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8.30 pm

Angus Robertson (Moray): I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this debate, having spoken on earlier stages of the Bill.

I speak on behalf of the Scottish National party and Plaid Cymru. Our position on EU matters is well established. We are in favour of full national status for Scotland and Wales, with their having equality of status with other member states. We seek a seat at the top table and do not wish to hang on the coat tails of Westminster Ministers. We do not believe that Scotland and Wales are too poor, too stupid or too peripheral to have a direct say at the top table in Europe.

Mr. Iain Luke (Dundee, East): The Scottish National party's policy has been one of independence in Europe and has been roundly rejected by the Scottish electorate on numerous occasions. Does the hon. Gentleman think it is worth while to continue to push that policy?

Angus Robertson: As a democrat, I am always in favour of pushing democratic policies. That is the future for Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom and Europe. Perhaps even the hon. Gentleman will acknowledge that, from a Scottish and Welsh perspective, there is a certain irony in the fact that our nations are

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about to be overtaken by accession nations that were formerly members of the Warsaw pact. Quite rightly, they will take their seat at the top table before us.

I wish to discuss the specifics of the Bill and the two guiding principles of the SNP's and Plaid Cymru's attitude towards it. Many Members have spoken about enlargement and the wish to end the artificial division of our continent—the hon. Member for Wantage (Mr. Jackson) put that case most eloquently. To achieve that end, we will, in a bipartisan spirit, join the non- Eurosceptic parties in the House and vote for the Bill. That is our first guiding principle.

The second relates to the fact that the Bill will not hinder the progress of Scotland and Wales towards the normality of full national status, should the people of Scotland and Wales desire that. Contrary to the view expressed by some Conservative Members, the Nice treaty entrenches the rights of nation states. Through qualified minority thresholds and provisions for minorities, the EU is a confederal and not a federal Europe. We welcome that.

In the past, some people hoped for a strong Europe of the regions, and that model has been outlined by my Plaid Cymru colleague, the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas). Everyone acknowledges that that is no longer a prospect and that the only show in town is full national member status.

On the re-weighting of Council voting, it is interesting that the Nice treaty makes it explicitly clear for the first time that direct representation by the nations of these islands would secure more votes than Britain is currently entitled to under the treaty. According to the re-weighting and the predication on a population basis incorporated in table 2 of the declaration on the enlargement of the European Union, Scotland would have seven votes, which is seven more than at present; Wales would have four votes, four more than at present; and England could have no fewer than 27 votes. That would give a grand total of 38 votes as opposed to the planned 29. If, as unionists on both sides of the House argue, we always share the same interest, surely it makes sense to increase our voting strength by 40 per cent.

There are some unresolved issues. During the Committee stage, I asked the Minister to clarify

and enlargement. He replied:

That may be the case, but three months have elapsed since then and it appears that the matter has still not been addressed. That is not good enough. If the reduction is universally applied, Scotland will have the same number of MEPs or fewer than Luxembourg, which has a population similar in size to that of Edinburgh. Scotland has a six-party parliamentary system, so democratic balance will not be served. Wales will have fewer MEPs than Malta, which has a population about the same size as that of Cardiff. Wales has a four-party system and, again, democratic balance will not be served. I was not present when the hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) spoke, but I know that all parties in

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Northern Ireland are extremely alarmed at the prospect for cross-community representation should their numbers be reduced.

We were disappointed that Conservative Back Benchers and Government and Tory whips made no effort to allow time for our amendment to deal with that anomaly to be debated or voted on in Committee. If we face a reduction in Scottish, Welsh or Northern Irish MEPs, the point will have been made with great clarity that once again the big UK parties acted against the interests of our countries.

I want the Minister to address that concern and would welcome an intervention by Labour MPs who represent Scottish or Welsh constituencies. I see that the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Luke) has just left the Chamber. I think that he hopes to speak and I will welcome his contribution. Unfortunately, the sole Conservative Member who represents a Scottish constituency has not attended the debate. [Hon. Members: "Yes, he has."] If he returns to the Chamber perhaps he will say whether the Conservatives agree that Scotland and Wales deserve to have their levels of representation in the European Parliament reduced. Should Scotland and Wales be directly represented, that difficulty would be academic because our representation would increase to 13 and seven respectively.

The Nice treaty gives rise to other problematic issues if viewed from a Scottish and Welsh perspective. They were presented during the negotiations in Nice and vetoed by the UK Government, so they are not part of the treaty. That has created an ironic situation. The Labour and Liberal Democrat Executive in the Scottish Parliament have endorsed the policy that there should be direct Scottish representation in the European Court of Justice, but the British Government vetoed that. Again, I should like to know whether our Welsh and especially our Scottish colleagues support the UK Government's policy, which does not favour increasing Scottish direct representation, or whether they support our colleagues in Edinburgh who do.

It is useful to raise the problematic issues that arose when the Nice treaty was negotiated because it allows hon. Members from outside Scotland and Wales to be aware of the difficulty that we face because of the lack of representation in the UK. When the treaty was negotiated, Scottish Executive Ministers had attended only 9 per cent. of the meetings held by the Council of Ministers. [Interruption.] I hear a Labour Member say, "Shame." I agree entirely. It is disgraceful that they do not take seriously their important role of representing our interests in Europe, although some hon. Members might rightly say that representation at the Council of Ministers is not the most important consideration because many decisions are made beforehand in working groups at an EU level.

Interestingly, Scottish Executive civil servants attended only 75 of about 4,500 working group meetings—an attendance record of a paltry 1.6 per cent. When the Nice treaty was negotiated, Scotland's Europe Minister, Jack McConnell, had never attended a Council meeting. The Scottish Justice Minister, the Liberal Democrat Jim Wallace, had attended only one and had missed the previous seven. There is absolutely no excuse for that.

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The difficulties in the negotiations and the unsatisfactory results in many cases show that the current intergovernmental method of treaty reform cannot tackle the challenges that the EU faces. The European Council was well aware of the shortcomings of its decisions and decided therefore to annex to the treaty a declaration describing the steps for the next reform of the EU. The Scottish National party and Plaid Cymru, as part of the Green-European Free Alliance group in the European Parliament, believe that the declaration is ambiguous and postpones for many years—at least until 2004—the deadline for a decision on which direction the EU should take. Furthermore, member states' Governments intend to decide about the next reform of the EU with the usual inefficient and undemocratic method that failed at Maastricht, Amsterdam and Nice—namely, an intergovernmental conference, which would happen in 2004.

In the declaration there are also aspects that can prepare the way for a decisive change of direction for European integration, away from a mere diplomatic negotiation towards a process open to the participation of member state and sub-state Parliaments, the European Parliament, the Commission and civil society. Building on an inclusive bottom-up democratic process from now to 2004 could also offer a vital opportunity to define new priorities facing the EU.

Having listed many shortcomings, I return to the key principles with which I started. Is it right that this Bill should be passed to allow enlargement to go forward? The Scottish National party and Plaid Cymru clearly believe that that should be the case; that is why we will be voting with the Government. The second and equally important reason for our support for the Bill is that it does not preclude Scotland and Wales from moving to the normal status of being independent member states of the European Union.

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