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3 Feb 2003 : Column 90continued
Some of us are passionate supporters of the interests of Wales in the European environmentbut in the context of not separating ourselves from the rest of the United Kingdom. The hon. Gentleman is perfectly entitled to take the position that he takes, but does he not accept that taking a different position does not necessarily involve betraying the nation of Wales?
Angus Robertson: Much as I would like the amendment to normalise the representation of Scotland and Wales in Europe as normal member states, the amendment will not achieve that. What it will do is guarantee the current level of representation. This is a very easy question: do Members from Scotland and Wales support the current level of representation, or do they not?
Curiously, one argument has not been presented on either side of the Housethe argument that it might be in the interests of the Scottish National party or Plaid Cymru for the levels to remain as they are for narrow party-political purposes. [Interruption.] I see a lot of head-shaking, but I am grateful to the hon. Member for Hamilton, South for supporting my proposition from a sedentary position. If the level of Scottish representation in the European Parliament is reduced from eight to six, the first MEP to go off the list will be from the Labour party and the second will be a Liberal Democrat. Should that reduction continue, the next will be a Conservative.
What the Scottish National party and Plaid Cymru propose will not guarantee Scotland and Wales the normal, fair status of member states. It is clear that we cannot resolve the issue this evening. That means, indisputably, that Scotland and Wales will be in an inferior position in terms of MEP numbers. What the House must decide this evening is whether to accept the current level of representation, which our amendment would guarantee, or whether to vote for a 25 per cent. reduction in Scottish representation. I now give the hon. Member for Glasgow, Anniesland (John Robertson) the opportunity to intervene, and tell the House that Scotland will not experience a 25 per cent. reduction in its representation.
The hon. Member for Glasgow, Anniesland had the opportunity to deny that Scotland's representation would fall by 25 per cent. Clause 2(4)(b) makes that clear, stating that the Electoral Commission must ensure that
Mr. Challen: Does the hon. Gentleman apply his argument about proportionality to all areas? It seems to me that, according to his logic, the Barnett formula would be eradicated. It is not a question of third-class representation; it is a question of the quality of the representation. In the past Scotland's representation in the UK has been of great qualitydelivering, for instance, the Barnett formula.
Angus Robertson: I do not think that the Chair would look too kindly on us if we moved the debate to the subject of the Barnett formula, although I would be delighted to discuss it with the hon. Gentleman some other time.
The hon. Gentleman had the opportunity to deal with a point that was not denied by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Annieslandthat Scotland's representation is set to decline by 25 per cent., and that of Wales by 20 per cent. That is not fair or equitable. I urge Members on both sides of the House to vote for fair and equitable representation for Scotland and Wales, and I appeal to Members throughout England to make the strongest case that they can for the areas they represent. That is up to them, however. Members of the SNP and Plaid Cymru have a mandate to represent the best interests of the people of Scotland and Wales, and we will take every opportunity to do so rather than accepting a further reduction of our representation in the European Union.
The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) raised some points that he had raised in Committee. He wanted to raise the minimum threshold for representation in any region except Northern Ireland to four. The Bill's current threshold is three in all regions. I understand what the hon. Gentleman is trying to achieve and I have some sympathy with what he said, but I disagree with him ultimately because I think it important for all regions to be treated in the same way.
Yvette Cooper: I know that the hon. Lady and her party are keen to argue that Scotland and Wales should be treated differently, and should become independent nation states. I disagree. I think it important to treat every region in the UK in the same way.
Mr. Weir: Will the Minister answer the point that was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Moray (Angus Robertson)? Does she accept that Scotland's representation will be cut by 25 per cent. and Wales's by 20 per cent?
Yvette Cooper: The Electoral Commission has not set out its recommendation as to what the numbers should be. Will the hon. Gentleman let me first respond to the points that were made by the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome before I move on to the points that were made by the hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson)?
It would be inappropriate to single out Northern Ireland in the Bill so that it received less representation than any other region. I have looked further into the points that the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome made about the way in which the votes are counted in Northern Ireland. I do not think that that is sufficient to justify setting a threshold in Northern Ireland that is different from that in other regions. Furthermore, as I set out in Committee, to do so would effectively mean over-representation and under-representation in other regions, which could not be justified.
To deal with whether Scotland and Wales should be uniquely qualified to receive more representation than any English region, that is simply unjustifiable. The nationalist parties are arguing that the votes of people who live in Edinburgh should count for more in the UK's representation in the European Parliament than the votes of people who live in Leeds. As a Yorkshire MP, I do not see how that is remotely justifiable in any way.
Angus Robertson: Will not the Minister confirm that there is an inconsistency in her argument, because the Bill enshrines a specific status for Northern Ireland? Why is it that Northern Ireland should have a specific
Yvette Cooper: The Bill provides for the minimum threshold for representation in any region to be set at the level of three. That is the right thing to do. Hon. Members are arguing that the votes of those who live in Scotland or Wales should count for more than the votes of those who live in England. I understand that they want independent nation states. I disagree with them on that. I strongly believe that that would not be in the interests of the people of Scotland, Wales, the UK or Europe. If hon. Members accept that, for the purposes of this amendment, they vote as part of the United Kingdom, they have no justification for arguing that the votes of people who live in Cardiff should count for more than those of people who live in Birmingham.