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I beg to move,
That this House
takes note of European Union Documents Nos. 11222/06, Commission Communication: Implementing the Hague Programme: the way forward, and 11228/06 and Addenda 1-2, Commission Report on the implementation of the Hague Programme for 2005;
and takes note that the discussions at the Tampere Justice and Home Affairs Informal Council showed that there was little support amongst Member States for the proposed use of the Article 42 passerelle;
and furthermore supports the Government's position that this is not the right time to focus on institutional change, and that the European Union's priority for Justice and Home Affairs should instead be on developing practical co-operation to combat the transitional challenges of terrorism, organised crime and migration.
I thank the members of the European Scrutiny Committee for their report, "The Implementation of the Hague Programme on Justice and Home Affairs". Working with others to address issues such as counter-terrorism, illegal immigration and organised crime can make a real and positive impact on the lives of UK citizens. As the framework for co-operation in these areas, the way the Hague programme is delivered is important and worthy of debate. I am therefore grateful for this further opportunity to set out the Government's position on the Hague programme, including the proposal to use the article 42 passerelle. I am sure it will be a lively and interesting debate.
The Government remain committed to the Hague programme, which represented a good outcome for the UK. In general, it is the right format for organising justice and home affairs work. The mid-term review was welcome because it has helped us focus on what still needs to be done, and was an opportunity to ensure that we prioritise what is important to our citizens. So far, it has been a success. We have had some notable achievements, such as implementing the European arrest warrant. We have established or developed bodies such as the borders agency Frontex, Europol and Eurojust, which are becoming more and more effective.
We must however work harder on delivering practical results and measures that make a real difference. Our top priorities are clearly strengthening our borders, stopping organised criminals and preventing terrorist attacks. We need to focus on efforts to exploit technology to strengthen our borders, including use of biometrics, and look at ways to prevent illegal migration at its source. We must use our political weight with non-co-operating source and transit countries to return illegal migrants, particularly to Africa, and work with transit countries to disrupt illegal and often dangerous smuggling and trafficking routes.
We should have intelligence-led operations and cross-border prosecutions that use Europol and Eurojust to assist member states to improve information exchange and help to co-ordinate groups of interested member states. We must work outside the European Union's borders, co-ordinating efforts abroad on organised crime, terrorism and illegal immigration. Collectively, we are looking at training and best practice exchange in the criminal justice field, enhancing existing mechanisms. Practical co-operation can really make a difference.
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way so early in her speech. I agree with her comments so far. Does she agree that strengthening borders between member states is crucial to stopping those who would do us damage moving round more freely within the EU? Is there a danger that with the move towards more EU legislation, internal borders will be weakened and only the external borders of the EU will be kept strong?
My hon. Friend will be aware that we have freedom of movement within the European Union. If I understand him correctly, he is not disagreeing with me, in that we need to work together as member states and co-operate in tackling illegal immigration at the point at which illegal immigrants enter the EU. Working together and working with third countries is thus important.
I was about to speak of the kind of co-operation that we would like to continue with and to give an example of the success of such co-operation. The case I describe to the House involves trafficking in human beings. Lithuanian women and girls were trafficked to the UK and sold to Albanian organised crime groups for prostitution. Eurojust facilitated mutual legal assistance requests, the initiation and co-ordination of investigations and prosecutions, and the execution of an urgent European arrest warrant. The cases resulted in the start of an investigation in Lithuania against the organisers, a number of convictions in the UK, including sentences of 18 and 21 years, and the transfer of prosecution to Lithuania of a Lithuanian arrested in the UK.
The sorts of practical action that we would want the EU to focus on under the Hague programme include further development of Eurojust and the European judicial network as facilitators of judicial co-operation between member states. Practical co-operation through them is a fast, effective and easily arranged means of dealing with issues which may otherwise require time-consuming and resource-intensive negotiations.
We are also pressing for improved co-operation on immigration and border control, both bilaterally and through Frontex. Concrete operations in which expertise and support are exchanged are extremely effective ways of bringing about rapid improvements. A bilateral study visit exchange between the UK national document forgery unit and Bulgarian border police led to a project to set up an equivalent unit in Bulgaria to strengthen its border control, to increase the capacity to detect forged documents.
Does the Minister accept that most people would regard what she is saying as an extremely good idea, namely co-operation between member states and internationally? Has it not occurred to her, however, that the centre of gravity of the problem is that by proposing to transfer jurisdiction in these areas to the Court of Justice, we will end up, not with co-operation between national courts, but with consolidation on a harmonised basis throughout the EU as a whole? That would not by any means be a good idea.
I am sure that much of today's debate will focus on that issue, but as the hon. Gentleman will be aware, I have not proposed that.
To return to the co-operation to which I was referring, the unit in Bulgaria to strengthen its border controls for increased capacity to detect forged documents is a good development. The hon. Gentleman will know that we have placed great emphasis on developing practical co-operation and working together on the ground to deliver measures from which our citizens can see practical benefit. I hope he is right that everyone will agree that that is a good way forward, because it is the main thrust of our remarks at the European Council for Justice and Home Affairs.
We are promoting practical co-operation on asylum, sharing information and best practice. That is the most likely way for states to improve their asylum systems, with the aim of reducing asylum shopping across the EU. Proper common implementation and enforcement of phase 1 asylum instruments, especially Dublin II, is key to taking this forward. We support practical measures related to access to information, and access to legal assistance and interpreters to enhance criminal procedure rights across the EU. Europe already has enough legislation in this area in the form of the European convention on human rights. We need to enhance compliance with the convention across the EU rather than creating new law. We can then draw on the experience of practical co-operation to ensure that real needs will be met through any proposed legislation. A more evidenced-based approach to legislation with better evaluation at the start will ensure that we focus our efforts in the right areas and legislate only where that is the best solution to a real EU problem.
