European Union (Amendment) Bill
Baroness Ashton of Upholland (President of the Council, Privy Council Office; Labour)
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, for setting out so clearly what was agreed earlier today, which applies to this, too. I agree with everything that he said. We have secured legally watertight safeguards in the treaty against any move towards a European public prosecutor or subsequently, and just as important, towards extending that prosecutor's role. It is what we would call a double lock. We do not see any need to do anything different from what we have already achieved.
Lock number one, as the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, said, is that we apply the UK opt-in. That means that the procedure that I outlined earlier today for your Lordships' House and another place would apply. The proposal would go to the committee and it would be part of the discussions that noble Lords would have in the annual report if we were aware that it was coming. There would be discussions in the committee, which could refer the matter to your Lordships and a vote could be taken, of which the Government would take note.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, that it would be extremely unlikely that we would choose to opt in to such a proposal in any event. However, if we did opt in, if the matter went through that scrutiny-plus procedure, as noble Lords have referred to it, and if we did end up finding ourselves discussing the possibility of establishing the European public prosecutor, we would still have unanimity, which is retained for any decision to establish a prosecutor and to extend the powers of such a prosecutor. So there is a double lock. The opt-in procedure applies, Parliament will let its views be known and the Government will put forward their proposals. The Government would then, if they so chose, which is highly unlikely, have the discussions and could determine by unanimity if they did not wish to participate. That would be the end of that.
As noble Lords will know, under enhanced co-operation, if at least nine other states wish to proceed, they can. That does not affect the United Kingdom in any way, shape or form. It is quite right that the Lisbon treaty gives member states the flexibility to proceed if they choose, but, even if they did, the European public prosecutor would have no role in the UK. On that basis, I hope that the noble Lord will feel that there are enough safeguards clearly written into the treaty and the procedure to feel comfortable to withdraw his amendment without fear that this is something that would happen by the back door or in any way that he would not be aware of.