take longer to look at all the representations and see how they interlock. With the assurances that were given by the Government, clearly it is not the Government's view that there will be a proposition which will be a fait accompli. We have been given all sorts of assurances that that will not be the case. There will be a proper opportunity to look at identity of interest, national boundaries, consistency, continuity and conterminous boundaries with local authorities and Westminster parliamentary constituencies.
That is a moving target. Although phase 1 of the local government review is now in place but open to objection, there are two, three, four and five still to come in England. There is a long process of change ahead of us. In Wales, as I have mentioned, the process is under way. Without a proper opportunity for scrutiny and challenge, and 385 without an opportunity to see the representations made by others, there clearly will not be any consensus of acceptance. That is why clause 2 is so defective.
The difficulty that the Government will create for itself, the Boundary Commission and the European Parliament is huge. The Home Secretary has airily dismissed concerns about finding people of appropriate talent and experience and people who can give their time. As I said, I am not a lawyer, and I certainly do not aspire to the fees that the Home Secretary used to obtain when he was at the Bar, but clearly the people who will have to adjudicate without coming to a public inquiry will be people of great stature and experience. They will have to clear the decks of all their other commitments, and we all know how expensive that can be. The commitment of time will be great and the costs will be huge.
Representations, if they are not considered with due care, will of course be open to challenge. There will be legal challenges by some means or another, even if it is to the courts, but presumably there will be access to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration.
§ Mr. Tyler
From legal advice that I have been given, I understand that the Bill precludes some successful legal challenges. I do not think that that means that there will not be attempts to do so. I have not yet had a clear answer. I hope that the Minister of State, Home Office, will tell us whether those committees, as creatures and agents of central Government, will be open to the scrutiny of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration. If so, as we all know from our experience as Members of Parliament, delays could be legion.
Had the Home Secretary been prepared to accept the feasibility of public inquiries, that problem could have been removed. That would have been the opportunity to ensure that there was proper discussion which was not open to this objection. The hon. Member for Ashfield is also a lawyer, so I must be careful about what I say about lawyers. However, there is also an opportunity to go to the European Court if it is thought that, by some means or other, the administration of the process does not fulfil the needs of natural justice.
We have heard much about timetables. Why do we have this clause at all? The legislation could have been introduced within a matter of days of the agreement at the Edinburgh summit. The hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) mentioned that we have been forced to discuss a period of seven weeks. Seven months ago, the legislation could have been before us. Then there might have been a reason for pursuing the recommendations and adding on the opportunity for a public inquiry, but there is no excuse now. It is quite absurd.
One of the Euro-sceptics, the hon. Member for Torbay (Mr. Allason), suggested that there was a connection with the Maastricht process. That is not true. This matter has nothing to do with the Maastricht process. It is a direct result of the Edinburgh summit. There was no need to await the outcome of the Maastricht discussions in the House of Commons or in the other place.
Of course, this absurd farrago could have been avoided if we had opted for the simple additionality principle which 386 the hon. Member for Lewes sensibly put forward earlier. We need not have had this complicated Bill, or the complications of this clause, if the Government had simply accepted that we could leave the existing Euroconstituencies intact without all this performance and simply apportioned the six new seats on a basis that would bring us into line, in some measure, with proportionality and make sure that our representation in the European Parliament actually reflected the views and the party loyalties of the people of this country.
Liberal Democrats oppose the Bill on principle, and we will do so until the last stage this evening, but on clause 2 in particular we believe that the Government have effectively argued themselves into a corner. They have said that this is the only way—
§ Mr. Rendel
I am amazed to hear what my hon. Friend is saying. I believe that, a while ago, the Government claimed that they wanted to make Great Britain the centre of Europe, in spirit if not geographically. I suppose that not even this Government would claim that, geographically, they could make the United Kingdom the centre of Europe. I thought that, in doing so, they intended to give a lead.
As I understand it, there is prior agreement that the European Parliament will be elected under a system of proportional representation which is to be agreed among all countries. Is my hon. Friend therefore saying that the Government's attempt to give a lead in Europe in this matter is in fact to make ours the only country which is not going along with that prior agreement? If so, I am amazed that the Government are working in this way, apparently against their decision to make Great Britain the heart of Europe.
§ Mr. Tyler
My hon. Friend has slightly prejudged a section of my speech, which I shall come to in a moment. He missed an interesting speech earlier in which the hon. Member for Lewes made exactly the point to which my hon. Friend has referred, that sooner or later—I suspect that it will be sooner—the Government and their curiously retrograde Labour supporters must accept a form of representation in the European Parliament that reflects the proportion of support in this country.
§ Mr. Hoon
Lest there is any danger of the Committee being misled on this point, may I point out that the treaty of Rome requires a uniform electoral procedure. There is no mention whatever of proportionality in the treaty. I concede that every country other than the United Kingdom has some measure of proportionality in its system, but there is no consistency about any of those systems. Therefore, it is misleading to suggest that anything in the treaty requires the United Kingdom to have a proportional system. It is arguable that every other country could adopt the same system as that of the United Kingdom and still be consistent with the treaty of Rome.
§ Mr. Tyler
I am interested in the hon. Gentleman's intervention, because he is still a Member of the European Parliament and would have been there when the vote on this issue was taken on 11 March. I noted that a number of his colleagues in the Labour group in the European Parliament firmly voted with the majority for the adoption of the De Gucht report. I cannot do a quick calculation, but there was a fair number. Incidentally, I noted that there were three members of the Conservative group. By 387 the time the hon. Gentleman ceases to be a Member of the European Parliament, the system will be improved by becoming more representative.
It is our view that clause 2 is a tragically missed opportunity for precisely the reasons that the hon. Member for Lewes set out. It was the opportunity to move forward without any dislocation of the existing relationship between MEPs and their constituents to a system that, while not meeting all the requirements of the treaty of Rome or the debate that took place in the European Parliament in March, nevertheless would put us on course for that better system.
We need not have any of the gerrymandering that has been referred to this evening. We could have moved in that direction. That is why we believe that clause 2 should not be supported this evening and that we should go for a better system. There is time to do so because, as I said, we would support the simple system advanced by the hon. Member for Lewes as a sensible interim transitional stage.
Clearly, the Government are totally underestimating the scale of the problems that they will let loose on the new committees by adopting clause 2. The clause is extremely unclear about the rules that will govern the drawing up of boundaries. It is unclear whether the three-person review will redraw all of the boundaries to equalise the size of the European constituencies—excepting Scotland, which is outside the redrawing process to which we are referring —or the committees will simply attempt to fit in the new seats with minimal disruption. That could be difficult to decide in some circumstances, and the consequences could be immense.
I was in Brussels 10 days ago. Undoubtedly, it will be difficult for Brussels to identify the appropriate areas for various forms of grant support if we muck around with both the local authority boundaries and the European constituency boundaries not in a sensible, co-ordinated way but in a dislocated way. It will be extremely difficult for Brussels to know what is going on in this country, and we may lose more than we have in the past of the financial support that we should be receiving.
As the right hon. Member for Shropshire, North said, there will be dangerous and difficult domino effects all the way up the country as a result of this exercise. For example, if the committees—as would be right in terms of priorities—started in the far south-west, came to sit in the area that I know so well and said, "We must make a change here," the consequences would be immense as they moved up through the country until they eventually ended up somewhere to the north of Berwick-upon-Tweed. It will be extremely difficult to identify precisely how that should be handled.
The full opportunity to assess the knock-on effects to which the Home Secretary referred in the previous debate cannot possibly be undertaken by the committees. How can they undertake that assessment? It is extremely difficult to imagine how it would be done, even if it were done with the full Boundary Commission doing a proper series of inquiries. It would be impossible to do it by written representation in secret.
That raises another important question. Previous reviews have always maintained that the equalisation of the population size of the European boundaries—this was 388 the case in the interim European constituency review in 1988–89—was the dominant factor in determining boundaries. But, as we all know, if the European parliamentary constituencies committees, undertaking their responsibilities as established by clause 2, are to stick to the dictum of equalising the size of the European constituencies, there is a big question about what will happen when the boundaries have to be redrawn after the next review of the Westminster parliamentary constituencies.
