EU Justice and Home Affairs

– in the House of Commons at 1:15 pm on 14th October 2004.

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[Relevant document: The Twenty-eighth Report from the European Scrutiny Committee, Session 2003–04, HC 42-xxviii, The EU's Justice and Home Affairs Work Programme for the next five years.]

Photo of Caroline Flint Caroline Flint Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) 1:19 pm, 14th October 2004

I beg to move,

That this House
takes note of European Union document No. 10249/04, with ADD 1 and ADD 2, Commission Communication on the Area of Freedom, Security and Justice: assessment of the Tampere Programme and future orientations;
notes that the Communication forms the basis of negotiations for the next European Union Justice and Home Affairs Work Programme;
and supports the Government's position that the Work Programme should focus on measures that complement the efforts of Member States and will be of most benefit to European Union citizens.

I am pleased that the European Scrutiny Committee managed to secure time to debate this important issue in the Chamber. We live in a world in which crime does not recognise national borders. Although we maintain our right to have national systems of justice and law enforcement in operation, in pursuing criminals and seeking justice we have recognised that by co-operating we on occasion have a good result in foiling those who want to make victims of our citizens, whether they are in the UK or in other parts of the EU. It is important that we discuss the new justice and home affairs work programme because it will guide EU work in this sector for the next five years.

We know that co-operation on counter-terrorism, asylum and immigration and on fighting crime makes a real and positive impact on the lives of UK citizens, but Europe should not be involved for the sake of it. The basis of our engagement with Europe is respect for national sovereignty—a view that is shared by many other member states. The Commission communication is a useful tool to stimulate discussion, but that is all. There is much in it we can support: an emphasis on mutual recognition of judicial decisions rather than harmonisation and a commitment to strengthen efforts on counter-terrorism and on document and border security. However, we do not agree on some things. In that regard, we have much in common with colleagues on the Committee. We are working with others to ensure that concrete proposals reflect UK priorities. We do that by our involvement in positive engagement and by winning support from other Ministers throughout the EU.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath

As is so often the case with the Government, the Minister gives the impression that there is nothing to worry about. Did she see the superb article about the matter by the distinguished home affairs editor of The Daily Telegraph on Monday this week? He explains that if the House does not kill the document now, what is regarded as simply a discussion document to "take note of" will be pushed through on the nod next time and we will be stuck with it. When so little comes from the Committee to the Chamber, does she not recognise that it is our responsibility to stop it and to stop it now?

Photo of Caroline Flint Caroline Flint Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office)

I have seen the article and the Conservative party press release parrots the same myths and distortions. It is important to have time in the Chamber to discuss the subject. I strongly believe, as a Home Office Minister and a constituency MP, that in fighting terrorism and crime and, importantly, in tackling abuse of our immigration systems, there are times when we have to work with others across the EU. I make no apology for that.

I shall be clear about dispelling some of the myths that have been put about by papers such as The Daily Telegraph and by the shadow Home Secretary only this morning on the radio—and where is he? It would be nice if he made time to focus on the issues. From his contribution on the "Today" programme, I thought he could do with a bit more briefing.

Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz Labour, Leicester East

The Minister dealt adequately—in fact, superbly—with the shadow Home Secretary this morning. Tampere is about co-operation. It is not about giving up powers. It is about European partners working together to combat crime and illegal immigration. It has been a success so far. Will she pledge that at the summit, when we have Tampere II, the Government will reinvigorate the agenda to ensure that there is even greater co-operation?

Photo of Caroline Flint Caroline Flint Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office)

I thank my hon. Friend for his kind words. He has my assurance that when it comes to catching criminals, tackling terrorism and dealing with fair migration, but also abusive migration systems, we will wholeheartedly look for ways in which we can co-operate while at the same time preserving what is right for a nation decide to decide on.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Conservative, Stone

The hon. Lady is going to duck the question.

Photo of Caroline Flint Caroline Flint Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office)

No. In fact I think that I am going to pre-empt it.

My hon. Friend Keith Vaz mentioned success. It is important to talk about the situations that affect people's lives. The European arrest warrant has been of practical value at an EU level by ensuring quick and efficient extradition between member states. Already this year, we have contributed to 28 arrests in the UK and returns to other EU countries. Those people have been accused of criminal offences and we have helped the justice process. As a result of our requests, 16 people in other EU countries have been returned to the UK to stand trial. That is important. It is important that when offences are committed against UK citizens there is no place to hide for criminals throughout the EU.

On asylum, Eurodac is a European fingerprinting system. It has helped to reduce asylum shopping and the ability to make multiple claims. Consistently, we return 150 asylum seekers a month because of that co-operation. Applications are also down.

Photo of Caroline Flint Caroline Flint Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office)

I want to make a little more progress.

Europol is improving the exchange and analysis of criminal intelligence. The police college is exchanging best practice, not so that there is one training system for police throughout Europe, but simply to share best practice. The UK is leading on the police college and it is a way of improving co-operation. Eurojust is improving co-operation in cross-border prosecutions so that criminals can be properly punished wherever they go.

Photo of Michael Connarty Michael Connarty Labour, Falkirk East

I thought that the Minister would emphasise the Government's position, which is supported by members of the Committee. We do not support the idea of giving Europol its own investigative powers, which would turn it into a European police force.

Photo of Caroline Flint Caroline Flint Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office)

I concur with my hon. Friend. We do not think that there is a role for that, but there is a role for exchanging intelligence and information. We want some of the other member states to put more into that process to give our police the ability to share intelligence information to track the criminals who cross different borders. I thank him for making that point. It is another aspect of the justice and home affairs work programme. We need to examine what we have agreed and ensure that it is implemented before we embark on new ideas.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Conservative, Stone

Does the Minister concur that the Committee made it clear that the work programme affects policies that are at the core of national sovereignty? Furthermore, there is a risk that the proposals on the area of freedom, justice and security encourage the notion that such an area is a unitary state, separate from the member states that make up the EU community. In relation to the Committee's recent consideration of procedural rights in criminal proceedings—another draft framework decision—does she also accept that she has not tackled the argument that we put in the Committee, that the EU measures should stick to cross-border cases because criminal proceedings are a matter for national Parliaments?

Photo of Caroline Flint Caroline Flint Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office)

I agree that it is right to take every opportunity—the Committee is right in that regard as well—to reaffirm our red lines on European co-operation. I was going to say something about that later, but let me deal with it now. The Commission's document is for discussion. It does not set out concrete proposals. No one has signed up to it. That will be done by Ministers who are sent by nation state Governments to decide on such issues.

Photo of Caroline Flint Caroline Flint Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office)

No, I want to finish this point.

On judicial co-operation, we strongly support the embedding of mutual recognition as the cornerstone of criminal judicial co-operation. It is important to recognise that those words are not just mine; the Commission uses the same phrase in its document. We welcome the fact that it recognises that as the first principle. It ensures, through mutual recognition, good co-operation between member states without requiring harmonisation of member states' criminal justice systems.