As part of its assessment of the Hague programme the Commission considered that decision making in justice and home affairs was hindered by third pillar institutional arrangements, in particular the requirement of unanimity. It therefore proposed use of article 42 of the treaty, the so called passerelle clause, to move judicial and police co-operation to the first pillar. The most likely and widely discussed consequence of that would be that voting would change from unanimity to qualified majority voting and member states would lose their right of veto. The Government have taken a consistent position on the question of the use of article 42. As active and influential players in justice and home affairs in the EU it was right that we participated in this debate and discussed whether there were ways to improve the speed and efficiency of decision making in the third pillar, including in particular whether using the passerelle would have this effect. We were not convinced by the arguments put forward by the Commission that using the passerelle would solve the problems that it identified, nor did we entirely agree with its assessment of progress to date in justice and home affairs.
On the important issue of switching justice and home affairs to majority voting, when the Minister gave evidence to the European Scrutiny Committee she would not rule it out. The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Mr. Hain, at the European Convention ruled it out when he said:
"We have accepted extensions of majority voting on everything else in the Third Pillar, but if you look at our judicial system and court system—it becomes impossible for us".
Why was it impossible for us in 2003, but the Government are now contemplating it? Is this not another example of the Government talking tough before proposals are made and then altering their position when the proposals come forward?
The fact that the right hon. Gentleman says that we are contemplating it does not mean that we are. I was clear on this point when we last discussed it—that is included in the report—that we will not say that we simply will not discuss certain things. First, it is important to discuss how we achieve speedier and effective decision making in justice and home affairs. That was the nature of the discussion. As I said, the Commission's view was that the passerelle was the solution. That is not necessarily our view, but it does not mean that we will not have the debate. Of course we will have the debate. Moreover, I will not look ahead through a crystal ball at any subsequent discussions or debates. Suffice it to say we have made it absolutely clear—
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Will you consider the fact that we are having a debate that has been recommended under the appropriate Standing Orders for the proposals to be scrutinised on the Floor of the House as a result of the European Scrutiny Committee's recommendations? Surely it is not appropriate for the Minister to say that she is not prepared to say whether or not she would use the veto?
As I will not rule out debate at the Justice and Home Affairs Council of the European Union, I certainly would not rule out debate here in our own national Parliament; that is why we are here to have this debate. However, I will not debate hypothetical situations or look into a crystal ball as to what might or might not be proposed in future. We need to debate what is before us. We have made our position on the passerelle absolutely clear. We have expressed serious concerns, and unless those are satisfied we cannot see how any further debate can be had. I think that that answers the point raised by Mr. Cash.
The Justice and Home Affairs Council will meet next Monday and Tuesday, and this is on the agenda. As hon. Members will realise, my view, and that of many others, is that this debate is concluded. I do not expect any further concrete actions to arise from the passerelle proposal.
Has the Minister just restated what it says in the motion—that the Government's position is
"that this is not the right time to focus on institutional change"?
If so, will they not accept the European Commission's proposal at the next meeting of the Council? If that is their position, perhaps we can short-circuit a lot of hyperbolic debate this afternoon.
I think that I have been clear. We do not expect the debate on the use of the passerelle to go any further than it already has or that any further concrete proposals will come forward at the Justice and Home Affairs Council. Obviously, I cannot guarantee that until it has actually happened.
In answer to my previous question about switching justice and home affairs to majority voting, the Minister said that she was unwilling to rule it out because the debate was unfolding and hypothetical situations might arise. Now she says that the debate is over. Which is it? Is she saying that she is not going to accept it, as Mr. Hain did three years ago, because the debate is over, or is she saying that it may still be appropriate as the debate unfolds? We want clarity. Are the Government going to accept the passerelle clause, or are they going to use their veto, as did the Government representative on the European Convention?
I have dealt with those points, so I shall carry on with my remarks.
The debate at EU level has been general. It did not get much beyond the question of whether, in broad terms, member states were in favour of transferring police and judicial co-operation to the first pillar. The majority, including the UK, expressed doubts about the Commission's reasoning and concerns about the potential impact. Given the overall tone of the debate, there was little discussion of what such a transfer might look like or what safeguards or restrictions might be put in place. That is why we have tried not to speculate about what safeguards might or might not be appropriate.
We are not convinced that now is the right time to consider change. We consider that the debate at Tampere clearly indicated that there was little appetite for using the passerelle, and on that basis we think that the current debate is effectively over. We should instead focus our energy on delivering practical measures that make a real difference to the safety and security of our citizens. The Home Secretary will make that point clearly at next week's Justice and Home Affairs Council meeting.
In conclusion, I return to my starting point. The Hague programme review is a welcome opportunity to take stock of what has been achieved and to review priorities. EU member states face similar threats from terrorists and organised crime and are affected by each other's vulnerabilities. Terrorist cells, crime and illegal immigration networks operate across borders and are invariably international. Working together in the EU, at 25-state level and bilaterally, is essential if we are to reduce the common threat and our vulnerability to it. The Hague programme and its associated strategies and action plans provide an effective framework for co-operation.
Anyone reading the motion on the Order Paper could be forgiven for thinking that it says it all. Unfortunately, the context in which this debate has arisen demonstrates that what we see on the Order Paper is no more than some fairly woolly words that do not describe with any accuracy what has gone before. Michael Connarty and his European Scrutiny Committee have, in their disappointment at the Government's response to their questions, required that the report should be debated on the Floor of the House. I accept that the Chamber is not particularly crowded this afternoon, but some Members present were not on that Committee.
It is essential that the Minister and, through her, the rest of the Government, should be left in no doubt that so far the Government's performance in such matters has been wholly unsatisfactory. One does not have to read the question and answer session before the hon. Gentleman's Committee on
When Fiona Mactaggart held the Minister's current role, I debated with her in Committee a similar set of proposals in relation to the penal regime that flowed from breaches of environmental law. On
Does my hon. and learned Friend accept that the root of the problem is that the Government are, in a sense, right in that it is theoretically impossible for a proposal that has been put before a European Standing Committee to be negatived in contravention of the European Communities Act 1972? Does he also accept that we are able to apply the doctrine of the supremacy of Parliament and override the 1972 Act, provided that in such an amendment we add the rider that the judiciary would be bound to apply that latest express, if inconsistent, provision?