It is an extremely complex series of arguments. The jigsaw will keep moving. Some hon. Members may remember—indeed, Dame Janet, you may remember this from your schoolteaching days—that wonderful jigsaw that we all used to have with the individual counties coloured differently. Those counties did not seem to change from generation to generation. We could see the ones that our fathers and mothers used when they were at school. However, that has not been the case recently. The constant change of boundaries has meant that the consequences have spilled over into consideration of the boundaries for Westminster parliamentary constituencies and now Euro parliamentary constituencies.
§ Mr. Rendel
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way on a third occasion, because he may not be aware of the difficulties that were caused at the recent Newbury by-election by the different boundaries—of which I am very aware. Recently, the county boundaries in our area changed. In some cases, only two houses moved across a county boundary, which caused a completely different polling arrangement to be made for those two houses. In one case, people were voting in a Hampshire county council election on the same day as they were voting in the Newbury parliamentary by-election with a completely different set of boundaries.
That sort of complication adds not only to the difficulties of the electors in those cases but immeasurably to the cost of running elections of that sort because special arrangements have to be made for a small number of elections simply because not all of the boundaries are changed at the same time.
§ Mr. Tyler
My hon. Friend makes a good point. The partial redrawing of the boundaries for so many different purposes is causing the most immense additional administrative and cost consequences. This will be a considerable addition to the complications of the committees appointed by the Home Secretary.
In clause 2, it is difficult to see whether this is intended to be a partial redrawing of boundaries to fit in the six new seats or a full-scale review of the whole of the pattern of European constituencies throughout the United Kingdom. It is not the whole of the United Kingdom—I wish it were —but only England and Wales.
The last four lines of the explanatory memorandum to the Bill are absolutely critical. I quote:The effect of clause 2(5) is that Orders in Council made under the provisions of the Bill will in due course be superseded by Orders in Council made following the next reports of the Boundary Commissions under the 1978 Act.This will never stop—it will go on and on. This is the most extraordinary attempt by the Home Secretary to cut a long process short. Those committees are a short cut. Otherwise, it is an attempt to persuade us that this is but another salami cut at how we order boundary revisions.
389 The United Kingdom has been in the European Community since 1973. As my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury and the hon. Member for Lewes said earlier, the Government also signed article 138(3) of the treaty of Rome, which provides:The European Parliament shall draw up proposals for elections by direct universal suffrage in accordance with a uniform procedure in all Member States. The Council shall, acting unanimously, lay down the appropriate provisions, which it shall recommend to Member States for adoption in accordance with their respective constitutional requirements.We all know that member states use different systems, but they all have a standard principle, which is to try to approximate to proportionality. Denmark, Greece, Spain, France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Portugal use national list systems; Belgium and Italy use regional list systems; Germany uses a mixture of both; and Ireland uses the single transferable vote. The United Kingdom is the odd one out. It elects using two different systems. Let us not forget that the Government decided in their wisdom that a single transferable vote system was appropriate for Northern Ireland.
§ The Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Dame Janet Fookes)
Order. Let us not forget, either, that that is not relevant to the clause under consideration.
§ Mr. Tyler
That you, Dame Janet. However, you will soon see how relevant that point is. The principal Act to which the clause refers also deals with Northern Ireland, which is why I mention it. Clause 2 will make it even more evident that Britain is making no attempt to move towards a system that represents effectively the proportions of support of the different groups in our electorate. That is why such curious calculations are being made and Members are discussing how chopping off a little here and putting on a little there would be to the party advantage in a particular constituency under the first-past-the-post system. That does not happen under the systems adopted by other countries.
The clause would distort not only the political representation of this country in the European Parliament but the political balance of the whole European Parliament, and would weaken its authority as a truly representative assembly.
The Government's excuse for not adopting their part of the bargain is, and has always been, that the European Parliament has not taken a clear lead on that issue.
§ Mr. Tyler
The hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Hoon) is nodding in agreement. By adopting the De Gucht report by 207 votes to 80 in March, the European Parliament has thrown the decision back into the British Government's lap. Only the British veto prevents an advance. The Belgian presidency, which has just started, has put the issue at the top of its six-month agenda, so clearly a major advance will be made.
§ Mr. Hoon
These matters must be placed on the record accurately. Some years ago the European Parliament drew up a proposal for a uniform system and put it to the Council, which has never responded to that proposal. The De Gucht proposal may be misleading the hon. Gentleman, as it does not provide for a uniform procedure. If the Liberal Democrat party advocates a uniform procedure based on the treaty, it needs to explain 390 how it will persuade the Irish to adopt the system used in France, for example. Considerable difficulties exist on the continent, too, with the different systems. The Belgian system, for instance, is geared towards the linguistic difficulties there. There is no agreement on the continent about what uniform system should be employed.
The Second Deputy Chairman
Order. Before the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) continues, I must warn him against pursuing these general arguments in this clause stand part debate. The clause does not deal with those arguments, and I cannot allow that strain of argument to continue.
§ Mr. Allen
I cannot let the hon. Gentleman's throwaway remark pass without comment. The Labour party's position will be decided at our annual conference in the normal democratic way. The Plant committee was established some time ago and reported recently. Professor Plant's proposals for the European Parliament involve a regional list system, which is, as the hon. Gentleman knows, a proportional system. The Leader of the Labour party has made his views plain on that matter, but it will be for the Labour party conference to decide on it in October. The hon. Gentleman should reserve his judgment, as we must in the democratic process.
The Second Deputy Chairman
Order. We do not have to wait for the Labour party conference. We can deal with matters here and now.
§ Mr. Tyler
I am delighted to hear that, Dame Janet. This would have to be one of my longer speeches if I had to keep talking until October.
The kernel of the problem is simply that the Bill provides an opportunity to simplify the process and to move towards a position that we shall have to accept. The hon. Member for Lewes was right to say that we must accept it eventually. Why not take the bull by the horns and adopt a sensible attitude now?
Writing in The Guardian on 26 June, Martin Kettle said:What an ideal opportunity for the opposition parties to act together in a practical democratic cause in defence of good principle and clean process against a Government whose reputation for probity has all but evaporated. Will it happen? Well, what do you think?The answer is that we must wait until October.
§ Mr. Allen
We do not have to wait until October. If Mr. Kettle of The Guardian had been present in the Chamber last night, he would have seen whether a consensus among the Opposition parties was likely. The manner in which the Liberal Democrat party behaved last night was no credit to the parliamentary process.
§ Mr. Tyler
It will be interesting to see whether the hon. Member for Nottingham, North, and his great ranks of supporters who should be here to follow him into the Lobby tonight, will vote with us against the Bill on this clause and on Third Reading.
391 Clause 2 should have at least set down a system for distributing the six extra seats as a "top-up" reservoir to increase proportionality between the votes cast and the seats won—a sort of rudimentary addition to the one member, one vote system.
The hon. Member for Lewes, with his long experience in the House of Commons, put the matter much better than me and was perfectly right to do so. He said that it would not have been perfect—nobody can achieve perfection in one fell swoop—but it would have been a great step forward and would have made it possible for the Government to show that they have democratic credentials and intend to be, in the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury, at the heart of Europe in every sense. If that change had been made, it might have been the thin end of the wedge, which some of the dinosaurs in both the larger parties fear.
Removing clause 2 would not leave a great vacuum, because we could immediately move to the solution that I have been propounding. That would have been a real advantage to the Government, without the need for this complicated Bill or for setting up gerrymandering committees, which have been the subject of so much criticism on both sides of the Committee. Existing members of the European Parliament, representing existing constituencies, would then know that their boundaries would not be changed out of all recognition. The hon. Member for Ashfield has a personal interest in this matter.
§ Mr. Tyler
There is no reason why proportionality could not have been introduced in the Bill, in time for the 1994 elections, through the adoption of wider geographical areas based on existing Euro-constituency boundaries and the use of either regional lists or single transferable vote. After full consultation, a proper system could then have been in place by 1999.
On behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends, I invite the House to vote against the motion that the clause should stand part of the Bill. I hope that the House will vote against the Bill on Third Reading.
§ 8 pm
§ Mr. Hoon
I do not intend to speak for nearly as long as the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler).
