I understand that there was something of a breakdown in the usual arrangement whereby statements are made available to Opposition Front Benchers some time in advance of their delivery. I should emphasise that that is a convention and not something that engages the responsibilities of the Chair, but we do attach some importance to these conventions and the principle of courtesy that underlies them.
Exceptionally, I will take a brief point of order from the right hon. Lady.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Given the seriousness of this issue of European co-operation, and given that the Home Secretary’s statement has literally only just been handed to me, would it be possible for the statement to be deferred for an hour, or even three quarters of an hour, so that the official Opposition can do our duty of scrutinising it?
I am afraid that I just do not think that there is a facility for that to happen. There is a third statement to come, which will follow in due course. The timing of the statement has been announced and the Home Secretary is here to deliver it. I think that what I have said indicates my own feeling—[ Interruption. ] Order. It indicates my own feeling that this is a very unsatisfactory state of affairs. I sincerely hope that there is no recurrence of it. I think that, in the circumstances, we should proceed. I invite the Home Secretary, who I trust will have heard what has been said, now to make the statement.
May I start by apologising to the shadow Secretary of State for the fact that she received a copy of my statement late? On one occasion, when I was shadowing Stephen Byers and he was due to make a statement in the House, I was in a similar position, so I know the difficulties that the situation causes.
Under the terms of the Lisbon treaty, the Government are required to decide by 2014 whether we opt out of, or remain bound by, all the EU police and criminal justice measures adopted prior to the treaty’s entry into force. Under the treaty, the Government are required to make a final decision by
In total, more than 130 measures within the scope of the decision are to be considered at this stage. A full list of the measures was provided to the House on
Under the terms of the treaty, however, the UK cannot pick and choose the measures from which we wish to opt out; we can opt out only en masse and then seek to rejoin individual measures. So I can announce today that the Government’s current thinking is that we will opt out of all pre-Lisbon police and criminal justice measures and then negotiate with the Commission and other member states to opt back into those individual measures that it is in our national interest to rejoin. However, discussions are ongoing within the Government and therefore no formal notification will be given to the Council until we have reached agreement on the measures that we wish to opt back into.
This Government, more than any other before them, have done their utmost to ensure that Parliament has the time to scrutinise properly our decisions relating to the European Union and that Parliament’s views are taken into account. I assure the House that the 2014 decision will be no exception. As the Minister for Europe has already told the House, the Government are committed to a vote on the matter in both this House and the other place. We are also committed to consulting the European Affairs, Home Affairs and Justice Committees, as well as the European Scrutiny Committee and the House of Lords European Union Committee, on the arrangements for the vote.
I fully expect that those Committees will want to undertake their own work on this important decision. The Government will take account of the Committees’ overall views of the package that the UK should seek to apply to rejoin. So that the Government can do that, I invite the Committees to begin work, including gathering evidence, shortly, and to provide their recommendations to the Government as soon as possible. The Government will then aim to bring forward a vote in both Houses of Parliament. The time frame for the vote will depend on progress in our discussions with the Commission and Council. An update will be provided to Parliament early in the new year on when we can expect the vote to take place.
I hope that today I have conveyed to the House not only the Government’s full commitment to holding a vote on the 2014 decision in this House and the other place, but the importance that we will accord to Parliament in the process leading up to that vote. I am sure that all parties will want to work together to ensure that the final decision is in the UK’s national interest. It is in the national interest that the Government have taken this decision, and I commend this statement to the House.
If a series of measures are opted out from, will those measures be able to be considered under the question of whether there will be a referendum on European powers?
The powers that we are talking about and the arrangements for the opt-out are not subject to the powers that have been taken in the Act in relation to European referendums.
I am grateful for the Home Secretary’s statement and I fully support opting out of the whole lot. Will she make sure that, were we to want to co-operate with our partners in certain areas in future, that will not be done by a route that prevents us from changing our minds or prevents Parliament from being sovereign?
As my right hon. Friend knows, this Government have done more than any other to address the issue of the balance of our relationship with the European Union. It is right that we should have the opportunity to opt out from these measures and that we should look seriously at measures that we might wish to opt into. Obviously, that will take time and involve a considerable amount of discussion and negotiation with the European Commission and other member states.