We will work with other member states because we are not on our own. One of the benefits of being at the heart of Europe is that we can make the case and make our position stronger. We will ensure that the EU continues to respect the distinct and diverse legal traditions of member states. Let us not forget that the United Kingdom does not have just one legal system. In particular, we will ensure that the things that concern us will not be changed. So the prosecution of individuals must remain a national competence and we do not support the proposal for a European public prosecutor, and many other member states agree with us. We have ensured through the treaty that we have safeguards so that if there is a threat to our legal system and criminal procedural law we have an emergency brake that we can apply to make sure that there is a unanimous decision.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath

Is the Minister giving a firm undertaking at the Dispatch Box on behalf of the Government that if anything that they oppose is changed before the matter comes before the Council of Ministers they will veto it? All too often, Ministers say that they do not agree with parts of EU documents that subsequently go through on the nod at the Council of Ministers. The Government claim that they tried to protest, but to no avail. That is the thin end of a very large wedge that is destroying Britain's independent sovereignty, and that is why we are so angry.

Photo of Caroline Flint Caroline Flint Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office)

If Opposition Members wish to make a speech, they should put their name down on the list and queue with everyone else who wishes to speak. However, I challenge the hon. Gentleman to look at my record at the Justice and Home Affairs Council—I assure him that I never pass anything on the nod. There is no question of the UK signing up to a harmonised legal system, and the communication does not propose one. The constitutional treaty, as I said, rightly protects key areas of our criminal procedural law, but we accept some approximation of criminal acts and penalties. It is important to look at the issues involved, such as serious cross-border crime.

Photo of Caroline Flint Caroline Flint Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office)

No, I am in the middle of explaining something, and I should be grateful if the hon. Gentleman listened.

The European framework decisions on combating terrorism are important. Previously, eight countries in the EU did not have adequate counter-terrorism measures, but as a result of co-operation and discussion they have since implemented legislation. The UK is fortunate to have adequate legislation on counter-terrorism. I make no apology for saying that the sexual exploitation of children in the EU is another important issue in cross-border crime, but we would need to see robust justification for any new measures. Criminals do not respect national boundaries, and increased practical co-operation between the police, courts, immigration and customs services has the potential to make a difference.

The Commission communication rightly recognises that people must experience the many benefits of justice and home affairs co-operation to appreciate the value of Europe, which is why we agree with the European Scrutiny Committee that in the next work programme we must evaluate the impact of measures already agreed and focus on making them work at a practical level. We need less rhetoric and more action and accountability.

Photo of Caroline Flint Caroline Flint Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office)

I will do so, provided the hon. Gentleman makes a point, not a speech.

Photo of Mr John Wilkinson Mr John Wilkinson Conservative, Ruislip - Northwood

It is just a small point. Will the hon. Lady assure the House that there will not be an extension of qualified majority voting in justice and home affairs?

Photo of Caroline Flint Caroline Flint Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office)

The position on which matters QMV can be used has already been discussed, and we are in full agreement. We have made sure that we have safeguards on both criminal procedural law and asylum and immigration so that we do not have to take part in certain discussions if we do not want to. We believe, however, that in some cases QMV is helpful, enabling us to get things done quickly and effectively to achieve a genuine impact on our communities.

I am conscious that Members wish to contribute to our debate, but I wish to deal with immigration in a little more depth. In the past 24 hours, the Conservative party has peddled the myth that we are giving up control of our frontiers. I want to nail that myth, which is quite wrong. We can opt in, where it is in Britain's interest, to measures that tackle asylum and immigration issues. There is no justification for the Tory suggestion that there is a threat to control over our frontiers.

Photo of Angus Robertson Angus Robertson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

Does the Minister not find it odd that a Conservative spokesperson pontificated on the "Today" programme this morning but does not have the good grace to come to the House to make his points at the Dispatch Box?

Photo of Caroline Flint Caroline Flint Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office)

I quite agree. If someone is going to perpetuate myths and allegations they should at least be here to hear the answers.

The new justice and home affairs work programme should seek to strengthen external borders, concentrating on practical measures to improve cross-border co-operation and to respond to operational demands. It should continue to embed and evaluate measures that are helping to reduce the number of people who are using and abusing the asylum system—there has been a fall in applications of 70 per cent. since October 2002. We should exploit new technology to improve document security, including biometrics and identity cards. We can use all those methods to try to make sure that we have a better system in which we co-operate where necessary but act on our own where that is in our national interest.

Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Conservative, Cotswold

As the Minister knows, Britain has opted out of the Schengen agreement, but will she confirm that under the QMV regulations that the House is being asked to approve we would no longer be able to do so and would lose control of our borders?

Photo of Caroline Flint Caroline Flint Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office)

The hon. Gentleman is wrong, and I shall write to him in detail to explain why.

Illegal immigration knows no borders. We can work together to strengthen practices and procedures to ensure that they cannot be exploited by organised criminal gangs. It is important to secure cross-border co-operation on the trafficking of human beings, which takes place throughout the EU. Men, women and children are trafficked throughout Europe and, as the Minister responsible for reducing organised crime, I know only too well what that means. Hon. Members may know that we are conducting a review of prostitution. Many young women are caught by the vice market in EU cities, and we should seek to work together to end that unacceptable practice. We will continue our own independent efforts, but the EU can sometimes add extra value when tackling such issues.

The new justice and home affairs work programme represents a genuine opportunity to improve the freedom, justice and security enjoyed by UK citizens, both at home and abroad. I assure hon. Members that the Government will defend UK interests robustly in negotiations, but I hope that everyone accepts the justice and home affairs agenda, which is about real issues that affect real lives, including those of UK citizens, who may be victims of crime and can expect a reliable standard of justice wherever they are in the European Union.

p

When are we going to hear the truth. Justice; human rights and fair trials are NOT consistant across Europe. Most European countries do NOT have an Habeus Corpus act; nor do many of them work from presumed innocence. Those countries which base their law on the Code Napolean do not even have a "reasonable man" test.
Our parliamentarians need to understand British Common/Precedence law is incompatible with continental law systems.

Submitted by pete marrable

Photo of Jonathan Djanogly Jonathan Djanogly Shadow Minister (Home Affairs) 1:37 pm, 14th October 2004

I beg to move, in line 4, to leave out from "orientations" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof:

"but believes that the Government has failed adequately to support the national interest in its response to the Tampere Programme, including its failure to halt the proposal to introduce co-decision and Qualified Majority Voting on immigration, asylum, visas and border measures and the Commission's aim further to harmonise the civil and criminal justice systems of Member States."

The approval in 1999 of an EU programme of action covering visas, asylum and immigration, civil and criminal justice, and police and customs operations to create an area of freedom, security and justice was always going to lead to an ambitious agenda. The way in which the programme has developed presents grave dangers to the sovereignty of this country. Our debate is particularly relevant against the background of the preparation of the proposed EU constitutional treaty, a substantial part of which impacts on the Tampere agenda.

Some of the concepts in the programme are complicated and couched in legalese. Others are more obvious, but we should not underestimate the huge implications for British justice and parliamentary sovereignty of giving up our veto in home affairs policy, giving European police investigating powers and adopting minimum sentences. We should also be aware of the federal state implications of appointing a European public prosecutor. The communication from the European Commission that we are debating today, however, merely provides a summary of progress to date, whereas we clearly need a full evaluation of the measures that have been implemented in member states over the past five years.

Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz Labour, Leicester East

The Tampere agenda, as agreed in 1999, dealt with co-operation between EU partners. Is it Conservative policy to oppose co-operation on crime and illegal immigration?