I should be grateful if the Minister could explain the purpose and effect of clause 2(6), which states:Any appointment made or other thing done by or in relation to a Committee at the time before the passing of this Act shall be regarded as valid if it would have been valid at that time, had this Act then been in force.Why is it necessary to have such retrospective legislation in an Act of Parliament?
I hope I am not becoming cynical as a result of reading and rereading the Bill, but it can be necessary only if the Government have already appointed people to those committees, and if, to some extent, they are already carrying on their work and taking decisions.
§ Mr. Maclennan
I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman was in the Committee earlier today, but the Home Secretary not only told us of his intention to make the appointments before the Bill is passed. but informed us 392 that certain individuals had been consulted and had indicated their readiness to serve. Their names were not given, but they are clearly identifiable.
§ Mr. Hoon
I was in the Committee earlier and heard the Home Secretary speak. According to my recollection, he said that certain individuals had been approached and had indicated their willingness to serve. I do not recall his saying that they had been appointed. It follows that, under the terms of the Bill, if they had been appointed, they would expect to be paid for their services. I am sure that the Minister can deal with this shortly, and can tell us whether they have been appointed and are to be paid before the Act is passed.
It follows from that analysis of what has occured that the parliamentary process is being at least short-circuited if decisions are already being taken. If they are not, there is no need for this provision. I hope that the Committee will agree that it is a rather curious provision, which should not be necessary.
If the appointments are to be made as a consequence of the passing of the Bill, I cannot see any necessity for the appointments to be made before Royal Assent. I recognise that the Home Office may wish to ascertain whether individuals are available and willing to serve, but there is no reason why they should be appointed before the legislation is passed. If they have not been appointed and there are no preparatory works under way in pursuit of the legislation, I cannot see why clause 2 (6) is necessary.
§ Sir David Steel (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale)
Like the hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Hoon), I was astonished to find clause 2(6) in the Bill. I recall very clearly that when I first came to this place, some time ago, I was firmly told that we had to guard at all times against retrospective legislation. I remember several causes celebres in the late 1960s on this issue. Usually it was accidental retrospective legislation, but this is a blatant piece of retrospective legislation. The House is being invited to pass lines 21 to 24 on page 2 of the Bill, which state:Any appointment made or other thing done by or in relation to a Committee at a time before the passing of this Act shall be regarded as valid if it would have been valid at that time, had this Act then been in force.I have never seen a more blatant piece of retrospective legislation.
The hon. Member for Ashfield has asked for an explanation and if the Minister cannot justify it, he should at least have the good sense to ensure that this offensive clause is removed when the Bill proceeds to another place —although, as my hon. Friend said, we shall attempt to remove the clause this evening.
The main reason why I believe it is important that we make a stand against the clause is that there is a feeling that the Government, after so long in office, are developing an unhealthy form of parliamentary arrogance. You would rule me out of order, Dame Janet, if I were to discourse about what has been happening north of the border with local government boundaries. No doubt the House will be occupied with that in the next day or two, but it is all part of a picture that the Government do what they like, regardless of the inconvenience to communities, regardless of the cost and regardless of the disruption to the normal electoral procedures, which have been long established and accepted by successive Governments.
393 I make no secret of the fact that, when the Edinburgh summit concluded that there would be six extra seats, I went to see a number of Ministers to put to them the proposition that the sensible way to deal with the matter —although, as my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) said, it was the official view of my party that all the seats should be elected by some form of proportional representation—was to leave the present Members of the European Parliament undisturbed in their single-Member seats throughout Britain, but to create six additional seats elected on a proportional or regional system. It struck me as a heaven-sent opportunity.
Part of my argument—which my hon. Friend modestly did not mention—is blatantly party political. It is indefensible that, in the forum of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, a party such as the Liberal Democrats in Britain—which in recent elections has gained from 18 to 25 per cent. of the popular vote, and in European elections have twice gained upwards of 20 per cent.—should be wholly unrepresented. As a matter of natural justice, that cannot be right.
Our electoral system distorts the balance of the political parties in that Chamber. As others have pointed out, it is quite natural that the other member states which have proportional systems find that the British system not only imposes a distorted delegation of 81 Members on the European Parliament, but, as we have seen in practice from European elections, imposes it at whatever happens to be the political climate at the time when the European election is held. At one time there will be a disproportionately heavy Labour majority because the elections are held at a time when a Conservative Government are unpopular, and at another it will be the other way round. That is an arbitrary way of messing up what is supposed to be a democratic assembly.
§ Mr. Rendel
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that, although we are one of the only parties within the European Liberal Democrat group not represented in the European Parliament, we are one of the best supported in our own country? That makes the situation even more absurd.
The Second Deputy Chairman
Order. There cannot be a full-blown debate on proportional representation on the basis of the clause. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will bear that in mind.
§ Sir David Steel
As always, Dame Janet, you are absolutely correct. My argument is simply that, unless we remove clause 2 from the Bill, we cannot open the door to the proposal that I have put to the Government and on which I should like to elaborate.
The argument is not only that we are unrepresented, but that the Liberal Democratic group in the European Parliament is short of its largest democratic element. That cannot be justified by anyone because it is not natural justice. I put these arguments in my usual moderate and persuasive fashion to Ministers. At first sight, because the proposition was completely new to them—
§ Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman
What would have happened if Lord Owen or another member of the SDP had managed to get into the European Parliament and Liberals had also been elected? How could they have possibly been in the same party?
§ Sir David Steel
The answer to that is quite simple. We had an alliance in each of the last three European elections so there would have been no problem at all. The hon. Lady's question is hypothetical because nobody was elected from either party. The hon. Lady is testing your patience, Dame Janet, because we are going wide of the clause to which I am trying to speak. The Liberals, the Liberal Democrats as presently constituted, the old Liberal party before the SDP was formed and the alliance between the two had a substantial body of popular support in each of the European elections. That support was larger than that of many of the parties presently in the European Parliament, but we are wholly unrepresented.
The hon. Lady may think that that is perfectly all right, that it is tough, too bad. However, most people, and especially those in the other European democracies, think it is a scandal that we should export our distortion. What we do here is up to us: a distorted House of Commons is our decision. I regret that, but what right have we to import that distortion into the Parliament at Strasbourg?
Ministers listened politely to my arguments, as they always do, and went into their various huddles to ponder the matter. When the decision that is graphically spelt out in clause 2 for the appointment of these extraordinary new committees was announced, one wondered why such a reasonable proposition had been rejected. The only argument that I could find was that this might be the thin end of a wedge.
We are asked to believe that the nation will be so excited by the possibility that six Members of the European Parliament will be elected by proportional representation that the whole edifice of our electoral system will collapse. Is that a measure of the Government's confidence in our electoral system? It is a ludicrous proposition. There is no connection at all between the general argument for changes in the electoral system in this place and the modest proposal that the Government refuse to accept. Instead, they are leading us through the legislative minefield of clause 2. That is quite indefensible.
We oppose the clause because it goes against all the established principles and the long-established democratic and independent procedures of Boundary Commissions. That is the fundamental objection to the clause.
§ Mr. Rendel
My right hon. Friend may be slightly misleading the Committee by suggesting that this might be the thin end of a wedge. That must be wrong: Northern Ireland is already the thin end of the wedge.
§ Sir David Steel
That is true, but it is the Government who argue that it is the thin end of the wedge. I do not. This "terrible infection" of proportional representation does not appear to have spread across the Irish sea, and I have no reason to think that it will spread anywhere else. I had moved on from that issue and was about to outline the other objections to the clause.
§ Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman
Can the right hon. Gentleman tell the Committee of any two proportional representation systems on the continent that are the same? My understanding is that they are all different.
§ Sir David Steel
In deference to you, Dame Janet, I shall do that, but I may touch on that matter later.
§ Sir David Steel
I shall deal with it very delicately and I will not be led astray by the hon. Member for Lancaster (Dame E. Kellett-Bowman). Thank you for your protection, Dame Janet.
