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Clause 2 — Addition to list of treaties

Part of Orders of the Day – in the House of Commons at 7:50 pm on 29th January 2008.

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Photo of Mark Francois Mark Francois Shadow Minister (Europe) 7:50 pm, 29th January 2008

I do not intend to rehearse yesterday's arguments about the business motion, which the House debated in some detail. However, we acknowledge the Government's business motion today, which amended the proposed allocation of time from four and a half hours and one and a half hours to three and a half hours and two and a half hours. The Minister knows that we argued for at least three hours and three hours, but the today's motion was a move in the right direction, given the large number of amendments that we have only two and a half hours to debate.

I noticed earlier when we were debating the motion a number of Back Benchers who were keen to speak but who were barely able to contribute at all. I particularly noted that my hon. Friend Mr. Cash spoke for 30 seconds, which I wish to nominate as the shortest ever speech in the House of Commons. I make the point to the Minister that a number of Back Benchers who are experts on the subject were not able to speak in the earlier debate. I hope that the Front-Bench speeches will be relatively brief, to allow the maximum number of Back-Bench contributions. I shall do my best to abide by that self-denying ordinance myself.

The effect of our amendment No. 214 would be to undo one of the most important and damaging changes contained in the Lisbon treaty, which is the EU constitution by another name. The current article 35 of the treaty on the European Union limits the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice over the extremely sensitive area of criminal justice and co-operation on policing—all areas where the EU's powers are considerably extended by the treaty of Lisbon.

Until the time of the EU constitution, it was effectively a matter of cross-party consensus that it was vital that the powers of the European Court of Justice should be limited in that way. As Tony Blair said just before he became Prime Minister,

"we restate our agreement to justice and home affairs remaining outside Community competence"—[ Hansard, 16 December 1996; Vol. 287, c. 617.]

That was for good reason. As the European Scrutiny Committee noted in its latest report,

"the powers of the . . . ECJ are considerably increased when matters move from the Third Pillar to the First . . . the ECJ acquires jurisdiction, both to entertain such infringement proceedings and to interpret measures adopted at Union level. In respect of the matters covered by such measures, and while Union membership subsists, the national courts and parliaments are no longer the ultimate source of law."

That is a profound change. Over time we would see current and future EU measures subject to interpretation by the European Court of Justice in this area. We believe that it would not be long before important parts of our criminal law were potentially superseded by a body of European law. Notwithstanding our opt-in, those familiar with the proposed measure in minimum standards in criminal proceedings will also be familiar with how initially attractive proposals can, with amendment in the negotiating process in the EU, become distinctly less attractive. They would be joined by extensive new legislation dealing with the fundamentals of our criminal justice system.

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