§ 11.7 a.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department (Baroness Scotland of Asthal)
My Lords, on behalf of my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.
The Bill has two functions. First, it will put in place a mechanism by which the number of United Kingdom Members of the European Parliament can be reduced to accommodate the effects of the enlargement agreed at Nice in 2001. Secondly, it will enfranchise the people of Gibraltar to vote in European parliamentary elections, following a ruling of the European Court of Human Rights which we have accepted.
Part 1 of the Bill will introduce a mechanism to allow the total number of United Kingdom MEPs to be altered to take account of enlargement. It was agreed in Nice that most existing member states would reduce their MEP numbers to make room for the new members. That will ensure fair representation while keeping the European Parliament to a manageable size.
For the UK, that involves a reduction from 87 seats to a final minimum of 72. That reduction will not happen in one go, but rather, as agreed by the Treaty of Nice, as new states accede. The first group, which will accede on 1st May 2004 and must therefore be accommodated in the 2004 European parliamentary elections, consists of 10 new member states. At the Copenhagen European Council in December last year, it was decided that the United Kingdom should reduce for the 2004 elections to 78 seats. However, the United Kingdom will continue, with France and Italy, to have the second largest allocation of MEPs—after Germany—in the European Parliament.
1228 When considering how best to implement the reductions, we concluded that to alter the boundaries of the existing European parliamentary electoral regions would run counter to the regional agenda to which the Government are committed. The approach we have therefore adopted is to redistribute, whenever a reduction is necessary, the number of MEPs across the 12 existing regions of the UK. In order to ensure that any redistribution will be accepted as equitable by all concerned, we have proposed taking the decision out of the hands of the Government and asking the independent Electoral Commission to make recommendations.
However, restrictions are placed by the Bill on the Electoral Commission's deliberations, so that each electoral region should have a minimum of three seats, whatever the voter population, and that otherwise the ratio of voters to MEPs should be as nearly as possible the same across the regions. That will provide the best balance between proper representation for all regions and a fair distribution of seats across the country as a whole.
The Electoral Commission's recommendations will be implemented by order by my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor under the affirmative resolution procedure. Any order made by him must implement the recommendations of the Electoral Commission or, if Parliament has previously considered and rejected an order containing those recommendations, have its consent and he an outcome that it could have recommended.
The mechanism that I have outlined is a crucial part of the process for enabling new member states to be effectively incorporated into the EU, to which the Government are firmly committed. We should strongly welcome the advantages that enlargement will bring for the accession states, which have worked so hard to meet the criteria for joining the European Union. More widely, enlargement of the European Union will bring improvements to stability and security across the whole of Europe. We must not underestimate the positive effects that enlargement will bring at home. For example, the economy will benefit from the expanding market, and we should see important environmental benefits as countries from the east of the continent are brought into the European fold.
Part 2 of the Bill serves to enable the enfranchisement of Gibraltar for European parliamentary elections from 2004 onwards. In 1999, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the European Parliament formed a part of Gibraltar's legislature and held that the UK was bound by the convention to secure the right for the people of Gibraltar to take part in European parliamentary elections. The UK accepted the judgment of the court, and the second part of the Bill is the means of meeting that obligation by enabling Gibraltarians to have their interests directly represented in the European Parliament for the first time.
Gibraltar has a relatively small electorate—around 20,000 voters, as compared with the United Kingdom average for a European parliamentary region of 1229 around 3.7 million voters. That makes it not feasible for Gibraltar to form its own region. It will therefore be necessary to combine Gibraltar with an existing electoral region.
As with the issues covered by Part 1 of the Bill, we believe that the most suitable way of deciding with which electoral region it would be most appropriate to combine Gibraltar is to give that task to the independent Electoral Commission. The only limitation that the Bill puts on its deliberations is that the combined region must be either an English region or Wales. That is for purely practical considerations. Given the need to put into place secondary legislation to make the combined region work, we need to know now which set of detailed electoral rules to apply. The commission must report on its recommendation by 1st September 2003. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor will then present an order—again, subject to affirmative resolution—to give effect to the Electoral Commission's recommendation.
The underlying principle behind combining Gibraltar with a UK electoral region for the purposes of European parliamentary elections is that UK electoral law, as it applies to the European Parliament elections, should apply as equally as possible throughout the combined region. This is a question of ensuring fairness and equity for all voters in the European Parliament elections throughout the United Kingdom and Gibraltar.
Therefore, the Bill provides for the application to Gibraltar of the relevant provisions of UK law, modified as necessary. Modification is necessary in some cases to ensure that, in practice, the law makes sense in Gibraltar and still makes sense in the United Kingdom.
We believe that the most appropriate and, given the complexity of electoral law, only practical approach is for the detail of electoral law to be applied by orders and regulations. The Bill includes enabling powers to provide for that. This is very much in line with the way that electoral law is applied to European parliamentary elections in the United Kingdom. Importantly, that approach enables us to develop with the Government of Gibraltar the best way to apply the complex detail of electoral rules and to discuss and agree with them which elements it might be appropriate for Gibraltar itself to handle.