The clause creates the wholly artificial machinery of the European parliamentary constituency committees. Those committees are not adequately accountable. There is no provision in the clause for any form of public inquiry or consultation. When I was party leader I used to be involved in appointments to the Boundary Commission. The public do not generally realise that there is a secure and safe system for such appointments. We may complain from time to time about the Boundary Commission and its judgments, but the boundary commissioners are appointed in consultation with party leaders to make sure that they are genuinely independent of the Government of the day. That fundamental protection which has always been part of our system is to be swept aside by the clause, because the appointments are to be made directly by the Secretary of State.
Insufficient time has been allowed for carrying out a thorough review. More than that—here I return to the point eloquently made by my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall—clause 2 is a tragically missed opportunity because it was a ready-made, established possibility of introducing a fair system of voting, at least for the six seats.
The Government underestimate the scale of the problems that will arise from the clause, which leaves many questions unanswered. It is extremely unclear about the rules that the committees are to follow in drawing up the boundaries. It is also unclear whether the three-person review will redraw all the boundaries to equalise the size of the Euro-constituencies or whether it will attempt to fit in the new seats with minimal disruption. Perhaps the Minister will explain how it will work.
Will bits be fitted into what my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall rightly described as the jigsaw with minimal disruption, or, as has always been done in the past, will an equalisation rule be applied to the size of European constituencies? That was the dominant factor in determining boundaries in the 1989 interim European constituency review. If the new European parliamentary constituency committees established by the clause stick to the dictum of equalising the size of the Euro-seats, why does the Bill reveal that the boundary commissioners will redraw the boundaries again when they have finished the parliamentary review?
My hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall made a good case for trying to get some form of cohesive approach to local government reorganisation, parliamentary constituency boundaries and European Parliament constituency boundaries. To have different lines on the map of the kingdom for all three purposes is immensely confusing. It diminishes the nature of individual 396 communities and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Mr. Rendel) illustrated in his intervention, it will be extremely costly to administer.
The disruption caused by such a second review, especially as the clause contains no provision for local inquiries and consultation, will not be welcomed by most of the sitting Members of the European Parliament or by local political parties. We need to know more about the ground rules for the operation of these purely appointed committees. Is it a partial redrawing of boundaries to fit in the six new seats, or is it a full-scale review to equalise the size of the European constituencies?
My comments are based on the lines of the explanatory memorandum. I am never quite sure whether it is in order to refer to the explanatory memorandum, but it states:The effect of clause 2(5) is that Orders in Council made under the provisions of the Bill will in due course be superseded by Orders in Council made following the next reports of the Boundary Commissions under the 1978 Act".As my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall argued, we have been in the Community since 1973 and when we signed the treaty of Rome we also signed up to article 138.3.
Here I take issue with the hon. Member for Ashfield. I have always interpreted article 138 as saying thatthe European Parliament shall draw up proposals for elections by direct universal suffrage in accordance with a uniform procedure in all Member States".However, that phrase is not necessarily the same in law as a uniform system. I would argue that there is quite a lot of scope for flexibility so long as the principles of a uniform procedure are followed.
The fact that we are the only member state that fails to have any form of proportionality is a direct contravention of article 138.3 of the treaty of Rome.
The hon. Member for Lancaster asked me earlier about the different systems of proportionality. One could argue that Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Portugal have roughly the same system by using national lists.
The Second Deputy Chairman
Order. The hon. Lady is very well aware that seated interventions are to be deplored. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not dwell again on proportionality, bearing in mind my warning on the last occasion.
§ Sir David Steel
I thank you, Dame Janet, for your protection against being led astray by the hon. Lady.
§ Sir David Steel
I was just about to give the Committee the benefit of my experience as a candidate under a regional list system, but I suspect, Dame Janet, that I might be trying your patience a little were I to dwell too long on that issue.
I am familiar with different systems which are perfectly usuable and which are common not throughout the Community, but certainly in more than one country.
§ Mr. Tyler
I wonder whether my right hon. Friend recalls the excellent system that was promoted by the Hansard Society for Parliamentary Government, which took additionality and would work extremely well within the confines of the Bill? We could remove clause 2 and put in place the Hansard Society system, which produced additionality on the basis of single-Member constituencies and those who had reached a certain level of support. That system was not open to the objections of party lists to which hon. Members have referred. It was a British version of some of the other systems and had the merit of meeting the requirement to which my right hon. Friend referred, but at the same time gave it that British flavour which maintained the connection between individual constituencies and their representatives.
§ Sir David Steel
Not only was that a proposal frorn the Hansard Society, but the author of the De Gucht report, which was approved by the European Parliament, tried to make it as hard as possible for the British Government to reject it. The recommendations in that report allow two thirds of the British MEPs to continue to be elected by first past the post. One cannot say that it is a wholesale derogation from what we in Britain have been used to; they leaned over backwards to provide a system that was consistent with article 138 of the treaty of Rome, yet would meet British feelings and associations—
The Second Deputy Chairman
Order. My requirements are rather less. I am concerned only that we stick to clause 2.
§ Sir David Steel
On the contrary, I am trying to get rid of clause 2 to replace it with something superior.
I have come to the end of my argument. Before the hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) leaps to the Dispatch Box, no speech is complete unless we have had lastly, finally and in conclusion, and I have reached only lastly.
I end on a serious plea to the Government. I believe that the advantages to the Government in terms of simplicity of legislation and democratic accountability would have been not to proceed with clause 2 but to have gone for the system of adding the six seats in a manner which would be more widely acceptable to the population of Britain, the European Parliament and certainly to members of the Committee.
§ Mr. Allen
Is the hon. Gentleman giving way, or has he reached finally, lastly and in conclusion? I should like to address some remarks to their Lordships, who may soon receive the Bill, and also to clause 2.
It falls to me to address my remarks to clause 2 and to remain in order on the very evening that you, Dame Janet, have been extremely liberal in your approach, so for once I will not stray from the clause under discussion; I have missed my chance. However, I want to put one or two things on record to assist the debate that may take place in the other place on clause 2.
This afternoon the Home Secretary talked about the seven-week difference between the timetable put forward by the Opposition—a timetable that would accommodate public inquiries—and the timetable that the Government themselves put forward in respect of the conclusion of the process of review and inquiry. Apparently, the seven-week gap has caused the whole project to founder because it has led to the need to have the Bill which is before us tonight.
398 In order to assist the debate here and in the other place, I should like to make it plain how we feel. In place of clause 2, there could be a timetable acceptable to just about everybody if they were willing to consider it rationally.
We would start with Second Reading which was on 30 June; on 2 July there would be consultation over the committees' membership; on 9 July confirmation of committees' membership and on 23 July the committees would determine provisional recommendations. The publication of provisional recommendations would be on 5 August and the final date for representations to the committees would be 19 September. The committees would consider those recommendations on 24 September. Notice of any public inquiries would be on 30 September and public inquiries themselves would be between 25 and 19 October. The assistant commissioners' reports could be submitted by 12 November; committees would determine final recommendations on 26 November and the publication of final recommendations would be on 9 December; therefore, the reports would go to the Home Secretary on 9 December.
§ Mr. Allen
If the hon. Lady will let me finish this point.
I have listed a timetable which could accommodate a public inquiry. The Government's proposals do not allow for that eventuality, but if goodwill were evident from the Government and, hopefully, in the other place, even now as the Bill goes to the other place, we could create a system by which a public inquiry of the sort with which we are all familiar could take place.
Dame Elaine Kellet-Bowman
The hon. Gentleman is an incorrigible optimist. He has been present during many debates in the House when people have talked on and on, and having talked on and on, they have talked on and on again. His schedule has public inquiries between 25 and 29 October. How on earth will he persuade public inquiries, faced with people such as those who have been talking in the House and many of their supporters outside, to conclude on 29 October?
§ Mr. Allen
Public inquiries on boundaries conclude promptly and with great discipline. The Home Office timetable is similar to ours in respect of the time it allows for a public inquiry.
We have a public inquiry so that people can talk and express their opinion, particularly where they feel that their interests as electors are at stake. The timetable makes no provision for revised recommendations. That would be difficult given the timetable constraints. However, provisional recommendations, objections, variations and counter-proposals would be subject to full and proper scrutiny and cross-examination at a public inquiry. The 399 committee's secretariat could easily make provisional bookings and arrangements for public inquiries at an early stage.
