New Clause 9 - European arrest warrant

Crime and Courts Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:30 pm on 12th February 2013.

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‘(1) The NCA is to have the function of ensuring efficient and effective use of the European arrest warrant as it relates to serious organised crime affecting the UK.

(2) The Government shall publish a report 12 months after Royal Assent of this Bill on the NCA’s use of the European arrest warrant and annually thereafter.

(3) The Director General of the NCA must be consulted by the Secretary of State on any policy decision by Her Majesty’s Government regarding changes to the use of the European arrest warrant.’.—(Mr Hanson.)

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

I hope the new clause will allow a discussion of the role of the National Crime Agency, particularly around its functioning with the European arrest warrant and related issues. If the clause were passed, the NCA would have effective and efficient use of the European arrest warrant; it would allow for the Government to publish a report 12 months after Royal Assent, and annually thereafter on the use of the European arrest warrant; and it would ensure in statute that the director general of the NCA is consulted by the Secretary of State formally on policy decisions relating to any change of use of the European arrest warrant.

You may have gathered, Mr Caton, that this discussion is part of testing where the Government are in relation to the European arrest warrant. I am just trying to gather from looking around the room which Minister will reply to the debate. Good; it is the hon. Member for Taunton Deane. I am very pleased that he is replying to the debate, because I know for a fact that the party to which he and the hon. Member for Norwich South belong went into the general election saying that they wanted to keep the European arrest warrant and keep UK membership of Europol and Eurojust. Therefore, they will certainly, I am sure, support the principle of ensuring that the NCA is responsible for it, and that we have clear consultation with the chief police officer, effectively in this case, of the NCA in the event of any particular changes in the discussions around the crime warrant over the next few weeks and months.

I mention that because the proposed new clause is designed to put the focus on the European arrest warrant and related European co-operation matters, and to allow for reporting of its usage and for consultation with the director general.

On 15 October, the Home Secretary announced that the Government were looking at which pre-Lisbon police and criminal justice matters they would opt out of. In the statement on 15 October, she went on to say that the Government, who include both parties on the Government Benches, would negotiate with the European Commission and other member states to opt back into individual measures that it was in the national interest to rejoin.

It may help the Committee if I indicate the measures available through the European arrest warrant at the moment. It has led to more than 600 criminals being returned to Britain to face justice, including terrorists and most recently the teacher suspected of abduction. The European arrest warrant and associated matters ensure minimum standards across the EU for counter-terrorism co-operation, skills and expertise; customs and business co-operation to combat drug trafficking; and cross-border co-operation and a central organisation to deal with organised crime. We now share criminal and DNA records, so, for example, we can track known sex offenders travelling to member states.

The European arrest warrant and associated measures also ensure that we have conventions to protect member states’ financial interests in the event of major international crime. They include minimum standards of collection of customs and police information to tackle cross-border crime. They have led to co-operation between member states on the identification of laundered money and in tracing and freezing criminal assets. Europol, headed by the British former Serious Organised Crime Agency officer, Rob Wainwright, tracks serious organised crime.

Member countries exchange information to combat the counterfeiting of travel documents. Eurojust collects evidence to prosecute serious organised crime. We have a European network of persons co-operating to deal with genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. We share intelligence. We use joint measures to tackle racism and xenophobia across Europe. Members downstairs in the main Chamber are discussing horsemeat, but Eurojust and others are looking into the criminal conspiracy of horsemeat being fraudulently provided to British consumers.

By any definition, such matters fall under the heading of serious organised crime, for which the National Crime Agency is responsible. Because we have yet to hear from the Home Secretary post her 15 October statement, I am not clear which of the options on the menu the Government do not want to participate in on a Europe-wide basis. I will certainly withdraw the new clause if the Minister says today that all those things are on the table, and that the Government support them and will continue to sign treaties, work with European police forces and crack down, as I think they should, on serious organised crime across Europe.