The Bill therefore addresses the key issues: the requirement for Gibraltar to maintain a register of electors for the European Parliament elections; the basic franchise and entitlement to be registered, in much the same way as is the case under the European Parliamentary Elections Act 2002; and it leaves the complex detail for orders and regulations.
The Government are considering a moderate number of amendments to this part of the Bill in order to address points raised in another place about giving a clearer role to the Government of Gibraltar in ensuring enfranchisement for the European elections. Those amendments will not affect the substance of our proposals or our overall approach.
1230 I have already pointed out that the Bill allows for a number of measures to be implemented by means of secondary legislation, as is already the case for European parliamentary electoral law in the UK generally. The Bill ensures that these enabling powers can be exercised only by the Lord Chancellor after consultation with the Electoral Commission. We have already amended the Bill to ensure that the powers we are taking are no wider than necessary and that they can be used only for the purpose intended.
Your Lordships' Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee reported its considerations on the Bill to this House on 12th February. Noble Lords will know that it made recommendations about the powers to be exercised by the Lord Chancellor—in particular, the degree of parliamentary scrutiny to which the exercise of such powers is subject. We are taking steps to ensure that we respond swiftly and positively to those recommendations. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor wrote yesterday to the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, who is the chairman of the committee.
§ Lord Howell of Guildford
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for giving way. At this stage, I interrupt only on a point of procedure and not of substance. As the noble Baroness said, the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee's report was issued on 12th February and, by chance, some of us alighted on it. About four minutes before the start of this Second Reading, a copy of the letter to the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, which I believe was issued late last night, was made available to some of us who are taking part in the debate. That makes life very difficult for those of us who seek to assist in improving this legislation and comment sensibly on it.
Is there any way that, in future, the whole issue can be approached in a slightly more ordered manner? Frankly, having been involved in legislation, both in this House and another place, for the past 37 years, I cannot remember legislation being approached in quite such a last-minute way. It makes matters very difficult for us.
§ Baroness Scotland of Asthal
My Lords, I hear what the noble Lord says. The noble Lord will note that the committee produced its report on the 12th. It was very detailed and required careful consideration. It was thought important to try, if possible, to give noble Lords the first taste of the noble and learned Lord's response in relation to the committee's approach. We could possibly not have issued the letter yesterday but kept it until after Second Reading and made it available before Committee. Every effort was made to give a comprehensive response as soon as was reasonably practical. I assure the noble Lord that that was done in order to assist and not to make matters more difficult. I am very sorry if the noble Lord feels that it has. We shall have an opportunity to discuss the matter at length, if necessary, in Committee. We merely thought that it would be helpful.
1231 I have indicated that we have taken on board the committee's suggestions and have sought as far as possible to endorse them. I hope that that will be greeted with pleasure as opposed to approbation. Of course, I always stand surprised by your Lordships.
I return to what I was saying. I hope that the steps we have taken and intend to take will reassure the House that the approach set out in the Bill is appropriate. Not only is this legislation consistent with the UK's international obligations but the changes that the Bill is designed to enact are important. They allow new member states a voice in the European Parliament, and enable the people of Gibraltar to vote for the first time in a European parliamentary election.
We believe that the approach set out in the Bill is both appropriate and sound. I urge all noble Lords to support it. I commend the Bill to the House.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Baroness Scotland of Asthal.)
§ 11.21 a.m.
§ Lord Goodhart
My Lords, we, on these Benches give a warm welcome to the Bill. As the Minister has explained, Part 1 gives effect to one of the side effects of the enlargement of the European Union; that is, a reduction in the number of Members of the European Parliament who represent the United Kingdom. That is in itself regrettable. However, we are strong supporters of enlargement. After the accession of all the candidate states, the European Parliament will have 732 Members. That figure is greater than the present size of your Lordships' House. We accept, therefore, the necessity to avoid a large increase in the number of MEPs. We also accept the corollary, which is a reduction in the number of MEPs from the United Kingdom.
We have a number of more detailed comments on Part 1. First, in order to keep proper proportionality of membership within regional constituencies, we believe that each constituency, except for Northern Ireland, should have a minimum of four Members and not three as proposed by the Government. That will in particular affect the north-eastern region. Its present number of four Members will, under the Government's proposals, probably eventually be reduced to three. There should be a floor of four Members for constituencies in Great Britain.
Secondly, we regret that the Bill is not being used as an opportunity to revise the voting system for European elections. The closed list system now used in Great Britain is extremely unpopular and should be replaced either by the singer transferable vote system, which is used in Northern Ireland, or by an open list system. We hope to table an amendment on that issue for debate. We observe that such an amendment was tabled and debated in Committee in the House of Commons, although it is a little doubtful whether it fell within the Long Title.
Thirdly, it is curious that the member of the Cabinet responsible for overseeing the implementation of' the Bill, when it is enacted, will be the Lord Chancellor. That point was raised in Committee in the House of 1232 Commons when it was explained that the responsibilities for electoral law and administration have been transferred to the Lord Chancellor's Department. Apart from the oddity of the Lord Chancellor—who is not elected by anyone—being responsible for the election system, that illustrates that the Lord Chancellor's Department is now a fully-fledged government department, and that the claim of the Lord Chancellor to a special status, which is distinct from that of the heads of other departments, can no longer be sustained.