Dame Elaine Kellet-Bowman
With some logic, the hon. Gentleman is supposing that all the people concerned want these elections to take place. Unfortunately, some people do not want them and will do everything they can to obstruct them, to the point where we might find ourselves moving to the next European Parliament without extra seats, because there will have been no election.
§ Mr. Allen
Indeed. I do not wish to make a partisan point, but the biggest delay has been the 32-week delay since the Edinburgh conference. It has taken that long to bring the Bill before the House. Even on the Home Secretary's logic, had seven of those weeks been used to bring forward this Bill, we would be discussing a Bill not on European parliamentary constituency committees, but on a Boundary Commission, empowered to have public inquiries and do the job properly. The hon. Lady should exercise some care in attributing blame for delay.
The wording of our amendment, which has now been defeated, provided scope for the committees tohave regard to Paragraph 5A of Schedule 2 to the 1978 Act".Thus, they would not be bound to hold a public inquiry on an objection from a principal local authority or more than 500 electors if it appeared that the objection was frivolous or if no viable counter-proposal or variation was being suggested. Our timetable is not designed to promote public inquiries, but simply to allow them where there is a genuine need. Let us not forget that we are talking about a maximum of 10 public inquiries for England and one for the other nations of the United Kingdom.
A meeting between the new committees on appointment with representatives of those political parties represented in Parliament for the respective part of the United Kingdom could take place. They could discuss the timetable, advance notice to parties, the format of public inquiries and, within England, any scope for considering the review within defined regional areas for the purposes of provisional recommendations and inquiries.
I shall make a final point for their Lordships who may discuss this at a later stage. If the wording of the amendment is the problem, there would be no objection to the Government using their own wording or to any Member of the other place tabling an appropriately worded amendment. That would be a useful job for the second Chamber to perform.
We believe that, even when the Bill goes to the second Chamber, if there is good will from the Government, there will still be time to allow a full public inquiry of the sort that we have been used to in this country for 50 years in our parliamentary elections and for the last two European elections. Despite the fact that we, in this House, have not taken the opportunity to assist the Government towards a sensible timetable, I hope that their Lordships will take that opportunity when it arises in the near future.
§ Mr. Maclennan
Throughout these debates, the hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) has made it plain that the Labour party takes the view that a conventional approach to the allocation of new seats to the European Parliament would be possible and practical. What I have not heard so clearly is whether it would regard 400 that as desirable. In an earlier intervention, the hon. Member drew attention to the advice that his party had received, and the support for that advice offered by Lord Plant and given by the leader of the Labour party, that what is proposed in the Bill should be supplanted by another system of election. It seems that the only impediment to the hon. Gentleman saying that clearly from the Front Bench is that the Labour party has not taken a formal decision in conference on the issue.
§ Mr. Allen
If it will help the hon. Gentleman, I should be pleased to put the position as clearly as I can. The Plant commission, established by the Labour party to look into electoral systems, proposed, as one of its many recommendations, a system of proportional representation—the regional list system—for the European Parliament. Its report said:Such a system could be introduced by an incoming Labour Government for the 1999 elections at the earliest.That report was sent to our national executive committee. On 19 May the leader of the Labour party stated:The Committee concludes that different elected bodies can be chosen by different electoral systems. That is a view which I share and I support the proposals made both for a reformed Second Chamber and the European Parliament. The proposal on the European Parliament sensibly recommends consistency of voting for the one election that we share with other members of the European Community.I hope that the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that a final and binding decision for any political party has to he taken through the appropriate channels. The Labour party's annual conference will make that decision in October. Thereafter, our policy may be different. However, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will consider the context in which those comments have been made.
§ Mr. Maclennan
I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman for seeking to clarify the position. We can take it from what he said that his objections to the line that has been consistently set by my right hon. and hon. Friends throughout the debates is not one with which he takes issue. He has explained that he thinks that it is practical to build into the existing Bill a conventional approach to the election of Members of the European Parliament, following historical practice.
In a detailed way, he has set out the timetable that would enable that to take place. He has not set his face against the alternative proposal in place of clause 2, which has been advocated by my right hon. Friend the Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Sir D. Steel) and my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler), in respect of its practicality or its principle. I believe that the Labour party may—
§ Mr. Allen
If my party is to commit itself to a different policy, it must be done according to the appropriate means that we have devised. In the interim, however, it would be unusual if we were to adopt a dog's breakfast of a system that is largely first past the post, with six seats elected under a different system bolted on to it. If we are to change the system, it must be done properly and, we hope, with a wider consensus, even across the Chamber, about future elections, particularly the one in 1999. It would be premature to make changes now, and it would result in confusion, which would not assist the hon. Gentleman's case.
§ Mr. Maclennan
The House will recall what the Home Secretary said about how he viewed these matters. The 401 De Gucht agreement, which united parties across the Community, including some British Conservatives, proposed a uniform system of proportional representation, leaving it free to member states to adopt their preferred option. The Home Secretary said that he intended to exercise a veto on that consensus—a decision that we found quite shocking and which must lead us to doubt whether it is reasonable to look to the Government to make progress in a consensual way. There has been no evidence that the Government have sought consensus.
The hon. Member for Nottingham, North has been reaching out to the Government, trying to see whether there is common ground on which the Labour party can stand with the Government—
The Second Deputy Chairman
Order. I hope that I shall not have to give a further warning about using the clause as a platform for debating wider issues than should be dealt with under the clause stand part debate.
§ Mr. Maclennan
I am extremely grateful for your advice, Dame Janet. When I spoke at some length on clause I stand part, I am happy to say that I was not once subject to any advice. I hope I will not cause you to have to intervene again.
My reasons for opposing clause 2 are intimately linked with what will replace it if we are successful in deleting it. That, I believe, is procedurally appropriate to delineate and I do not wish to animadvert to matters that my right hon. Friend the Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale and my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall discussed with such lucidity, commanding the support of the Benches behind and around them. It would be supererogation for me to seek to surpass their eloquence.
We must recognise that this extraordinary clause is not in the traditions of best British democratic practice, but some may argue that, when making constitutional innovations there is no need to seek consensus. In fact, I suppose, historically it is true that many of our constitutional changes have been introduced in the teeth of the most fierce opposition—the Ballot Act 1872, the widening of the franchise and other matters.
Let us be in no doubt that clause 2 is a major constitutional innovation. Many people outside take the view that it is undesirable to take such a step without the consent of all political parties in the House, yet that is what the Government are asking us to do. They are asking us to accept the unilateral imposition of a system of delineation that is untraditional and clearly flawed in that it does not allow for proper argument on the appropriate boundaries.
§ Mr. Allen
I wish to reinforce the point that the hon. Gentleman is making. Were we in September or October, looking to European elections in June 1994, clearly it might be necessary, having wasted more weeks, to obtain some cross-party support for an emergency procedure that might even forgo public inquiries. I should have thought that, in those circumstances, all parties would be understanding, but in the current circumstances that does not apply because there is still time to institute a proper timetable with a full public inquiry. That is still on offer to the Government, which may explain their reluctance to promote the scheme.
§ Mr. Maclennan
I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's support.
The Home Secretary announced, before hearing any of the arguments, that he took the view that we should have a system for the delineation of seats that would impose a constitutional novelty on the country. He tried to explain to us that he thought it should be regarded as comparable to the Boundary Commission. The debate since then, little of which the Home Secretary has heard, has shown how far removed from the normal Boundary Commission procedure these set-up committees are. He talked about Boundary Commission membership being by agreement. Where is the agreement? Far from there being any agreement, we learn that this procedure will be imposed retrospectively under clause 2(6).
I do not want to prolong the debate. I regard the clause as a constitutional enormity that the House should reject out of hand, and I hope that the upper House will take on board the strength of feeling that has been expressed by Opposition Members and a number of Conservative Members. There has been an overwhelming wish to reject the Bill and I hope that the upper House will recognise that and do the right thing.
§ Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman
If we could guarantee that everyone was united in wanting us to have our fair share of the new additional Members of the European Parliament, it might be sensible to try to squeeze in public inquiries. Unfortunately, whatever the Opposition may say, we simply cannot guarantee that. Some hon. Members and some people outside, no doubt egged on by those hon. Members, do not want any more Members of the European Parliament and so could drag out proceedings at public inquiries and cause us to lose the extra seats. The elections would have come and gone and we would have lost the chance of the extra seats. The United Kingdom would therefore—
§ Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman
The United Kingdom would therefore be underrepresented, which I would regard as a great mistake. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman would like that. I think that he genuinely believes that these few days would be sufficient.
The Second Deputy Chairman
Order. I also expect gentlemanly conduct. The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) knows full well that, if the hon. Member who has the Floor does not give way, he must resume his seat.
§ Mr. Peter Lloyd
I shall respond briefly to specific points and not to the general arguments, against which you have warned us sternly, Dame Janet, especially as the latter have been aired several times in previous debates.
The hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) made three points. First, the future shape of the Cornish Euro-constituency and every other Euro-seat is entirely a matter for the independent boundary committees, not for 403 me. The committees will have to follow the criteria of the European Parliamentary Elections Act 1978, which the hon. Gentleman related.
Let me repeat them for greater clarity: the Boundary Commission and the boundary committees, under the same rules, must produce Euro-constituencies which consist of a minimum of two parliamentary constituencies. There must be no overlap between parliamentary constituencies, and the Euro-constituency must be as near as possible to the quota, which means that it must be as near as is reasonably practicable having regard, where appropriate, to the special geographical considerations of the region. Under those criteria, it is entirely a matter for the independent committees.
Secondly, the committees are not of course subject to the parliamentary commissioner but, like every other public body, they are liable to challenge in the courts. Only the order approved by both Houses is exempt from such a challenge, which is standard Boundary Commission legislation. I think that the hon. Gentleman will accept that it has been right in the past, and it is right now.
§ Mr. Tyler
The Minister is now admitting that the announcement, the fiats of the so-called independent committees, can be open to challenge in the courts, or judicial review. Does he therefore accept that there could be substantial delays when it is found that there will be no democratic base for open discussion and debate at a public inquiry for the fiats?
§ Mr. Wallace
The Minister mentions orders of the House, but is he satisfied that such orders are not subject to the courts if they contravene the treaties and therefore may not be in accordance with European Community law? Is he satisfied that any legislation passed by the House can override European Community law?
§ Mr. Wallace
The Minister is surely aware of the Merchant Shipping Act 1988, which sought to deal with ships flying flags of convenience. Spanish vessels were taking British quotas and flying the British flag but they were essentially Spanish vessels. The Act was overturned by the Factortame case, not only in the House of Lords which queried it but by the European Court. In this Session, Parliament had to introduce legislation to undo the effect of the 1988 Act. Can the Minister guarantee that what we are passing tonight will not be overturned by a subsequent ruling of the European Court?
§ Mr. Lloyd
I am certain that what we are passing tonight—and I am glad that the hon. Gentleman accepts that we are passing it—is on all fours with the law and our obligations and will not be overturned by any court.
I deal now with the third issue raised by the hon. Member for North Cornwall. After redrawing the 404 parliamentary boundaries, the Boundary Commission will have to review the Euro-boundaries in the usual way. The Boundary Commission is properly required by statute to review Euro-boundaries after every general review of parliamentary boundaries. Not to do so would leave us with the real problems of overlap about which several hon. Members have complained.
The hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Hoon) drew my attention to clause 2(6). The intention is to enable the committees to start work straight away. Amendment No. 23, for which the hon. Gentleman voted, was posited on the assumption that the committees would start work almost immediately and, in order for them to start immediately, that subsection must be included. The timetable mentioned by the hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) relies on the committees starting work straight away, but the hon. Gentleman wanted to wait until after Royal Assent, which may not be granted until the spillover period, thereby losing two or three months in which the committees could be working and hearing the representations that people will undoubtedly make on its provisional recommendations which we hope will be ready by the beginning of August. They could not possibly be ready by the middle of August if we were to accept the suggestion to remove clause 2(6).
§ Mr. Foster
I understood the Minister to say that no decision about membership would be made until there had been consultation with leaders of Opposition parties. Will he assure me that my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) will be consulted before any decisions are made?
§ Mr. Lloyd
I have met representatives of the Liberal party to discuss our approach. If the leader of the Liberal party would like to be party to our conversations he can. Consultation is intended to make known the names of those whom we are considering appointing, and we shall of course do that before final letters of appointment are sent. I have understood from all the parties that if the committees are to be set up—whether or not they like the idea of committees—members of the Boundary Commission are the most suitable people to appoint.
§ Mr. Allen
The Minister is currently going through the consultation process on the membership of the committees. Equally, the work programme timetable laid out by his Department will roll on until and including Royal Assent. I am sure that the Minister would not wish anyone to get the impression that people are waiting until Royal Assent to start work. I raise that point only to make matters absolutely clear for the benefit of their Lordships, who will be aware that work will be going on as they debate the issue.
§ Mr. Lloyd
Yes, I have made that fact clear already, and amendment No. 23, which the hon. Gentleman supported, assumed that that would happen. That is why it was absurd for the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Sir D. Steel) to say that this was the worst example of retrospective legislation that he had seen. The legislation is not retrospective at all in any normal meaning of that term—that is, it does not change the legality of a past action. The provision merely confirms that the current absence of the legislation from the statute book cannot be used later to argue that something perfectly valid that the committee does now became invalid when the Bill was enacted. That is the reverse of restrospective legislation, which is a particular reason, among the others that I have explained, why the House should allow clause 2 to stand part of the Bill.
§ Question put, That the clause stand part of the Bill:—
§ The Committee divided: Ayes 220, Noes 34.407
|Division No.324]||[8.59 pm|
|Alexander, Richard||Cope, Rt Hon Sir John|
|Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby)||Cormack, Patrick|
|Amess, David||Couchman, James|
|Ancram, Michael||Cran, James|
|Arbuthnot, James||Currie, Mrs Edwina (S D'by'ire)|
|Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)||Davies, Quentin (Stamford)|
|Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv)||Davis, David (Boothferry)|
|Aspinwall, Jack||Day, Stephen|
|Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)||Deva, Nirj Joseph|
|Baker, Nicholas (Dorset North)||Devlin, Tim|
|Baldry, Tony||Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James|
|Bates, Michael||Dover, Den|
|Beggs, Roy||Duncan, Alan|
|Bellingham, Henry||Duncan-Smith, Iain|
|Biffen, Rt Hon John||Dunn, Bob|
|Blackburn, Dr John G.||Dykes, Hugh|
|Bonsor, Sir Nicholas||Evans, David (Welwyn Hatfield)|
|Booth, Hartley||Evans, Jonathan (Brecon)|
|Bottomley, Rt Hon Virginia||Evans, Roger (Monmouth)|
|Bowden, Andrew||Evennett, David|
|Bowis, John||Faber, David|
|Brandreth, Gyles||Fabricant, Michael|
|Brazier, Julian||Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)|
|Bright, Graham||Forman, Nigel|
|Brooke, Rt Hon Peter||Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)|
|Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thorpes)||Forsythe, Clifford (Antrim S)|
|Browning, Mrs. Angela||Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring)|
|Burns, Simon||Fox, Sir Marcus (Shipley)|
|Burt, Alistair||Freeman, Rt Hon Roger|