The European arrest warrant started out as a very good idea but has ended up with chaotic and unfair consequences, and the Home Secretary is quite right not to opt into those arrangements. When she considers the areas where she can opt in, which she said she would do seriously, will she look at the powers and responsibilities of Europol? It is very important that we have cross-border co-operation with our EU partners so that violent criminals who may have committed offences abroad are not allowed to enter the United Kingdom. I will put her suggestion of a Select Committee inquiry to the Home Affairs Committee tomorrow.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman. I said that I was sure that he and his Committee would want to look at this issue. He tempts me to identify individual measures that we might wish to opt in or out of and the terms on which we might wish to do so. I am talking not about individual measures, but simply about the Government’s proposal that we opt out of, and then negotiate on, a number of measures. I am aware of the concerns that have been raised on both the issues that he spoke about, and I will certainly take his comments on board in considering them.
The Home Secretary must welcome Gloucestershire constabulary’s success last year in breaking a major human trafficking ring, working with other European police forces and returning a suspect for trial here in the UK. Does she agree that only by using practical tools such as the European arrest warrant used in that case can we really tackle the evil of this modern slavery?
It is absolutely right that there are criminal offences where we want to be able to extradite people—to bring people back from other countries to face trial and justice here in the United Kingdom. We need to ensure that the arrangements that enable us to do that are the best possible and are proportionate. Proportionality is one of the issues that have been raised as regards relations with Europe. As I say, we will look at every individual measure separately when choosing whether to request to opt in.
I have never been in this situation before whereby I have not had a copy of the statement from the Minister until I arrived in the Chamber. Thank you, Mr Speaker, for taking my point of order about this earlier. It shows the complete confusion in the Government and on the part of the Home Secretary about what the Government’s policy is. They have not told us anything at all today; they are completely confused.
We all know that with more international travel and growing cross-border crime, international co-operation is an extremely serious matter, yet the Government seem to have an utterly chaotic position. The Prime Minister told us that the Government would be opting out of all the justice and home affairs provisions; the Deputy Prime Minister said, “No, no—we are only minded to do so.” The Home Secretary said that she was simply setting out “the Government’s current thinking”. However, as she also said that “discussions are ongoing”, presumably the current thinking could change tomorrow and then it will be something else entirely. She said that she wants to opt out of some things but then might opt back into everything all over again. It is just like the Education Secretary saying that he wants out of Europe and the Prime Minister wanting in. With all this out and in, in and out, it is as though the Government are playing a giant game of hokey cokey—and yet the fight against crime is at stake.
The Home Secretary will know that former Metropolitan police commissioners and former heads of MI5 and MI6 have said that British law enforcement bodies are now constantly communicating, co-operating and collaborating with the EU in pursuing serious organised criminal and terrorist networks. The framework of co-operation that they have is crucial in order to stop criminals and prevent crime.
We have read much in the papers about the European arrest warrant, but the Home Secretary did not say whether she wants to opt out of it or plans to opt back in. This warrant made it possible to arrest Jeremy Forrest and bring him back to face British justice for the alleged kidnapping of Megan Stammers and to bring back Hussain Osman for trying to bomb the London underground, and it closed down the “Costa del Crime” when British criminals fled to Spain.
We have a right to be able to bring those criminals back to face British justice, and we owe it to their victims —and, yes, that does mean sending people back from Britain to other countries, because of the 4,000 people returned from Britain in the past eight years under the European arrest warrant, 95% were foreign citizens, who often had committed crimes in their home countries and fled here to escape the long arm of the law. I am sorry, but I think that people should be sent back to their home countries to face justice, rather than have too many people who are suspected of serious crimes in Europe wandering around Britain, unable to be sent back to face justice without years of legal wrangles. From what the Home Secretary has said today, she may well be opting out of the European arrest warrant, which prevents that from happening.
Another area is the sharing of criminal and DNA records. If a known sex offender travels to Britain from France or Spain, does the Home Secretary think that we need full access to their DNA and their criminal records or not?