Fourthly, as the Minister mentioned, the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee had concerns regarding Clause 4, which allows the Lord Chancellor to make orders in consequence of changes in Community law. The Delegated Powers Committee considered that Clause 4 should be limited to treaties already ratified by the United Kingdom. That, we understand from the letter, has been accepted, which is welcome.
I turn to Part 2 of the Bill. We welcome the extension to Gibraltar of the right to vote in elections to the European Parliament. We congratulate Denise Matthews on her victory in the European Court of Human Rights, which forced the Government to take overdue action on the issue.
We agree with the principle that Gibraltar should be attached to an existing regional constituency. As its voters amount only to some 17,000, it would be unreasonable to make Gibraltar a single Member constituency. Gibraltarian voters will therefore have to vote for British political parties in order for their votes to count. However, it is true that in a close race their votes could make the difference.
We accept the principle that Gibraltar must under the Bill be attached to an English region or to Wales and not to Scotland or Northern Ireland. I suppose that there is an argument to attach Gibraltar to Northern Ireland. Indeed, Lady Hermon, an Ulster Unionist MP, proposed that in a debate in the House of Commons. But the likelihood that Gibraltarians would give overwhelming support to unionist parties would make the decision controversial and therefore not appropriate. There is no ground for attaching Gibraltar to Scotland. We are therefore content for the Electoral Commission to recommend to which of the remaining 10 constituencies Gibraltar should be attached.
We wish to see the Electoral Commission's consultation duty go beyond the Governor and the Chief Minister of Gibraltar, as proposed in Clause 9 of the Bill. Of course, we accept that those consultations are mandatory and do not prevent the commission also taking wider soundings, but we should like to see that matter on the face of the Bill.
We have serious criticism of some of the delegated powers in Part 2 of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee's report. I shall not enter into detail regarding those criticisms, because that is not appropriate at Second Reading. Basically, the Delegated Powers Committee said that in its view some of those powers were not appropriate for 1233 delegated legislation and should in any event be covered by the affirmative procedure if they were to be dealt with by secondary legislation.
The Government's response accepts that those powers should be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure, but they are not prepared to go so far as saying that they are not suitable for delegation. The Government have set out their arguments at some length on that point. I have not had an opportunity to study them. While their arguments on the matter may possibly be justified, the issue should certainly be further debated in Committee, so that it can be considered in more detail.
I was glad that the Joint Committee on Human Rights found no problems with the Bill and I welcome the full explanation in the Explanatory Notes of its possible human rights implications and the reasons why the Government were advised that no problems arose. That is a welcome development and a departure from the Government's original practice of simply stating baldly that they believed Bills to be compliant.
So although certain matters remain to be dealt with in Committee, we are happy to give the Bill a clear general welcome.
§ 11.30 a.m.
§ Lord Hannay of Chiswick
My Lords, at first sight it may seem a little odd that anyone other than Front-Benchers should want to speak in the Second Reading debate on what is, on the face of it, a highly technical, run-of-the-mill measure—the simple fulfilment of obligations derived respectively from a ruling of the European Court of Human Rights and from the Treaty of Nice, now ratified. Yet this debate provides an opportunity to consider some slightly wider issues relating to the European Parliament and elections to it.
First, on Gibraltar, which will not be the main focus of my remarks, I welcome the righting of a long-sustained wrong by which the voters of Gibraltar, as European as any of the rest of us, were denied the right to vote in European Parliament elections. It is good that the Government have found a way to right that wrong—and in a way that does not prejudge the outcome of the talks between Britain and Spain on Gibraltar's future. It is useful to remember that Gibraltarians are Europeans and will have the right to vote in European elections whatever direction they may decide that their future should take—whether to remain, as now, a British colony or whether to participate in some sharing of sovereignty with Spain.
On the parts of the Bill that address our arrangements for European elections, like the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, I very much regret that the Government have not taken this opportunity to change the method of proportional representation under which we vote in this country. Every five years, when European elections are held, it is conventional to bemoan the low level of participation of the British electorate—and, incidentally of other electorates, but none as shamefully low as us. Much is said about the difficulty of explaining complex issues of European 1234 policy to ordinary people; about the remoteness of Strasbourg; and about the tendency for such elections to be hijacked by ephemeral issues and by a desire to have a go at the Government of the day.
All those are perfectly valid points that contribute to the low turnout, but we seem seldom to ask ourselves whether the method of election that we have chosen may also be contributing to the shamefully low level of participation. Yet it almost certainly does. Why should people worry to vote when their vote has little chance of influencing the outcome and virtually none of deciding who goes to Strasbourg on their behalf—that decision having been substantially taken by the party organisations when they rank their candidates in order of preference?
The closed list system we use is, surely, part of the problem we face over participation, not part of the solution. I regret that the government spokesman in another place simply swatted aside the suggestion that now is the moment to reconsider that stultifying system. After all, we in this country are used to knowing for whom we are voting to send to Parliament and to having a choice between individuals, not just parties. So would it not make more sense to restore such possibilities for European elections too? I hope that the Government will reconsider that point.