|Butterfill, John||Fry, Peter|
|Carlisle, John (Luton North)||Gale, Roger|
|Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)||Gallie, Phil|
|Carrington, Matthew||Gardiner, Sir George|
|Carttiss, Michael||Gillan, Cheryl|
|Channon, Rt Hon Paul||Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles|
|Chapman, Sydney||Gorman, Mrs Teresa|
|Coe, Sebastian||Gorst, John|
|Colvin, Michael||Grant, Sir Anthony (Cambs SW)|
|Congdon, David||Greenway, John (Ryedale)|
|Coombs, Anthony (Wyre For'st)||Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N)|
|Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn||Onslow, Rt Hon Sir Cranley|
|Hague, William||Oppenheim, Phillip|
|Hamilton, Rt Hon Archie (Epsom)||Paice, James|
|Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)||Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey|
|Hargreaves, Andrew||Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth|
|Harris, David||Pickles, Eric|
|Haselhurst, Alan||Porter, David (Waveney)|
|Hawkins, Nick||Powell, William (Corby)|
|Hawksley, Warren||Redwood, Rt Hon John|
|Heald, Oliver||Richards, Rod|
|Heathcoat-Amory, David||Riddick, Graham|
|Hendry, Charles||Rifkind, Rt Hon. Malcolm|
|Hicks, Robert||Robertson, Raymond (Ab'd'n S)|
|Hill, James (Southampton Test)||Robinson, Mark (Somerton)|
|Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas (G'tham)||Rowe, Andrew (Mid Kent)|
|Horam, John||Rumbold, Rt Hon Dame Angela|
|Howard, Rt Hon Michael||Ryder, Rt Hon Richard|
|Howarth, Alan (Strat'rd-on-A)||Sackville, Tom|
|Howell, Sir Ralph (North Norfolk)||Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)|
|Shephard, Rt Hon Gillian|
|Hughes Robert G. (Harrow W)||Sims, Roger|
|Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne)||Skeet, Sir Trevor|
|Hunter, Andrew||Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)|
|Jack, Michael||Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)|
|Jackson, Robert (Wantage)||Speed, Sir Keith|
|Jenkin, Bernard||Spencer, Sir Derek|
|Jessel, Toby||Spicer, Sir James (W Dorset)|
|Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)||Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)|
|Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine||Spink, Dr Robert|
|Key, Robert||Spring, Richard|
|Kilfedder, Sir James||Sproat, Iain|
|Kirkhope, Timothy||Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John|
|Knapman, Roger||Steen, Anthony|
|Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash)||Stephen, Michael|
|Knight, Greg (Derby N)||Stern, Michael|
|Knox, Sir David||Stewart, Allan|
|Kynoch, George (Kincardine)||Streeter, Gary|
|Lait, Mrs Jacqui||Sweeney, Walter|
|Lang, Rt Hon Ian||Sykes, John|
|Legg, Barry||Taylor, Ian (Esher)|
|Lidington, David||Taylor, Rt Hon John D. (Strgfd)|
|Lightbown, David||Taylor, John M. (Solihull)|
|Lilley, Rt Hon Peter||Temple-Morris, Peter|
|Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)||Thomason, Roy|
|Luff, Peter||Thompson, Sir Donald (C'er V)|
|MacGregor, Rt Hon John||Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)|
|MacKay, Andrew||Thornton, Sir Malcolm|
|Maclean, David||Thurnham, Peter|
|McLoughlin, Patrick||Townsend, Cyril D. (Bexl'yh'th)|
|McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick||Trend, Michael|
|Madel, David||Trimble, David|
|Maitland, Lady Olga||Trotter, Neville|
|Malone, Gerald||Twinn, Dr Ian|
|Mans, Keith||Waller, Gary|
|Marland, Paul||Ward, John|
|Marshall, John (Hendon S)||Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)|
|Martin, David (Portsmouth S)||Waterson, Nigel|
|Mawhinney, Dr Brian||Watts, John|
|Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick||Wells, Bowen|
|Mellor, Rt Hon David||Wheeler, Rt Hon Sir John|
|Merchant, Piers||Whitney, Ray|
|Milligan, Stephen||Whittingdale, John|
|Mills, Iain||Widdecombe, Ann|
|Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)||Wiggin, Sir Jerry|
|Mitchell, Sir David (Hants NW)||Willetts, David|
|Molyneaux, Rt Hon James||Wilshire, David|
|Monro, Sir Hector||Wood, Timothy|
|Montgomery, Sir Fergus||Yeo, Tim|
|Neubert, Sir Michael||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Nicholls, Patrick||Mr. Irvine Patnick and Mr. Derek Conway.|
|Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)|
|Abbott, Ms Diane||Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)|
|Alton, David||Carlile, Alexander (Montgomry)|
|Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy||Chisholm, Malcolm|
|Barnes, Harry||Cryer, Bob|
|Beith, Rt Hon A. J.||Dafis, Cynog|
|Ewing, Mrs Margaret||Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll Bute)|
|Foster, Don (Bath)||Rendel, David|
|Gordon, Mildred||Salmond, Alex|
|Harvey, Nick||Simpson, Alan|
|Hughes, Simon (Southwark)||Skinner, Dennis|
|Kennedy, Charles (Ross,C&S)||Spearing, Nigel|
|Lewis, Terry||Steel, Rt Hon Sir David|
|Livingstone, Ken||Taylor, Matthew (Truro)|
|Llwyd, Elfyn||Wallace, James|
|Loyden, Eddie||Welsh, Andrew|
|Lynne, Ms Liz|
|Maclennan, Robert||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Mahon, Alice||Mr. Archy Kirkwood and Mr. Paul Tyler.|
|Marek, Dr John|
§ Question accordingly agreed to.
§ Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
§ Clause 3 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
§ Schedule agreed to.
§ Order for Third Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time.—[Mr. Peter Lloyd.]9.12 pm
§ Mr. Cryer
The Bill should not be given a Third Reading without a few comments being made. The previous stages have been whipped through with far too much haste. Unfortunately, although one cannot question this issue, there has not been a wide range of amendments, which would have been useful. I wanted, for example, to discuss the costs of MEPs. Unfortunately, my amendment was not selected. That is a matter of regret, but it is out of my hands.
Adding to the number of MEPs does not necessarily mean greater democracy. The Assembly in Strasbourg is still a consultative assembly. It has not been given legislative powers. Legislative powers in the Common Market are still in the hands of the Council of Ministers, which meets in secret. There is no public scrutiny. Legislation is administered by unaccountable, appointed Commissioners. The idea that there has been an increase in democracy is wrong—[HON. MEMBERS: "The gravy train."] Some Conservative Members, who will not speak on the Bill, but who like to chatter in a sedentary position, which is disgraceful, talk about a gravy train.
I have set my face against any gravy train. I have taken a cut in income to come to this place because I think that the House is relevant to the interests and aspirations of the people of the United Kingdom. The Common Market Assembly has little, if any, relevance. I question whether we should spend several million pounds over five years on extra Members. The Liberal Democrats are to call a vote on Third Reading because the legislation does not provide for proportional representation. I would oppose it even more vehemently if it did.
I shall vote against the Bill because it is not necessary. The legislation will add to the panoply that is called the Common Market. It has been a millstone around our neck since this country joined. Following the recent meeting of Common Market Heads of State, I asked the Prime Minister what were the benefits of our membership of the Community. An unaccustomed silence falls on the gathering when that topic is raised. The Prime Minister's reply was that Britain exported a lot of goods to the Common Market. The truth is that the other countries export more to us than we do to them. If Britain was not 408 in the Common Market, the remaining member states would give us trading concessions because they would want to keep a lucrative and expanding market.
Our membership of the Common Market has not benefited us. That is why I will vote against the Bill. The legislation will give credence to the Common Market, which has been a huge millstone around our neck. Our membership has cost Britain £2.5 billion a year, and has cost each family £18 a week for the extra food costs created by the Common Market.
The problems of the Common Market have not been solved. The so-called reforms achieved by the Government have cost the taxpayer more. Of that £2.5 billion, 70 per cent. still goes down that huge drain on resources called the common agriculture policy. The food mountains still exist. The whole creaking edifice of the Common Market should be attacked for what it is—a bureaucrats' delight. It is not about nations coming together. Nations could come together without the MEPs and the so-called Parliament in Strasbourg. We come together as nations when we need to; we do so, for example, through a superior organisation called the United Nations.
§ Mr. David Harris (St. Ives)
If the hon. Gentleman so despises the European Parliament, or assembly as he calls it, why on earth did he sit in it for five years and join the gravy train that he is denouncing?
§ Mr. Cryer
I intend to answer as soon as Conservative Members stop chanting and give me a chance to be heard. Something should be done, Madam Speaker, about the noise from sedentary positions.
I was selected by the Labour party EC committee in Sheffield on the basis that I was opposed to the Common Market. It wanted someone who would not be seduced by the gravy trains and the wining and dining that go on in the Common Market. There is no doubt that the amount of money that is showered on MEPs tends to warp their judgment. After a while, people say, "Although I was critical, it is not so bad after all."