What about minimum standards of counter-terror co-operation, participating in Europol and exchanging information to stop passport fraud and Europe-wide money laundering, and to trace and freeze criminal assets? The Home Secretary has not told us her position on any of those important measures. She has not said whether she thinks we should opt out, opt out and then opt back in again, whether she thinks that we should renegotiate the provisions, or what will be put in their place in the meantime.
The Home Secretary knows that there is no guarantee that the European Commission and other European countries will support our opting back in again. For example, Denmark, which has opted out from the justice and home affairs provisions, has had about 50% of its requests turned down. One of the Home Secretary’s junior Ministers has admitted that there will be a financial penalty for opting out and then opting back in. Does she have any idea what that financial penalty will be and whether it is worth the price?
I say to the Home Secretary that this is an utterly confused position. Her defence is that she wants to consult Parliament and the public but, considering she has utterly failed to consult Parliament and provide the Opposition with proper information, that is ridiculous. She is taking big risks without even working out what her views are or what the Government think. Next time they want to make a statement on important European policy, perhaps they should work out what they actually think it should be before they come to the House and make it.
Let us remember that it was the Labour party that wanted to sign up to the European constitution and that planned to scrap the pound and join the euro. It has no credibility on European issues in this House. Indeed, it has no credibility with the British people.
Let me address the right hon. Lady’s points. On the list of measures that we might want to opt back into, I have made it clear that we need to engage with the European Commission and other member states in order to opt back into measures where we believe it is in the national interest to do so. That negotiation can now start. We will do that in earnest and talk to them about the terms on which particular opt-ins might be possible.
The right hon. Lady seems to be concerned about where the opt-out decision might leave us with regard to public protection. I remind her that it was the previous Government who negotiated the opt-out. If they thought it was such a problem, why did they negotiate it in the first place? On costs, I remind the right hon. Lady that the financial penalty was part of that negotiation of the opt-out, so it was the Labour Government who signed up to it.
The right hon. Lady made a number of comments on the European arrest warrant. She will be aware that a number of Members have raised concerns about British nationals, some of whom are their constituents, spending a long time languishing in foreign jails before reaching trial. A number of issues have been raised in this House and elsewhere about the proportionality issue in relation to the European arrest warrant. I therefore ask the right hon. Lady: is she happy with all of that, or does she think that the situation can be changed? If she does not think that there is an issue with the European arrest warrant, why did she not force a Division and vote against last December’s motion on extradition, which included a proposal to reform and amend the European arrest warrant? She did not. She accepted the motion, which this House passed and which stated that amendments should be made to the European arrest warrant.
The right hon. Lady’s only position on the issue seems to be to disagree with what we say and what we do. The Labour party negotiated an opt-out, but now it is against enacting it. It said that we needed to reform the European arrest warrant, but now it wants to pass up on the chance of doing just that. I have set out the Government’s position this afternoon. We will give Parliament a voice on the issue. The right hon. Lady cannot spend her time saying one thing one day and another thing the next and expect to be taken credibly by this House or anybody else.
I thank my right hon. Friend for making clear the position on whether we will exercise the opt-out or the opt-in, which is a necessary first position to take. I also thank her for enabling Parliament to exercise its proper influence over the individual measures that we may wish to opt into. Why that is difficult for Yvette Cooper to understand escapes me.
I know that the Home Secretary and the Justice Secretary will agree that it is clearly in our national interest to get European Union prisoners who are serving their sentence here transferred to their own country as early as possible to serve their sentence there. Within the remit of the proper parliamentary scrutiny that she is seeking, will she give the earliest possible indication to our European partners that we will seek to continue with those arrangements?
I assure my hon. Friend that I and the Justice Secretary have every bit as much interest as he has in ensuring that prisoner transfers are made as quickly as possible. He is again trying to tempt me down a road that I will not go down. We have been clear that we will start to look at the individual measures in negotiation with the Commission and member states to see what process will be required and on what terms it might be possible to opt into the measures that we want to opt into. So far, that process has not started.