It is perhaps odd to welcome a measure that reduces the number of British MEPs. Yet, representing as it does a necessary consequence of enlargement, it is genuinely to be welcomed. To continue simply adding MEPs to the existing number at Strasbourg as each enlargement takes place—we should not forget that a further substantial enlargement to include Turkey is now firmly on the European Union's agenda—would be to condemn the European Parliament to a process of elephantiasis that could only weaken it and expose it to criticism and ridicule. In fact, the same is true of other European Union institutions—in particular, the Commission.
We will just have to get used to a smaller British presence, both numerically and proportionately. Willing the end—enlargement—means willing the means—a reduction in our presence. But that puts a premium on quality. I hope that the Government and political parties will bear that in mind in any decisions that they take that have a bearing on who goes to Europe's institutions.
Looking a little wider, next year we shall have to consider decisions on the role and powers of the European Parliament of the future. The Convention on the Future of Europe, which will be completing its work and presenting its proposals to governments in June, will certainly propose ideas for reform of the European Parliament. The intergovernmental conference that will then be held will need to take decisions on those proposals and any others that come before it. It is no good sticking our heads in the sand and hoping that no such proposals on the powers of the European Parliament will be put before us. Nor should we hope that.
It may be a forlorn hope, but I still express the hope that the debate in this country will not simply crystallise around the simplistic proposition that more 1235 powers for the European Parliament must be by definition bad or good and will instead consider the issues on their merits. If we are to strengthen the powers of the various European institutions in different ways—for example, giving more scope to a fully European Union approach to issues of immigration, crime and homeland defence—surely we must at the same time consider carefully the issue of democratic control over and legitimisation of those powers.
In some cases, that may point towards the strengthening of the collective role of national parliaments, as may be the case for subsidiarity and for the Union's common foreign and security policy. In other cases, that may point to a strengthening of the role of the European Parliament. In others still, it may point to the creation of some hybrid arrangements, such as I suggested in our debate on the convention in January, when I made the case for a foreign affairs committee of the Union, which would consist of parliamentarians from both national Parliaments and the European Parliament. It is too soon to go into any of those issues in depth, but we must think about them now, because not too far ahead we shall be asked to take decisions on them.
I hope that we shall not fall for that other simplistic argument that more powers for the European Parliament must necessarily mean fewer powers for this House and another place. In many instances, European Union business simply falls between two stools—not being properly scrutinised or held to account in either national Parliaments or the European Parliament. For example, that is the case with expenditure on agriculture, and we all know that that is substantial and excessive. But the European Parliament has few powers over that and we have none. So this need not be a zero sum game, and should not be considered as such.
Anyway, there will be time enough to return to those issues later in the year to consider them in more depth. Meanwhile, it is worth noting that this measure is the precursor for the need to think more widely about how we want the European Parliament to develop.
§ 11.38 a.m.
§ Lord Rennard
My Lords, the two principal issues covered by the Bill appear to command a general consensus of approval. Affording the people of Gibraltar the right to vote in European Parliament elections appears now to be a widely accepted principle, although there are regrets about the time that it has taken to address the issue, the route by which we have come to it and the process through which it is being established. The other principal issue covered by the Bill—reducing the number of UK MEPs—is not in itself welcome but is recognised as a necessary precursor to enlargement of the European Union, which is widely supported here and, perhaps more importantly, in the future member states.
There is no dispute that Gibraltar constitutes part of the territory of the European Union and should have direct representation in the European Parliament. It is 1236 affected by the directives of the European Union in a way that Westminster legislation does not generally affect its domestic affairs. But the long time that it has taken to address the issue is a source of regret to many. Furthermore, it should not have been necessary for an individual citizen such as Mrs Denise Matthews to take the case for Gibraltar's representation in the European Parliament to the European Court of Human Rights. But the fact that she did so is commendable, and her success shows the value of such institutions.
In upholding the democratic rights of the people of Gibraltar, it is also right that the Electoral Commission should consult them on the region with which they should form a combined region. The rules of the electoral process should also be subject to consultation with them. There was considerable controversy in another place about precisely who should be consulted. My honourable friend David Heath and others used the term "neo-colonial- to describe the provisions in the Bill for consulting solely with the Governor and the Chief Minister. The Governor is the representative of the Crown in Gibraltar, not the people. The Chief Minister is more a representative of the people of Gibraltar, but not, of course, of all the parties there.
It is therefore somewhat incongruous that the proposed changes to our electoral mechanisms would be made through the auspices of the Electoral Commission, consulting widely with all the parties, while consultation with Gibraltar would be solely through the Governor appointed by our Government and the Chief Minister, but not with the House of Assembly and other parties. We no longer allow the governing party in Britain to set the electoral rules unilaterally. Consistency of principle requires wider consultation on the rules for European elections in Gibraltar. I note that the Minister in another place, Yvette Cooper, undertook to lock further at amendments on the issue in this House. I look forward to hearing more about them from the Minister at a later stage.