At the moment, one wing of the coalition is vaguely flirting with the Eurosceptics, saying that they will opt out of certain aspects of the European arrest warrant, but there is no clarity over which aspects they are likely to be. I am pleased that the Minister who will respond stood on a manifesto that wanted to keep aspects of the European arrest warrant, and keep our membership of Europol and Eurojust; I am interested to hear how he squares the circle of Eurosceptic withdrawal from criminal justice matters in one part of the coalition with a full, unadulterated, 100% love-in for all European matters from two members of the coalition here today.

Looking at the matters I listed, most of my constituents would say, “Good on you. Well done. Go and co-operate with Europe.” I put that on the table as a personal observation. Freezing assets and sharing intelligence about counterfeiting, organised crime and sex offenders, and information about drugs and DNA, stop crime on the streets of Walthamstow, Sedgefield, Darlington and Delyn, to name but four random constituencies represented by members of the Committee. That the Secretary of State and the director general of the National Crime Agency should ensure the functioning and efficient and effective use of the European arrest warrant and other European co-operation matters, as currently constituted, is an important aspect of our discussions.

I would be interested if, 12 months after Royal Assent, we could publish a list of the National Crime Agency’s use of those European powers.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

Absolutely. I thought that the Minister was answering, but if the hon. Gentleman would like to contribute, by all means.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald The Solicitor-General

The right hon. Gentleman said that his constituents would thank him for these matters. When was the last time that happened?

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

It is funny that the hon. Gentleman should mention that; a number of ongoing serious criminal organisational matters are being undertaken right now in my constituency. The north Wales child abuse inquiry, for example, is ongoing.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald The Solicitor-General

Do people just come up to the right hon. Gentleman in the market square and say, “Thank you very much for the European arrest warrant”?

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I get the sense that the Solicitor-General does not quite like all the aspects of the European arrest warrant or, indeed, dare I say, some aspects of European co-operation. I advise him that if we went for a walk in Flint in my constituency today and asked people if they want to co-operate with European countries to tackle sex traffickers, drug traffickers and to bring people back to Britain from abroad to face justice, I suspect that he would find a relatively universal yes.

Photo of Steve McCabe Steve McCabe Labour, Birmingham, Selly Oak

Might it be that the experience of coalition Government has meant that the Solicitor-General’s constituents have less reason to thank him?

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I simply think—my hon. Friend will bear this out—that serious organised crime is an important matter. In a sense, the purpose of tabling the new clause and this debate is to say that we need a record, 12 months after Royal Assent, of what use is being made of the European arrest warrant. We need an examination of the role and responsibility of the National Crime Agency in using the European arrest warrant, and in other European co-operation issues. Ultimately, if there are changes to be made, senior police officers such as Keith Bristow want to be, and should be, consulted on how that information and those powers are used, and whether those powers water down their ability to tackle some of the issues mentioned today.

The issue could be clarified simply. I would happily receive clarification from the Minister today as to which aspects of the European arrest warrant the Government wish to withdraw from. He is a Home Office Minister. I presume that he has discussed the issue with his boss, the Home Secretary, and I am sure that they have come to a meeting of minds. I would therefore welcome his telling us which aspects he intends to withdraw from.

Photo of David Rutley David Rutley Conservative, Macclesfield

I am following the debate with great interest. The last time I was in Mold—recently, actually, just after Christmas—people were concerned about the local economy and talking more about prices than the issues that we have on the table here. Does the right hon. Gentleman not agree that, just as with the European budget, it is vital that we rebase our relationship with Europe? That is what the Government seek.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I know that the hon. Gentleman visits my constituency on a regular basis and walks there. I hope he spends lots of money from Macclesfield in Delyn, because a rebalancing of the economy between Macclesfield and Delyn is always welcome. I am happy to debate how we rebalance Europe and the United Kingdom. There may even be some issues on which we want to rebalance, but the key question and the purpose of the new clause is to put on the table the National Crime Agency’s use of the European arrest warrant and to give the agency a firm responsibility and to make sure that the chief officer is consulted about changes, because I want to make sure that any rebalancing, as the hon. Gentleman puts it, is in the interests of victims in the constituencies that we represent.

I have no phobia about co-operating with the Greeks, the French, the Germans, and indeed shortly the Bulgarians and Romanians, to tackle organised crime. That is a good thing and I have no problem with doing that, but there seems to be a view in some parts of the coalition—I cannot speak for the hon. Gentleman—that we need to withdraw some of those powers back to the United Kingdom.