Photo of Jonathan Djanogly Jonathan Djanogly Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I shall specifically address the question of mutual recognition, but the Tampere agenda goes much further than co-operation and attacks the generally held concept of mutual recognition. It is bizarre that we are expected to endorse a set of proposals that form part of the programme for the next five years without a full review of those measures' potential benefits. I would like to say that I am confident that the Government will not attempt to commit our nation to the proposals, the end results and benefits for our citizens of which are unknown, but I am not. A blind Commission is leading a blind UK Government towards an undefined federal superstate, to which we say, "No, thank you very much".

Photo of Michael Connarty Michael Connarty Labour, Falkirk East

I wonder whether Mr. Djanogly was listening to the Minister, who confirmed that the Government oppose Europol's having investigative powers. Had he taken the trouble to read the document, he would know that the Government and the European Scrutiny Committee are opposed to a European public prosecutor. He should stick to facts rather than mythology.

p

So why do so many commentators in Brussels agree with the Torries; not with what our government claim they are saying ?
Do we believe lots of people in Brussels or our own Government ?

Submitted by pete marrable

Photo of Jonathan Djanogly Jonathan Djanogly Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

The Government maintain that they oppose further investigative powers for Europol, but that does not mean that the Commission is not suggesting that Europol should have those investigative powers or that the Government have stood up for British interests.

A key issue identified in the European Scrutiny Committee report is the Commission's desire to introduce co-decision and qualified majority voting on those measures—immigration, asylum, visas and borders—that fall within article 67(2) of the EC treaty, supposedly in an attempt to increase the amount of work that is completed. However, the alarm bells will start ringing for anyone who cares to examine those proposals.

The principle of unanimity and the possibility of veto, where required, are in place for a reason. Such checks and balances maintain our nation's right to decide which measures are most appropriate for British citizens in the European arena. The Commission itself has identified that many of the issues that fall within that programme remain at the core of national sovereignty, and so they should. That is why I am concerned by the prospect of the Commission imposing legislation on member states through QMV. That must be resisted at all costs, and the Government are not actively fighting that threat to our country's ability to withstand legislation from Brussels that is not in the British public's interest.

Photo of Robert Key Robert Key Conservative, Salisbury

Did my hon. Friend share my amazement that the Minister did not seek to justify the proposals in her bad-tempered introduction to the debate? All she said was, "The system works wonderfully. We have got this example and that example. It is all absolutely super, isn't it?" If the system works so well, why do we need new proposals?

Photo of Jonathan Djanogly Jonathan Djanogly Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

My hon. Friend makes a good point. The Minister's opening comments were extremely defensive and she did not constructively support the agenda.

Photo of Gisela Stuart Gisela Stuart Labour, Birmingham, Edgbaston

The Opposition are in serious need of some help. Some of the proposals, such as Eurodac, which is an enforcement unit that uses fingerprinting in order to deport people, are extremely good. Some countries opposed Eurodac, but QMV allowed us to achieve an objective that we could not otherwise have obtained, which was good. Can the hon. Gentleman tell me the consequences if the House votes no after today's debate?

Photo of Jonathan Djanogly Jonathan Djanogly Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

The Tampere agenda contains 23 proposals that relate to policies on crime, most of which have either been fulfilled or are on the way to being fulfilled—it is not a pie-in-the-sky agenda; it is a real agenda. After this debate, I hope that the British Government return to the Commission and start to say no on issues such as, most importantly, getting rid of our veto.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Conservative, Stone

May I offer my hon. Friend some assistance on the point raised by Ms Stuart? If the House were to reject the proposal—I hope that it does—the Government would be in the dog-house and would be obliged to give effect to the sovereign will of Parliament. That is the key question, and we should reject the proposals.

Photo of Jonathan Djanogly Jonathan Djanogly Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

My hon. Friend states the obvious, although his point may be optimistic given the Government's position.

It has been proposed that the European corps of border guards should fall under the control of Brussels. We agree with the Minister that the long-term goal of establishing a European corps of border guards is objectionable in principle as well as being impractical. However, we support the development of co-ordination mechanisms designed to strengthen member states' ability effectively to guard their own borders. Although additional resources to support that function are welcome, they should not be ploughed into the creation of the European corps of border guards, but used by member states to improve their own national guards' training.

The British people want control of our borders and the right to draw up our own policy on asylum. In an ICM poll from earlier this year, 77 per cent. of those polled wanted Westminster to exercise control over asylum procedures. We need an accountable and efficient policy that addresses the needs of those migrants who have a genuine claim and who seek our help, as well as preventing bogus claims from those who would abuse our system. Can we guarantee the British public that those requirements will be met by a single European policy covering all member states? I think not. Indeed, the Government currently fall short of those requirements. Given the disaster of the Government's asylum policy, they probably cannot wait to offload their problems on to Europe. Conservative Members regard that as a cop-out, pure and simple.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath

My hon. Friend knows that I fought those battles for a number of years from the Front-Bench position that he now occupies. Since the Government came to power, they have promised in the House to oppose things, but then signed up to them, however reluctantly, because of the inclusion in the same package of something else that is good. They have spent years saying that they will oppose things and then failed to do so.

Photo of Jonathan Djanogly Jonathan Djanogly Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

My hon. Friend makes a good point, and I think that he will relate to my conclusions.

Having had the pleasure of participating in the Statutory Instrument Committee and the European Scrutiny Committee B debates on both the European arrest warrant and the harmonisation of criminal sanctions, I have become particularly familiar with the Commission's ludicrous proposals on criminal justice. The principle of mutual recognition has long been deemed the cornerstone of European judicial integration. The Commission denies that it intends to challenge legal systems in individual member states through the promotion of harmonisation—so far, so good—so why does the communication say that it is necessary to avoid a situation in which two separate legal regimes cover cross-border crimes and internal disputes?

The communication also states:

"duality could be inconsistent with the aim of a single area of justice for all".

How is it possible to adhere to mutual recognition, which apparently supports the judicial traditions of each member state, without the operation of separate regimes? The answer, of course, is that it is not possible, as my hon. Friend Mr. Cash said earlier in the debate. That is a clear indication that the Commission deems the ultimate result to be interference in the judicial systems in operation in each member state. It strikes me that the Government seem all too willing to accept the Commission's proposals at face value without true, open consideration of the Commission's real aims. This represents a clear threat to national sovereignty. Is the Minister going to stand by and let these measures—which purport to further the principle of mutual recognition, but in fact aim towards a unitary legal system—creep in? In no way can such aims comply with and respect the subsidiarity principle. The Scrutiny Committee got it absolutely right and went to the heart of the matter when it said in its report:

"If Parliament has not chosen to unify the separate legal systems of England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, we see no justification for this being attempted by the European Union."

That is spot on. We see no justification for it either, and we urge the Government to do everything in their power to prevent it. Trust is based on knowledge, and without greater knowledge of the workings and standards of judicial systems in other member states, it is difficult to see how even the procedure supporting mutual recognition will be adequately implemented.

The Commission has stated that it supports further action to define and fix minimum penalties for certain offences, to end life sentences, and to move towards further approximation—for which I read harmonisation—of national laws to secure effective mutual recognition of judgments. Again, harmonisation rears its ugly head. At the extreme end, we are facing a massive overhaul of the criminal laws of all member states, yet that prospect raises insurmountable practical problems in a Union where national systems are so incredibly diverse and bear so little resemblance to each other.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I am listening to the hon. Gentleman with great care. Over the past few months, he and I have appeared many times in the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, where we have both prayed in aid the views of the Law Society. Has he, too, received the Law Society's very long briefing—it runs to 33 pages—which makes it clear that it supports the mutual recognition programme because it has considerable advantages for practitioners?