I shall now discuss the reduction of the number of UK representatives in the European Parliament. The principle of enlargement is widely supported, even among those less keen on things European. Enlargement will mean greater regional stability and economic security as well as significant environmental improvement, as accession states will give increasing priority to tackling pollution. However, it has been recognised that a necessary consequence of enlargement is a reduction in the number of MEPs from current member states. Those who may have wished for more MEPs for the UK than the 72 to which it could eventually be reduced must recognise that that would mean a European Parliament significantly larger than the proposed ceiling of 732. Some Members in another place suggested that the Bill should determine the number of UK representatives rather than follow what was agreed in the Treaty of Nice. But surely it would be absurd for each member state to determine its own level of representation in isolation from the others.
1237 Broadly, the number of MEPs in a member state should reflect the number of voters in that state, while the number in each region of the UK should reflect the number of voters there. But special provision is made for smaller member states to have slightly greater representation than their voter numbers alone would suggest is their entitlement. As my noble friend Lord Goodhart suggested, similar provision should also be made for the smallest regions for which we are responsible—Northern Ireland, which has three MEPs, and the northern region, which has four. That is necessary to ensure that the voice of smaller regions is not lost and that the basic principle of proportionality can be sustained.
The use of the single transferable vote system in Northern Ireland means that broad proportionality can be achieved with three representatives. But the regional list system—especially when used with a mathematical quota system that is significantly less proportional when applied to small lists—does not achieve a reasonable measure of proportionality where fewer than four Members are elected. The principle of proportional representation was debated at length in 1998, before my introduction to this House. But it followed a long-standing commitment by both the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats to the use of proportional representation for European elections. We will fail to maintain that principle if we allow the regional list system, with the current quota system, to be applied where there are fewer than four Members on a regional list. It is an issue to which we will return. In the mean time, I should be grateful if the Minister would indicate whether she thinks that the Electoral Commission should look not only at roughly equalising the number of voters per MEP, but also at the need to ensure that the numbers on each list are sufficient to assist the achievement of the agreed aim of proportionality across the UK and—perhaps more importantly—within each region.
Other issues could, and should, have been raised in the Bill. In particular, it should have been an opportunity to revisit the contentious issues of the precise system of proportionality required, in the light of our experience of the closed list system in 1999, as both my noble friend Lord Goodhart and the noble Lord, Lord Hannay of Chiswick, argued. Some of us would have liked to use the Bill as an opportunity for the introduction of a uniform system across the UK.
In the light of the 1999 experience, it could be argued that the STV system applied in Northern Ireland was far more popular and democratic than the closed list system imposed on the 11 other regions. At the very least, we think that the Government should look again at whether a little more trust could be placed in the hands of the voter by revisiting the closed list system and allowing people at least the opportunity to reorder the lists proposed by the parties. It would do much to suggest that this is not a government overwhelmingly committed to control-freakery.
§ 11.47 a.m.
§ Lord Howell of Guildford
My Lords, we on these Benches also support in principle the aims of the proposed legislation. As noble Lords and the Minister pointed out, it comes in two parts: one is concerned with the reduction of UK MEPs from 87 to 72 as required following the Treaty of Nice; the other relates to the enfranchising of Gibraltar for the purpose of European parliamentary elections.
The Bill gives us no opportunity to look at the broader question of the dreadful closed list system of European parliamentary elections, let alone the European Parliament's present powers, which need to be closely circumscribed and watched. But I endorse the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, and the points that he makes. We will return frequently to those matters, because they are of central concern in determining the balance of power between the central institutions of the European Union and the nation states. In turn, that balance determines the nature and genuineness of democracy, as opposed to the more remote, so-called democratic patterns used to pass for democracy, which are out of touch with most people in everyday life. We cannot deal with those matters in this Bill. I shall therefore discuss the details of the Bill.
As is obvious, we on this side strongly favour the enlargement of the European Union and, therefore, the arrangements necessary for new members' participation in its institutions. Frankly, we did not think that the Treaty of Nice, with all the bells and whistles attached to it, would be the best and easiest way of putting in place the necessary machinery. We were nearly proved right when the Republic of Ireland got indigestion and had to have a second referendum on the matter. But, one way or another, the Treaty of Nice provisions got through—not in the best way. The Bill must now respond.
The Bill must cope with the uncertainties of enlargement. The commitments that each of the countries listed will accede and will, therefore, be entitled to the extra seats in the Parliament are not yet in the bag. There are difficulties ahead even now, although agreement in principle has been reached. There are referenda to be held in the candidate countries, and it is possible that the membership after the next phase of enlargement may not be as planned. Having heard the language that was used at the weekend between senior existing member states and the new countries—the applicants were told to "Shut up" and replied in lusty terms that that was not the kind of union that they had thought they were joining—I hope that the uncertainty has not increased. Those issues exist, and they give rise to some of the difficult points that the Bill must address in giving the Government powers to respond to events that have not yet occurred. As my honourable friend Mr William Cash said in another place, the Bill is, in a sense, based on a hypothesis.