I am sure that my hon. Friend is right, but I would encapsulate the problem thus: we simply cannot afford as a country and as a Parliament to be governed by invertebrates and to allow invertebrates to negotiate on our behalf. It is the duty of this House to put some steel in the backbone of this Government. Whatever the procedural niceties, we now have a perfect opportunity to do that, thanks to the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk and his Committee.
I admire the hon. and learned Gentleman's reference to the molluscan tendencies of the Government in respect of negotiation. Having said that, having read the motion and having heard the Minister's somewhat elliptical—but, I think, straightforward—response, we have a useful opportunity to debate the issue, but surely it is not the hon. and learned Gentleman's intention to vote against a motion that says what many of us believe.
I was simply wondering whether the hon. and learned Gentleman was going to pay attention to what Madam Deputy Speaker said to him.
I am making a speech, so I tend to prepare for, and to listen, to what I am about to say. I am paying attention.
Let me move on to— [Interruption.] I am not normally a fan of debates on European affairs, as it tends to bring in the usual suspects and people who mutter under their breath. If Mr. Heath would like to ask me another question, I would be happy to answer it.
I am grateful. I will ask him not another question, but the same question: does he agree with the words in the motion to the effect that the Government will not agree to the Commission's proposal?
I was about to answer the hon. Gentleman's question when Madam Deputy Speaker quite properly brought it to my attention that the word "invertebrates" is apparently not in parliamentary usage. Having overcome that problem, I was interrupted by the Minister, who wanted to talk about something completely different. I will now return to the issue that the hon. Gentleman raised. We are dissatisfied—I thought that I had already made it quite clear—with the wording because it does not accurately reflect the true state of affairs. For that reason, we will hold the Government to account for what they are doing.
My intentions have nothing to do with zoology, Madam Deputy Speaker. I simply wish to support my hon. and learned Friend in his criticism of the motion because—I refer to a point that he made earlier—the European Court of Justice case that will permit criminal justice measures to be imposed on member states by majority voting, against the wishes of the Parliament and Government concerned, circumvents the need for the passerelle. Criminal justice matters are switching to majority voting by act of the European Court of Justice, even in advance of what is on the Order Paper.
I agree with my right hon. Friend. We can either abdicate our responsibilities as Members of Parliament, let the Government have their way and be rolled on by others in the course of our negotiations, or we can stand up as MPs for our own national Parliament, our own constituents and our own country. It is a matter of decision and judgment. All hon. Members must make up their own minds about how they wish to vote this afternoon, but I shall certainly not support the Minister on the motion that she has put to the House this afternoon.
My parliamentary neighbour has only just arrived for the debate, which lasts only an hour and a half, so would he mind awfully if I made some progress? Otherwise, the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk will not have an opportunity to speak. I have absolutely no doubt that whatever the right hon. Gentleman wants to say will appear in tomorrow's Leicester Mercury in any event.
"If you surrender the veto, and introduce part of the European Constitution by the back door, you will put those rights in jeopardy. I urge you to state publicly and categorically that the UK veto will not be surrendered."
My right hon. Friend is yet to receive a reply from the Home Secretary. The Minister gave evidence to the European Scrutiny Committee on
We are talking about a form of competence creep from the third pillar of European structures to the first. It has always been our understanding—and, as my right hon. Friend Mr. Heathcoat-Amory suggested a moment ago, we had thought that it was the Government's understanding—that there should be no competence creep from one pillar to another. There should be no eliding of the pillars on matters of home affairs and justice. As my right hon. Friend said, that was the view not only of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Mr. Hain, but of the Prime Minister.
"In the justice and home affairs area, we have agreed better arrangements for co-operation on police matters, crime and drugs...However, such co-operation will remain intergovernmental and subject to unanimity. Thanks to amendments that we also secured, the European Court will have no authority to decide cases brought in United Kingdom courts on those issues."—-[ Hansard, 18 June 1997; Vol. 296, c. 313.]
There, at the outset of the Government's coming to power, the Prime Minister made it quite clear that he was not prepared to see any elision between the pillar structure or any use of a passarelle or gangplank to allow constitutional travel between one part and the next.
"The hon. Gentleman asked me whether we are intending to introduce any part of the constitution by the back door. The answer to that is no."
He subsequently said that
"there will be no proposals made by this Government that seek to bring in this constitutional treaty, or elements of it, by the back door. That is clear."—[ Hansard, 6 June 2005; Vol. 434, c. 994-1000.]
He said that precisely in the context of a form of constitutional competence creep, which has concerned not just Conservative Members but those of all parties on the European Scrutiny Committee. If the Committee had no concerns, it would presumably have let the whole thing go through on
I apologise for missing the hon. and learned Gentleman's opening remarks. I am just trying to be clear about Conservative party policy. There is no objection to the principle of co-operation between EU member states on these issues. The objection is solely about the use of qualified majority voting. As the hon. and learned Gentleman will know, however, if we look at the results of QMV over the last 20 years, we find that Britain has been on the winning side on almost all occasions, so what is he afraid of?
I had hoped that I had already made it clear, but let me try again. The issue that we are concerned about is not over QMV or unanimity. We are worried about the stealthy moving by means of the passerelle or gangplank of matters that have in the past—and in line with Government's undertakings from the Prime Minister downwards since 1997—been reserved for the unanimity pillar. If we are not careful, those matters are going to be moved behind our backs through incompetent negotiation into the qualified majority setting. I have no doubt that when Mr. Vaz was Minister for Europe, everything was hunky-dory in every way. No doubt this country's public could not have been better served. However, as he and I know only too well, he no longer holds that office.
Following on from the comments by my right hon. Friend Keith Vaz, may I clarify what the Opposition believe to be the best way to stop this slide from one pillar to another and to ensure that matters that ought to remain the subject of unanimity do so and are not allowed to move into an area of centralisation and mission creep?