Photo of Jonathan Djanogly Jonathan Djanogly Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

The hon. Gentleman misses my point. I support mutual recognition, as does he and as do the Government, but this agenda is not, in practice, about mutual recognition. That is our worry.

Aside from the practical issues, we also believe that the agenda is objectionable in principle. Do we, as a nation, want to submit our decision-making power on criminal policies and sanctions to the will of Brussels? I do not think so. This country has developed to date a legal system of which we can and should be proud. Accordingly, we should firmly rebuke any potential threat to it.

Photo of Angus Robertson Angus Robertson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

The hon. Gentleman refers to a legal system. Is he not aware that there are three different legal systems in the UK? Will he explain the position of the Scottish Conservative party in that regard and give one example of any concern that has been expressed north of the border?

Photo of Jonathan Djanogly Jonathan Djanogly Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

The hon. Gentleman may have missed my earlier comments in which I referred specifically to the different judicial systems in the United Kingdom and how their own systems are respected. This agenda will end that.

A prime example of a crime in one country that may be entirely overlooked in another is that of animal rights terrorism, which is prevalent in my constituency. Public opinion on that has changed massively in this country over a very short space of time, yet many other member states have no concept of what the crime is, let alone ideas about how to tackle it. The power to determine which crimes attract which sentences should never be removed from Westminster. It is only by retaining control over our own system that the British public will feel secure about the fact that justice is obtainable and adaptable to the demands of the day.

We also oppose the creation of a European public prosecutor, as such a position promotes harmonisation rather than co-operation.

Photo of John Denham John Denham Chair, Home Affairs Committee

We are discussing the five-year JHA—justice and home affairs—programme. Is the hon. Gentleman telling the House, in all seriousness, that he believes that in five years' time this country will be unable to have laws dealing with animal terrorism, which he cites as an example of how that programme will go wrong? If he really believes that it will affect our right to have laws on animal terrorism, he should say so; if he does not, he should accept that he has raised a completely irrelevant and nonsensical issue as part of his scare campaign.

Photo of Jonathan Djanogly Jonathan Djanogly Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I am afraid that the right hon. Gentleman has got completely the wrong end of the stick. I am simply maintaining that the definition of a crime and the sentence that attaches to it will be considered differently in each member state and should therefore be the prerogative of that member state's judicial system. I do not think that the Government would detract from that—the problem is that they are not going over to Brussels to tell it what we want.

As I said, we oppose the creation of a European public prosecutor. Sufficient justification has yet to be provided for such a move, which seems more suited to preparing Europe for federal statehood than to any practical purpose. The attainment of security throughout the member states of the Union underpins the achievement of freedom and justice. As the Minister said, the biggest threat to that in recent years has been terrorism, so the prospect of increased co-operation between law enforcement agencies of all member states is to be welcomed.

We do not believe, however, that there is justification for extending the powers of Europol to become a separate, fully functioning European police force. In its current form, Europol makes large contributions to the exchange and analysis of information, rather than undertaking investigatory work. As such, it has a significant role to play in increasing co-operation and the sharing of best practice between member states, and it should continue to do so. That is not to say, however, that Europol needs to become a full Union agency feeding from the Community budget.

As with the Government's position on the Commission's Green Paper on criminal sanctions, I sense that although they have a lukewarm response to much of this communication, they are not prepared to do much about it. That is dangerous. It leaves the door open to creeping harmonisation, whereas what is needed is a strong rejectionist stance in favour of maintaining the British interest such as that which my party would provide.

Why are the Government taking such a soft position on this? In the conclusion to the communication, the Commission took the opportunity to reinforce their approval of the proposed constitutional treaty. This statement particularly grabbed my attention:

"the final adoption of the Constitutional Treaty and its rapid entry into force are becoming essential, as this will offer the legal and institutional means of meeting . . . expectations".

The key word is "essential". As Conservative Members have argued time and again, the constitutional treaty is by no means essential either for our country or for the European Union. If this agenda is to go forward, the Commission's proposals for the next five years must be viewed as a way of seeking increased intergovernmental co-operation and progress in the fields of justice and home affairs. That ceases to be the case at the point where the proposals represent an attempt by the Commission to reinforce their desire to gain the ability to impose potentially unwanted legislation on member states that have lost their right of veto and the power to control their own country's policies and, therefore, their futures. That is exactly the situation that could become a reality under the umbrella of the constitutional treaty.

Photo of Jonathan Djanogly Jonathan Djanogly Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

To the extent that the Labour party will support a yes vote for the European constitution, I cannot see how it will wish to destroy its own campaign—

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

Order. Mr. Djanogly is clearly not prepared to give way.

Photo of Jonathan Djanogly Jonathan Djanogly Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I have given way many times, including to Mr. Connarty, and I am about to conclude my speech.

I cannot see why the Labour party should wish to destroy its own campaign by attacking elements of the treaty, such as the giving up of our veto on home affairs, that are included in the Tampere agenda. This therefore becomes Labour's Trojan horse whereby it is preparing to sell this country for the sake of its constitutional treaty. It is a chilling prospect for our nation, but one that we need to face up to in the context of the Government's continued silence on this programme's true implications for our justice system and our national sovereignty.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

Order. Many Members hope to catch my eye but we have limited time for the debate, and I hope that they will bear that in mind when making their contributions.

Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz Labour, Leicester East 1:59 pm, 14th October 2004

This is an extraordinary debate, partly because of the contribution that we have just heard from Mr. Djanogly, but also because of the astonishing absence of the shadow Home Secretary. I know where he was last night; he was at the Dorchester hotel—celebrating Diwali, tucking into his chicken tikka masala and rice.

I know where the shadow Home Secretary was this morning; he was on the "Today" programme, debating with my hon. Friend the Minister. Where is he this afternoon? Why is he not here? A new precedent has been set—shadow Ministers do not bother to come to the House of Commons to defend their position—but I am not surprised that he is not here: my hon. Friend gave him such a trouncing on the "Today" programme that he is too frightened to enter the Chamber.

I had the privilege of representing the Government at the Tampere Council between 15 and 16 October 1999. I remember it well, because it was the first time that member states came together to consider the issue of justice and home affairs in this way. An agenda was set out, and it is right that we should be reviewing it now.

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Unfortunately it looks as though the torries are learning bad habits from the government !

Submitted by pete marrable

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Shadow Secretary of State (Justice), Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

Before the hon. Gentleman gets to his main thrust, does he agree that there are four Opposition spokesmen, covering constitutional affairs and home affairs, on the Front Bench, whereas only two Ministers are present?

Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz Labour, Leicester East

Never mind the quality, feel the width, I say. The point is, where is the shadow Home Secretary? It is a disgrace that he is not here.

The purpose of the Tampere Council was to create an area of security, freedom and justice in the European Union, and it is right that we should be reviewing it this year. It is also right that the European Scrutiny Committee has produced such an excellent report, and recommended that we should have a discussion on the Floor of the House. I commend members of the Committee for doing so.