Several of the issues that I raise now will give rise to more detailed discussion in Committee. First, as your Lordships have already observed, under Clauses 2 and 4, the Lord Chancellor has significant powers to make 1239 orders and to repeal primary legislation by order. The powers go so far as to allow the Lord Chancellor to make orders relating to any future treaties dealing with the number of Members of the European Parliament. As the noble Lord, Lord Hannay of Chiswick, said, other countries are coming along the line: Bulgaria and Romania are in the queue, and Turkey, presumably, lies further ahead. There will be several more treaties, and we must ask whether it is entirely right that all the matters should be handled using secondary legislation. In effect, the Bill says that powers of secondary legislation can be used to make decisions in ways that are not yet decided and must be anticipated. They are considerable powers.
On page 7 of its excellent report published the other day, the Delegated Powers Committee said that the scope of those powers must be limited. I gather from the last-minute missive from the Lord Chancellor's office, which we got a few minutes before the debate, that the noble and learned Lord agrees to that. They are Second Reading issues, and I do not accept the noble Baroness's view that it would have been nice to have that information for Committee stage; we needed it for this debate. I am sorry if' it was a rush, but it was a rush for all of us. That is a bad way of conducting effective legislative processes.
Under Clause 4, the Electoral Commission will make a recommendation, and the Lord Chancellor will give it effect by order. I want to know what happens then. That is a Second Reading point. Are the orders just for rubber-stamping? Are they immutable? Will it be within the scope of our Parliament to reject them? That is one set of issues arising from Clauses 2 and 4. I hope that the difficulties will be eased by the amendments that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor will put down. We will have to wait and see how it works out.
The role of the boundary commission is another issue that is appropriate for Second Reading. Will there be a reallocation of Members of the European Parliament in each region? Are we sure that boundary issues will not be involved? There is no mention of the boundary commission in the Bill, although, in another place, the question of how the boundary commission connected up, whether it would be informed and what view it took, was raised. We want to know more about that.
The noble Lords, Lord Rennard and Lord Goodhart, and others referred to the fact that we will have a sharply reduced percentage of seats in the European Parliament. The percentage will be reduced from 13.9 to 10.1, from 87 seats out of 626 to 72 out of 732. That allows for 197 new seats to be squeezed in, assuming that all the candidate countries make it. That is a big percentage cut, and we want more from the noble Baroness on why it is so large. Why have we and our neighbouring countries been sliced down to that level? On what principles will Members of the European Parliament be allocated? The question of their distribution is a matter for the UK alone; it is not a Community matter. We will need to know more about how the regions will be affected and who will get what number of MEPs.
1240 It would also be useful, at this stage, to learn more about how the Community calculations were made, giving France and us 72 seats each. At Second Reading in another place, it was pointed out that Wales—I shall come to Gibraltar in a moment—gets, I think, six Members of the European Parliament, while Denmark, which has the same population as Wales, gets 12. Is there some sort of weighting that is based not on population but on communities, regions or nations within nations? Parliament ought to know more about how such odd disparities are justified.
There is also the question of who is in charge. With the Bill as it stands, the Lord Chancellor is very much in charge. However, in Clause 6, it is suddenly the Secretary of State who is in charge. Clause 6 is shockingly confusing, and we need elucidation of who is in charge. Will the Lord Chancellor call all the shots or will the Secretary of State come into the procedure at some point? That should be clarified.
The Government have been pushed to address the issue of Gibraltar by the Matthews case. We welcome the outcome of that case. Previous governments, including those of whom I was a member, tried and failed to settle the matter of the enfranchisement of Gibraltar. We can say that it is everybody's fault, but, in the end, it took a private individual to bring a case in the courts to push the Government to act. The chief problem is the lack of provision in the Bill for consultation with the people of Gibraltar. The Lord Chancellor, the Electoral Commission and the Governor of Gibraltar will decide matters of enfranchisement, including the question of the region to which the 17,000—perhaps, as the Minister said, it is 20,000—Gibraltarians should be attached. That is not a satisfactory way of linking up with the people of Gibraltar.
I will put some questions to the Minister now, as I think that it is the right time, and we will pursue them in Committee. First, does the fact that the Gibraltarians will vote in European parliamentary elections extend any additional provisions of the EC treaty to Gibraltar over and above those covered in the original Treaty on European Union? How will the need for Gibraltar legislation—there will be a need for some—be satisfied? I presume that it is not seriously intended that it should simply be imposed from London in colonial style. The question of how Gibraltar fits in to all that is not a matter for the Governor; it must be for the elected Government of Gibraltar. That approach must change.
The Delegated Powers Committee report and the comments of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor suggest that there will have to be detailed consultation with Gibraltar about many aspects of the change. Clearly, that must be specified and codified in a more satisfactory way than so far. I hope that can be clarified in Committee. Maybe the Government will move amendments; maybe we shall. One way or another, the Gibraltarians must be more properly involved.
It is unsatisfactory that under Clause 22 the United Kingdom effectively is allowed to authorise expenditure from Gibraltar's consolidated fund. That 1241 cannot be right. Gibraltar's consolidated fund is under the auspices of the Government of Gibraltar. A raid on it, by order, from London seems inappropriate.