By having a Conservative Government and a Conservative Minister who would represent the interests of this country with greater vehemence and greater clarity. The hon. Gentleman is a man of great consistency on these matters, and I am sure that he would wish to support any such Conservative Minister in those negotiations. Indeed, if he would like to become part of our—
I must point out to the hon. and learned Gentleman that that is not the kind of answer that I find helpful in these circumstances. If he wishes to build a cross-party alliance against centralisation and against Brussels, there will have to be a move from purely partisan point scoring. I hope that he now feels thoroughly rebuked. If he wants my help in future, he had better behave better.
I want to make the point, before the hon. and learned Gentleman's assertion is repeated so often that people believe it to be a fact, that the competence creep from pillar 3 to pillar 1 is something that he fears; it is not something that is happening, and it not our policy. It is important to distinguish facts from any concerns that he might wish to raise.
I am afraid that they are not just my concerns; they are the concerns of the Minister's right hon. and hon. Friends on the European Scrutiny Committee. If she had been 100 per cent. clear in her responses on the Government's policy and intentions, we would not be here now. The matter would have been quietly pushed away on
Will my hon. and learned Friend note—Mr. Heath might also wish to do so—that the Government's position is that
"this is not the right time to focus on institutional change"?
That is not quite the same as the Minister's suggestion that the debate is over. The motion states that
"this is not the right time".
The problem is that, when the Minister gives oral evidence, she says one thing, but when she gets back to the Department, someone—no doubt with the best motives in the world—hands her a piece of paper that says something different. On
"The Government considers the current debate to be over and that we should instead focus on practical measures in the current JHA agenda."
That is fine, so far as it goes, but it is not clear whether the Government will therefore resist or veto any further competence creep, or whether they are simply parking the issue until some later date when there is a new President, or some new state of affairs in which a different view might be taken. For the life of me, I am no nearer to understanding what the Government are going to do on our behalf as a consequence either of the Minister's evidence to the Committee or of reading her letter.
It should not be beyond the wit of man, or woman, for a Minister to understand what their own Government's policy is, and to be able to explain it in terms that everyone on the Committee can understand so that the Committee is not so worried that it requires the matter to be further discussed on the Floor of the House. Until we get clear answers from the Minister about what the Government intend to do, what their position is, and how they propose to defend the interests and rights of the British public, it is perfectly proper for the Opposition and other Members to criticise motions that are tabled in this rather bland and meaningless fashion. It is no good Ministers huffing and puffing and saying that the Opposition are silly to go on complaining.
I accept that the issue is complicated, and I dare say that the Minister has spent a long time since coming into the Home Office last May getting to grips with the issues with which she has to deal on this aspect of Government policy. None the less, and even though it is difficult and complicated and involves multi-handed negotiations with all the other EU states, there is no excuse for the Government not making themselves clear. The messages that we are getting from them have tended to increase, rather than to remove, confusion. That is why my right hon. and hon. Friends and I are deeply dissatisfied with the way in which the Government have presented themselves to the House and to the Committee.
There are a number of other detailed issues that I do not have time to discuss this afternoon, about which the Government have been less than clear in regard to the amalgamation, the eliding, of the two separate pillars. There are matters to do with the use of the veto in the national interest, and matters to do with the Government's acceptance of qualified majority voting as the best way to deal with these issues, which are integral to the national sovereignty of any country. We have only to look at the remarks of the Foreign Minister for Ireland to see how strongly he feels about this issue. We need to understand how important the making, enforcing and policing of the criminal law is to each country's own national make-up; these are not ephemeral matters of temporary interest.
This Parliament is here to decide the criminal law of this country, and to determine the relevant punishments. It would not be proper for our Government—even when they do know what they are talking about—simply to allow, through neglect or failure to keep a proper look-out, matters that are firmly under the unanimity pillar of the European treaty to move quietly along the gangplank into the QMV pillar.
The Government are here to give an account of themselves, and Parliament is here to make sure that Ministers are accountable. I congratulate the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk and his Committee on bringing the Government to the Floor of the House to explain themselves. I remain wholly unsatisfied, and wholly unclear about what their real attitude towards this issue. I urge all Members to treat the motion tabled by the Minister with the deepest of scepticism.
Order. May I remind hon. Members that we have approximately 45 minutes left in the debate? If Members are brief in their remarks, more of them will have the opportunity to catch my eye.
I congratulate the House authorities on allowing this debate on the Floor of the House within two weeks of a European debate. May I say to Mr. Garnier that his style would have been more suited to a three-hour debate? He could have been more concise, so as to give many members of my Committee, who have been denied the chance to speak in the House for some time, a chance to take part in the debate.
On behalf of the European Scrutiny Committee, I am happy to present our 41st report for 2005-06. It starts with the evidence given on
"if the EU acquires competence over something internally then the EU becomes the single, unified body which deals with all the external negotiations relating to that matter."
It was on that point that the discussions foundered, because the Irish Government spotted the issue very quickly and made a strong case that echoed around the negotiations.
The position was stated not at that evidence session, but quite clearly in the letter of
"the Government considers the debate about the passerelle 'to be over'."
I therefore welcome the position that the Government are taking at this moment in the motion, which says that the
The Government have taken that position in saying that the focus of the Council
"should instead be on developing practical co-operation to combat the transitional challenges of terrorism, organised crime and migration" and away from institutional change.
For the reasons that have been given, and in relation to the Government's position, we have moved forward considerably, and I hope that members of my Committee will vote with the Government if a Division is called on the proposal, but I must bring to the attention of the House three pieces of further evidence, because my concern and that of my Committee is to be evidenced-based in what we say.
The first piece of evidence is in the statement to Parliament by Baroness Scotland, following the Justice and Home Affairs Council of 5 and
"The presidency is still reflecting on what its next steps should be, but we consider the current debate to be over."
She then said:
"The Commission urged the Presidency to reach agreement on the passerelle by the December European Council."—[ Hansard, House of Lords, 28 November 2006; Vol. 687, c. WS77.]
It might indeed be urging the presidency to reach a conclusion that the passerelle is in fact a dead parrot, but then I read what Commissioner Frattini said at the Conference of Community and European Affairs Committees of Parliaments of the European Union conference just two weeks ago, which I attended with my hon. colleague from Wales.