The fact remains that this agenda was important in 1999 and became even more important because of the events of 11 September. The achievements of the agenda over the past five years have kept the issue of justice and home affairs right at the centre of the Government's thinking. I commend the Minister and her colleagues for going to the justice and home affairs meetings, defending the Government's position time and again, and making a positive contribution to the way in which the agenda has been taken forward.

As with all European agendas, there are disappointments at the fact that certain benchmarks have not been achieved that should have been achieved by now, but the purpose of December's European Council is to give this whole agenda a new thrust to ensure that we consider it in the light of what has happened over the past five years.

Photo of Mr John Wilkinson Mr John Wilkinson Conservative, Ruislip - Northwood

Does the ex-Minister not think that the EU, instead of pursuing its hegemonistic ambitions in justice and home affairs, should concentrate on matters closer to home and not permit such disgraceful episodes as the sacking of the chief accountant, Mrs. Andreasen, for exposing fraud, maladministration and corruption in the European Commission?

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

Order. We are wandering rather wide of the motion.

Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz Labour, Leicester East

I shall abide by your ruling, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I will not answer the hon. Gentleman's point.

The fact remains that we must make progress. I want to raise three brief points, because I know that lots of my hon. Friends want to take part in the debate. First, there has been success in combating illegal immigration because of the work that has been done by the Home Secretary and his predecessor, the Foreign Secretary. Other EU nation states must take responsibility for the immigration problems in their areas. We cannot solve the problem of illegal immigration unless there is good, strong co-operation between our countries. That is shown, frankly, by the number of asylum seekers and of claims for asylum, which have declined over the past few years. That has been one of Tampere's successes.

The second point relates to combating crime. Surely the Conservative party must appreciate the importance of ensuring that those who commit crimes are brought to justice as quickly as possible. They should not be able to hide in another member state to evade justice. If they were able to do so, that would make a nonsense of the EU, which is why the European arrest warrant has been such a success. It was so difficult to get extradition before impetus was given to the justice and home affairs agenda. If someone commits a crime in another area of the EU, they must be brought to justice. By and large, people have to be brought to justice in their member states, because that is usually where the crime is committed.

The third point—the question of different judicial systems—is important. That is brought home to us by the European Scrutiny Committee's excellent report. Why is it that every time a European document is debated in the House, Opposition spokesmen go quite berserk, saying, "This is the last straw and the superstate will be created"? I am surprised that the hon. Member for Huntingdon did not mention the abolition of the pound. I realise that every speech that Conservative Members make is written with reference to what Mr. Roger Knapman and Mr. Kilroy-Silk might think about it, because all Conservative Members are concerned about is protecting their position from the United Kingdom Independence party.

The fact remains that we need a serious debate—a grown-up debate—in the House on European matters, which will allow us to explore the crucial issues that are at stake in the EU. There is absolutely—

Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz Labour, Leicester East

No, because time is short.

There is absolutely no question of our judicial system being changed because of this take-note document; it is absolutely ridiculous. We have a completely different judicial system from that in Scotland, and we know that four of the six Members who serve on the Committee have Scottish constituencies. Their judicial system is completely different from ours in England. There is no question of one being created. There is no question that we will be harmonised with the French judicial system or the German judicial system, which are quite different from the systems here.

The one point on which I can agree with the hon. Member for Huntingdon is that we have a judicial system of which we can be extremely proud. Of course it is the role of our Government—not just the Home Office, but the Department for Constitutional Affairs—to protect the integrity and independence of our judiciary.

Finally, I want to address the question of mutual recognition. Of course we want to ensure that there is mutual recognition. It is absolutely vital that decisions taken by courts in member states—

Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz Labour, Leicester East

I will not give way to Mr. Grieve because, as the Chairman of the Committee points out, he has only just wandered in to give some legal advice to the hon. Member for Huntingdon. The hon. Member for Beaconsfield should wait his turn if he wishes to take part in the debate, or perhaps he was busy at the Dorchester, like the shadow Home Secretary.

The fact remains that mutual recognition is a core principle of what we have been discussing. My constituents want to know about the practical problems, which my hon. Friend the Minister so eloquently placed before the House, because if they go to France and have an accident or there is a problem they want to know whether they will have access to justice in such countries. Those are the practical questions being asked by our constituents, involving the practical co-operation that must exist between member states, the judicial authorities and the police forces. That is what we are talking about here, so let us hear no more nonsense about a federal state in respect of this document. Let us have some proper support from this Conservative Opposition—supporting the Government as they stand up for Britain's interests.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 2:09 pm, 14th October 2004

I open by thanking the European Scrutiny Committee for its work and for the quite sensible views it has expressed in the report. The subject has considerable import, and it should be put before the whole House. My only regret is that there is still a problem with our procedures. If the Committee considers a matter to be of serious import, it is somewhat bizarre that it should be debated on the Floor of the House to enable other Members may participate, only for the debate to be so brief that they cannot do so.

There would have been more debate if the matter had been referred to European Standing Committee A, B or C, because a Standing Committee would have had longer to consider it. I modestly suggest that it would be better for the matter to go first to the European Standing Committee, after which, with the benefit of its advice, we could debate it on the Floor of the House.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath

The hon. Gentleman makes a most constructive suggestion about the matter going from the European Scrutiny Committee to the European Standing Committee and then to the House. Does he agree that when the European Scrutiny Committee states that the matter is so vital that the whole House should consider it, there should be a full-day debate in Government time?

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I am not sure that I would go quite that far, but the House will have heard the hon. Gentleman's comments.

What saddens me is that, thus far, we have not had a debate about the European Scrutiny Committee report. We have had the nonsense of an amendment, thought up as a jolly wheeze by David Davis, who could not be bothered to attend the debate that he started, although he was happy to go on the radio this morning.

I am going to defend Mr. Grieve, because it was suggested earlier that he was not here. He may not have been sitting up and paying attention sufficiently to be seen on the other side of the Dispatch Box

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

Order. I have already said that time is limited for the debate. Perhaps we can concentrate on the motion rather than on some of the personalities involved.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I am happy to do so. I was defending the honour of another Member of the House, whom I felt had been traduced.

Mr. Djanogly used his rather lamentable contribution as a proxy for a debate on the European constitution. We know, or at least we think we know, that we will have a referendum on the constitution—we had certainly better have a referendum on it—so there will be an opportunity to debate those issues then; this is not that opportunity.

I am surprised that there has been no mention of the debate that is convulsing a lot of the European Parliament and European Commission: the identity of the person who will put these proposals into effect. The name of Rocco Buttiglione has not been mentioned, yet we have the extraordinary situation of the civil liberties committee rejecting his nomination as European Commissioner—on sound grounds, I think, given the views that he has expressed and the actions he has taken. I hope that the debate on his confirmation, or otherwise, will be on the right terms—that it will be not on what he believes but on the way in which he intends to pursue the proposals that are before the Commission. I also hope that Mr. Barroso will take careful note of what parliamentarians are saying about Mr. Buttiglione's suitability for that role. He may be a perfectly good commissioner in another role, but he is not the right man to take forward a programme that is concerned with the liberties of individuals and the fight against discrimination.

I hope that not a single Member of the House does not believe that co-operation between member states is essential to fight organised crime, terrorism and domestic crime, drug smuggling and the like.

p

So you can discriminate against some one because they are a Christian ?
The objection to Mr. Buttiglione's suitability is purly religious and is therefore illegal.
Shame on you all.

