EU: The Hague Programme — Justice and Home Affairs (EUC Report)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:19 pm on 20th June 2005.

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Photo of Lord McNally Lord McNally Leader In the House of Lords, Leader, House of Lords, Liberal Democrat Leader in the House of Lords 5:19 pm, 20th June 2005

My Lords, several noble Lords have commented on the confusion of having two Peers from Richmond. All that I would say is that I would never think of the noble Lord, Lord Wright, as a sweet lass of Richmond Hill; whereas I may well consider my noble friend Lady Harris in that context.

Although I covered home affairs from these Benches for six years from 1997 to 2003, much of the work in these reports came to me as fresh. As such, I hope that the Minister can reassure us that within government, that exercise by committees of this House is not seen as an irritant or a time-consumer. One thing that struck me both reading the reports and listening to the debate was what an enormous resource in developing policy it is having the experience and expertise of those committees to consider matters in that way.

It is a fortuitous accident that the debate takes place on the day of the Prime Minister's Statement on the European Council, because the debate puts it into a proper context. For me, this is the other Europe, in counterpoint to the headlines in our tabloid press reading, "It's War with France", and the rest of the rubbish that we have read during the past few days.

The debate illustrates two important aspects. The first is the real engine-room work being done in Europe on a matter of very great importance. It was interesting for those of us who were present for the Prime Minister's Statement that he coupled concern about organised crime with globalisation as the two issues most of concern to European citizens. We might all debate whether that is right, but it was interesting that the Prime Minister made that coupling.

The second point, to which I have just referred, is the prestige that its reports bring to the House. The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, said that we must not blow our own trumpets on these matters but, as I have never been a member of one of these committees, perhaps I can blow away. One of these famed Eurocrats, not a Brit, said to me that when House of Lords reports were published, they were instantly snaffled by other delegations and groupings in Brussels because of their high quality and reputation.

Returning to my initial question to the Minister, I hope that that will embolden the Government as part of their strategy to respond to the crisis of confidence in European matters to trust Parliament more and to think much more laterally and excitingly about how this Parliament can be brought into the scrutiny of European affairs. That can only be to the benefit of promoting better understanding of Europe and, as I mentioned earlier, good governance.

One thing that has always made me a passionate European—if noble Lords did not know that before, let me say, now that the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, has gone, that that is what I am—and one of the great things about Europe, has been that it was not just a trade club. Part of the price of membership, at entry, was a commitment to democracy, a recognition of human rights and a commitment to the rule of law. It is important that we keep that to the forefront.

Now that we are enlarging to 25 and 27, as one of the witnesses says very frankly, that enlargement brings with it the dangers of greater fraud and of a greater impact of organised crime. It is often no help to Europe to have a rather patronising view of the new members, to say, "Well, we do not expect the rule of law to operate in country X quite as it does in the other parts of Europe". Nothing could be a greater danger to Europe's reputation than to tolerate in new and applicant states sub-standard systems of law, sub-standard recognition of human rights or sub-standard tolerance of corruption. We must use their membership to ensure that as well as observing proper trade practices, and the rest, that their legal systems and systems of law enforcement are to the highest European standards. That is another single market that we should be enforcing, arguing for and helping.

One of the key messages that has come through from speaker after speaker today is that, whatever struggles we may have for European unity at the political level, there is already an active single market in people trafficking, drug-trafficking, money laundering and organised crime. We must put in place ways to respond to that. In his introduction, the noble Lord, Lord Wright, encouragingly referred to the Hague programme as an impressive increase in co-operation. As such, I shall be interested to see what priority pushing the Hague programme will be given during the British presidency.

My noble friend Lady Harris mentioned Eurojust and its role in promoting judicial co-operation. That could be of particular importance with the new entrants and the tackling of organised crime. Several noble Lords referred to OLAF. Here, I found myself instinctively with the noble Lord, Lord Shaw: I want it to be as independent as possible. Perhaps the Minister would explain again why the Government are being rather negative in their approach to what could be an important agency.

Again, speaking as a pro-European, nothing can do greater damage to the European cause than the idea that corruption goes unchecked; but there is widespread inefficiency in checking it in Europe. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scott, said, much of this is about creating confidence among the citizens of Europe in their institutions.

Much was said on terrorism. I have one genuine inquiry. Is there sufficient EU/US co-operation on exchange of information on terrorism, or do the Americans still not trust all the Europeans, or vice versa? An initiative could be taken there.

I shall finish on a point that touched me very much in the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Gibson. As a pro-European I take pride in how Europe has been instrumental in extending democracy, freedom and human rights across our Continent. But what a shame it is that, for countless young women from eastern Europe, freedom has brought with it what the noble Baroness rightly described as the "pit of misery" that people trafficking and prostitution create. Perhaps noble Lords saw the dramatic docu-play by Channel 4 on the subject.

That issue illustrates yet again that, in the battle against crime and terrorism, the concept of a national response is plainly absurd and the need for a co-ordinated European response is beyond peradventure. From what I read of the reports, progress is being made, but any good teacher would write at the bottom, "Must try harder".