David Rutley indicated assent.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

The hon. Gentleman nods with a smile of agreement, so I take it that he is on the withdrawing-powers wing of his party. My purpose in this discussion is to say that I am not quite sure that is a good thing.

Let us test the proposal. Let us hear from the Minister what he will bring back, how we are going to improve things, and how the National Crime Agency will deal with those matters. We are establishing a National Crime Agency that will outlive—I will put a bet on it—the Minister’s time in his roles, whatever happens in the Government and in general elections. Therefore we need to know what is being repatriated, when it is being repatriated and whether the Minister will, as the terms of the proposed new clause state, consult the director general of the National Crime Agency about whether that is a good or bad thing.

Photo of Gavin Barwell Gavin Barwell Conservative, Croydon Central

The language used by those who are in favour of ever-closer union always interests me. The right hon. Gentleman’s constituents and mine have no problem with our Government co-operating with any other European Union nation, or any other country in the world, to tackle organised crime. That is not the issue. The issue is whether they support handing over sovereignty and decision making to the EU, rather than its being in our Parliament. The use of “co-operation” in that context is rather misleading.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

Again, I am interested in hearing from the Minister, who I remind Committee members, in case they missed it first time, supported a manifesto commitment not to opt out of the European arrest warrant. What items of the European arrest warrant, and all pre-Lisbon police and criminal justice matters, does the Minister believe that the Government are going to opt out of? It is worth debating that, because the National Crime Agency will be doing the very things that we have talked about: tackling serious organised crime, drug abuse, sex trafficking and a whole range of counterfeit and fraud  matters, and tackling, potentially, the fraudulent food supply chain. Without wishing to repeat myself too much, can we consult the director general about whether that is a good thing and whether he needs the powers under the clause? Will he be better off with opt-outs or opt-ins? I say that again because after Denmark opted out of the European arrest warrant, 50% of its requests were rejected and the Government decision to opt out and then put back certain measures meant that they had some genuine difficulties fighting serious organised crime.

Where are the Government on this matter? The Minister has the opportunity to stand up for what he believes in, which is European co-operation—

Photo of Charlie Elphicke Charlie Elphicke Conservative, Dover

As the right hon. Gentleman may have realised, Dover is at the forefront of many of these issues. The sense I get on the doorstep from the people of Dover is that they are in favour of co-operation, but not control. Co-operation is something that member states could do with each other, working together to beat crime—organised crime in particular—but control is something that Brussels does, and does not always do it well.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

If I walked the streets of Dover, as I probably will before the next election, if only to help the career development of the hon. Gentleman, I feel sure that there probably will be a common interest in ensuring that we tackle serious organised crime.

The Government opted into a menu of options to tackle serious organised crime, including the European arrest warrant. The Government said on 15 October that they were thinking of opting out of

“all pre-Lisbon police and criminal justice measures”.

The Home Secretary said they would

“negotiate with the Commission and other member states to opt back into individual measures that it is in our national interest to rejoin.”—[Official Report, 15 October 2012; Vol. 551, c. 35.]

Since then, we have heard nothing about what we will opt out of and what we will opt into. It would help the hon. Member for Dover, and others, if the Minister, who stood on a manifesto supporting opting in, discussed those matters.

Photo of Stella Creasy Stella Creasy Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

We will not have had a debate if we do not talk about cybercrime. Committee members will know that it is a concern of mine. Does my right hon. Friend the shadow Minister agree that it is exactly the sort of issue that we should be discussing? The Government have committed to Europol and we have an intra-European organisation looking at cybercrime.