Submitted by pete marrable

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I do not believe that that is the case. I believe that they simply choose to use this as a Hartlepool agenda to try to get themselves out of a hole. It is an unfortunate misuse of the proceedings. It is a great shame that we have these announcements of doom every time we have a European debate. I am staggered—[Interruption.] A cameo appearance by the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden. It is staggering that we are debating this at all because we were told after Amsterdam and Nice that there would be no Parliament to have these debates—it was the end of the world every time. I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman is going to join us—[Interruption.] Yes, he is.

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

Order. Will the House please settle down? This is a debate on a serious motion.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I am glad to see the right hon. Gentleman in his seat. Of course, his hand signed many of the treaties that his colleagues find so objectionable now.

I think that hon. Members on both sides of the House agree that we wish to maintain the integrity of our legal systems. I do not hear a single person who wants the English, Scots or Northern Irish legal systems to be eroded by decisions taken elsewhere. I hope that the Government will stand firm on that. I am confident that they will because they have said so—and, in this instance, I believe them.

I hope that we have effective border controls. I have my doubts about British border controls. I wish to see a single border force, which I think would be more effective than the disparate arrangements that we have at the moment. I recognise that we have had a massive expansion of the European Union, that there are significant new issues about border control that need to be effectively acknowledged within the European Union, and that new member states may need assistance from better established and perhaps richer states to provide the border controls that we want. That, however, should not affect what we do in this island state. We have an advantage over most of the other member states.

Photo of Mike Hancock Mike Hancock Liberal Democrat, Portsmouth South

If we are going to help the new member states of the EU to tighten their border controls, is it not a bit invidious for anyone in the Chamber to suggest that we need not take the issue seriously? It is wrong if we are reluctant to take any strong action and to support a Government who, for once, are moving in the right direction.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

Of course, I agree with my hon. Friend.

We are trying to ensure that people cannot slip through the criminal net. Is there any hon. Member in the Chamber who wants criminals who ply their trade across borders to get away scot-free, simply because we do not have the apparatus to deal with them effectively? Of course there is not. Therefore, if we can find ways of recognising each other's judicial systems—improving them on occasion and recognising their strengths, in a context of respect—it is sensible that we do so.

Photo of Ian Davidson Ian Davidson Labour/Co-operative, Glasgow Pollok

Do the Liberals disagree with any Government policies on this matter? If not, would any of the proposals be red line items for the Liberals?

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I am working my way down the list, but we believe that the Government and the European Scrutiny Committee have the balance approximately right in most areas. As I develop my speech, the hon. Gentleman will recognise that that is the case.

Some people see the minimum standards as a Trojan horse, but, again, do we have no concerns about whether British citizens will be dealt with appropriately in EU member states? I suggest that we do, that we want reasonable standards of justice to pertain in the European Union and that that is a prerequisite for a common area of security, which is what this discussion is all about.

Photo of Mr Paul Tyler Mr Paul Tyler Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

My hon. Friend might recall the case of my constituent, Caroline Dickinson, the young school girl who was murdered in Brittany some years ago, which is still outstanding. It is a classic example of where we want to be absolutely reassured that standards of investigation and justice are common throughout the European Union. If this is a step in that direction, and I believe that he is right in accepting that it is, surely we should all support it.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. That was a tragic case and it perfectly illustrates the point that we wish to pursue.

Europol is an area where we may have a slight difference of opinion with the Government. We are concerned about the operation of Europol within the United Kingdom. Some hon. Members may recall that it was the Liberal Democrats who, both in Committee and on the Floor of the House, opposed the statutory instrument that gave immunity to Europol officers within the UK, perhaps embarrassing the Conservative Opposition in so doing. We take seriously the limits to what Europol can and should do, although we do want it to be effective and accountable. At the moment there is a limit to its accountability. I should like to see a more direct relationship between Europol, as part of the European Union structure, and the European Parliament so that, for example, the director of Europol is confirmed before the European Parliament. That seems a perfectly sensible suggestion, albeit one to which the Government are not, I think, acceding.

I have concerns about fundamental rights in some of the new countries to have entered the European Union. I strongly support enlargement, but in some of those countries the basis for human rights is tenuous. We should be extremely careful to ensure that all member states live up to the responsibilities into which they have entered in joining the EU and, indeed, through membership of the Council of Europe. British Governments of all colours have constantly promulgated that.

Photo of Jonathan Djanogly Jonathan Djanogly Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

The hon. Gentleman is kind to give way yet again. In relation to the European arrest warrant, is he aware that it is easier to have someone extradited to Slovenia than it is to the United States? Given his earlier comments on states that have just entered the EU, is he not concerned about that?

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I wish that the hon. Gentleman had not said that because it tempts me into a debate on our extradition treaty with the United States. People can be extradited from Britain to the United States but there is no reciprocal arrangement from the United States to Britain, and that is absolutely wrong. I would abuse my position, however, if I discussed that now.

It is absolutely essential that we have a degree of co-operation and co-ordination on asylum policy. Otherwise, anything that we do is likely to be meaningless because of the free movement of citizens within the EU, and I think that the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden signed his name to that document. It is important that we have a common view on how to manage asylum and immigration issues properly.

I do not view the Law Society as the ultimate arbiter, nor do I view it as na-ve, as does Mr. Hawkins. It assessed the Tampere process and broadly supports it because it believes that the agreement is in the interests of justice. That is an important accreditation.

Sometimes, the European Commission is its own worst enemy. An example of that is in its wording on qualified majority voting:

"The legal and institutional constraints of the current Treaties, where unanimity in the Council generally remain the rule, partly explain these difficulties. The Member States are sometimes reluctant to cooperate within this new European framework when their interests are at stake."

I should hope they are unhappy and reluctant to co-operate when their interests are at stake. If the Commission thinks that that is not the proper role of sovereign Parliaments and member states within the European Union, it needs a lesson in what the proper attitude towards subsidiarity is. That is the sort of language that allows the straw men to be put up by people who have no interest in what is contained in the documents, but want to foment an argument within the country that they believe to be to their electoral advantage. That is a sad reflection on the state of oppositional politics.

On this occasion the Scrutiny Committee has it about right.

Photo of Jimmy Hood Jimmy Hood Chair, European Scrutiny Committee, Chair, European Scrutiny Committee 2:24 pm, 14th October 2004

I intend to please you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and to disappoint Opposition Members by sticking to the Scrutiny Committee report and the subject of today's debate. I am pleased that the Leader of the House has given us this opportunity. I support earlier comments that it is a pity that we do not have more than one and a half hours to discuss such an important issue.

The European Scrutiny Committee published in July its report on the Commission's programme for the next five years. We say in the report that these proposals relate to matters that are "at the core" of our national sovereignty. Therefore the programme directly affects the lives of individual citizens. I am pleased that the report has been so widely supported in the House and in particular that the Government also support it.

Under the treaty of Amsterdam, the European Community acquired in 1999 a new objective:

"to provide citizens with a high level of security in an area of freedom, security and justice."

In that year the European Council held a special meeting at Tampere to set priorities for the European Community as

"an area of freedom, security and justice."

That meeting approved a detailed programme for action for the next five years, covering civil and criminal justice, asylum and immigration, and police and customs co-operation. As we know, the measures under title IV of the EC treaty on visas, asylum and immigration and other policies relating to the free movement of people do not apply to the United Kingdom unless it expressly opts in to them. At Tampere, the actions were agreed by unanimity.