My hon. colleague from Caerphilly in Wales, in fact. Commissioner Frattini said:
"However, I still believe that, if in the coming months there will be no concrete and real progress in relaunching the draft Constitutional Treaty, the bridging clause"— which of course is the passerelle—
"will represent an appropriate and important tool at the disposal of the Union and the Member States to ensure more efficiency, transparency and accountability of the decision making process."
The Member who represents this Parliament in Brussels and reports to our Committee says:
"The Presidency now intends to put the issue of improving decision-making on police and judicial cooperation in JHA matters on the agenda for the December European Council".
The intention behind that is that the Finnish presidency wants to show progress on the Hague agenda.
The Hague agenda is not just the passerelle clause, but it has become tied up with that. I hope that we will not see it forced on to the December Council meeting. If it is, I hope that our Government will stand firm on the position that they have given today.
Future assurances are also required, I say to the Minister. I urge her to grasp ownership of her brief and not be seen as a messenger; otherwise, quite frankly, the Government should have instead sent the Home Secretary to reply to the debate. It must be her brief and she must stand firm on the position that we have been asking for from the Government, which they appear to be giving at this moment.
The second part of our evidence was on the European evidence warrant, which is not to be mixed up with the European arrest warrant, which is a swift way to achieve extradition. There is a guilty party who is being sought for trial in the appropriate court, whereas the European evidence warrant, as our evidence showed—again and again, I come back to it—says that there are no guilty persons, although there is a crime. The idea of someone coming into this country with a European evidence warrant and having it rubber-stamped by our courts without challenge by them, and then going and kicking down the door of someone who may or may not be involved in that crime is not acceptable to our Committee.
I do not agree with the views my hon. Friend is expressing on the European evidence warrant, but I am intervening to say that he has referred to a guilty party in relation to the European arrest warrant. When we extradite, such people have yet to stand trial, so it is not established at that point that such an individual is the guilty party.
I accept that point. There is an accused who has been arrested and charged with a crime. No one has been charged with a crime in the evidence warrant scenario. Significantly, Germany said that it would accept the arrest warrant only if it had a derogation from six major areas in which the evidence warrant would be applied, because it thought it too vague, not relevant to transnational crimes such as terrorism, and not strong enough to make it give up its right to dual criminality. The issue in question would have to be a crime in Germany and in the country from which the evidence warrant came.
This issue foundered on the basis of hot pursuit and surveillance. My worry is that hot pursuit and surveillance are a clear signal from the Commission of its intent and where it wants to go. We as a Committee suggest that Parliament, and also the British people, demand that the Government and this Minister stand firm on that matter, now and in the future. She said in her letter that there were no "significant gains" for the UK from the passerelle. The judgment must be in terms of when we discuss this further.
Until we find that there are significant gains in something to move the justice and home affairs Hague agenda forward, such Commission proposals should not be brought back to the House. I hope that the Minister will stand firm on that in any Council she attends.
We on the Liberal Democrat Benches welcome the opportunity to have this debate today, not least because we accept that there is a legitimate debate to be had. The contributions from both sides of the House have amply demonstrated that fact. We also think it self-evident that there are benefits to more and greater co-operation in those matters across the EU, but at the same time we must be careful not to abandon matters of sovereignty. The British Parliament needs an opportunity to discuss matters arising from the European constitution systematically and sensibly, rather than have a brief debate on a fraction of the issues arising from qualified majority voting and Britain's veto powers.
On the subject of sensible debate, I for one have been heartened by the fact that we have not heard the intemperate contributions to the debate that we have seen in certain sections of the press, as ever. In particular, my eye was caught by a recent item in The Daily Telegraph by Simon Heffer, which was entitled "Britons could all too soon become slaves of Europe". It went on to warn that we might be
"lulled into a dangerous sense of complacency towards the evils capable of being inflicted upon us, our country and our way of life by the EU."
So it went on in similar vein. I am pleased that such intemperate tones have not been used in the debate.
It is worth clarifying the current position as we understand it. The EU already decides some justice and home affairs policies on the basis of qualified majority voting, such as those relating to asylum, although the UK, along with Ireland, has opt-in clauses on such issues, which allow us to choose which area of EU legislation will apply to us. Other areas, such as legal immigration, family law and police and judicial co-operation decisions, require unanimity, which, in effect, gives every country a veto. There is a legitimate argument to simplify procedures on justice and home affairs matters where the EU has a justifiable role. Again, as we have made clear on previous occasions, we are not advocating abandoning the veto on legal matters, which is neither appropriate nor necessary.
It seems to me that the EU has a fundamental role to play in guaranteeing peace and freedom across Europe. By promoting enterprise, protecting the environment, supporting global development and fighting discrimination, the EU undoubtedly brings enormous benefits to Britain. The EU must have the powers and resources to act effectively in areas where problems cannot be solved at national or regional level, while keeping out of areas where policy can be successfully managed at those levels. We will therefore continue to press for a diverse, democratic, decentralised Europe.
We also acknowledge the need, however, to improve the quality of EU governance. The EU should focus its policy making only on those areas for which EU-wide action is indispensable. That means ensuring that the principle of subsidiarity is fully respected. We recognise that terrorism, environmental pollution, trafficking and so on should be tackled through co-operation and international solidarity. Some cross-border issues cannot be dealt with by an individual nation or individual nation states. Where issues do not recognise national barriers, it makes no sense to place those barriers in the way of progress.
There is a competence to legislate across the European Union on matters of international concern, and the UK Government must recognise that some crimes must be tackled using the first pillar approach. The priority for the Liberal Democrats has always been to ensure security for the UK and its citizens without sacrificing our liberties. In a world in which terrorists, drug dealers and people traffickers do not respect national boundaries, that can best be secured by working with our European partners in an efficient manner, while still ensuring that our national sovereignty remains intact. The Hague programme harmonises action programmes in criminal justice matters in such a way. We must, however, safeguard the common-law system. Distinctions need to be made between the controls of decisions to move to the first tier. Decisions must be made on a case-by-case basis, and the UK should retain its veto.