Gibraltar's judiciary, which exists but receives little attention in the Bill, is specifically excluded from playing a part under Clause 21(4A)(c). That is an area in which there are concerns about the suitability of delegated legislation to handle those matters. At the very least, all the delegated legislation in Part 2 should be subject to affirmative resolution, as requested by the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. I believe it should be more than that; that these matters should come before Parliament for proper discussion and primary legislation. In the last-minute document that we received just prior to this debate, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor half-conceded that all these matters should be handled by affirmative resolution. Will the Minister confirm that? Obviously, that is especially important if Gibraltarian law has to be adapted, as it clearly does under Clause 11.
There are a number of concerns about the Bill, although the principle is right. Generally, in another place, outside and in Gibraltar, the Bill has been described as rather colonial in flavour and mentality. After what the people of Gibraltar have been through, the difficulties concerning non-involvement in the joint sovereignty discussions and so forth, it is important that now the people of Gibraltar must be brought in and involved and not merely be the recipients of the Lord Chancellor's regulations. Those are the points of concern which we shall be pursuing in Committee. In the mean time, the principle is right but the methods raise a lot of questions.
§ 12.3 p.m.
§ Baroness Scotland of Asthal
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have contributed to the debate, not least for welcoming the Bill so warmly. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, raised a large number of issues to which we shall give attention in detail in Committee. At this stage, I reiterate the affirmation I gave earlier. The response to the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee has been positive. I endorse what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, and confirm to the noble Lord, Lord Howell, that the affirmative resolution procedure will be adopted in relation to this matter. As noble Lords know, that will allow both Houses to have a say in relation to the orders that are brought forward. If those orders were to fall, it would be necessary to bring other measures before the House for affirmation. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Howell, greets that with a degree of pleasure.
It is a matter of regret that the response to the committee's report could not have been received sooner, but it was done as quickly and comprehensively as possible. When the noble Lord has the advantage of reading it in detail, he will see that there are a number of proposals which I hope will allay his concerns.
1242 Turning to issues raised by noble Lords in the debate, I welcome the warm support from the Liberal Democrat Benches. First, I shall speak to the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart. He said that it was curious that the member of the Cabinet appointed to deal with this issue should be the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor. It may be that it is appropriate that he should be the person to do that because he brings a degree of independence and objectivity to that role which may be of great use. That does not detract from the special status that he enjoys; some would argue that it merely reinforces it.
The Bill provides for the Lord Chancellor to ask the Electoral Commission to recommend a course of action which he must follow. There is some merit in the process being dealt with both by the commission, which is independent, and by the Lord Chancellor in the discharge of this responsibility. On that theme, I turn to the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Howell, referring to how Clause 6 comes into play because it refers to the Secretary of State. Noble Lords will know that Clause 6 was inserted into the schedule to the European Parliamentary Elections Act 2002. That Act still refers to the Secretary of State, although by virtue of the Transfer of Functions (Transport, Local Government and the Regions) Order 2002, the power to exercise those functions of that Act now are conferred on the Lord Chancellor. It is really only for that purpose.
The noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, commented on Clause 4 and the limitation to the treaties. I have already said that we have accepted the recommendations made in that regard in relation to the affirmative resolution procedure. I believe all noble Lords who spoke—including the noble Lord, Lord Hannay of Chiswick—raised questions about the Electoral Commission. The noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, asked whether consultations could go wider. Of course they can. It will be for the commission to decide how properly to discharge its duty. It is open to the commission to consult as broadly as it thinks necessary to make a properly informed decision on how the balance should be drawn.
The Government are looking for parity and equity in the drawing up of boundaries. Three have been adopted in order to provide for a minimum, and to enable the commission to look more widely in deciding how proportionately to make that division. Therefore, we hope that there will be a greater degree of equity in terms of population between Scotland, Wales, England and Northern Ireland, in a proper way.
The noble Lord welcomed the endorsement by the human rights element. I endorse that too. We are pleased that that has been possible. A number of noble Lords, not least the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, raised the issue of the closed list. I acknowledge that there was very hot debate in relation to the most appropriate procedure to be adopted when the matter came before the House in 1998, prior to the 1999 election. A decision was made that the closed list should be adopted. The noble Lords, Lord Goodhart and Lord Howell, accept that this is wide of the Bill and have expressed regret that those provisions are not 1243 included. But they are not. The Bill looks at the implementation of the Nice Treaty and the redistribution that must take place as a result.
The noble Lord, Lord Howell, asked for more information about the reduction of MEPs and how it was done. I shall say a little in response to that matter. He is right, in Committee, there will be more time to look at the detail.
The whole European Union is preparing for the accession of the new member states. Almost all current members are facing a reduction in the number of their MEPs, according to the numbers agreed in the Treaty of Nice, to produce as fairly as possible representation according to population size. That was the methodology adopted. Furthermore, it was agreed that Germany's representation will remain at 99 MEPs and that Luxembourg will retain its current total of six seats. The number of German MEPs did not increase after reunification, although the size of the population represented in the European Union increased significantly. Historically, Luxembourg has always had six seats, despite its relatively small population. In the course of the negotiations at Nice, Luxembourg was able to ensure that it retained that number of seats.