These new Commission proposals failed, in the Committee's view, to evaluate the practical benefits achieved so far as a result of the Tampere programme of 1999, in relation to

"creating an area of freedom, security and justice, covering criminal and civil justice, visas, asylum and immigration, and police and customs cooperation."

Our report questions whether there is a risk that the expression

"an area of freedom, security and justice" is encouraging the notion that such an area is a unitary state separate from the member states which make up the European Union. Regardless of the countless assurances from Ministers, it is not easy to be comfortable with the Commission's rhetoric throughout its proposals.

On harmonisation of asylum policy, the European Scrutiny Committee argues that we should not go beyond the establishment of reasonable common minimum standards. The proposals for the creation of a European public prosecutor and a European corps of border guards and to give Europol some investigative powers excited the Committee. The report states:

"We have not yet seen sufficient justification for giving the European Union its own prosecutor, border guards and police force."

Again the Government have indicated support for that view.

The extension of the Community's activities into crime prevention could conflict with the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality. We also agreed that the scope of measures relating to civil and criminal justice should be strictly confined to those which are necessary for mutual recognition, and should not affect purely internal cases or otherwise encroach on the integrity of the legal systems of member states; otherwise there would be no limit in practice to EU competence to harmonise national legal systems. Our concerns are compounded by the Commission's apparent wish to rely on qualified majority voting to secure the adoption of its justice and home affairs legislation against the wishes of some member states. As has been pointed out, the Tampere agreement in 1999 was agreed by unanimity.

Photo of Michael Connarty Michael Connarty Labour, Falkirk East

Obviously it is a joy to hear such a clear elucidation of the points that we considered and put forward and with which, as my hon. Friend said, the Government have agreed. Does he not think it essential that in summing up our Minister makes it quite clear that, in terms of the motion before us, negotiation will always be approached by the Government on the basis that they will stand by the commitments they gave to support the points put forward by him and by our Committee?

Photo of Jimmy Hood Jimmy Hood Chair, European Scrutiny Committee, Chair, European Scrutiny Committee

I certainly would agree with that; indeed, the last paragraph in the report asks the Government to do that. The Minister's contribution suggested that she has taken on board the comments we made; we should welcome that.

Photo of Jimmy Hood Jimmy Hood Chair, European Scrutiny Committee, Chair, European Scrutiny Committee

All hon. Members, including Conservative Members, know that I always try to be courteous and polite in the House. However, as you know, Madam Deputy Speaker, I am also a member of the Chairmen's Panel, and we do have conventions in the House. It is a bit rich for the shadow Home Secretary to come in half way through the debate and then seek to intervene on a contribution by an hon. Member who has sat here from the beginning, so if he will excuse me on this occasion, I intend to carry on with my speech and not accept an intervention.

The Commission states that substantial progress has been made in most aspects of justice and home affairs since 1999, but that the original ambitions of Tampere have been hampered by institutional constraints and sometimes by the lack of sufficient political consensus. The proposals state:

"It was not always possible to reach agreement at European level for the adoption of certain sensitive measures relating to policies which remain at the core of national sovereignty. The legal and institutional constraints of the current Treaties, where unanimity in the Council generally remains the rule, partly explain these difficulties.

The Member States are sometimes reluctant to cooperate within this new European framework, and when their interests are at stake they do not hesitate to threaten the use of the veto . . . in order to lower the level of ambition of the Commission's proposals and reject [the European] Parliament's opinions."

The Commission says that once legislation is adopted, the limited role of the European Court of Justice and the restricted powers of the Commission are an obstacle to ensuring it is effective.

The Committee criticises the fact that the communication does not evaluate the practical benefits and measures already adopted, and says that it is therefore not possible to judge whether expected benefits have been achieved.

"Moreover, the Communication does not state what practical benefits the Commission expects from the priorities it proposes for the next five years.

We consider that it would be prudent, therefore, for member states to withhold commitment to the inclusion of these proposals in the work programme until they are presented with, and have considered, such a statement."

The European Scrutiny Committee adds, on unanimity:

"It seems to us reasonable and proper for member states to withhold their agreement from measures they do not support and which, to use the Commission's own words, 'remain at the core of national sovereignty'. It bodes ill for the future if, on such sensitive matters, the Commission envisages reliance on QMV to impose on Member States legislation to which they are opposed".

Photo of Jonathan Djanogly Jonathan Djanogly Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. Is it therefore the view of the Committee that QMV should become a red-line issue for the Government; in other words, should the Government insist on not giving up our national veto?

Photo of Jimmy Hood Jimmy Hood Chair, European Scrutiny Committee, Chair, European Scrutiny Committee

The Committee would agree with the view that QMV is not suitable when deciding the issues that are contained in the proposal.

On visas, asylum and immigration, I refer to the Commission's proposals again. One proposal is the development of an integrated border management system and visa policy. The external agency and co-ordination mechanisms must be

"supplemented with the long-term objective of establishing an European Corps of border guards to complement the national border guards."

Visa policy should address the security of documents—including biometric identifiers—and improved consular co-operation.

Another proposal is a common policy on the management of migration flows, including proposals relating to links between legal and illegal migration, such as legal admission for employment purposes, better integration of legal migrants, targets for legal admissions, an effective policy on returns and readmissions and partnerships with countries of origin to deter illegal immigration and trafficking of human beings.

The Government support the development of a common EU asylum policy, which quickly and fairly identifies those in need of protection.

Photo of Caroline Flint Caroline Flint Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office)

I thank my hon. Friend for giving way. Does he agree that one thing that the Government secured is that even where there is QMV, on asylum and immigration issues we have an opt-in to any measures that protect our frontiers? Also, in regard to criminal procedural law, we have an emergency brake which would mean that any issue that we felt undermined the judicial systems throughout the United Kingdom could be put to a European Council where a decision would have to be made unanimously?

Photo of Jimmy Hood Jimmy Hood Chair, European Scrutiny Committee, Chair, European Scrutiny Committee

Yes I certainly agree and the Committee accepts that in its report.

As I said, the Government support the development of the EU asylum policy, which quickly and fairly identifies those in need of protection whilst tackling abuse and inefficiencies in the system. They support a more practical approach to EU co-operation, in particular through partnership with countries of origin and transit, but are not convinced of the need for further harmonisation of EU asylum policy. Again I took comfort from what the Minister said earlier.

The European Scrutiny Committee says:

"the Commission has not presented a sufficient justification for the proposal" for the creation of a European corps of border guards. We say that the Convention did not support a reference to such a corps in the draft treaty and that the proposal is objectionable in principle. We say:

"Control over admission is a good illustration of the sensitive matters which remain at the core of national sovereignty."

The Scrutiny Committee also notes that the common policy on asylum is not necessarily the same as a uniform policy and, while recognising the importance of common minimum standards for asylum, agrees with the Government that the case for further harmonisation remains to be made.

Photo of Wayne David Wayne David Labour, Caerphilly

I thank my hon. Friend for giving way and I agree with the comments and criticisms of the European Commission made by the European Scrutiny Committee. However, does he agree that what we need to do is ensure that in future the European Commission is held to account to a greater extent both by national Parliaments and the Council of Ministers, and that is not in any way an anti-European argument?