The Home Secretary knows that she does not have to opt out of the European arrest warrant to seek its reform in areas such as proportionality. That work is already going on in Europe because many countries share our concern. She has the benefit of the report by Lord Justice Scott Baker, which she commissioned. Will she confirm that the Scott Baker report strongly recommended remaining in the European arrest warrant because it had made huge strides forward on justice and tackling crime in Europe?
The Scott Baker report made it absolutely clear that there were a number of areas in which the European arrest warrant should be amended and changed.
It is right that we are proposing to exercise the bloc opt-out, which is the option that is available to us. As I said in my statement, it is not open to us to opt out of individual measures. We can opt out only en bloc and then negotiate to opt into those measures that we think it is right that we continue to be in.
I have never heard a statement so heavily spun to the press, but so devoid of content when the Minister rises at the Dispatch Box. Is not the Secretary of State opting into the rampant Europhobia that consumes her party, in a competition with the Education Secretary to get us out of Europe? If she abolishes the European arrest warrant, her picture will be up on the wall of every trafficker, child abductor and international criminal as the person who took away the fundamental right of British people to be protected from international crime.
I assure the right hon. Gentleman that I take the protection of the British public very seriously indeed. It is the first duty of government to protect the public, but we need to ensure that any measures that are in place to protect the public are the right ones. I have not said what we will do on the European arrest warrant, but I have noted the concerns that have rightly been raised about its proportionality and in relation to the cases of some UK citizens who have been in jail elsewhere. We will now start to look at the individual measures. As I have said, we will discuss with member states and the Commission the process by which we will be able to opt into certain measures, where we choose to do so.
My right hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the fact that in some countries, such as France, United Kingdom citizens have been held for long periods without trial, in clear breach of the convention on human rights. Is it not absolutely correct, therefore, that before we go any further down this road, the House should have the opportunity to consider carefully and vote on any extension or further joining of the European arrest warrant?
As I set out in my statement, we intend to discuss with various parts of Parliament, including Select Committees such as the European Scrutiny Committee, by what process the House should vote on this issue. We will come back to the House in due course with proposals on how it can express its view on this significant issue of justice and home affairs powers—namely, the package of measures that we might wish to opt into when the time comes.
Many of the crimes considered most serious by any normal standard are international in type, including the trafficking of drugs and of people, including children, and banking and corporate fraud. Bearing that in mind, does the Home Secretary truly believe that it is in the interests of justice to opt out of scores of cross-border EU justice measures not knowing if and when future opt-ins will succeed?
As I have made clear, it is not open to us to opt out of individual measures. The last Government negotiated a block opt-out, with a right to opt into certain measures following negotiation with the Commission and member states. We intend to follow that process.
The right hon. Gentleman talks about cross-border crime, which is significant. The drugs that are being peddled on the streets and lead to petty crime are being brought across the border by organised crime gangs. That is why we are setting up the National Crime Agency, which will include a border policing command and will have an enhanced ability to deal with serious and organised crime.
I welcome the Home Secretary’s decision. Conservative Members want focused co-operation, not blind loss of democratic control.
Will my right hon. Friend reassure the House that as she goes through the 130 measures in question, she will examine all options for co-operation, whether they are formally opting back in or alternatives such as co-operating under a memorandum of understanding or ad hoc co-operation? That would broaden the scope and potential for practical co-operation without ceding democratic authority.
I assure my hon. Friend that our consideration of these matters will be wide ranging and that we will examine each measure individually and carefully. As I have said, we will consider not just opt-ins and opt-outs but the other opportunities and options that are available.
Will the Home Secretary clarify what will happen in the period between the opt-out and the reintroduction of some, but fewer, measures? Will we have to get into bilateral negotiations with individual states, or will we have a complete impasse in the legal system while we deal with high-profile cases that are in the media but for which we cannot use extradition arrangements?
We expect that transitional arrangements will be available, but one point of taking the decision now and announcing what we propose is that we can work with the European Commission to ensure that the time period between the opt-out being exercised and our coming back into any measures is as short as possible. The question of how that will work will be part of the negotiations with member states.
I congratulate the Home Secretary on her announcement. It is crystal clear what she wants to do, which is to protect the sovereignty of this country, unlike the Labour party. Does she agree that Labour has no credibility on this issue? It negotiated this opt-out, and it is complaining now that we are attempting to use it.