Is not the hon. Gentleman making the same mistake as the Minister by ignoring the extent to which we already accept majority voting on criminal justice matters? What does he think of the recent European Court of Justice case that decided that directives agreed by majority voting may require criminal justice enforcement in member states? Even if we voted against that directive, the criminal justice system in this country would be affected. Does he agree that the European Council should reverse that decision, rather than, as the Government suppose, simply accepting it?
I am grateful for the right hon. Gentleman's intervention, but I do not agree with his point of view on the matter. I emphasise that I am relating my remarks to the motion that is actually on the Order Paper, not to the motion that it appears that he and some of his colleagues wish was on the Order Paper. By the end of my speech, I hope that he will have a clear idea of precisely where the Liberal Democrats stand on such matters.
The Liberal Democrats also appreciate that there are some fundamental differences between the UK and our European neighbours in relation to the working of our criminal justice system. We therefore believe that any move to QMV must be accompanied by an insertion of an emergency brake system into the law-making process. Of course, the ill-fated European constitution proposed that. It would mean that if the UK deemed a measure—such as an attempt to limit jury trial or habeas corpus—to be a fundamental threat to our national sovereignty, we would not be bound to implement such policies. Our judicial and legal system is different from that of Europe, and we must not do anything to jeopardise it. Let me make it crystal clear that Liberal Democrats believe in the fundamental importance of trial by jury and habeas corpus, and will never agree to any policy, whether proposed by Europe or the Government, that puts those principles at risk. Some might say that, if anything, those values seem more at risk from the Government than from Europe. We need more than a 90-minute debate on the issue, and I hope that today's discussion will be part of a much wider and ongoing debate among all interested parties.
I have noticed that many parliamentary colleagues have already asked questions on this matter and received somewhat vague answers—not just today, but on previous occasions. I acknowledge, however, that the Government's intentions on implementing the Hague programme have become a little clearer, to be charitable, as a result of the Minister's comments, but could she try to clear up some of the outstanding doubts raised in today's debate? Specifically, will she please confirm that any decisions about the Hague programme will be made on the Floor of the House, and that all members of all parties will have an opportunity to contribute? It is important that the constitution is not, and is not perceived to be, slipped in through the back door. There needs to be an open and honest debate about where decisions are made in the European Union.
The hon. Gentleman says that the constitution should not be slipped in through the back door. Does that mean that the Liberal Democrats will oppose any efforts to cherry-pick the constitution or introduce any elements of it by stealth?
We have already indicated that there are legitimate areas of debate, and I think that my contribution and that of my hon. Friend Mr. Heath have shown exactly where we stand at this stage.
As I was saying, there needs to be an open and honest debate about where decisions are made in the European Union. The Government must not avoid that, as I believe they originally sought to do by not allowing a referendum on the constitution. However, my hon. Friends and I are minded to support the motion, albeit with some of the caveats that I have listed.
I shall be brief.
When I came here today, I was somewhat concerned about the motion and the provision. I have had just enough reassurance from my hon. Friend the Minister to join her in the Lobby today, but I retain my deep suspicion of Brussels and what it is doing. There has been much talk today about biology, and I am more concerned about the vertebrates in Brussels—the snakes in the grass—than about our Government. My hon. Friend's reassurance was forthcoming eventually, and I hope that she will respond positively to the stiffening remarks of my hon. Friend Michael Connarty.
This action is being taken under the Finnish presidency. I have great affection for the Finns and for their country. During a recent parliamentary visit to Finland, Finnish politicians told us, "We do not have the problems that you have in Britain, because people do not want to come to Finland. It is too cold for a start, and our language is extremely difficult." Unfortunately, we are targeted by people who are not always admirable or desirable, so it is important for us to retain strong control of our domestic, national borders rather than becoming part of a European Union that is effectively a state with an external border. Some member states may feel happy about that, but I believe that others feel just as we do.
It may be possible to gain access to the EU through a leaky border in a far-flung region and then travel easily into our country. I understand that the Government are seeking to deal with that.
Given our inability to restrict the number of people in various categories who arrive from Romania and Bulgaria and our inability to expel many who have committed crimes in this country, does my hon. Friend agree that the Government have already sold the pass to some extent?
The Government made a profound mistake in not instituting the same provisions as other member states at the time of enlargement. They have changed their view in relation to Romania and Bulgaria and I think they were wise to do so, but the estimates of the numbers who would arrive from the new member states were far too low. Although I am happy to see young Polish people working well in my constituency, I believe that large population flows are destabilising, and they do not help the countries from which those people come. Poland has complained about losing large numbers of skilled and talented young people when they are needed to help their own economy.
Obviously, if one imports large numbers of skilled and talented people, that will be beneficial in the short term. However, the point has been made that they also have costs, such as having to be looked after by the health service. I believe that large movements of populations are not sensible. Other member states have wisely been more cautious than us about such matters.
I do not want us to slide secretively from unanimity to qualified majority voting on this matter—or indeed on many other matters. The passerelle is described as a gangplank. I would like there to be a new passerelle that is a bridge over which it is possible to go backwards and forwards—rather than just slip off the end and never change.
Finally, I shall repeat something that I have said many times in the Chamber: I deeply disapprove of some things that have been done in the name of Europe and I would like them to be reversed, and I shall continue to speak up about such matters when appropriate occasions arise, but on this occasion I shall vote in support of the Minister, because the reassurance she has given is sufficiently strong and I trust that she will keep to that position for many years to come.
The debate has reminded me of a part of "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland". The mock turtle's buckets of tears over the meetings with the griffin and Alice herself—I hope that I am right about this—came to mind when I heard all the references about the invertebrates, as did the remarkable statement made at that point in the book that rather summarises the position of the Government in the current context:
"Will you, won't you, will you, won't you, will you join the dance?"
The Minister has been engaged in something of a quadrille over the issue under discussion over the past few months. Even to this day and this minute, I do not think that she has answered the real question, which deserves to be answered and should have been answered a long time ago. As I pointed out in an intervention, this motion says that it is
"the Government's position that this is not the right time to focus on institutional change".