Photo of Jimmy Hood Jimmy Hood Chair, European Scrutiny Committee, Chair, European Scrutiny Committee

I will not surprise my hon. Friend when I say that I very much agree with him. As Chairman of the Committee and as a member of the 16-member Committee, I should say that we were very much maligned by some sections of the press recently for our scrutiny successes. However, I can say that as a Committee we very rarely, if ever, follow party lines in our deliberations. We see our function as looking after the national interests of this Parliament, and anything that we do and say and anything that we report on has that at the core of its considerations.

Photo of John Denham John Denham Chair, Home Affairs Committee

Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the reasons why the debate on the proposals becomes so polarised is the truth that the Commission has produced an extraordinarily poor-quality JHA document? In fact, if it came to my hon. Friend the Minister in her red box this weekend as a work programme from officials, she would chuck it back in the box and say, "Go away and do it again." Should not one of the messages that we send to those in the Commission be that, if they produce such vague and ambiguous documents, they lay themselves open to the type of misinterpretation that we have heard from the Opposition today?

Photo of Jimmy Hood Jimmy Hood Chair, European Scrutiny Committee, Chair, European Scrutiny Committee

I thank my right hon. Friend for his intervention and for making that important point. In accepting it, I can reinforce the fact that much of our work identifies what I would class as incompetence. Such things are, by their incompetence, provocative and cause unnecessary provocation in national Parliaments of other member states as well. That message should go out loud and clear, and it is one that the Committee often sends to the Commission, both in our reports and, if we are given the opportunity to meet or take evidence from individual commissioners, in Brussels.

On civil and criminal justice, the Commission proposes the creation of a European judicial area, respecting the legal traditions and systems of the member states. It says:

"The development of the European judicial area has neither the objective nor the effect of challenging the legal and judicial traditions of member states, and total harmonisation would be neither proportionate nor appropriate . . . For this reason, the principle of mutual recognition has been placed at the heart of European integration in this field . . . However, mutual recognition requires a common basis of shared principles and minimum standards."

It adds:

"It will be necessary to avoid a situation where in each member state there are two separate legal regimes, one relating to the disputes with cross-border implications and another purely on internal disputes."

Photo of Jimmy Hood Jimmy Hood Chair, European Scrutiny Committee, Chair, European Scrutiny Committee

No. I am sorry; I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me.

Measures proposed include the definition of fundamental guarantees, the conditions of the admissibility of evidence and strengthening the protection of victims. The Commission calls for a coherent crime policy to enable the European Union to fight serious crime effectively and for action to define fixed-minimum penalties for certain offences.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Conservative, Stone

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Photo of Jimmy Hood Jimmy Hood Chair, European Scrutiny Committee, Chair, European Scrutiny Committee

In a moment.

The Commission also calls for a European public prosecutor's office to be created from Eurojust. On the European public prosecutor, the Government say:

"We support strong action to tackle fraud against the Union's interests. But any role of a European Public Prosecutor in this area is dependent on our agreement. We will not agree to anything that is not in the national interest."

On minimum standards, the Government have

"reservations about the statement that mutual recognition requires a common base of shared principles and minimum standards, which suggests that criminal procedural law measures are a pre-condition for mutual recognition."

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Conservative, Stone

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Conservative, Stone

We have not got many moments.

Photo of Jimmy Hood Jimmy Hood Chair, European Scrutiny Committee, Chair, European Scrutiny Committee

In a moment.

The European Scrutiny Committee emphasises that the principle of mutual recognition does not necessitate uniformity of procedural or substantive law. We regard

"such uniformity both as unnecessary and as prejudicial to the integrity of the different legal systems of the Member States."

The Committee is concerned by the implications of the Commission's view that it is necessary to avoid a situation where each member state has separate legal regimes for disputes with cross-border implications and for purely internal disputes.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Conservative, Stone

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Conservative, Stone

I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I should have liked to say much more, but I shall keep it to some simple points. First, the European Scrutiny Committee has condemned the proposals. That is basically what the report boils down to. Secondly, when the vote takes place, I hope that hon. Members who have contributed to the report will follow me into the Lobby. Thirdly, in 1967, the then Labour Government said:

"Nothing in Community law would . . . materially affect the general principles of our criminal law . . . "— and the same was repeated in 1975. In a nutshell, the fact is that, as the Leader of the Opposition said at the Conservative party conference:

"Politicians . . . have made promises they have failed to keep."

This is about the existing treaties, and those treaties must be renegotiated, repealed and amended.

Photo of Jimmy Hood Jimmy Hood Chair, European Scrutiny Committee, Chair, European Scrutiny Committee

For my sins and for reasons better known to some higher authority, I am rather fond of the hon. Gentleman. He served on the European Scrutiny Committee before me, and I have served on that Committee for 17 years. I always leave him to make his own points, even though I do not necessarily understand them too clearly.

The Committee's report says:

"We draw attention to the danger that measures which are ostensibly concerned with mutual recognition will have the effect of creating uniform rules which will then apply to all cases, whether they have any cross-border implications or not. As we have commented before, Commission proposals on the 'area of freedom security and justice' have appeared to treat this 'area' as synonymous with a unitary State, with only one legal system. We do not believe that there is any treaty basis for such an approach, or that it complies with the principle of subsidiarity. If Parliament has not chosen to unify the separate legal systems of England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, we see no justification for this being attempted by the European Union."

Photo of Angus Robertson Angus Robertson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

I agree with every word that the hon. Gentleman has said until now. Is he concerned that the explanatory memorandum on that very issue—he notes the important separate legal systems—has had no input from the Scottish Executive, as noted in the paper itself?

Photo of Jimmy Hood Jimmy Hood Chair, European Scrutiny Committee, Chair, European Scrutiny Committee

I accept the point that the hon. Gentleman makes and has made on previous occasions. Indeed, the report covers that issue as well.

In trying to reach my conclusion, I wish to say that the Commission's proposals include strengthening the role of Europol, including giving Europol some powers of investigation, extending the work of the European police college and creating a legal framework to improve the sharing of intelligence between enforcement authorities and possibly making Europol a Union agency, financed from the Community budget.

Photo of Jimmy Hood Jimmy Hood Chair, European Scrutiny Committee, Chair, European Scrutiny Committee

No, I am sorry. I will try to be fair.

The Commission's proposals include counter-terrorism activity, including the creation of an information exchange centre, action to combat the financing of terrorism, and action in the fight against serious crime, such as public-private partnerships. The European Scrutiny Committee recognises the possible benefits of further co-operation between member states and improved exchanges of information—

It being one and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion, Madam Deputy Speaker put the Question, pursuant to Standing Order No. 16.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 115, Noes 277.

Division number 260 EU Justice and Home Affairs

Aye: 114 MPs

No: 276 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Nos: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Abstained: 1 MP

Abstaineds: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly negatived.

Main Question put:—

The House divided: Ayes 275, Noes 114.

Division number 261 EU Justice and Home Affairs

Aye: 276 MPs

No: 114 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Nos: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Question accordingly agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House takes note of European Union document No. 10249/04, with ADD 1 and ADD 2, Commission Communication on the Area of Freedom, Security and Justice: assessment of the Tampere Programme and future orientations; notes that the Communication forms the basis of negotiations for the next European Union Justice and Home Affairs Work Programme; and supports the Government's position that the Work Programme should focus on measures that complement the efforts of Member States and will be of most benefit to European Union citizens.