The hon. Member for Dover talks about control and co-operation. Does my right hon. Friend agree that this sort of organisation will be hampered in its work if it has to have one eye on the differences and discretions within different countries and the other eye on the cyber-criminals we want it to deal with? The National Crime Agency will have a role around cybercrime, and it is exactly those sorts of procedural problems that may hamper that work, rather than letting the agency get on with what it needs to do, which is to tackle a crime that cuts across borders.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I agree with my hon. Friend. Cybercrime is another example. The key question, and the one on which I will finish, is simply this: in its most recent manifesto the Conservative party, large numbers of members of which dominate the Committee on the Government side, opposed the arrest warrant, whereas the Liberal Democrats—notable members of that party on the Committee are the hon. Member for Norwich South and the Minister, the hon. Member for Taunton Deane—wanted to keep it, so the Conservative members of the Committee, of whom there are nine present as I speak, wanted to oppose the European arrest warrant but the Liberal Democrat members, of whom there are two in the Committee, wanted to support it; Labour Committee members, for once, were of the same view as the Liberal Democrats. Will the Minister therefore give some clarity to the Home Secretary’s statement of 15 October about the issues on which we are going to opt out? Will he tell me whether or not he broadly supports the new clause? Had there been only 15 or so Conservative Members elected instead of Labour or Liberal Democrat Members, I suspect he would be on the same side as us on the matter.

Photo of Jeremy Browne Jeremy Browne The Minister of State, Home Department

Thank you very much, Mr Caton, for giving me the opportunity to discuss this important subject. I am very pleased—indeed, flattered—that the right hon. Member for Delyn has been such a diligent student of the Liberal Democrats’ manifesto. I must get round to reading it in greater detail myself, although I am very proud to be among the first Liberal Democrats for about three generations to have implemented any of our manifesto in government. In many ways, we were too limited in our ambitions; we should have put in a few commitments such as, “If the Liberal Democrats enter Government, crime will be at its lowest level in Britain in recorded history.” People would not necessarily have believed that, but that is what we, with our colleagues, have managed to achieve in government. There are all kinds of great commitments in the Liberal Democrats’ manifesto that have been implemented in government, but, giving added value for money to the people of the United Kingdom, we have also put in place lots of extremely popular and welcome measures that were not even in our manifesto but that we considered it to be in the national interest to implement none the less.

On the European arrest warrant, the Government are in favour of co-operating with countries right around the world to try to protect the citizens of this country. In my previous guise as a Foreign Office Minister, I was not the Europe Minister, but rather covered Asia and Latin America, and I have seen how we are co-operating with a lot of countries within Asia and Latin America and, in particular, countries where there is a high degree of interaction with the United Kingdom; Thailand is an example, as large numbers of British people visit there every year. We are co-operating with law enforcement agencies in countries such as Thailand to try to make sure that we combat serious and organised crime, and in particular the impact that it has back here in the United Kingdom. I would not want anybody on the Committee or further afield to think that the Government are not committed to international co-operation to reduce serious and organised crime. That would be a misrepresentation.

The new clause relates specifically to the involvement of the National Crime Agency in the operation of the European arrest warrant, or the EAW as it is widely  known—not necessarily on the streets of Flint but certainly to well-informed people in Taunton Deane, who will be familiar with the workings of it. I know that many hon. Members take a significant interest in the EAW’s operation and specifically the Government’s policy with respect to the 2014 opt-out decision. The role of the Serious Organised Crime Agency as the UK central authority for the European arrest warrant will be transferred to the National Crime Agency, apart from in Scotland where the responsibility will remain with the Crown Office. However, overall responsibility for the policy relating to the EAW, including ensuring the extradition process is as effective and efficient as possible, will remain in the hands of the Home Secretary. With respect to the EAW and the 2014 opt-out decision, as the Home Secretary has announced, the Government’s current intention is to opt out of all measures and seek to rejoin those which are in the national interest.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Shadow Minister (Home Affairs) 3:00 pm, 12th February 2013

Could the Minister either now, or perhaps in a letter to members of the Committee, list those factors which are in the national interest to opt in to?