In Eurosceptic-speak that means "for the foreseeable future"—or similar phrases that we have heard over the past 20-odd years while I have been involved in this issue—because that is just an acceptance of that for the time being by the Government. That is why I disagree with Michael Connarty, my colleague on, and Chairman of, the European Scrutiny Committee: I will certainly vote against this motion. The door has opened and the Government have allowed the provisions to come through.
I remember the 150 or so amendments that I tabled on the Nice and Amsterdam treaties, not to mention Maastricht, all because I was opposed to the continuous creeping invasion of our national sovereignty. All parties have agreed with me on that in the Chamber today: I have heard Members of all parties agree that they do not want an invasion of our national sovereignty. I have even heard that from the Liberal Democrats—heaven forgive me for mentioning that. The fact is that such arguments, which were utterly unacceptable some time ago, now seem to be fairly common form.
The problem is, however, that when we get down to the application of that principle to a matter such as that under discussion, the position that the Government adopt is purely one of current expediency. They know perfectly well that the Germans do not want cherry-picking in this area because they want the constitutional treaty. They know perfectly well that the Irish have taken a position for their own internal reasons—I pay tribute to Mr. McDowell, to whom I have spoken on many occasions and who has a robust view about Irish sovereignty. I understand that there are people in other countries, such as Denmark and Poland, who all take the same position. The Minister's motion is, therefore, right to state
"that there was little support amongst Member States", but the question that one has to consider is: where is all this still going?
I am glad that my Front-Bench colleagues are taking the decisive position of voting against the motion. I have, on occasion, had reason to criticise some of my good friends for being a little less than decisive in vetoing other treaties, for example, when we had the opportunity to do so.
The practical side of this proposal needs to be examined against the background of the reasons that the European institutions, and particularly the Commission, are giving for extending it to include qualified majority voting and the abandoning of the veto. As all Members have said, this is about national sovereignty and our criminal justice system. The Minister said that she wants to defend our national cause, but she has not closed the door in that regard, because the Government are part and parcel of the Hague programme and the treaties that have allowed it. I want this House to reassert its supremacy. I am very happy to have co-operation with other countries, particularly on trade, but we must override the European Communities Act 1972 and ensure that the judiciary is obliged to obey the latest legislation. Any attempt to go down this route—it remains on the table, even under the terms of this motion—has to be repudiated, which is why I am thoroughly glad that the leadership of my party has determined that we will vote against the motion.
The Commission says that the reason for having this so-called passerelle—I do not like the word at all—is that "insufficient powers" have been given to the European Parliament. Its own document states that the
"use of unanimity...often leads to agreement on the lowest common denominator basis" and provides merely for
"a limited role for the [European] Court of Justice".
It goes on to say why the Commission believes that these deficiencies could be remedied by the use of this so-called passerelle—this gangplank. Returning to the subject of children's stories—I have a five-and-a-half-year-old granddaughter, Tess, so I am reading them at the moment—let us remember Captain Hook and the gangplank in "Peter Pan". What was at the bottom of the gangplank? The crocodile. This passerelle has a lot of problems associated with it: there are a lot of crocodiles thrashing around at the bottom of that gangplank.
What does the Commission regard as advantageous about the use of the passerelle? Amazingly, it is simply this:
"democratic legitimacy would be increased by making measures on police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters subject to co-decision with the European Parliament".
That is a marker, for one—a good one for the crocodile. It continues:
"the 'European dimension' would be guaranteed by giving the Commission the right to initiate proposals for legislation on these matters".
There we are—this is an invitation to the "European dimension". The Commission wants the whole of our criminal procedures and the whole of the Hague programme to be drawn into this enlarged integration process. It wants to increase the European dimension at the expense of the dimension of the British electorate voting in general elections in a secret ballot. It is precisely for that reason that I have been so opposed to these measures over the years. In this instance, qualified majority voting would prevent us from getting our way, which is a reason to oppose these measures in itself. This is not the right time, as the Minister says it is; in this context, the right time is never.
The Commission also puts forward the following proposal:
"delays in the legislative process would be reduced by moving to QMV and the quality of legislation would be improved by removing the temptation to adopt the lowest common denominator as the only way to achieve unanimity".
For heaven's sake—what gobbledegook, what trash.
My third and last point is about the statement that
"judicial protection would be improved by giving the European Court of Justice jurisdiction in police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters."
I do not need to enlarge on that any further. I have made my case, but I add one final point. There are many people around today who want to undermine our judicial process and our criminal justice system at its root. That is even coming—and I say this with care and discretion—from those who wish to advocate sharia law at the expense of our judicial system. That in itself is associated with this provision, because those who advocate sharia law are also among those who, regrettably, have fallen into the trap of believing that some of the activities, in relation to terrorism, are justified. This provision is about such questions and I warn the Government to be very careful about undermining our system, either today by failing to be specific and not making it clear that they will use the veto, as they should have done years ago, or by opening the door to some of the undesirable ideas contained in the Hague programme, which should have been repudiated years ago.
I welcome the motion and I understand why member states have little enthusiasm for the proposed use of article 42 passarelle in this instance. It is much more important to have continued and improved practical co-operation between EU member states. Rather than wrangling over qualified majority voting on the immensely complex and sensitive subject of justice and home affairs, which is integral to national sovereignty, it would be better to secure the fullest possible co-operation on the ground.
Although the UK is not in the Schengen area, it is clearly in our interests to collaborate closely with those member states that are, and I am pleased to note that the Government support the plan to register entries to and exits from the Schengen area. We must also heed the concerns of front-line states, especially those on the Mediterranean, which report enormous pressure from hopeful migrants from outside the EU. That is an issue on which we need full co-operation from all member states to ensure that we tackle illegal immigration from outside the EU and have workable systems for managing legal migration. In particular, as we talk about commemorating the abolition of slavery, we must work together to tackle the present-day problem of human trafficking.