That did not happen to me. I remained true to the principle of opposition to the Common Market. My election address said that clearly. That was Labour party policy at that time. It was a sensible policy, and I regret that the Labour party has now shifted to acceptance of the Common Market.
The Second Deputy Chairman
Order. Before the hon. Gentleman continues, I must point out that this is the Third Reading of a Bill, and not a general exposition of the rights or wrongs of the European Community.
§ Mr. Cryer
I shall vote against the legislation, because I do not believe that any extra MEPs are necessary. I am told that, if the Bill is defeated in this legislature, it will cause repercussions throughout the Common Market. I take great pleasure in that thought. If it causes chaos that is even greater than the chaotic organisation that already prevails, that will he to our advantage.
I intend to vote against the Bill for entirely different reasons from those of the Liberal Democrats. I shall vote against extra people being sent to the Common Market. MEPs serve no useful purpose. It is true that for some people the European Parliament is a useful job creation scheme, but I see no possibility of adding to the democracy or, indeed, desirability of that.
409 The Westminster Parliament is the institution whose democracy we must improve. It is understood by people outside. This Parliament should be the focus of our attention. This Chamber and this Parliament are the means by which we shall reverse the dreadful excesses of the past 14 years when we get a Labour Government. That is our aim and intention. That must be our first priority. It should not be the nonsense of the Common Market.
§ Question put, That the Bill be now read the Third time:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 203, Noes 31.410
|Division No. 325]||[9.20 pm|
|Alexander, Richard||Evans, Jonathan (Brecon)|
|Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby)||Evans, Roger (Monmouth)|
|Amess, David||Fabricant, Michael|
|Ancram, Michael||Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)|
|Arbuthnot, James||Forman, Nigel|
|Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)||Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)|
|Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv)||Forsythe, Clifford (Antrim S)|
|Aspinwall, Jack||Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring)|
|Baker, Nicholas (Dorset North)||Fox, Sir Marcus (Shipley)|
|Baldry, Tony||Freeman, Rt Hon Roger|
|Bates, Michael||Gale, Roger|
|Beggs, Roy||Gallie, Phil|
|Biffen, Rt Hon John||Gillan, Cheryl|
|Blackburn, Dr John G.||Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles|
|Bonsor, Sir Nicholas||Gorst, John|
|Booth, Hartley||Grant, Sir Anthony (Cambs SW)|
|Bottomley, Rt Hon Virginia||Greenway, John (Ryedale)|
|Bowden, Andrew||Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N)|
|Bowis, John||Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn|
|Brandreth, Gyles||Hague, William|
|Brazier, Julian||Hamilton, Rt Hon Archie (Epsom)|
|Bright, Graham||Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)|
|Brooke, Rt Hon Peter||Hargreaves, Andrew|
|Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thorpes)||Harris, David|
|Browning, Mrs. Angela||Haselhurst, Alan|
|Burns, Simon||Hawkins, Nick|
|Burt, Alistair||Hawksley, Warren|
|Butterfill, John||Heald, Oliver|
|Carlisle, John (Luton North)||Hendry, Charles|
|Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)||Hicks, Robert|
|Carrington, Matthew||Hill, James (Southampton Test)|
|Carttiss, Michael||Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas (G'tham)|
|Channon, Rt Hon Paul||Horam, John|
|Chapman, Sydney||Howard, Rt Hon Michael|
|Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)||Howarth, Alan (Strat'rd-on-A)|
|Coe, Sebastian||Howell, Sir Ralph (N Norfolk)|
|Colvin, Michael||Hughes Robert G. (Harrow W)|
|Congdon, David||Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne)|
|Coombs, Anthony (Wyre For'st)||Hunter, Andrew|
|Cope, Rt Hon Sir John||Jack, Michael|
|Cormack, Patrick||Jackson, Robert (Wantage)|
|Couchman, James||Jenkin, Bernard|
|Cran, James||Jessel, Toby|
|Currie, Mrs Edwina (S D'by'ire)||Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)|
|Davies, Quentin (Stamford)||Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine|
|Davis, David (Boothferry)||Key, Robert|
|Day, Stephen||Kilfedder, Sir James|
|Devlin, Tim||Kirkhope, Timothy|
|Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James||Knapman, Roger|
|Dover, Den||Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash)|
|Duncan, Alan||Knight, Greg (Derby N)|
|Duncan-Smith, Iain||Knox, Sir David|
|Dunn, Bob||Kynoch, George (Kincardine)|
|Dykes, Hugh||Lait, Mrs Jacqui|
|Evans, David (Welwyn Hatfield)||Lang, Rt Hon Ian|
|Legg, Barry||Shephard, Rt Hon Gillian|
|Lennox-Boyd, Mark||Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)|
|Lidington, David||Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)|
|Lilley, Rt Hon Peter||Speed, Sir Keith|
|Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)||Spencer, Sir Derek|
|Luff, Peter||Spicer, Sir James (W Dorset)|
|MacGregor, Rt Hon John||Spink, Dr Robert|
|MacKay, Andrew||Spring, Richard|
|Maclean, David||Sproat, Iain|
|McLoughlin, Patrick||Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John|
|McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick||Steen, Anthony|
|Madel, David||Stephen, Michael|
|Maitland, Lady Olga||Stern, Michael|
|Malone, Gerald||Stewart, Allan|
|Mans, Keith||Streeter, Gary|
|Marland, Paul||Sweeney, Walter|
|Marshall, John (Hendon S)||Sykes, John|
|Martin, David (Portsmouth S)||Taylor, Rt Hon John D. (Strgfd)|
|Mawhinney, Dr Brian||Taylor, John M. (Solihull)|
|Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick||Temple-Morris, Peter|
|Mellor, Rt Hon David||Thomason, Roy|
|Merchant, Piers||Thompson, Sir Donald (C'er V)|
|Milligan, Stephen||Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)|
|Mills, Iain||Thornton, Sir Malcolm|
|Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)||Thurnham, Peter|
|Molyneaux, Rt Hon James||Townsend, Cyril D. (Bexl'yh'th)|
|Monro, Sir Hector||Trend, Michael|
|Moss, Malcolm||Trimble, David|
|Neubert, Sir Michael||Trotter, Neville|
|Nicholls, Patrick||Twinn, Dr Ian|
|Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)||Waller, Gary|
|Norris, Steve||Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)|
|Onslow, Rt Hon Sir Cranley||Waterson, Nigel|
|Oppenheim, Phillip||Watts, John|
|Patnick, Irvine||Wells, Bowen|
|Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey||Wheeler, Rt Hon Sir John|
|Pickles, Eric||Whitney, Ray|
|Porter, David (Waveney)||Whittingdale, John|
|Powell, William (Corby)||Widdecombe, Ann|
|Redwood, Rt Hon John||Wiggin, Sir Jerry|
|Richards, Rod||Willetts. David|
|Rifkind, Rt Hon. Malcolm||Wilshire, David|
|Robertson, Raymond (Ab'd'n S)||Wood, Timothy|
|Robinson, Mark (Somerton)||Yeo, Tim|
|Rowe, Andrew (Mid Kent)|
|Rumbold, Rt Hon Dame Angela||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Ryder, Rt Hon Richard||Mr. David Lightbown and Mr. Derek Conway.|
|Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)|
|Alton, David||Maclennan, Robert|
|Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy||Mahon, Alice|
|Barnes, Harry||Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll Bute)|
|Beith, Rt Hon A. J.||Rendel, David|
|Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)||Salmond, Alex|
|Carlile, Alexander (Montgomry)||Simpson, Alan|
|Chisholm, Malcolm||Skinner, Dennis|
|Cryer, Bob||Steel, Rt Hon Sir David|
|Dafis, Cynog||Taylor, Matthew (Truro)|
|Ewing, Mrs Margaret||Tyler, Paul|
|Harvey, Nick||Wallace, James|
|Kennedy, Charles (Ross.C&S)||Welsh, Andrew|
|Kirkwood, Archy||Wray, Jimmy|
|Livingstone, Ken||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Llwyd, Elfyn||Mr. Simon Hughes and|
|Loyden, Eddie||Mr. Don Foster.|
|Lynne, Ms Liz|
§ Question accordingly agreed to.
§ Bill read the Third time, and passed.