Photo of Jeremy Browne Jeremy Browne The Minister of State, Home Department

I can do it straight away. It is where the interests of the nation are best served. Save the bureaucracy and the effort of writing a letter; it is all pretty straightforward. This ability to opt out was of course granted to the United Kingdom by the treaty of Lisbon, which was negotiated by the last Government, of whom the right hon. Gentleman was a member. All EU countries have agreed to these arrangements. The national interest, as I just mentioned, is at the heart of the Government's decision. It will be the most important consideration in deciding which measures to rejoin, should we exercise the 2014 opt-out, which the Home Secretary has already talked about. This is not about the UK disengaging from Europe. Where there is a proper case to be made for co-operation with other member states the Government will support it, and not only in the fields of justice and home affairs. The Government will continue to work closely with Parliament, the European Commission and other member states to ensure the best possible result. We also want to listen to the views of other interested parties, such as law enforcement agencies.

As to some of the detail of the right hon. Gentleman’s amendment, among other things it would create a statutory requirement for the National Crime Agency’s use of the European arrest warrant to be the subject of a bespoke annual report. Given the NCA's limited role in the process I hope that, on reflection, the right hon. Gentleman will agree that such a reporting duty is unnecessarily onerous and excessive, and would serve little purpose.

The NCA will certainly be an open and transparent organisation, sharing as much information as operationally possible with Parliament and the public about its work. In addition to its statutory annual report, I also expect the NCA to provide information on a more frequent basis through the duty to publish, as set out in clause 5, cementing the Government's commitment to an open and transparent NCA. SOCA already provides an annual digest of statistics regarding its role as the UK central authority for European Arrest Warrant cases. We expect no less information to be available when this role transfers to the NCA.

Finally, turning to the last of the issues raised by the amendment, the Government will continue to consult widely with all interested parties when considering changes to any aspect of extradition policy. I hope that having had this further opportunity to debate the EAW and some of the issues around the opt-out decision, the right hon. Member for Delyn will be content to withdraw his amendment. I hope I have reassured all members on this Committee—on both sides—that the Government are committed to an appropriate level of engagement with our European partners and with others, so as to best ensure the continued protection of the British public from serious and organised criminality.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I think the Minister, should he ever lose his seat, should perhaps take up the role of wallpaperer, because he can wallpaper over the cracks in the coalition very comfortably in relation to this particular Bill. The Minister’s response said absolutely nothing. He did not say anything about—

Photo of Gavin Barwell Gavin Barwell Conservative, Croydon Central

I am enjoying the wallpaper analogy. In the spirit of that, and in the light of the shadow Chancellor’s comments that it would be stupid for Labour not to support an in/out referendum, could he clarify some of the cracks on his own side and tell us whether he is in favour of an in/out referendum?

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I think that is well beyond the scope of this Committee. I will allow my right hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Outwood (Ed Balls) to speak for himself on the matter. I am very relaxed about supporting the position of the Labour party. The key issue within the competence of this Committee is simply the matter for the Minister. He said today regarding the European arrest warrant that the Government will opt in to matters which are in the national interest. I have to say that I am still not quite clear which issues would be opted out of, and which opted in to.

Photo of Stella Creasy Stella Creasy Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

The Government said that the coalition was in the national interest, but as we have seen, that is clearly not the case. Perhaps a little more clarity about what they consider to be the national interest would be helpful in this instance.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I am grateful to have any clarity on the national interest. Without a shadow of a doubt, the Minister has not indicated one iota about which issues would be opt-in and which opt-out. There is a clear division between Conservative Committee members, who wish to repatriate powers to this Parliament for decision making, and Liberal Democrat members, who do not. Whether or not the Minister answers those questions today, at some point before the said general election in May 2015, the Government must decide on opt-in or opt-out. It will be an issue for the Minister and his colleagues whether they wish to support—dare I say it—people who want those powers repatriated, or whether they wish to have greater co-operation, as we have currently.

The purpose of the clause was to ensure that the National Crime Agency reports, as SOCA does currently under part 1, on Royal Assent and every 12 months on what use the NCA has made of the powers, and that the  director general, who is ultimately trying to secure convictions in the UK for criminal offences that might have originated in Europe, has consultation on the issue of the European arrest warrants. I have had no answers from the Minister on those points, and there is a division on his side that needs to be exposed by a Division in the Committee.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.

The Committee divided: Ayes 7, Noes 11.

Division number 9 Decision Time — New Clause 9 - European arrest warrant

Aye: 7 MPs

No: 11 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly negatived.