We need to improve co-operation in one specific area. Following a dreadful incident close to my constituency, in which a Polish migrant worker, who had already served a sentence for rape in Poland, raped again, I discovered from the local police that there is no systematic EU-wide system for registering sex offenders. When I raised the issue with ministerial colleagues in the Home Office, they were very sympathetic and told me that it is being considered by EU member states. May I therefore ask my hon. Friend the Minister what progress has been made in developing an effective, EU-wide sex offender register? It is practical co-operation like that that is needed. It is only by having effective systems to keep appropriate tabs on the very few individuals who pose a threat to public safety that we can build up positive attitudes—
Rather than having an EU-wide registration system, it would be far simpler to keep such people in prison and not release them early, which is what happens all too often and allows them to commit further horrific acts.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, but I cannot comment on the Polish judicial system and the length of sentence imposed on that occasion. The important point is that in order to ensure that we maintain a positive attitude to the overwhelming majority of hard-working migrants who are law-abiding citizens, we need proper measures in place for the small element who are of a criminal nature.
Does my hon. Friend agree that, as well as a system of identifying such people, we also need to be able to refuse them entry? Moreover, if we find that they are here, should we not be able to expel them? Should not this country retain such powers?
My hon. Friend makes an interesting point, but we would have to be very careful when it came to defining those powers and the particular crimes involved. Names can appear on various lists for different reasons.
People can now move freely within the EU, and settle and work in any member state. Many British people take advantage of that exciting opportunity, so it is crucial that there is the fullest possible collaboration between member states to deal with the small but significant criminal element that seeks to profit from that freedom. That is why I welcome the motion's emphasis on practical co-operation to deal with transnational challenges such as terrorism and crime.
On the whole, I welcome the Hague programme. It offers a practical approach to many problems facing Britain and Europe today. I also welcome the action plan adopted by the Council of Europe in June 2005.
The European Scrutiny Committee has studied four communications from the European Commission, one of which was the annual report on the Hague programme. It said that progress had been satisfactory, except with regard to the measures proposed under article 6 of the EU treaty. The main reason for that was the alleged lack of unanimity among Council members, which the European Commission believes makes the case for change to qualified majority voting and the adoption of the passerelle clause under article 42.
As we have heard, the Government believe that the debate about the passerelle clause has come to an end, but my hon. Friend Michael Connarty was right to point out that the Commission does not agree. Only the other day, Commissioner Frattini declared in a debate in Helsinki that the Commission believes that the debate is very much still going on. The Commission has not modified its position one iota: it still believes very firmly that the Council should adopt the passerelle clause.
We must be clear about where Parliament stands on this matter. Although I believe that we should adopt the positive elements of the Hague programme, it is important that we reaffirm our opposition to the adoption of the passerelle clause. I have four concerns about this matter that I should like to set out for the House.
First, opting in to the passerelle clause would have constitutional significance. We must be mindful that the clause could mean that it would not be possible for Britain to have bilateral extradition agreements with third countries. In other words, it might not be possible for us to have an agreement with a third country to extradite terrorists. Given that that is one of the main concerns for most British people, we need to be very careful about adopting such a provision.
Secondly, it is important to stress that there is no provision for rescinding an opt-in. If we decide to opt in to the passerelle process, we are in there for good—once in, always in. A linked problem is the extension into new areas of the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. In addition, more powers are implied for the European Commission, as it would be up to the Commission to bring infraction proceedings, and there would also be new measures for the European Parliament.
Thirdly, the passerelle would put the UK in a weaker negotiating position, because other member states would not take our position seriously unless we had decided to opt in. If we are serious about influencing the European agenda on justice and home affairs, it will be far better for us to oppose the adoption of the passerelle clause.
My fourth and final point is that if the passerelle clause is adopted, it will undoubtedly introduce a high degree of uncertainty in respect of the future of Europe and the treaties. A linked worry is that because the constitutional treaty has not been agreed—indeed, it was emphatically rejected by two electorates in the EU—measures will be brought in through the back door. The issues that the passerelle clause will open up need to be debated, but fully and frankly as part of treaty negotiations; we should not simply slip into adopting measures by the back door. I am worried about that uncertainty and pre-emption.
This debate is timely. The Council of Ministers is meeting on 4 and
With leave of the House, I should like to reply to the debate, which has been useful and comes at a helpful time, given that the Justice and Home Affairs Council will meet next week.
We take the Select Committee report seriously and are pleased to work with the Committee on these matters. The process is helpful and we value it. The Government are broadly supportive of the principles of the Hague programme as it stands; it was a good outcome for the UK when it was negotiated, and it remains so. In general, the format is right for the organisation of justice and home affairs work over the next few years. However, commitment to a programme as a whole does not mean that we must agree with the detail of all the proposals.
I understand Members' concerns about the passerelle. I made it clear to the Committee that the Government's concerns featured prominently in negotiations on the justice and home affairs aspects of the draft constitutional treaty. I pointed out that
"the UK identified a number of substantive concerns, including the potential impact on national security, the extension of external competencies and the need for safeguards such as the emergency brake".
Those concerns remain valid, and given the strength with which Members raised them today, it is right to reiterate them.
I take on board Members' concerns about whether the position of the Commission has changed. However, there can be no move to the passerelle, and no move of measures from pillar 3 to pillar 1, without a unanimous vote at the Justice and Home Affairs Council. It is not relevant to talk of the back door. It has always been possible to move things from one pillar to another through a unanimous vote. It is not illegitimate that that issue should be raised, but that does not mean that that is what is going to happen. The emphasis on practical co-operation is right. That is where we want to be and that is where we want to direct our effort and see results. I urge hon. Members to support the motion.
Question accordingly agreed to.
That this House takes note of European Union Documents Nos. 11222/06, Commission Communication: Implementing the Hague Programme: the way forward, and 11228/06 and Addenda 1-2, Commission Report on the implementation of the Hague Programme for 2005; and takes note that the discussions at the Tampere Justice and Home Affairs Informal Council showed that there was little support amongst Member States for the proposed use of the Article 42 passerelle; and furthermore supports the Government's position that this is not the right time to focus on institutional change, and that the European Union's priority for Justice and Home Affairs should instead be on developing practical co-operation to combat the transitional challenges of terrorism, organised crime and migration.