Furthermore, does my right hon. Friend agree that there is a serious proportionality problem with the European arrest warrant? It is exemplified by a case from Poland in which an individual is alleged to have stolen a wheelbarrow with a value of £30. The proceedings for extradition from this country cost £30,000.
My hon. Friend, with his legal experience, will be well aware of many such problems. As I have said, a number of people have commented on the issue of proportionality. I entirely agree that for the Opposition to complain now that the Government are proposing to exercise an opt-out that they themselves negotiated leaves them with no credibility whatever.
The Home Secretary may have persuaded herself, and perhaps even some of her colleagues, that she has adopted a sophisticated position, but I tell her that confusion is the friend of the criminal. I, for one, am deeply concerned about this hokey-cokey approach to justice in this country and across Europe, especially on such deeply serious issues as organised crime, child abuse online and drug and people trafficking. Any sense of confusion is deeply worrying.
Although The Sunday Telegraph might have sought to trivialise some European arrest warrant cases, I remind the Home Secretary, as did my right hon. Friend Yvette Cooper, of Hussain Osman. He was brought back from Italy to stand trial for his part in the
I fully understand the cases cited by the right hon. Gentleman, and others, in relation to this matter. On the other hand, however, concerns have been raised about proportionality in relation to the European arrest warrant. That is why it is right for the Government to sit down and look carefully at this issue, and take a decision on the European arrest warrant and the terms under which it might be possible to opt in. Part of the negotiations with the European Commission and member states is precisely about those terms.
I say to the right hon. Gentleman, and to others, that his Government negotiated an opt-out, so he cannot stand there and complain when the current Government propose to exercise it.
Will the Home Secretary consider further the point raised by Keith Vaz on Europol? On its visits, the Home Affairs Committee has found—whether in relation to the Southeast European Cooperative Initiative and people smuggling in Turkey, or the Maritime Analysis and Operations Centre-Narcotics, which is based in Lisbon and tries to intercept drugs flowing across the Atlantic—that too often Europol gets in the way of effective co-operation. It wants to try to subsume everything into itself.
The Home Secretary wants to opt out in general, but opt back in, in particular, which implies she believes that specific measures are very much to the benefit of UK crime prevention and justice. Has she made an impact assessment of what will happen in the period between those measures not being enforced, and the point at which they are reintroduced? Will that impact assessment be made available to the public so that they can participate in the consultation she has mentioned?
I answered in response to a point raised by Paul Goggins that part of the discussions with the Commission and member states will be precisely about that process and the time at which any opt-ins that we choose to exercise come into force. By that time we will be able to consider what has come out of those negotiations with the European Commission, and assess the impact of opting in or not.
There is clear need for improvement to the European arrest warrant, but does the Home Secretary agree with 13 former security and police chiefs that scrapping it altogether would be entirely self-defeating? It has become an essential tool in the fight against cross-border organised crime, delivering fast and effective justice across Europe. More than 700 serious criminals have been brought back to the UK to face justice, accused of robberies, murders, rapes, child sexual offences and more. Does the Home Secretary agree that those people should be brought back promptly to face justice?
Of course I agree that people who are guilty of such crimes should be brought back to face justice. I say to my hon. Friend, however, that part of the process we will undertake includes careful consideration of each of those 133 measures. As I have said, some of those are now defunct, we may wish to opt back into some, and there are some that we will not opt back into. There will be careful consideration by the Government about what is in the national interest.
Does the Home Secretary accept that since the introduction of the European arrest warrant in 2004, the amount of time taken to extradite someone who objects to extradition has fallen from 12 months to 48 days on average? What does she say to the Law Society and the Law Society of Scotland, which are deeply concerned about the impact of her announcement on the prevention and detection of terrorism and serious organised crime?
I remind the hon. Gentleman that I have not indicated one way or the other in relation to the European arrest warrant. I have said that we will look carefully at each individual measure, and the organisations he has cited will provide the Government with their views on this matter.