Until 1992, the number of MEPs per member state was determined on the basis of the 1951 equality agreement between Monnet and Adenauer. It provided that France, Germany and Italy would have 18 seats each and that the Benelux countries would share 18 seats between them. Following the reunification of Germany, in May 1992 the European Parliament adopted a resolution on the number and distribution of Members. That report used a regressive proportional method of allocation based on population size. It established a quota of six seats for Luxembourg as the point of departure of any calculations. At the December 1992 European Council meeting in Edinburgh, member states agreed to increase the number of MEPs in line with the proposals. The same formula was applied in 1992 in relation to the forthcoming accession of Austria, Finland and Sweden, although to a minor extent the numbers were manipulated by political agreement. That brought the total number of MEPs to 626. So representation is roughly in line with population size. The final numbers were agreed after negotiation and are set out in the Treaty of Nice.
During the early months of last year the House spent a significant period debating the Treaty of Nice prior to the legislation receiving Royal Assent in the spring. I do not believe that its merits and detail need to be debated again; they were dealt with exhaustively on the last occasion.
The UK now has 87 MEPs out of a total of 626 directly elected MEPs. Currently that number is distributed as 71 in England, eight in Scotland, five in Wales and three in Northern Ireland. The UK will be entitled to a minimum of 72 seats, representing a reduction of 15 seats. However, as I pointed out in my opening remarks, we are among the three countries with the second largest number of MEPs. Indeed, there are those who might even argue that perhaps we did a little too well.
1244 Perhaps I may turn to the issue raised by the noble Lord, Lord Howell, on the boundaries of the electoral regions and whether they are to be changed. The noble Lord, Lord Rennard, also raised the matter. We have thought carefully about the best way in which to incorporate the reductions. We do not believe that it would be in the interests of the electorate or that it is necessary to alter the boundaries of the electoral regions across the United Kingdom to account of the change. The existing regions have some geographical and social identity. To change them would run counter to the regional agenda which the Government have set out and are already pursuing. Thus, may I say, the boundary commission does not come into it. The Bill therefore provides for the number of United Kingdom MEPs to be redistributed across the existing 12 electoral regions each time a reduction is necessary because of new accessions.
The noble Lord, Lord Howell, also asked why the breadth of discretion given to the Lord Chancellor was so wide, bearing in mind that it would take into account new treaties. At present we do not know precisely how many states will accede; it looks as though the 10 states that are likely to come in for 2004 will do so, but obviously we cannot guarantee that until each state has held a referendum and we know the result. The terms of the Treaty of Nice provide that, in the event of non-accession, the Council of Ministers must take a decision to bring the total number of MEPs as close as possible to the required 732. Making such an adjustment would be a pro rata correction, communicated by a Council decision. The United Kingdom would of course be represented in the European Council and would be party to any treaty or subsequent decision.
The Bill has been drafted to ensure that it includes such treaties as well as any resulting requirement or decisions; hence the use of the term, "Community law" in Clauses 2 and 4. It is our view that if the Bill had been drafted to be any more specific, certainly in respect of Clause 2, there would be a risk that future decisions by the European Council, which would rightly affect the number of UK MEPs, might not be covered by the Bill. Further legislation would then be required, which would not be an effective use of parliamentary time and resources.
The House of Lords Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform expressed a view on the scope of Clause 4, but not of Clause 2. The powers should be limited to changes arising out of those treaties which have already been subject to an Act of Parliament. As I said earlier, we have already agreed to that limited change to Clause 4 and propose to table a suitable amendment in Committee.
I hope that I have dealt with the major issues raised in the debate. Of course, the situation relating to Gibraltar is one that will excite more attention in our deliberations in Committee. In another place my honourable friend Yvette Cooper gave certain indications that the Government would look sympathetically at many of the issues raised. I too indicated in my opening remarks that, in their response to those concerns, the Government are 1245 considering bringing forward appropriate amendments in Committee. While I am not in a position to give noble Lords the precise nature of those amendments because they are still being considered, I should certainly like to assure noble Lords that the commitments made in another place are now actively being looked at.
I thank all noble Lords who have participated in this short debate. It has been warming to note that the Bill will be welcomed in the majority of its terms, although of course there are issues that we shall need to consider carefully in Committee.
§ Lord Rennard
My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, would she address the question I raised about the precise remit of the Electoral Commission in relation to determining the number of MEPs per region? Surely it would not require the huge apparatus of the commission to make a simple arithmetical calculation in order to equalise the number of MEPs per voter. However, the skills of the Electorial Commission could be usefully employed to try to determine that the broad principles of proportionality are achieved across the UK and within each region; that is, as a part of its remit, the Electorial Commission should be asked to ensure that there is a sufficient number of MEPs in each region to ensure proportionality of representation within the region itself and across the country.
§ Baroness Scotland of Asthal
My Lords, I have already indicated that the minimum number of MEPs to be allocated to each region is three. The commission will be charged with ensuring that there is parity of treatment between the 12 regions. I am sure that it will be anxious to see that justice is done and that proportionality between the regions is a point that it will bear in mind.
§ On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Grand Committee.