I thank the Home Secretary for her comments. In July 2010, my constituent, Sarah Shields, was murdered. Her boyfriend was accused of the murder and extradited under a European arrest warrant within two months. In her review, I hope that the Home Secretary will bear in mind those beneficial aspects of the European arrest warrant. It has caused a speedy return which, as she knows full well, would not have been so quick 10 or 20 years ago.
I fully accept the cases cited by my hon. Friend and a number of hon. Members. We will look carefully at examples of the operation of the European arrest warrant when we consider our final decision on it.
What a star we have in the Home Secretary—terrorists are sent home, powers are brought back from Europe and Parliament is given a year’s notice on something. What more can she do? Will she consider the views of the all-party group on human trafficking, which recognises that most of the successful operations against traffickers have been bilateral and not undertaken through the European regulation? Will she bear that in mind?
I shall certainly bear that in mind, particularly given my hon. Friend’s work against human trafficking. It would be wrong to assume that there is only one way of doing things—we can co-operate in a variety of ways to ensure that we get the best results in the national interest.
I congratulate the Home Secretary on at last starting the process of bringing powers back from Europe. My constituents in Worcester want British justice to be finally decided in the British Parliament. Will she therefore assure the House that any decisions to opt back in will be given plenty of time for hon. Members to debate them individually and in detail on the Floor of the House?
There will be a proper opportunity for Parliament to consider these matters. As I have said, the Minister for Europe set out some time ago the Government’s desire for Parliament to have a say. Precisely what form that takes has yet to be discussed with various parliamentary groups, but I shall certainly take my hon. Friend’s point into account.
I welcome the Government’s intention to come out en bloc of the European justice and home affairs provisions. However, given that the Government might be minded to opt back in to certain provisions, as my hon. Friend Mr Walker says, we should have not only parliamentary scrutiny, but Divisions. Will she confirm that that option will be part of the mix?
We will enter full, frank and open discussion with various bodies on how the process should be undertaken and on any votes in the House. The crucial thing is that this Government are giving Parliament an opportunity to have its say.
The Home Secretary will enjoy the full support of my constituent, Andrew Symeou, who languished in a Greek jail, denied his basic human rights. Much of that was facilitated as a result of the European arrest warrant. When she considers any future arrangements, may I urge her to examine in detail cases such as that of my constituent, which Lord Justice Scott Baker unfortunately did not consider when preparing his report?
My hon. Friend has highlighted precisely the issue that many hon. Members raise in relation to the European arrest warrant. On the one hand, my hon. Friend Ben Gummer cited a case in which the EAW was beneficial, but on the other hand, my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield North
(Nick de Bois) cites a case in which an individual feels that they suffered as a result of it. We will certainly look at that balance.
I fully support our opting out of those 130 EU measures, especially the European arrest warrant, but we should tread carefully. Opinion in the House is clearly divided on the measure, so does my right hon. Friend agree that it is essential that our Parliament looks at the issue in detail and votes on it in our national interest?
It is absolutely right that we give Parliament the opportunity to vote on the issue. That is why the Government will discuss with Parliament how that vote should take place, the timing of the vote, and what information Parliament will want to have available to it.
Last month, the 15-year-old schoolgirl Megan Stammers, a constituent, was abducted by her teacher, Jeremy Forrest. Much to my relief and that of her family and friends, Megan returned to the UK eight days after she was reported missing. Jeremy Forrest, the teacher, was returned to the UK less than two weeks later to face trial. They were found in Bordeaux by police acting on a European arrest warrant issued three days previously. Without the EAW, it is likely that it would have taken longer to find Megan, and Jeremy Forrest would probably still be in France. What reassurance can the Secretary of State give to my constituent and her family, and thousands of other victims of serious cross-border crime, that the Government will always ensure that British police can work effectively with their European partners to catch criminals abroad and bring them back quickly to face British justice in our courts?
The hon. Gentleman raises a particular case in relation to his constituents. On the general point, I would merely say, as I said earlier, that the Government believe that it is one of the first duties of the Government to protect the public. We recognise the importance of co-operating with other police forces in other jurisdictions in other countries so that we can ensure that people face justice appropriately. These issues, in cases such as the one that he raises, will of course be considered by the Government in looking at the whole question of the European arrest warrant.